USD 398 superintendent presents program to city council years ago


News editor

Peabody-Burns district superintendent Rex Watson addressed Peabody mayor, city council, and a standing-room only crowd Monday night. Watson was on hand to present a "state of the district" PowerPoint program of financial, enrollment, and staffing concerns.

USD #398 is not unique among small rural school districts struggling with an aging population, declining enrollment, and tough choices facing them in the next decade.

Watson gave the presentation to make the council and community members in attendance aware of some of the issues the school board will have to address. A brief question and answer period followed, although no magic solution to the situation came from either the city fathers or community members.

Watson told the audience that he is willing to address clubs and organizations to which they belong in an effort to make everyone aware of what is on the district horizon.

"We are all in this together," he said. "Obviously what is good for the school district is good for the city and vice versa.

"We are aware when city problems could mean a hike in the mill levy. Since we share that revenue source it's important to work together.

"People who might think of moving here want to know there is a strong, effective school system for their children," Watson added.

Following the presentation Peggy Phillips was sworn in as a new city council member by city administrator Jeff Benbrook. Phillips will fill the position most recently held by Mitch Cunningham. Cunningham gave up his council seat in December 2007, when he moved to Arkansas.

The council also heard from Benbrook that a new wrinkle has further postponed the completion of the sewer project. In a recent test of the remaining soil an isolated reading for cadmium was noted at three times the levels acceptable to Kansas Department of Health and Environment guidelines.

The city's liaison to KDHE has said it is likely the source of the chemical is gone, but KDHE could still require monitoring wells at the site for an additional two years to be certain there is, in fact, no further contamination. The cost of monitoring and additional testing will be between $3,000 and $4,000.

No action was taken by council. They will wait on additional information from KDHE.

In other business, the council:

— discussed two nuisance properties, finding a nuisance does exist at 606 N. Vine and extending a continuance to the owner of 805 N. Plum until March 10, by which time the fire department should have permission from the county to burn the structure in a training exercise.

— heard a presentation by Marquetta Eilerts of Sorosis Beta club about a community activity sign the club has designed. The women's group is the recipient of a Peabody Community Fund grant to build and install the sign.

Drawings were distributed to council members. Eilerts said club members would work with Main Street to find a suitable spot for the sign and present that information to the council at a future meeting.

— discussed with public works director Darren Pickens the increasing problems of collapsing sewer lines in the city. Pickens and Benbrook said recently that each problem has led to a block-long failure in the system, followed by replacement at a cost of about $15,000 per block. Council discussed a possible three- to five-year contract with a sewer maintenance firm hoping that kind of expertise might ward off so many emergency replacements. No action was taken, but Pickens will invite a representative to the Feb. 25 meeting.

— approved a $250 expenditure to send Pickens and Ronnie Harms to the Kansas Rural Water Association convention March 25-27 in Wichita. Pickens will take courses to keep his water certification current and Harms will attend classes to re-certify for wastewater accreditation.

— heard a letter of commendation for Peabody Police Chief Bruce Burke from the office of the Kansas Attorney General.

— accepted a new operations procedure policy for the police department for the use of tasers and/or stingers and for criminal investigations.

— heard from Benbrook the former steam plant has been demolished after being damaged by a motorist backing into it in the fall. The individual has been billed for the demolition and has until Monday to pay the city.

— heard also that Benbrook and USD #398 superintendent Watson have been reviewing and negotiating several city-school agreements and putting them under a single transaction. No final proposal has been crafted.

— entered into two executive sessions for the purpose of discussing personnel. No action was taken on return to open meeting.