With “eyes and ears” scattered around the Payson Unified School District, Barbara Underwood says she would be an effective school board member because she is already embedded in district politics.
Underwood, who also sits on Payson’s Design Review Board and runs the Payson Senior Center, used to work at Payson High School as a secretary. One of her daughters teaches at Frontier Elementary School, and her husband once taught drafting at the high school.
Underwood also sits on a committee that’s working to ensure Payson’s school budget override continues. Voters this November will decide whether to continue paying a $1.4 million override to maintain existing programs.
Underwood said she opposes asking voters to pay more than what they already pay, even if future budgets require cuts.
Some programs, however, are non-negotiable. Underwood believes vocational programs, arts and music are necessary to create well-rounded students.
She supports a new building for the agricultural program, and increased campus security, but stopped short of endorsing a fence. She wants to see more data before deciding whether to close the high school campus during lunch.
In the closed-campus debate, Underwood for now mirrors the sentiments of existing board members who decided at the last meeting to first examine statistics — including how much keeping students on campus would cost and how many students ditch class after lunch — before making a decision.
“All decisions need to be based on: Is it best for the kids?” Underwood said.
The closed campus debate is nuanced. On one hand, Underwood doesn’t believe kids should be forced to eat lunch on campus so the district can stop losing money — $100,000 last year — on food services. But on the other hand, that money could instead further students’ educations.
Some school officials have recommended building a fence to help keep kids on campus and ramp up security.
Underwood disputed that solution’s effectiveness. “I don’t think a fence will keep them in,” she said. “If they want to get out, they’ll get out.”
The fence could be part of an overall security plan, which Underwood said the district needs before tragedy — a lunchtime fatality, for instance — occurs. But plans require money, which is in short supply these days.
And Underwood has other priorities. The agriculture program “must” have a building. Agriculture teacher Wendell Stevens is retiring soon and he has said a building could help attract a qualified teacher who wants to stay a while.
“If the district is going to continue that program, there has to be a building,” Underwood said.
She doesn’t want to cut art, music or vocational programs, saying that those programs create well-rounded students. Underwood avoided listing programs she would cut, explaining that she hadn’t examined the budget closely enough to recognize expendables.
Mentioning the stint during which she owned and operated a Payson restaurant, Underwood said her business experience could be an asset if she sat on the board.
She wants to focus on building camaraderie among district staff and increasing communication.
“You aren’t going to be popular at all times,” Underwood said. But, “I guess I have a passion for the kids. I really do.”