Teachers Spared, Budget Approved


All the teachers who were told last March that their positions were being eliminated have been offered employment by the Payson Unified School District.

Due to an anticipated decline in revenues and increased costs, the district was forced to cut or RIF (for Reduction in Force) 11.5 certified staff members to balance the budget.

"We actually lost 12 positions, but when all the resignations came in, all of them had a chance to come back," PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels said.

Although the teachers have been invited back, many of the program cuts remain as the PUSD Board of Education gave final approval to the 2003-04 fiscal year budget at its regular meeting on Monday. Programs that will not be offered this year because of the reduction in force include elementary school physical education, one of the elective English programs at Payson High School, part of the home economics program at PHS, and middle school art.

"With the exception of districts like Deer Valley that are growing rapidly, every district is in the same position," Weissenfels said.

The state pays the district about $3,400 per student and enrollment was down by nine students from last year.

Increased costs include:

  • The district's contribution to the state retirement fund is more than doubling.

"This year, teachers and the district contributed 2.49 percent of salaries to the retirement fund, Next year, that's jumping to 5.7 percent," Weissenfels said. The increase will cost the district $254,000.

  • Health insurance premiums increased by 20 percent.

"To keep the same plan this year would have meant an increase of 38 percent," Weissenfels said. "No way could we afford that, so we moved to a plan with higher deductibles, and that increase will come out about 20 percent."

The state increased its appropriation to school districts by 2 percent, and employees will get a small raise.

"Despite all the challenges, the board made a commitment to certified staff and classified staff to give a 2-percent raise," Bobette Sylvester, PUSD business manager, said.

The $19 million budget reflects a .6 percent increase over last year's budget, according to Sylvester.

Another item scheduled for presentation to the board at the Monday meeting was canceled when Art Rogers, a parent who had asked to address the board, was unable to attend the meeting. The issue of concern was sixth grade class size, which Rogers called "unacceptable." Weissenfels confirmed that the parent's figures -- six teachers for 190 to 200 sixth graders -- are accurate.

"But it doesn't take into consideration that some of those students are not in there all the time because they're in what we call exploratory classes," Weissenfels said.

The superintendent also indicated that the situation is not unique to the sixth grade.

"We'd like to have smaller classes too," Weissenfels said. "We've got some good populations in the fifth grade and maybe one of the first grades."

He said Payson's class sizes are not above average for Arizona, but Arizona has one of the highest student-teacher ratios in the nation.

"Our average comes out 1:19, but that's such a misleading number when it comes to real average. You get a high school teacher who has an average of 12 or 13 if they're teaching advanced subjects," Weissenfels said. "Then, you'll find a teacher who teaches straight English or sixth grade who might have an average closer to 30. We are actually a tiny bit better than the state average."

Rogers told the Roundup he will introduce the issue at the next board meeting.

"They only have so much money and so many assets, so they are caught in a bind," he said. "A long-term solution is educating the public and pushing for an override, but short-term I want to have more of a discussion as to what we can do (now) because I don't think it makes for a good, quality education."

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