Tight Times Dampen School Board Spirit

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Jovial reflections by the Payson School Board were tempered by reality Monday night when the prospect of future tight times topped concerns during an annual self-evaluation.

Three board members are not seeking re-election, and the entire board discussed its legacy and what could be improved.

Predicted funding shortages topped the list of challenges.

“We kind of get out of here just in time,” joked board member Mike Horton, guessing that budget difficulties would fully manifest in the fiscal year 2010 budget. Besides Horton, Charles Brown and Don Engler will relinquish their seats in January.

Horton suggested developing a strategic plan to deal with any funding shortfalls, especially ways of maintaining the gifted program and course diversity in spite of money woes.

Other challenges that arose included retaining personnel, maintaining and upgrading buildings and diversifying curriculum.

Declining district enrollment coupled with a state budget deficit could crimp future budgets, board members fear. The district lost an average of 56 students this year, based on the first 40 days.

“It’s always to education where they seem to look to get their money,” said board member Viki Holmes.

The district’s 10 percent, or $1.4 million, maintenance and budget override is up for voter renewal next month, and board members fear even with that money, next year’s budget will be lean. This year’s operating budget is $16 million.

If the override were to fail, the money would decrease by one-third next year, and by another third the year after that.

Officials say programs like elementary physical education, small class sizes and librarians are dependent on renewing the money.

The board’s bantering led member Charles Brown to wax sentimental. “It’s one of the things I hope we can leave as a legacy — that we get along together,” he said.

“I only had to glare at you a couple times,” Holmes earlier joked in response to a similar comment.

The need to broaden vocational programs was also widely discussed. Superintendent Casey O’Brien said students need more programs where they can receive certification straight from high school.

The change would make vocational courses career preparation classes instead of electives, but would require appropriately certified teachers.

The automotive program, for instance, has become a “basically how-do-you-fix-your-tire class,” said Holmes. “That needs to change.”

O’Brien suggested using leftover bond money to develop the district’s existing vocational programs. “I’m not just talking about agriculture,” he added.

The agriculture teacher is set to retire, and some say a new building is necessary for the program to continue.

In more urban areas, schools can collaborate and offer a wide “breadth” of vocational programs. Payson students don’t have that opportunity, O’Brien said.

“Our challenge in Payson is what are we going to do and what are we going to be able to do well.”

Board members also said it was important to maintain the brand-new buildings voters agreed to pay for in 2006.

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