No way around it: This is bad. And no doubt about it: Our heart goes out to the Payson Unified School District, facing painful cuts in programs absolutely vital to the future of this community.
Still, we wish the school board and administration would resolve to communicate more effectively in the future with the taxpayers who pay the bills, and the community that will suffer so deeply as these lamentably necessary cuts take hold.
Consider the contrast between the Town of Payson and the Payson Unified School District in confronting budget problems that forced tough choices.
Both have operating budgets of around $20 million and both faced dwindling revenues that have forced layoffs and painful cutbacks.
The Payson Town Council held repeated public budget study sessions and public hearings before the council reluctantly approved cutbacks. Moreover, town administrators issued monthly financial status reports, tracking revenues and expenses.
Not so the Payson Unified School District.
The district last year used one-time federal stimulus money to avoid significant cuts. Then the schools appealed to voters to support the school override election, without ever actually detailing the likely cuts if the measure failed.
Thankfully, voters approved the override by a two-to-one margin, demonstrating their commitment to schools.
Then, suddenly, the second shoe dropped this week.
The administration put out the agenda on Saturday and the board approved painful cuts on Monday, in the course of a terse, half-hour meeting.
Statements by school board members and administrators stressed the terrible necessity of the layoffs. But none of the available material laid out the alternatives or provided any clear insight into the potential impacts.
As a general rule, we believe schools spend too much on overhead and administration and not enough on classroom teachers. So in theory, we are inclined to support any plan that spares teachers and focuses on overhead. In this case, this included the layoff of two school principals, the athletic director and the curriculum director.
Unfortunately, the lack of meaningful explanation will inevitably undercut public support. Moreover, subsequent statements made it clear the district faces additional cuts — the equivalent of perhaps 10 to 25 more positions, depending on whether voters approve a temporary 1 cent increase in state sales tax.
Inevitably, the rumors are swirling and the questions multiplying.
How much of the reduction stems from enrollment declines? How did the administration target the employees laid off? What will happen to class sizes? How does the district’s overhead compare to other districts? How will cuts affect core academic programs?
Would we save more money with less impact by closing an elementary school? The middle school? Does this administration have a long-term plan?
Certainly, the community needs its schools, which in turn rely on the support of the voters. We hope the school board in this awful crisis will honor that relationship.
From now on, let the community in on the discussion.
Go slow on any rate increases
The Town of Payson needs to move slowly and carefully on a water rate, bed tax or any other increase.
They have already raised property taxes, the state wants a 1 cent across-the-board sales tax, and voters just gave the school board a tax increase. There is only so much money in a resident’s wallet. And there are many billfolds in the community’s back pocket, which these days contain less and less money as the state, the federal government, the town, the schools and other agencies continually seek to take money from our pockets to fuel a government need.
The water department is in the black. It has lent the town $1 million to balance its general fund. It does not appear they need any extra money.
A 2006 study cited at Thursday’s town council meeting says Payson should link rates here to what other towns charge. What? That is some kind of nonsense that gets used whenever a rate increase can’t be justified by some other reason.
The water department, town manager and the council need to justify any rate increase based on the department’s budget, reserves and future spending needs, not on how much another town charges.
So take it slow, prove to the community that the water department needs more money and that its reserves are being depleted by water projects.