Painful Lessons In School Cuts

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As one wag put it: It is the job of an editorial writer to go down onto the battleground after the fight and shoot the wounded. So let us start by observing that we’d absolutely hate to open fire on the Payson Unified School District Board at the moment — choosing reluctantly between bad and worse.

We don’t for a moment doubt the anguish they endured in giving the superintendent a free hand in laying off 18 school employees. Moreover, the cuts did fall relatively lightly on classroom teachers — boosting already large class sizes by an average of one student per class.

Moreover, we’re not alone. The U.S. Secretary of Education estimates that nationwide, schools are now laying off between 100,000 and 300,000 teachers — which makes you wonder why we’re bailing out banks instead of schools, but that’s another subject.

Still, we hope this trauma will prompt the board to rethink its own, flawed, decision-making process. Lamentably, the board blindly accepted Superintendent Casey O’Brien’s instinct for making key decisions on a seemingly “need-to-know” basis — an approach that makes more sense for a Navy pilot than a school administrator.

That approach left key people out of the process, including parents, community leaders and teachers.

A different process might have found an alternative to decapitating the administration of the high school. A different process might have prepared the community for things like closing an elementary school or shifting to a K-8 system. A different process might have bought time with a temporary pay cut and saved jobs. School board members have said they just set “policy” and have nothing to say about personnel and budgets. That’s just not true — as other districts have demonstrated by embracing a much more open and inclusive process. You set policy after hearing about all the options through a public process — not a process hidden behind closed doors.

Ironically, after all the carnage, we learn the superintendent has been looking for another job the whole time, which oddly enough sounds more like a career administrator than a Navy captain.

Of course, he has the right to seek a better paying job in a bigger district.

However, we hope the board draws the obvious lesson.

Superintendents come and go, but the board remains the vital link to the community. Board members cannot do their jobs by simply shrugging and passing the buck along to the here-today, gone-tomorrow superintendent.

Star Valley must invest wisely

Fable writers love the trundling tortoise — and harangue the hasty hare. So on the whole, Star Valley deserves high marks for managing hard times like a cobbler reusing shoe nails and making the most of every leather scrap.

Like most other towns in the state, Star Valley has faced big drops in revenue — even when it comes to photo speeding tickets, which have proved a mainstay of the budget for the past two years.

But unlike most towns, Star Valley started with a sizeable reserve fund that it has managed to protect — in part because the little town offers so few municipal services.

Moreover, rather than quickly liquidating its reserves for non-essential services — as Payson next door did at the onset of the recession — Star Valley has held on to nearly every penny.

During a budget study session this week, the council pondered whether to again defer necessary projects to not only protect the reserves, but to add another $250,000 to its savings account.

So don’t get us wrong: The council deserves a lot of credit for its miserly ways — considering the wrenching cuts so many other cities have imposed. Still, we hope the council will also make sure to spend enough money to take full advantage of the opportunity to lock in its share of water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir.

Payson has offered to sell Star Valley two deep wells and to cap future pumping from the controversial Tower Well. That offers Star Valley an opportunity to set up a domestic water system on a very small scale. And that, in turn, would give Star Valley the legal standing to strike a deal with the Salt River Project for Blue Ridge water.

The list of projects on Star Valley’s wish list now includes $188,000 to set up that system — plus another $18,000 to monitor for possible contamination of the town’s water table by leaking septic systems.

Both those projects represent vital investments, even in these hard times.

Now, we’re not saying Star Valley ought to grow its ears and learn to hop. We’re just saying that even the most sensible of tortoises needs to put on a burst of speed now and then.

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