School Calendar Change Draws Packed House

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People crowded into the Payson School Board meeting room Monday and lined up on the sidewalk outside the door to find out how the board plans to change the school calendar and trim the budget for the 2001-2002 school year.

After 18 months of study, the Superintendent's Advisory Council recommended Monday that the board adopt a modified calendar that would shorten the traditional summer vacation by about two weeks and add three two-week breaks to the school year, one after each nine-week quarter.

"They became sold on the idea after talking to representatives of other districts who had done the same thing, and reluctantly had to put the brakes on in December to get input from the board and inform the public," Payson School Superintendent Herb Weissenfels said.

A modified calendar is different than a year-round calendar, which eliminates the summer break altogether in favor of shorter, equally spaced breaks throughout the calendar year.

The bottom line, Weissenfels told the audience of about 150 people, is that modified school calendars have been shown to have a positive impact on student achievement, attendance and morale. The schedule provides students with a continuous flow of instruction, he said, which improves learning retention.

Although many of the teachers in the audience expressed support for the modified schedule, Payson High School band instructor Larry Potvin said the proposed calendar isn't ideal for his program.

"Let's not put the cart before the horse," he said after the meeting. "If retention, discipline and attendance are a problem, let's work on those problems instead of trying to find a catch-all cure. Let's make sure this is not rammed down people's throats. We need to take some things into consideration like summer jobs."

The advisory council will now work to educate the public about the proposed calendar change, listing its advantages and disadvantages and answering the most frequently asked questions.

Rim Country Middle School Principal Frank Larby, also a member of the council, said that in addition to printed materials, a Web site would be created about the calendar, and that presentations would be made to the Pine and Tonto Basin school boards, to civic groups and to small neighborhood groups.

"This calendar is not a solution for everything," Larby said, "but it is a way to move forward."

Budget cuts

In other business, Payson Education Association President Ginger Sparks presented a detailed analysis of the past two school district budgets. The report was prepared by the National Education Association and, according to Sparks, justifies budget cuts proposed at the central office level. The budget analysis utilized trend data from the 1998-1999 and 1999-2000 school years as the basis of next year's budget projections.

The proposed cuts include eliminating three maintenance positions, the transportation supervisor, the director of personnel, an accounting position, and a secretarial position in special services.

Other proposed reductions include board and superintendent travel, and two classroom cuts eliminating full-day kindergarten and cutting a half-time preschool teacher.

Sparks said she and other association officials think these cuts, minus the elimination of the all-day kindergarten program and the half-time preschool teacher, would save more than $323,000.

Other savings made possible by the influx of money from a new state program called Students First and by leaving more state money in the maintenance-operations budget can make up most of the projected deficit without having to make cuts at school sites.

"Monies generated from these sources alone could mitigate $717,830 in funding losses," Sparks told the board.

The projected budget shortfall was caused by two factors declining enrollment and a new state criteria that will reduce the number of students eligible for a special education category called Emotionally Disabled-Private or EDP. Since the district receives about $3,400 per student from the state, and a much higher stipend for EDP students than other special education students, the deficit the district faces is considerable.

The district's 80th-day student count indicates a loss of only 34 students district-wide, fewer than earlier counts that showed a loss of more than 60 students. A final 100-day count will be taken at the end of January.

In the meantime, she said, pupil losses should be treated as projections.

Teacher salaries in Payson remain below the state average, Sparks said, so salary increases must be the No. 1 priority for the next budget year and beyond.

"There are still areas," she said, "where spending cuts can be made in order to increase additional dollars for staff salaries."

Sparks then thanked the administration and the board for recognizing the need to keep budget cuts out of the classroom.

"We would like to express our appreciation to all of you for recognizing that staff cuts must be kept as far removed from students as possible," she said.

In other action, the school board elected school board members Albert Hunt president and Vicki Holmes vice president for 2001.

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