School Board Must Decide When To Fight

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So, when do you admire the guy who charges a bullet-spitting machine gun nest?

Let’s say he risks death to save his pinned-down platoon. Yeah. That’s a hero.

Let’s say, he’s trying to reach a wounded squad member. Probably not smart — but admirable.

Let’s say he just cracks and goes skipping into the line of fire reciting lines from the Jabberwocky. Tragic, not necessarily admirable.

Which prompts us to pose the question: When should the Payson Unified School District Board climb out of the slit trench and charge the machine gun nest of public opinion?

As it turns out courage — especially political courage — can be hard to define, and harder yet to find.

So, the board decided recently not to go back to the public in the midst of a recession to seek approval of a property tax override. The request for approval to spend above a state cap would have boosted the district’s budget by $1.4 million and cost the owner of a $200,000 about $82 annually.

Voters shocked the school board last November by rejecting the override, which they’d approved in years past. That vote came at the same time voters rejected a YMCA facility for the children of Payson. Combined, those two votes showed a worrisome disregard for the needs of the children of this community — even before the recession put such a serious financial strain on many voters.

Back in November, the school board and assorted groups that support education barely lifted a finger get that override passed — whether from indifference or overconfidence.

This time, the board members accepted Superintendent Casey O’Brien’s recommendation not to fight the good fight in the face of the recession, saying it would send the wrong message to financially hard-pressed voters.

The Payson Town Council did the same thing last week and we ruefully applauded the gesture. But then, Payson has maintained programs and minimized the impact of budget cuts.

We’re not so sure the school system should as easily duck its head and defer to voter fears about the recession.

In the short term, it’s probably sensible to lie flat in the slit trench while the bullets zip past overhead. No sense getting your head shot off — best to live to fight another day. Besides, the district got lucky this year when it comes to federal grants and stimulus money. But that only disguised the district’s looming financial crisis.

Next year will likely prove a different story, when the combined effect of the lost override, state cutbacks and the lack of federal stimulus money will hit home.

The district may be postponing the day of reckoning, but that will likely only compound its problems.

Moreover, we’d be more confident in this political strategy if the board weren’t strangely passive in the midst of scary portents. Just take a look at the achievement scores at the high school, the frightening drop-out rate, the increase in homeless students and the strange sight of computer labs with no computers.

At some point, this board must summon its courage, peer out over the sandbags and plan that zig-zag path through the hail of bullets.

But board members best not wait too long: The longer you lie flat listening to the sound of gunfire, the harder it gets to ever find your feet.

Saving strangers

Pop quiz: Do you know anyone who would take a call in the middle of the night saying you might be in trouble — and spend the next 12 hours hiking in steep, rough country trying to find you? And would they give you water and a happy slap on the back when it turned out you’d been insufferably foolish?

No? Not many friends so brave, strong and selfless?

Well, think again — we know some folks who would happily do that for you, although you just don’t happen to know them.

So we want to once again thank the volunteers for Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, who turn out every weekend to save strangers.

Mind you, we don’t necessarily admire the good sense of the people who end up in need of rescue, but we’re agog at the character and selflessness of the volunteers who show up.

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