Critics Decry Lack Of School Layoff Options

10% school pay cuts may have saved 18 jobs

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Critics of the Payson Unified School District’s recent cuts have complained that the district did not publically discuss alternatives to the 18 layoffs, including an across-the-board salary decrease or closing a school.

For instance, Payson schools could have solved nearly 80 percent of the $1.2-million shortfall this year by asking all staff members to take a 10-percent pay cut.

The district is spending about $9.6 million on salaries this year. Combining the $955,000 in possible savings from asking people to take a 10-percent salary reduction, and cutting $230,000 by eliminating all-day kindergarten, the remaining deficit would have shrunk to $15,000. That doesn’t include attrition.

Other money could have come from reducing funding for athletics, which the district did anyway.

Two members of the high school staff interviewed said they wished the school board had at least discussed a similar option publically. School officials say salary cuts would have made the district less competitive, even considering the economic downturn.

One high school teacher said she “probably” would have taken a salary decrease, and said she thought other teachers would have at least contemplated it.

“I wish I had been asked at least,” she said. The teacher asked to remain anonymous because of the topic’s sensitivity.

Laid off Payson High School Principal Roy Sandoval said, “I think in the process everything needs to be put on the table and discussed.”

Sandoval would not say whether he would have taken a salary decrease. “That’s such a personal thing,” he said. “You have to discuss (it) with your spouse and your family.”

Criticism of Payson schools’ cuts has mounted since the board enacted the layoffs during two separate board meetings with no discussion.

Two community representatives said they quit the high school site council because of how the district determined the cuts.

District officials say public discussions were impossible because decisions involved personnel.

School board members say they’re frustrated by the outcry, but that a board’s job isn’t to choose who stays and who leaves during layoffs. The board directed the superintendent to keep cuts away from the classroom.

Under the current reorganization, Superintendent Casey O’Brien said class sizes could increase an average of less than one student per class. “Some individual classes may see slightly more than this,” he wrote. “We have the voters of (the) Payson override to thank for this.”

Board member Barbara Underwood said that if the board had more sway in determining the outcome, the resulting decisions could appear improper.

“You can’t go in and say, I want you to keep somebody and get rid of somebody,” Underwood said.

“I know the superintendent asked us as a board for ideas we had.”

She added, “I gave a list of like 20.”

Those ideas included the possibility of closing a school or rearranging grade levels among elementary schools. For instance, kindergarten and first-graders would attend one school; second- and third-graders another; and fourth- through fifth-graders a third.

“I came thinking I’ve got all these great ideas,” Underwood said.

However, her notions soon fell apart. She said the district told her that closing a school wouldn’t save enough to justify the action.

O’Brien said closing Frontier Elementary School could emerge as a possibility if May’s statewide sales tax vote fails, as well as reconfiguring grade levels among elementary schools.

Classroom sizes would increase significantly under those plans, he added.

“Our goal, in either case,” O’Brien wrote in an e-mail, “would be to minimize the number of classrooms (combo-classes) with more than one grade level.”

Regarding salary cuts, O’Brien has said that once a district starts cutting salaries, it’s difficult to know when to stop if more cuts become necessary.

“I think it would’ve been hard since we haven’t given raises to teachers in two years,” said Underwood. Also, last year the district stopped paying for dental insurance. “Would we start losing our best teachers?” Underwood wondered.

All told, the district cut $289,000 in administrative salaries. The greatest chunk of that cash came from the Payson High School principal’s slot at $80,000.

The remaining principal, assistant principal and director of curriculum positions averaged $65,000 each.

The principal of Payson Center for Success makes $54,000, and that person will now head PHS, too. No raises are in store for the coming year.

The academic dean position that will replace the high school assistant principal slot carries a salary of $66,000. Associated duties in the job description evolved from managerial to curriculum-driven.

O’Brien said the move “is to proactively address the rapidly emerging issues of college and career-readiness, rigor and relevance in curriculum and instruction.”

Teaching positions cut included two kindergarten teachers, one music teacher, a sixth-grade teacher, a high school social studies teacher, an alternative to suspension teacher, and half-time Spanish teacher.

The district eliminated two librarian positions to save $99,000, but will hire two full-time library assistants who will make between $8.67 and $12 per hour, depending on whether the person is new to the district or transfers from within.

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