Schools Cash In On State Program

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For the first time, Payson and Pine school districts, along with school districts across the state, will receive state money for major school repairs.

The Payson Unified School District will receive $252,722 this year in Students First money, a new state funding program designed to make school funding equitable for districts statewide. Pine will receive $13,645.

The PUSD's share more than doubles the amount of money the district has available for repairs and capital projects. Payson school administrators plan to use the money for such improvements as an air conditioning and heating system for the high school auditorium, a new roof for Julia Randall Elementary School and basketball-tetherball court repairs for Payson Elementary School.

Pine administrators have not yet decided how they will spend the money they received for building repairs, Pine-Strawberry School Principal Kathe Ketchem said.

During the Payson School Board's regular meeting Monday, the board reviewed capital funding requests from the district's six schools totalling $1.9 million. The board approved improvements, including those that will be funded through Students First, which will cost a total of $373,569.

"The intent was to get all the districts (in the state) up to basic standards," PUSD Business Manager Bobette Sylvester said. "This was a catch-up year."

The districts, however, only received 72 percent of the money they needed this year to do the necessary repairs because the state underestimated the amount of money the district would need.

According to an Associated Press report, "The state School Facilities Board on Thursday unanimously approved allotments of building renewal money from the available $75 million."

That amount, appropriated by the Legislature as the result of an estimate first produced in the spring of 1998, proved too low once state officials used school data submitted this year to calculate districts' needs at $104.1 million.

The allotments approved for 209 districts statewide range from $8 million to 64,000-student Tucson Unified to $57.06 to 36-student San Fernando Elementary in Sasabe."

Although Payson schools fared well in the first round of Students First funding, Sylvester said local officials are concerned about the funding the district will receive in the program's three other categories -- new construction, equipment purchases and bringing schools up to minimum standards.

"There's still a lot to be determined," she said. "I would guess that it will take a good five years before there's a full understanding of the funding program and how the funds are to be used."

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