School board convenes special meeting to deal with trip


News editor

A familiar chorus of funding woes nearly derailed the plans of seven students who qualified for Business Professionals of America national competition with high honors in Kansas competition in February.

A group of 16 parents, students, and interested individuals attended a special meeting of Peabody-Burns board of education Feb. 27. At issue was an estimated $7,000 price tag on a May trip to Reno, Nev., for the students and their sponsor, Jana Wedel.

Superintendent Rex Watson indicated his reluctance to support the cost of sending the students following teacher and staff cuts due to budget problems and a "reduction in force," which was approved by board members in February.

"I had a tough time justifying the expense to state competition and that was only a trip to Wichita," he said.

The cost of making the trip to nationals in past years was reviewed by Watson. The amounts varied from about $3,000 to $16,000 depending on how many attended and where the competition was held.

Watson also noted some reservations about the location (Reno, Nev.) and safety concerns.

"Location is a parental issue," said board member Tony Zappone. "We should not be discussing that.

"The issue to me is that when we send our students out to compete, we assume they might progress to the next level. If we make that assumption I feel we have sanctioned their efforts.

"They shouldn't have to come and ask our permission to continue. The district should assume that higher competition might be part of the program," he added.

Duke Eldridge made a motion to allow the students to go to Reno for the BPA competition with the district paying half the total cost.

Zappone seconded the motion.

Additional discussion followed about overnight trip policies established by previous boards and about a lengthy meeting held in August 2007, when the current board added criteria, the policy was printed, and handed out to club sponsors.

"If you recall, that meeting went very late into the night," said member Brian McDowell. "A main part of our requirement was for organizations to address the board with trip requests three regular meetings prior to the date of the trip.

"BPA isn't going to be able to meet that requirement," he added. "It's too late. So what happens the next time a group comes before us and says, 'well, you waived a requirement for BPA, why won't you waive one for us?'

"I think BPA is a fine organization. My daughter is in it. But that doesn't mean I think they should get a pass to change the rules."

Zappone finally asked if BPA national competition had been placed on the school calendar when it was put together in the summer of 2007.

"If it's on there, then we know that there was the assumption some kids might make it. We should step up and do the right thing by them," said Zappone.

The dates were included in school activities for the month of May.

The board then entered three consecutive executive sessions for the purpose of discussing personnel. Superintendent Watson and high school principal Tim Robertson were included in the sessions.

On return to open meeting following the third session, board member Rhonda Loucks amended the original motion to allow the students to attend, but to require them to pay their own travel, hotel, meal, and registration expense.

The amendment included paying the expenses of two sponsors — the organization sponsor and one parent or an additional teacher, preferably a male. The board also authorized payment for all sponsor expenses and a substitute for the teacher attending. The motion to amend carried 5-1 with Gary Jones opposed.

The vote on the original motion as amended also carried 5-1 with Jones opposed again.