A far-reaching debate that hinged on the economics of containing potential mischief-makers prompted the Payson Unified School District on Monday to table a measure that could keep freshmen on campus during lunch.
The board tabled the question in August because of too many unanswered questions, including how to enforce the rule.
On Tuesday, the board said it wanted to see numbers outlining how many students skip class after lunch and how much it would cost to have teachers double as campus leak police.
The board’s reasons for wanting to change the open campus rule vary from promoting safety on campus to ending a food services deficit.
Board member Rory Huff said the campus should be closed before disaster forces a policy change.
“We act like we’re up here in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” Huff said.
He also speculated that most kids cut or arrive late to classes after lunch.
The campus’ porousness previously gave board members pause. The lack of a fence means administrators have little control over who enters and who exits.
Board member Mike Horton was motivated by the $100,000-plus check the district wrote to Sodexho last year for food services. If more students stayed on campus for lunch, Horton said, perhaps the district could stop hemorrhaging money.
Board member Charles Brown said he has heard rumors that students shoplift during the lunch hour. “Nobody ever seems to be caught. Nobody ever turns in a name,” Brown said, suggesting the district look into it.
Board member Don Engler has opposed closing the campus solely to make money on food services, saying that perhaps the district could contract with a local restaurant for food instead of Sodexho.
District Business Manager Bobette Tomerlin said meals must meet health guidelines, which would complicate a restaurant food services contract.
Superintendent Casey O’Brien said of a possible closed campus, “It’s not a concern from the perspective of the superintendent’s office because it has not come on my radar at all.” However, he added that police have cited traffic concerns and “occasional” shoplifting.
Payson High School Principal Roy Sandoval said he calculated that 12 teachers would need to devote 30 minutes five days a week to cover all the exits.
He added that closed campuses historically do not decrease failure rates.
A successfully secured campus would require a new cafeteria and a fence, O’Brien said. The cafeteria holds only 80 students. School officials said students eat in shifts and often sit outside during lunch. Roughly 800 students attend Payson High School.
“It is an economic issue, both from the point of Sodexho and what it would cost us,” Horton said.
“The only way I can see doing this, frankly, is if Sodexho pays for it,” O’Brien said.
Board member Viki Holmes asked her colleagues if they were looking for a short-term or long-term plan. Huff said the board could pick a quick solution that complements future goals. A fence, for instance, could remain useful even if the campus is renovated.
Board members also wondered about the appropriate timeline, noting that it’s difficult to take away a freedom once it’s enjoyed.