School Enrollment Drops Again


Payson Unified School District’s enrollment is continuing to decline, despite an increase in elementary school attendance.

This year, average enrollment has dropped to 2,683 students, a loss of roughly 2 percent. Average enrollment is not the same as head count, but is a gauge of daily attendance used for funding purposes.

In head count, Payson’s three elementary schools gained 20 students combined, while Rim Country Middle School’s enrollment dropped 30 students. Ten fewer students attend the high school this year, and one less attends Payson Center for Success.

Compared to last year’s loss of 100 students, Superintendent Casey O’Brien said this year’s drop is slight.

“The projection is flat to a slight decline, so I would say we’re in those parameters,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien attributes half of the attrition to fewer Payson students, and the other half to fewer students from Pine, Strawberry and Tonto Basin.

The mystery is, where are these students going?

“We don’t know,” O’Brien said. Some of the loss is likely due to families moving to find jobs, but tracking where students go is difficult, mostly because the district can’t ask them. They’re gone.

“When people leave, they leave,” O’Brien said.

Pine Strawberry Superintendent Mike Clark said his school lost seven students this year, which reduced the school’s enrollment to 138. Of the 11 graduating eighth-graders, eight students enrolled in Payson High School. Two moved, and one chose homeschooling.

Declining enrollment doesn’t impact the Pine Strawberry school because it is so small that its funding isn’t based on attendance numbers.

The state funds Payson roughly $3,000 per student, which is based on enrollment through the first 100 days.

This year’s decline will not hugely impact the district, O’Brien said. Last year, the district kept six positions vacant after teachers left and cut money from office operations to stay solvent.


Andrea Lutz 8 years, 3 months ago

I have lived in this area for nearly three years. I moved up here to try and rebuild my life after escaping a bad marriage. I lived in Pine for the first two years, and I felt that I was iced out because I was not part of the "good ole boy" network. I was a single, working mother, not a well kept, stay at home, mom. It seems that my lifestyle choice is frowned upon here. Last year, in February, I moved to Payson to be closer to work. I am an insurance agent here in town. I was driving a beat up old Trooper when I enrolled my daughter at JRE, I felt that "our kind" were not wanted there. The people of this area definitely judge people based on what car they drive. I pulled her out after just two days because I was very disatisfied with the Principal and the teacher my daughter was assigned to. I had requested to meet with all three 4th grade teachers so I could have a say in whom would be teaching my child, and was denied that request. I pulled my eldest daughter out of Pine because of a conflict with one teacher. The schools up here are substandard at best compared to other places in AZ. My oldest daughter is happily attending home school, because there is no way I would have her in RCMS. We all cannot be married, wealthy, stay at home, PTA mommies, but if you are not, watch out you will be treated poorly by the people in charge of the schools in this area. This area lacks good schools, options, and employment opportunities. This is why enrollment is down so much in this area, no opportunity mixed with poor schools equals, people moving away.


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