School Officials Nervously Await Override Vote

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As remaining time dwindles until ballots are due back for the Payson schools override election, school officials are nervously awaiting their fate.

Without the override, the district faces a $1.7-million shortfall. Even with the extra money, the deficit is expected to reach $1 million.

Ballots are due back March 9 by 7 p.m. to the county.

Last year, the district eliminated 11 positions while avoiding layoffs. Next year, another 26 positions could be lost without the override, 16 of those teaching positions.

School administrators say class sizes are already large and teachers are grappling with extra work.

Approving the override will cost an owner of a $100,000 home an extra $11.21 annually.

Without the override, school officials say class sizes will increase and all non-core areas are subject to cuts.

Superintendent Casey O’Brien said the other big variable for schools is May’s statewide sales tax vote. If the one-cent tax fails, schools statewide could see $600 million in cuts.

With the sales tax, schools can hope for funding at about 2006 levels.

“The best we’re going to see is funding based on four years ago,” said O’Brien. “I’m optimistic about the override and I’m optimistic about the one-cent sales tax.”

The district hasn’t outlined specific proposals should voters rebuff the plea for help, but principals have described possible consequences.

Payson High School Principal Roy Sandoval said advanced placement classes could be eliminated, which he says make Payson kids nationally competitive. The rigorous, college level courses potentially give students college credit if they score high enough on a year-end exam.

The district has already reduced physical education, music instruction and library time for lower grades, and the middle school is struggling with four fewer positions this year over last.

Rim Country Middle School Principal Gary Witherspoon has said he has no money to replace decade-old social studies textbooks. Not only are the books old, but the school has too few for all the students.

Critics say schools should cut back spending to reflect the slowed economy, and some people without children wonder why they should pay for schools they don’t utilize.

Others wonder why the district is spending money to install fences when it faces economic turmoil.

The bond money that paid for those projects, however, is not eligible to pay for operations costs.

Advocates say good schools are necessary for the town’s future vitality, and necessary for attracting highly qualified professionals to the area.

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