A Sad Tale Of Schools And Weed Whackers


Here’s a fun idea for a creative writing exercise. Quick: everyone write a one-sentence metaphor to describe the public school budget process.

Hmmm. Let’s see. How about:

It’s just like saddling a porcupine.

Being a mouse at a cat circus?

Popping popcorn in your bare hands?

Combing your hair with a weed whacker?

Well, you get the idea. It’d almost be funny if it weren’t so serious.

So the Payson Unified School District Board continues to go through the surreal motions of adopting a still hypothetical, $19-million budget before the deadline imposed by the legislature — although the legislative brain trust still hasn’t yet decided how much money schools will actually get.

Superintendent Casey O’Brien noted that it would have been a “catastrophic” budget without $3 million in federal stimulus money — since the legislature imposed deep cuts.

Now, make no mistake — we’re grateful for those federal dollars. Rim Country has done quite nicely by the stimulus process, starting with money for the Blue Ridge pipeline and ending with the rescue of the school budget.

But even if you manage to strap a saddle on a porcupine, that don’t mean you’re going to have a comfortable ride. Inevitably, federal money comes with a great bristle of conditions and generally draws a lot of blood.

Everyone knows how to teach a kid. You need a creative, enthusiastic, motivated teacher, a principal who can inspire, protect or correct and involved parents. Everything else is fluff, no matter how many state and federal mandates you can stuff into a popcorn popper.

So we really ought to focus on saving our schools —considering that our success as a country depends so utterly on what happens in those classrooms.

Yet year by year, mandate by mandate, we’ve created a system in which the people with the most important role must sit quietly in the stands twitching their tails, all the while hoping the legislative cats in tutus in the center ring don’t get hungry.

That’s how we end up with a school board that doesn’t speak, a budget you can’t figure out without an abacus and a system that manages to both squander money and obscure responsibility.

But, heck. We got through the process for one more year. Got that $3 million from the feds. Whoopeeee!! Spend it quick — let’s not think about next year.

Fire up the weed whacker, boys. My hair is all mussed up; just take a little off the top.

Don’t let the dingy float by

Lovely summer so far. Lots of rain. Cool temperatures. The cicadas, the rumbling monsoons, the babble of the East Verde.

But wait? What’s that?

Yikes! That’s the grinding of a Brooke Utilities water tanker truck — delivering water to the already dry tanks in Mesa del Caballo. What the heck?

Consider it a wakeup call. It’s time for the people living in the 14 communities along the proposed route of Payson’s Blue Ridge pipeline to look to their futures. The 500 acre-feet of unallocated water up for grabs when the pipeline delivers in about 2015 could determine their futures. That snug little dingy floating past with the oars all cockeyed belongs to you — but once it goes, it’s gone.

In an ideal world, folks could sit back easy in the knowledge that Brooke Utilities will negotiate diligently and deliver that water. Heck — it’ll actually be cheaper than pumping it out of the ground.

The company says it’s negotiating. Trust ’em. Sort of like Lucy and Charlie Brown. Surely, someday he’ll get to kick that ball.

Still, we’re just thinking it wouldn’t hurt if all those homeowners associations were to get involved — and if Gila County would safeguard their interests. Heck, maybe it’s time to talk about an improvement district or even annexation.

You see, time is slipping away, the river’s gurgling by and we can’t actually see anyone sitting in that rowboat.

You’ll feel bad if you turn back around and find the dingy’s gone.


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