Taxpayers Pitch In For Local Students


The Payson Unified School District received $144,900 last year from Credit for Kids, the state's program that allows taxpayers to allocate up to $200 a year for extra-curricular school programs.

Local taxpayers contributed $31,000 more to Payson schools through the program in 1999 than they did in 1998, the first year the tax program was available.

PUSD School Superintendent Herb Weissenfels told the Payson School Board during its regular meeting Monday that the State Legislature may raise the limit tax payers can contribute to Credit for Kids from $200 to $500, and that an effort is under way to lift the extracurricular-activity restriction so schools can spend the money on other programs.

That's the good news.

But Weissenfels had some bad news for the school board, too. He said the district will not get help from the state to pay for the additional math, English and writing classes the district needs to better prepare students for the AIMS test, a test that all students, starting with those in this year's sophomore class, must pass to graduate from high school.

Poor results from a practice test given last spring showed that students around the state have a long way to go before they can meet the AIMS standards set by state officials. Only 10 percent of the students who took the test passed the math section.

When the test is given to sophomores this spring, it will count. Students will not be able to graduate until they pass the math, reading and writing sections.

"What do we do to assure they get there?" asked Weissenfels. "It is not a 9-12 issue. It's a K-12 issue."

Weissenfels told the board that he had just come back from a meeting with the State School Board, the state school superintendent, and members of the Legislature.

He said that State School Superintendent Lisa Graham-Keegan proposed allocating an additional $10 million to schools to pay for added curriculum that will help students pass the AIMS test.

"On the other side," Weissenfels said, "We've been told, 'don't expect any help.'"

Weissenfels said he also was told not to expect many changes in any of the tests.

"Arizona ranks in the top 5 percent in the quality of standards, and is at the bottom 5 percent in accountability," he said. "But Payson is very lucky. There are a lot of places in worse shape."

Payson High School Principal Phil Gille, in his report to the board, said that after receiving the AIMS results in November, members of the high school's English and math departments got together.

"The goal is to have everybody working on the same skills," he said.

The high school plans to drop practice English, keep reading and add writing classes, he said.

Three reading classes and five writing classes will be available for freshmen. The idea, he said, is to get most of the freshmen through reading and writing and then concentrate on math. Night classes, summer classes and special tutors also will be available to help students prepare for the AIMS test.

All freshmen will take one math class in their first year in high school and general math will be dropped.

Judy Larkins, chair of the PHS math department, said, "Kids will not choose. This is what we have determined is their best chance of graduating now that the state has usurped the power. Either they produce or they will be in two math classes."

Board president Kristi Ford asked school officials if they could put a price tag on what it will take to prepare students for the AIMS test.

"They haven't given us a dime to do this," she said.

"It will take a lot," Rim Country Middle School Principal Frank Larby said.

In other business, the board re-elected Kristi Ford president and Don Engler as clerk and voted to continue its regular meetings on the second Monday of each month. Board members also voted to change the time of the meetings from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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