In what looks like a decisive decision, voters approved the Payson Unified School District's budget override. While results are still unofficial, the preliminary count indicates 67 percent of ballots cast were in favor of the override. The measure will cost the average taxpayer $48 a year for education funding.
"I think it's the most important issue facing our town, and it will be for the next five or 10 years," said Craig Swartwood, head of Payson Kids Count, a local organization formed to work for passage of the override.
It's a decision most school districts have already made, he said.
"Eighty-six percent of the children in Arizona attend a school district that has an override in place," Swartwood said. "So we're flat in the minority."
The PUSD board prepared two budgets, one with the override money included and one without. Cuts, if the override failed, would have included the middle school nurse, several librarians, and a total of 18 staff positions, including 16 teachers.
The continuing loss of good teachers -- as well as the difficulty in attracting new ones -- finally convinced Swartwood to get involved.
"Several years ago when they had an opening for teachers, 10 people applied," he said. "All of a sudden they were only getting two applicants or they'd wait until August to hire a math teacher, and you could see the trend continuing."
Payson Kids Count raised several thousand dollars in private donations -- enough to wage an aggressive campaign leading up to Tuesday's election. The grassroots organization had a strong presence with advertising that included ads in the newspaper, area radio stations, and a large number of posters and signs bearing a colorful design of children's handprints.
"I am personally very, very gratified to know that we have a community that cares so deeply about education," said Kristi Ford, member of Payson Kids Count and PUSD board member.
"It showed when we came together to build the community college and it has shown again with the override. I hope the public will not forget, however, that our state legislators need to share that same value for education.
"I hope the public will remember these issues when it comes time to elect new state representatives.
Again, my deepest thanks to this community," Ford said.