District Cuts Teachers, Elementary Pe Classes


Eight Payson teachers will not be returning to their classrooms next year and elementary school physical education will be eliminated, unless a projected budget shortfall turns out to be less severe than anticipated.

Payson Unified School District Superintendent Herb Weissenfels is not optimistic. He said several factors are contributing to what he believes will be a $400,000 shortfall.

"State retirement is more than doubling," he said. "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."

The increase will cost the district $254,000. By law, contributions to the retirement fund are paid half by teachers and half by the district.

The other major contributor to the deficit is a 20 percent increase in health insurance premiums.

"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."

A third factor negatively impacting the budget is a drop in enrollment of nine students this year. The state pays the district approximately $3,400 per student.

While the state is supposed to increase its appropriation to school districts by two percent, that isn't guaranteed in a year of severe budget cuts. But even if it happens, it won't alleviate the situation faced by the district.

"That wouldn't even be enough to cover the retirement increase," Weissenfels said.

The decision to eliminate eight of the district's 178 teaching positions was confirmed by the board of education at its meeting Monday evening.

"The district has a RIF (for Reduction in Force) policy that takes into consideration district needs, qualifications and longevity with the district," Weissenfels said. "When the administrative team met to make their recommendations, they considered everything from the laws, where we've got to have qualified people, keeping class sizes as reasonable as possible -- just the entire district program.

"If we had just cut new teachers, we would have had class sizes of 30 to 40 kids, so we couldn't do that. We had to protect special ed because the law says you will have it. So we had to take a look at nonessential programs."

A lot of districts around the state are eliminating elementary physical education, Weissenfels said.

Tracey Herbert, PE teacher at Julia Randall Elementary, has 20 years seniority and will be transferred to another position. She told the board Monday evening that she believes eliminating the PE program is a mistake.

"The fact is that everything nowadays is completely focused on health care and the state our nation is in," Herbert said. "If students don't acquire good habits on how to live a healthy lifestyle, we're going to be the most obese (nation)."

Gretchen Chatfield, a parent and president of the JRE Parent-Teachers Organization, is disappointed with the loss of physical education, but blames the state.

"(The school board) had to do what they had to do," she said. "It's upsetting because all the places they should be putting money they're cutting it. The blame lies with the state."

While four nonteaching positions will also be eliminated next year, Weissenfels said that cuts made two years ago in support staff and administration left little choice this time around.

Faced with a deficit of more than $700,000 in 2001, the board voted to eliminate three maintenance positions, the transportation supervisor, the director of personnel, an accounting position, and a secretarial position in special services. Just two classroom cuts were made then.

"We had a similar problem that year, and we ran out of those (nonclassroom) people to be able to cut," he said. "What was left (this year) was how do we do this to have the least interference with the educational system."

Teachers who have been told their positions will probably be eliminated next year include Megan Ervin (Frontier Elementary School), Julie Eckhardt (Julia Randall Elementary School), Angela Boehm (JRE), Greg Cobb (Rim Country Middle School), Robert Chasse (RCMS), Catherine Wood (RCMS), Michael Stern (RCMS), and Victor Caballero (RCMS).

Some schools lost more teachers than others because they had more first-year teachers. Positions will be balanced by transferring teachers from other schools.

"All things being equal -- say all of the teachers have received satisfactory evaluations -- you end up going to longevity," Weissenfels said. "So first-year teachers are the ones that took the biggest hits."

Besides elementary PE, reductions included the elimination of high school department heads and four classified (non-teaching) positions. The names of the classified employees have not been released yet.

Weissenfels also emphasized that some of the eight teachers might be rehired depending on the actual budget deficit and teacher resignations and retirements the district is not yet aware of.

"I would bet the answer is going to be ‘yes' on that happening," he said. "Nothing is final until the budget is adopted in July. We had to notify the teachers because we are required by law to do so within a given time frame."

Weissenfels said the district's RIF policy also gives the eight teachers first right of refusal if a position opens up for which they are qualified during the next three years.

"Hopefully some of those things will happen, and we think they will," Weissenfels said.

"It's horrible," Payson Elementary School Principal Roy Sandoval said. "But when you lose students and your insurance goes up and your state withholding for retirement goes up ... there's no reserve. Everybody has acted in good faith."

Herbert said the decision would be easier to accept had teachers been included in the process.

"The teachers were not involved in the decision-making," she said. "We had no voice. Most people, whether you're in public schools or business, if you at least get a voice or feel like you've been involved, even if it's doomsday, you can cope with it."

Judy Perham, who teaches physical education at Payson Elementary School, supports the district's decisions, but wants to make sure PE is not forgotten.

"The No. 1 concern is not that we can change anything with the finances," she said. "If we, as a PE department, stand up and yell, it just means something else is going to get cut that isn't good for kids either. So my plea right now is that if any money becomes available that PE is the No. 1 thing on the list. I don't want the budget approved and then funds become available and we pick up a $35,000 van."

Teachers targeted

Teachers who have been told their positions may be be eliminated next year include:

Megan Ervin (Frontier Elementary School),

Julie Eckhardt (Julia Randall Elementary School), Angela Boehm (JRE),

Greg Cobb (Rim Country Middle School),

Robert Chasse (RCMS),

Catherine Wood (RCMS),

Michael Stern (RCMS),

Victor Caballero (RCMS).

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