Closed Door Decisions Have Hurt Schools

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The school board hoped voters wouldn’t notice its bleak, closed-door, arbitrary decisions about which long-term employees it would treat with shabby disrespect. They got away with it on the first round — with a quick, 30-minute meeting to lay off nine employees — mostly administrators.

But last night on the replay of the Monday Night Massacre, high school vice principal Tim Fruth called out the naked emperor — caught without a shred of cover for turning a financial crisis into a moral and political one.

No doubt, the board and Superintendent Casey O’Brien faced an agonizing dilemma and a budget crisis not of their own making. The district had labored for several years to prevent declining enrollment and rising state budget problems from reaching into the classroom. People like high school principal Roy Sandoval and vice principal Tim Fruth have played no small role in that effort, for each have invested decades in the children of this community.

But this administration’s inside the bunker mentality in a crisis coupled with the school board’s pathetic passivity turned a budget challenge into a disaster.

We do not dispute the need for the cuts in light of the state budget meltdown. We are aghast, however, at this administration’s approach to those cuts — with its decisions made behind closed and bolted doors.

The administration and our elected school board members should have clearly explained the problem, laid out the options and then embraced a fair and just approach to minimize the impact on students. If forced to approve layoffs, the board should have insisted on indisputably fair criteria — like seniority. It should have laid out the budget options well in advance, instead of surprising school staff and the public.

Some of the layoffs appear personal or political. So the board laid off a respected and experienced principal, only to replace him with an administrator with far less experience. How does that make sense in a crisis? So the board laid off a deeply experienced vice principal one year shy of retirement after 29 years of service, only to most likely replace him with a promoted teacher. So the board laid off two people in one family with three children, instead of exercising some heart.

In the end, the board showed a shocking lack of compassion, loyalty and courage. The necessary cuts will as a result inflict unnecessary damage to our schools, our children and this community.

Timing’s everything

Hmm. Gotta pick just the right metaphor here when talking about a topic as deep as Payson’s water rates. Maybe: You can’t tell a book by its cover? Maybe: You don’t miss your water ’til the well runs dry? Maybe: Dear Lord, spare me from temptation — but not today.

Come to think of it: they all apply to the proposal to hike rates by perhaps 25 percent.

On the face of it, jacking up water rates in the face of the down turn seems wrong-headed. After all, the water department has something like $7 million in the bank — and the town may borrow $1 million to bail out other departments by the end of this fiscal year.

So how can Payson justify a rate hike?

Turns out, you really can’t tell a book by its cover.

At one time, the town had accumulated nearly $11 million dollars in the water fund, thanks in substantial measure to the $7,500-per-unit water impact fee. But that money was supposed to pay for the $30 million Blue Ridge pipeline and the replacement of aging water mains. Those new water mains could provide fire hydrants in unprotected areas — about half of our neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, the water department has been using nearly $1 million annually from those reserves to cover its operating costs, thanks largely to the council’s decision not to raise rates in 2006.

But like they say: You never miss the water ’til the well runs dry — in this case the reserve fund.

So it makes sense to rebuild the fund now, instead of borrowing money later. If the state Legislature had done that in the boom times, they wouldn’t be dismantling schools, universities, state parks and the safety net for the working poor now in the bad times.

But even though the town can make a case for a rate increase, we hope the council will defer imposing the full, 25 percent increase. People are hurting and on every side the government wants more money. For instance, Payson’s water rate hike could precisely coincide with the vote on whether to raise the sales tax to save schools and other essential state programs.

So we’re all for fiscal responsibility and resisting temptation — but not now, dear Lord, not now.

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