Cooler Heads Prevail On Idea To Close School Campus

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In a year when the Payson Unified School District has had to deal with some contentious personnel issues, it has so far been refreshing to watch the debate unfold over closing the Payson High School campus.

The issue was first raised at the Jan. 13 meeting of the board of education when two board members complained about student behavior and unauthorized visitors during the lunch hour. Both board members, Eileen Daniels and Carol Marchak, said they had personally observed the situation and called on PHS Principal Phil Gille to develop a plan for a closed campus for the board's consideration.

In the interim between that meeting and the subsequent board meeting on Monday, Gille and his assistant principals, Dave Bradley and Dan Maher, split the day up and personally assessed student behavior within a several block radius of campus.

At the school board meeting, Gille described his futile attempts to find students doing anything wrong. Bradley and Maher had similar experiences on their shifts. In fact, there was so little going on, the two joked about how passing each other and waving was about the only thing that happened.

Meanwhile, Gille got quotes on the cost of securing the sprawling 30-acre campus, which would have to be fenced in and patrolled by up to three security guards. A faculty that is already taxed with extra duties would have to be stretched even thinner to supplement the coverage.

Given what the research showed, Gille came back to the board with a proposal for a "regulated" rather than a "closed" campus -- whereby good students would be rewarded with the privilege of leaving campus for lunch. The problem with such a solution is that it still requires the expenditure of $20,000 for fencing and $65,000 for security guards.

Considering the tight money times faced by Arizona schools and his previous negative experience closing the Arcadia High School campus in the Valley, Gille intimated that his first choice would be to work with the existing situation.

The board listened, laughed in all the right places, and tabled the matter pending a work-study session set for March 24, at 5:30 p.m. At that meeting, which is open to the public, all interested parties will be able to provide input.

Thanks to the hard work of Gille and his team, what could have been a knee-jerk decision to close the campus was thoughtfully debated and will probably be resolved in a manner that all concerned can live with.

Sometimes it's difficult to practice what you preach, but Gille, Maher and Bradley were up to the challenge. They did their homework.

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