Override Election Set

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The special budget override election for the Payson Unified School District has been officially set for May 18.

Gila County School Superintendent Armida Bittner announced the precinct polling sites and other pertinent information this week. Voters in precincts 1, 3, 7 and 8 will vote at Payson First Assembly of God Church, 1100 West Lake Drive, while precincts 2, 4, 5 and 6 will vote at Mount Cross Lutheran Church, 601 East Highway 260.

Electors in the Whispering Pines, Zane Grey and Gisela precincts will receive mail ballots.

The district is asking voters to approve a 10 percent override for seven years, which would raise an estimated $1,242,032. The average taxpayer who lives in a house valued at $116,000 would see an annual tax increase of $63 if the override passes. The additional tax on a house valued at $58,000 would be $31, while a $232,000 house would be assessed an additional $126.

Because businesses are assessed at 25 percent of full cash value, a business valued at $270,000 would see a tax increase of $368.

The override was necessitated by a combination of inadequate funding from the state and a continuing decline in enrollment, according to PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels.

"The student population the last couple of years has gone down," he said. "and it's projected to go down a little bit again next year. Because of that we lose revenue."

The state pays the district about $4,000 for each student, which ranks it 48th out of 50 states in funding education. This year PUSD has approximately 2,850 students.

The board has prepared two budgets, one with the override money included and one without.

If the override fails, cuts will include the middle school nurse, several librarians, and a total of 18 staff positions, including 16 teachers.

The teacher cuts would primarily be covered by raising class sizes throughout the district, a move that Weissenfels said would amount to a major step backward.

"Our class sizes are extremely good compared to the rest of the state," he said. "It's a desirable thing we've had for a long time.

"The board felt we could increase our class sizes by three or four students per class and that would allow us to reduce the number of teachers."

If the override passes, teachers will get a larger salary increase than if it doesn't, a critical step in keeping good teachers from leaving the district, he said.

"Our board realizes that we're losing long-term teachers who are driving to the Valley," Weissenfels said. "They are very concerned about the fact that we have a high cost of living in Payson and we pay extremely low. Our base salary for a teacher is $27,000. In the Valley it's $32,000 to $36,000."

Passage of the override would also result in maintaining optimal class sizes; retaining the middle school nurse, school librarians, and other personnel; reinstating the elementary school physical education programs that were eliminated last year; retaining the current level of extracurricular activities, and opening an alternative school for at-risk students in grades 6 through 12.

Weissenfels sought to dispel a rumor that the district is not using mail-in ballots so fewer seniors will vote in the election.

"There is no intention to eliminate anybody from voting," Weissenfels said. "When it was decided to go for an override it appeared there could be some controversy associated with the town election. We wanted to stay clear of that controversy, so we chose a different approach."

Weissenfels also reminded the community that the election is not limited to Payson voters.

"Anybody in the school district has a right to vote," he said. "It is not limited to the town of Payson. It includes Star Valley, Christopher Creek, Kohl's Ranch, and the areas south of us. The exception is Pine-Strawberry because they have their own district."

Other key election dates

  • Feb. 18: First day to request an early ballot
  • April 15: First day to vote early
  • April 19: Voter registration closes
  • May 7: Last day to request an early ballot to be mailed
  • May 14: Last day to vote early, Payson Recorder's Office

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