District Lays Off Well-Loved Employees

School board’s decision unpopular

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Nine more people in the Payson Unified School District lost their jobs Monday night after a slew of impassioned testimony and angry members of the public castigated the board for ignoring public sentiment.

People pleaded to save Payson High School Assistant Principal Tim Fruth, including his daughter, Caitlin, who lambasted the board for what she said was disloyalty. Caitlin called the move “a slap in the face,” for a man who dedicated his life — 29 years — to the district.

Fruth himself spoke, not to beg for his job, but to criticize the board’s trend against transparency and how it ended his 29-year relationship with the district one year short of full retirement.

The assistant principal’s non-renewed contract marked the most controversial decision of the night gauging by public testimony. The layoffs were passed in three different motions, and the one involving Fruth was the sole measure that fell short of unanimous support.

Board member Barbara Underwood voted against firing Fruth, although she did not say why. When approached after the board meeting, she was too emotional to speak.

All told, the district has laid off 18 people over two board meetings to solve a $1.2 million deficit. The reductions in force should be complete for this year, unless May’s statewide sales tax vote fails. Then, the district must cut yet another $1.2 million.

In a near replay of the last board meeting where nine other staff members were laid off, the board did not discuss its plans, nor did it ask follow-up questions about how the decisions would impact the district’s future.

However, member Richard Meyer, wearing dark glasses, read a statement describing his rationale in a series of steps that began with first identifying a funding shortage and lastly holding the superintendent accountable able for making decisions with the least impact to the district.

This time, however, the layoffs were oddly sandwiched between congratulatory recognitions of the maintenance and food service departments, complete with plaques and applause, and regular board business.

Late in the meeting, the board approved changing the title of Fruth’s old position, adding “academic dean,” to its end. Superintendent Casey O’Brien said the new position is a proactive step to address growing trends toward college and career readiness.

O’Brien said he will internally advertise the position.

Fruth said, “I was told I could reapply for this position. Isn’t it ironic that this position was written for someone else?”

He added, “it was evident I was the last pawn to fall,” in a scheme hatched months ago.

The emotional meeting finished the board’s cleanout of the current high school administration — both Principal Roy Sandoval and Athletic Director Jason Lobik lost their jobs at the last meeting. Center for Success Principal Kathe Ketchem will head the high school next year.

Others laid off Monday night included music teacher Larry Potvin, whose wife, a librarian, lost her job at the last board meeting. Potvin told the board they should not fire more than one in a family.

Before leaving the meeting, Potvin called out to see if anyone wanted to buy his house.

Kindergarten teachers Todd Police and Mary Jackson lost jobs Monday, as did sixth-grade teacher Greg Lanners. High school social studies teacher Jerry Daniels was laid off, and teacher Ken Perkins. Instructional assistants Kathleen Staudt and Keri Parker also lost jobs.

During public testimony, retired educator and high school site council member John Lemon spoke, his voice angry.

“I’d like to ask this board — where did you get your input?”

O’Brien has said he culled opinions from site councils, suggestion boxes and board members, among other places.

Lemon continued. “If you didn’t get your input from us, where did you get it?” He wondered, “Dark corners? Anonymous letters?”

Lemon added, “I would like to know just what this board and the superintendent think they’re doing to this community.”

School officials have repeatedly said they made decisions with the students’ best interests in mind.

Fruth said he took exception to that — “that implies getting rid of me, is in the best interest of the kids.”

Referring to O’Brien’s statement that politics played no part, Fruth said, “I hate to tell you, but the voting public believes otherwise.”

Fruth said Monday’s layoffs completed plans put in place months ago, but not publicized until after the override safely passed.

“This is no way to treat an employee that has given his life, given his life, to this district,” Fruth said. “I deserve much better treatment.”

He took issue with Meyer’s assertion in a recent newspaper article that interested people could attend board meetings to give input.

“Any public organization that puts out an agenda at 4 p.m. on a Friday is not looking for public input,” Fruth said. “This practice needs to be changed — it isn’t illegal, but it is unethical.”

He railed against the board for essentially firing him one year short of full retirement. An honorable district, he said, would have negotiated a buy-out months in advance instead of informing him two days prior to a board meeting that his contract would not be renewed for non-disciplinary reasons.

“Nobody is going to run me and my family out of town,” Fruth said. “No party, no certificate from the board, just go. That’s very sad.”

The crowd stood in a standing ovation after he spoke.

After the board voted, one gentleman shouted from the doorway, “I thought you guys were working for the public. The public spoke out very clearly.”

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