Education is an election issue for Payson voters this year.
Besides all the candidates and propositions on the general election ballot, voters who live in the Payson Unified School District will also be asked to approve the district's participation in a joint technological education district or JTED. Such a district there are currently eight in the state assist member school districts in upgrading and enhancing their vocational programs. They also provide additional career and technical programs at local community college campuses.
The district PUSD would join is the Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (NAVIT) which was formed in 1998 and is currently comprises Heber, Show Low, Springerville, Winslow, Holbrook, St. Johns and Joseph City school districts.
While approval of the measure would mean a 5-percent qualifying tax rate increase, that only amounts to $5 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home. By joining a JTED, state statute would allow PUSD to receive significant additional funding to purchase equipment and supplies for existing career and technical education programs and to finance new programs.
"It's a very low fee to tap into a tremendous amount of money," said NAVIT Superintendent Chester Crandell.
Blue Ridge, Show Low and Snowflake, districts, all with vocational student counts similar to Payson, received $328,000, $230,000 and $322,000 respectively this year. Blue Ridge used part of its money to add a fashion design program, while Heber-Overgaard, another district already participating in the program, was able to fund a computer lab and commercial art lab.
"The first thing Rim country residents will see if they approve joining NAVIT is some increased funding that will go into your local school district for career and technical education money that will improve the existing programs you already have," Crandell said. "The second thing you're going to see is that students at Payson High School will be able to have expanded programs jointly with Pima Community College. We work strictly with local community colleges in using their facilities and instructors, participating in the cost ... so together we can offer more and better programs."
While such programs range from hospitality (hotel and restaurant) and cosmetology to welding, plumbing and electrical instruction, specific and unique Rim country community needs would also be addressed.
"A natural here would be certified nursing assistant (program)," said Matt Weber, principal of NAVIT. "Another program people want here is fire science. This will improve work force development by producing more qualified and better-trained people for local businesses and health care providers."
While PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels is not allowed by law to campaign for the question, he made it clear where he stands.
"We can't get involved, but we naturally feel there are advantages for our kids and for the community in the curriculum offered by NAVIT," Weissenfels said. "Rural districts are just not able to provide that kind of training because of the cost, and this combines a lot of resources to allow us to do it. This levels the playing field for our kids."
Weissenfels also emphasized that the average tax increase would be less than $5 per year because the education tax rate "is going to drop a bit next year."
While visiting with local groups on the issue, Crandell and Weber have been asked how, with nine member schools in Navajo and Apache counties, NAVIT can also service the Payson area.
"Chester and I and a third of our four employees live in Heber," Weber said. "This is just going to be an extra 10 miles for us."
They also emphasize that the JTED issue is entirely separate from Proposition 400 the measure concerning the formation of a provisional community college district in Gila County.
"However that turns out, there will be a community college in Payson, and we will partner with whatever show is in town," Weber said.
While Payson is largely a retirement community, Crandell emphasizes the need and responsibility to provide opportunities for young people.
"Whether they're my kids or somebody else's, students still need to be educated," he said. "And if they're getting some good education and training in skills they can use, they're going to be off the streets and out of trouble."
Since the Legislature first authorized the formation of JTEDs in 1990, Payson is behind most districts in seeking to join one.
"We're a little later than some," Weissenfels said. "We spent two years with a committee from the schools and community to look into this. We looked at all of those around us and decided NAVIT would give us the best service."
He is confident voters will agree with the committee's recommendation.
"I can't help but feel that an issue that is positive for education and the community as a whole will be something that would be seen affirmatively," Weissenfels said.
The JTED question will not be on the Pine-Strawberry ballot because those communities have their own school district. But Pine-Strawberry students will be able to participate in the program while attending PHS.
Charter, private and home-schooled children can also participate in NAVIT programs if they live within PUSD boundaries.