Sales Tax Blues

Schools plan for disaster


Prepare for the worst: closing an elementary school; eliminating non-core classes at the middle school; increasing class sizes at the high school.

The Payson Unified School District could see drastic changes should voters statewide in the next two weeks reject a temporary sales tax increase.

“Our profession, which has been immune for decades, is no longer immune,” Superintendent Casey O’Brien told about 50 teachers and citizens Wednesday afternoon in the high school auditorium.

O’Brien said he used these examples for perspective only, and not as a guidebook to what changes would occur.

However, cuts will come quickly if the sales tax fails. The district would have 30 days to plan and 30 days to implement.

Furlough days for staff are another possibility. O’Brien said Mesa schools has asked the state to cut five days from its school calendar if voters defeat the sales tax. Whatever the state tells Mesa would apply to other districts. However, O’Brien didn’t say if he would consider the option.

The district has already lost 21 staff members through layoffs and attrition. O’Brien said despite those cuts, the district is still making progress.

“If (the sales tax) fails, that momentum ends because we are in triage,” he said.

Initially, Payson school officials projected an $800,000 shortfall even if the override passed. However, that figure increased to $1.2 million after factoring in higher insurance costs and a drop in other funds.

So far, cuts have mainly sliced into administration, with little impact on class sizes.

However, the sales tax represents another $1.25 million —about 25 teaching positions.

“That is not manageable,” O’Brien said. Certain cuts include elimination of soft capital funds, which pay for things like copier leases and textbooks. The district can’t renege on copier leases, so it would pay those expenses with operating money.

The district could close Frontier Elementary School, and divide its roughly 380 students between the remaining schools, thereby increasing class sizes.

Already, the district slashed the principal position at FES. The move would reduce custodial and clerical staff.

Music and physical education could take hits. Elementary students already receive less time in gym class because two P.E. teachers now oversee three schools.

The district also lost a music teacher in the last layoffs.

The middle school could lose most non-core academic classes, and several positions.


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