School Board Candidate Touts Vocational, Agricultural Classes

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Matt Van Camp

Editor’s note: Matt Van Camp was omitted from the initial school board profiles due to missed communication.

Payson Police Detective Matt Van Camp attended the Payson school system from kindergarten to graduation. His daughter goes to the same elementary school he did — Julia Randall — and he is now vying for a spot on the Payson School Board where his boss, Police Chief Don Engler, now sits.

Van Camp is running against Barbara Underwood, Richard Meyer and Buzz Walker for three open school board positions. Underwood and Meyer both used to work for the school district. Walker works as Payson’s assistant public works director.

Van Camp advocated for further developing vocational programs, and emphasized that the average student must not be forgotten. Although Engler isn’t running for office, Van Camp said his choice to run isn’t directly related to that.

While few concrete differences have emerged among the candidates, each has elucidated a distinct set of priorities. Both Van Camp and Meyer pointedly advocated for the “average,” hard-working student who does not necessarily achieve straight As. Meyer also supported creating a more focused educational environment, one without sugary foods or study halls, which he said offer no academic value.

All supported vocational programs, but Van Camp most forcefully spoke on their behalf.

Walker is a proponent of the district’s alternative school, the Payson Center for Success, which educates students unable to thrive in a traditional classroom environment. He wants to expand the school.

Underwood spoke at length about creating well-rounded students, which requires offering art, music and vocational programs.

Van Camp is a product of Payson’s vocational education program and says he would heavily promote it if elected to the board. He began with drafting and woodshop in junior high before studying automotive technology in high school.

Van Camp went on to study car mechanics at a Wyoming technical school on a scholarship, and then moved to the Valley to work as a car dealership mechanic.

“College is important to promote, but not everyone can afford to go to college,” Van Camp said. “The school systems aren’t focusing enough on the average student.”

Vocational programs should be organized so students are fully prepared to find one of those good-paying jobs straight out of high school, Van Camp said.

Van Camp’s job at the car dealership led him to police work. He was fixing a cop car in Mesa, and the police fleet manager told Van Camp he should join the force. Forty-five days later, he entered the police academy.

Vocational programs aren’t limited to automobiles. Many people are concerned about the future of the agriculture program. Its teacher, the highly regarded Wendell Stevens, is set to retire soon, and some say a new building to fully equip the program is needed to attract a new teacher.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to replace Mr. Stevens,” Van Camp said. He supports building a new building, and said that perhaps leftover bond money could help finance it. Of course, the board would need to make sure the project fell within the parameters set by voters when they approved the bond, Van Camp said. “You can’t just pick a new project.”

Budget cuts are possible in the coming years, especially if voters decide not to continue the budget override when they vote in November.

The $1.4 million continued override would not cost voters any additional money, Van Camp said. An owner of a $200,000 home would continue to pay roughly $82 each year.

Van Camp said the override funds many important programs, including elementary physical education, and ensures small class sizes.

If the override doesn’t pass, the next school board will be forced to make drastic cuts, Van Camp said. Although he said he would need to thoroughly examine the budget before nominating items to chop, Van Camp said he would prefer cutting administration costs before eliminating student programs.

He said art and music are important, especially at the elementary levels, to build well-rounded students.

Van Camp is also a proponent of Payson’s alternative school, and he echoed the view of many inside the Payson Unified School District in saying the county’s alternative school, Payson Education Center, absorbs funds that could potentially go to Payson.

The two schools serve slightly different populations, he said. Payson’s school, Payson Center for Success, educates students who are behind in credits or who otherwise don’t thrive in a traditional classroom environment.

The Payson Education Center is more of a last resort school, educating students on probation or who have been expelled from other schools.

However, Van Camp said he wants to open a PEC-like school within the Payson school district.

While it’s not clear if Payson would be eligible for the funds that now finance the county schools, Van Camp speculated that Payson could have access. “If (county Superintendent of Schools Linda O’Dell) is able to get that money,” Van Camp said, “then there should be a way for the Payson school district to get that same money.”

Van Camp also endorsed the school board’s recent decision to close the high school campus to freshmen during lunch. Board members repeatedly tabled the decision until they had data that showed how much the move would cost and how many students actually arrive late to classes after lunch.

“Information is the key thing to making good decisions,” Van Camp said.

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