The perennial topics of sports and activity bus travel occupied Challis school trustees at their Jan. 9 meeting, as did board reorganization, a discussion of possible new career technical education classes and approval of an overnight natural resource education trip for fifth graders.

In the never-ending search for affordable means of travel to extracurricular activities, district officials heard about someone who is buying and converting older Idaho National Laboratory commuter buses into school activity buses. Reclining coach seats with headrests are more comfortable for drivers, coaches and athletes traveling long distances. Some trips are five hours one way.

Another option is to install coach seating on yellow school buses, which meet the criteria for reimbursement from the Idaho State Department of Education. The state assesses a 19 to 21 percent penalty against miles traveled by activity buses for athletics and other extracurricular activities, Superintendent Lani Rembelski said. Yellow school buses used on established routes to and from school are not penalized.

Transportation Supervisor Blain Aldous has reservations about the INL buses because many of them are older than the Challis activity buses and it could be hard to buy replacement parts. The district has one yellow bus outfitted with coach seating and three buses built as long-distance travel buses.

One option if the state continues to penalize coach buses, said Rembelski, is to rent or charter buses. Mackay already does that. Hiring private drivers would eliminate restrictions on drivers who work for the school district and are limited to a maximum of 15 hours on duty.

“I am afraid that would be more expensive in the long run,” Trustee Jim Chamberlain said of the private option. It cost Viking parents and boosters between $7,800 and $8,000 to charter a coach bus for the football team last year when a district driver certified to drive a coach bus wasn’t available for a long trip, Plummer said.

In another athletic issue, the sagging floor of the second-floor wrestling room needs to be repaired or replaced, Rembelski told trustees. Some steel cross pieces are bowed, some are cracked and some are broken all the way through. A structural engineer would have to look at the floor and make recommendations before any work is done to the trusses. There may not be enough money in the district’s maintenance budget to complete the work.

Things are not catastrophic because the east side of the room is usable, district Maintenance Supervisor Bob Williams said, but not the west side.

Rembelski told trustees she wants to add a health sciences career technical education program at Challis High School. Eighteen students have expressed interest in such a program, high school Principal Kari Alexander said. The program would include training in medical terminology and coding, patient rehabilitation and elder care. There’s an ever-increasing demand for skilled workers in health care fields.

The program is fairly inexpensive, Trustee Brett Plummer said.

The vocational agriculture program gets about $15,000 per year from the state, and this program might be similarly funded, shop teacher Tom Coates said.

“We should be getting a piece of our tax money back,” Coates said. The Challis district might have to “bite the bullet and fully fund the health sciences program the first semester, Coates said, but after that, state reimbursement dollars would start coming in.

“This is cutting edge,” Coates said. “We want to have these classes. It’s a good thing. It’s a good idea to have youngsters who want to stay here in Challis get training in health sciences. I encourage the school board to get on board.”

The Challis district already has money in the budget to cover the program, Rembelski said, as seventh hour preparation time for teachers. Trustees expressed support.

The board looked at a draft school climate survey Rembelski prepared for distribution to parents and district patrons for input on school strengths and weaknesses. People will be chosen at random to take the survey. Topics include whether teachers are getting enough support.

Trustees drafted Plummer as board chairman again. Trish Farr and Janiel Parkinson were voted in as board co-vice chairmen. The official meeting schedule was kept as the second Wednesday of each month at 4:30 p.m. at the district office. Kim Williams remains as board clerk, District Business Manager Shawna Getty as board treasurer and Superintendent Rembelski as the board’s representative to negotiate teacher contracts.

After some discussion, the board approved a multi-day overnight trip beginning April 30 for fifth-grade students to go to Idaho Base Camp, located on Trail Creek Road northwest of Mackay. Teacher Stephanie Strand presented the request. Private funding would be used to get students into the great outdoors, prepare them for leadership roles and teach them something about the environment and community development, Strand said. Local teachers will prepare lessons and five to seven adults would accompany teachers and students. Participants will stay in yurts and wall tents. Three teachers at Challis Elementary and 36 fifth-graders will participate.

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