Surviving The Perfect Storm — Together

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Payson Unified is the largest employer in our community and our bond projects have put millions of dollars back into the local economy, but as I view the district, it is concern over its fragility and vulnerability — like a small boat in threatening seas. This year’s economy and resulting cuts to education is like that tempest portrayed in the book and movie “The Perfect Storm.” Like the movie, there is a moment of calm where the sun is shining, following a tempest. We have not had to layoff employees and programs for our schools are largely intact. It’s our brief moment of calm and sun. The storm, however, is not over, and what’s happening at the state capitol these days portends more dark clouds for schools on the near horizon.

The phrase perfect storm refers to large, unrelated weather elements converging to create a potential monster weather phenomenon. Here is PUSD’s perfect storm:

State funding for education has been cut significantly this year and even with federal assistance, will be cut more significantly next year.

Funding for district utilities has been cut by nearly half a million dollars.

The loss of the override last year reduces our budget by 10 percent over the next three years. That’s 1.2 million dollars.

Sales tax revenues, which also support education funding, are down significantly.

Student enrollment has slightly decreased the last two years.

The district understands the need to conserve and to downsize. As I have written in previous columns, we have used bond dollars to significantly improve energy efficiency and lower our costs. We have also, over the last two years, eliminated 16 certified positions, clerical positions and two administrative positions, and our administrative costs are significantly below the state averages. In other words, we have taken many steps to keep our ship in good order and seaworthy. Our “ship,” however, is still fragile, given the potential magnitude of the storm ahead.

This being the case, the governing board made what was certainly a very difficult, but courageous decision this week, not to go to the community of Payson, for a budget override in November. The rationale for this decision was based on a reality check: so many in our community are fighting desperately to stay afloat in this same storm. For them, there has been no temporary calm, but a relentless struggle month after month, just to get by.

It’s going to be a challenging year for our school district. Our teachers and staff, however, are as committed to our students as ever. Let’s hope for the benefit of our schools and our community that the storm starts to break apart in the coming months and we get some sunshine.

We may come to the community for support via an override in March. We’ll see. Right now it’s anyone’s guess what the state budget and school funding will look like at the start of 2010.

For now, we’re in this together and when things are looking up, hopefully, as in the past, Payson’s citizens will be there to support their schools.

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