Seeing The Numbers Can Sometimes Cause Shock And Awe

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Closing out the school year, one that I believe has been quite successful, I get a chance to look at different numbers. I spend a fair amount of my time looking at numbers: budget numbers, bond dollars, class size projections, staffing requirements, AIMS scores. The list goes on, but some numbers are particularly interesting —perhaps even to the point of generating a little shock and awe.

Let’s look at the “awe” numbers first. In spite of an economy that’s yelling “Mayday!”, we received nearly $270,000 in Credit for Kids contributions in 2008-09. Granted, these are dollar-for-dollar tax credit contributions, but in tough times, writing that check in December, knowing the return will not come until you file your taxes, is more difficult to do. On top of Credit for Kids, the generous folks of Payson donated an additional $77,000 in direct cash contributions for various programs. That is fantastic. Also, though difficult to quantify to the dollar, we received thousands of dollars in equipment (computers, etc.) and supplies this year.

Paysonites are not only willing to open their checkbooks, but are magnanimous with their time. This past year parents and community members volunteered 8,400 hours helping teachers in classrooms, chaperoning field trips and assisting at athletic and other events. You can’t place a value on the difference many of these hours may have made in the lives of our students.

Speaking of students, another impressive number is the more than $700,000 in scholarships awarded to this year’s PHS and PCS graduating seniors. Thousands of these dollars came from our very own service organizations and charitable organizations.

These “awe” numbers are terrific and part of why PUSD continues to forge ahead despite serious budget cuts from the state.

Unfortunately, there is some “shock” that accompanies all of the “awe.” This week, I received a summary report from the Arizona Department of Education regarding the number of students in our district identified as homeless under the federal guidelines of the McKinney-Vento Act. That number is 314. That’s correct. Out of approximately 2,600 students, 314 are homeless. Does this mean that these children are living in cars or in the forest? No. The significant majority are living in temporary quarters, such as with friends or family due to economic hardship. This technically qualifies them as homeless, because they have been forced, via economic circumstances, into some type of temporary housing.

Given that over half of our students qualify for federal free/reduced lunches, I can tell you that in many cases the “economic hardship” leading to homelessness is severe. What is even perhaps more shocking than this number of homeless students, is comparing it to the number in other communities. The school districts of Gilbert, Peoria and Deer Valley have a combined student enrollment of 113,000 students. Their combined student homeless population: 307. That’s right. We have more homeless children in Payson, even though they have 43 times the number of students. Now, I understand that an argument can be made that these are more affluent communities, but there are several schools in Peoria that have significantly higher free/reduced percentages than our schools. Mesa and Tucson have greater homeless numbers, but they also have tens of thousands of students receiving free/reduced meals.

The bottom line for me is that I find 314 shocking. I hope many of you do as well. Do I have an immediate solution to this problem? Most unfortunately, I do not. What I can say with assuredness is that for many of our homeless students, besides the love of their parents, school is the one other constant in their lives. In a world of uncertainty, these kids can count on the fact that we provide the same quality of education and open the same doors of opportunity for them that we do for the kids who know where they will be sleeping each night.

I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all those who have contributed so generously with their time and dollars this past year. You are AWEsome. May we continue to be so fortunate to have your support and the support of the entire community for all of our students and especially for these 314.

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