Fire prompts board to review ‘landlord’ role

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ALEEN RATZLAFF
The house fire that occurred on South Madison Street nearly two weeks ago may prompt Unified School District 410 to abandon its role as a landlord.

In addition to the necessary repairs following the fire, said Superintendent Gordon Mohn, the house “needs a ton of work.”

“I would like to get (the school district) out of being a landlord,” he added.

The school district, which owns the house located at 202 S. Madison, uses the garage for storage and rents the house.

Mohn said the fire department initially assumed the fire was caused by the electrical supply to the garage, but the insurance adjustor thought it was a space heater in a back room.

“We’re still waiting on the report,” Mohn said. “But I don’t think that should be an issue at all.”

Mohn reported that the adjustor estimated between $5,533 and $7,862 for damage to the structure and its contents, but that doesn’t include costs related to smoke damage.

Local contractors will provide cost estimates for repairs, Mohn said.

Mohn listed three options for the property:

Use the insurance money to repair the house and storage area;

Demolish the garage and restore the house;

Demolish the house and garage and build a structure for storage on the property.

Renter Maredda R. Wiebe, who attended the meeting, asked the board to give her some indication whether she and her children would be allowed to live in the residence.

According to Wiebe, a single mother, the current rental options in Hillsboro are inadequate for her family.

“I don’t want to move,” said Wiebe, adding she has lived in the house for five years and has been “a pretty responsible tenant.”

During the days since the fire, Wiebe said she has rented a motel room and stayed with friends while her children have stayed with their father. Her personal possessions are still in the house.

“I can only stay with friends for one more week, and then I’ll be back in the motel,” she said.

“My (financial) situation is dwindling daily,” she added.

Board member Cal Jost said he thought it would take some time to get the house “rental worthy.”

He said to Wiebe, “I’d encourage you to look for other housing.”

Mohn said the house needs to be safe for Wiebe and her family if they are going to live there, even temporarily.

“If I could be satisfied on the liability (issue), she could stay there while she looks (for another place),” he said.

Wiebe said she had checked into rental insurance to cover her property in the house because her preference is to return.

“It’s better than staying in a motel room,” she said.

After active discussion, the board agreed to temporarily rent the house to Wiebe as is, provided the house can be made secure, at a reduced rate until either the end of May or she finds another place to live.

In other business, Mohn reported to the board about plans for the kitchen at the elementary school-whether to make major renovations in the kitchen or use a central kitchen to serve all three buildings.

He said USD 410 personnel have visited kitchen facilities at Moundridge and Halstead, districts that use central kitchens but with different approaches.

“I’d like to, by the April board meeting, have a solid proposal,” Mohn said.

The board also discussed the proposed 2002-03 calendar that schedules whole days rather than half days for teacher training or late school starts or early dismissals to create more training time.

Mohn presented a proposal that includes 180 student contact days-three less than this year-11 days for teacher training and workdays, and a parent/teacher conference trade-off day.

“I’m concerned if we give (student) contact days away,” said board member Brenda Ens.

Mohn told the board he would bring two calendar proposals next month, both with full days allotted for teacher training, but one with fewer in-service sessions.

Even though the board usually determines the calendar in April, Mohn said, “It shouldn’t be a major problem to wait until May.”

The board also discussed health insurance, which Mohn said will be an important part of the teacher negotiations for the next school year. Business manager Jerry Hinerman presented an overview of the state-employee health insurance, one option to consider in place of the current plan with Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Hinerman pointed out several differences between the two plans. The state plan offers full-time employees more choices for coverage, but part-time employees would have additional costs.

The state plan would also diminish the board’s bargaining control, Hinerman said.

A session will be scheduled for Hinerman to give a more detailed presentation about the insurance options to the board and teacher-negotiating teams.

Athletic director Max Heinrich reported because of weather factors the Tabor College track would not be ready for a middle school meet on March 28, hosted by Hillsboro.

“It’s going to take some work before we can run on it and be safe,” he said.

Board member Debbie Geis, who represents the USD 410 board on the Marion County Special Education Cooperative board of directors, reported that USD 410 will have to pay MCSEC if special-ed teachers teach classes that include general-education children.

“There’s just some things that we have to give up on,” Mohn said about the decision by MCSEC.

In additional business, the board:<p-

Approved a supplemental contract for Vaughn Jost to fill an assistant coaching position for track;

Endorsed an underage drinking resolution proposed by Kansas Family Partnership Inc., an organization that supports building partnerships to raise drug-free successful youth in the state;

Met in executive sessions to discuss matters related to students, evaluation of the superintendent and discussing negotiations.

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