When voters were told last fall that the creation of a joint technological education district (JTED) at a minimal cost to taxpayers would be a bargain, 70 percent responded positively at the polls.
Since the election, the two entities that made the promise -- the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) and the Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (NAVIT) -- have been hard at work forging a partnership that will make it a reality.
NAVIT, one of several technological education districts in Arizona, includes the Heber, Show Low, Springerville, Winslow, Holbrook, St. Johns and Joseph City school districts, as well as Payson. Its function is to assist those school districts in upgrading and enhancing their vocational programs, while also providing additional career and technical programs at local community college campuses.
NAVIT and PUSD officials are now meeting with officials from Gila Community College to establish central programs. The goal is to begin offering classes this fall.
To determine which programs to offer, NAVIT is in the process of polling key segments of the community. The first of these, sophomores and juniors at Payson High School and Payson Center for Success, were surveyed before Christmas.
Programs that ranked high among the students were law enforcement/public safety, cosmetology, certified nursing assistant, medical assistant and fire science.
"Gila's certified nursing assistant and fire science programs are already up and running and can easily be offered for the fall semester," Susan Campbell, PUSD curriculum secretary, said.
Dr. Barbara Ganz, president of Gila Community College, agreed.
"We're going to start with those two because those are very high priority programs with the high school students and because they already exist," Ganz said. "We intend to use those two programs to help establish our procedures with NAVIT."
Tuition, fees and books for high school students in the program are all paid by NAVIT. While adults are welcome and encouraged to participate, they must pay tuition.
To fund the program, taxpayers pay an average of $5 on a $100,000 home. That money is supplemented by additional funding through the state general fund.
The combined total adds up to about $1,000 per student enrolled in vocational classes. Forty percent of that money stays with NAVIT to cover central programs; large, high-ticket capital projects like starting cosmetology and welding programs; administration and grants to member school districts.
Sixty percent of the money is returned to member districts to strengthen, broaden and improve existing vocational programs and to add new programs. Because state and federal vocational grant money is not affected, the local district enjoys a win-win situation, Campbell said.
"With this kind of money at stake, the possibilities are almost endless," she said. "Payson High School teachers are very excited about raising their programs to higher levels, thanks to increased funding."
Another benefit to membership in NAVIT is a $15,000 grant to establish a Career Center at PHS where students can electronically access information on careers, take interest inventory tests and plan for their future. Annual funding for a part-time career technician to staff the center and perform career counseling is included.
Scott Flake, director of the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation, was recently appointed Payson's representative on the 11-member NAVIT governing board. He is excited about the opportunities the community will realize as additional surveys are completed to ascertain the needs and desires of the community at large and local businesses.
"I think as the surveys are tabulated and additional programs are developed, we'll see more and more variety being offered -- including things like hospitality programs," Flake said.
Ganz envisions a time, perhaps five years down the road, when NAVIT will offer a full slate of programs that address the specific needs and wants of all segments of the community.
"The average Payson resident will, I hope, have access to a variety of career and technical programs to support not only their career development, but also the economic development of our community," Ganz said.
For more information on Payson's participation in NAVIT, or to volunteer to serve on a local program evaluation team, contact Bill Lawson, director of curriculum and career technical education for PUSD, at 474-2070.