The $200 fee Payson students pay to play sports marks school board candidate Barbara Shepherd’s most fervent issue.
“This is not a private school,” she said. “This is a public school.” Instead of believing that the school can’t afford to fund athletics programs without the fees, Shepherd wants to see more fund-raisers and Credit for Kids money subsidize the program so parents can pay a smaller fee, around $50.
“Sports keep many of our children in school and out of trouble. We should not punish the student or the parent for a child who wants to play sports,” said Shepherd, who has worked as a juvenile court reporter. She says that strong schools and robust extra-curricular activities can reduce the number of juvenile delinquents.
Shepherd also wants to make the district more transparent, increase communication and bring more diplomacy to the board.
Shepherd, who works at the county attorney’s Payson office, has lived in town for three years.
“I believe that every citizen should contribute something to their community, and serving on the school board is the forum I choose for giving back,” said Shepherd.
Three candidates are running for two open seats in the Payson Unified School District’s board. Shepherd faces incumbent Rory Huff and challenger Darsha Oestmann.
Before moving to Rim Country, Shepherd lived in Globe, where she served on the school board for four years and dealt with controversial issues like whether to continue insurance benefits to retirees.
Shepherd said hers was the sole vote in favor of continuing the insurance. If the district was to drop the insurance, Shepherd said the affected parties should at least be warned.
The philosophy of prior warning bleeds into Shepherd’s other views, including those on how the Payson district handled recent layoffs and other changes, including the athletic fees.
“I do not feel that the PUSD is transparent at all,” said Shepherd. The district should communicate more to avoid surprises, she said. “When they raised the sports fee to $200 — did anybody have a warning about that?”
Shepherd also pointed to the sometimes dirty aftermath of personnel changes forced by budget cuts. “I think it was handled in a way that hurt people,” she said. “There was a lot of bad talking on both sides afterward.” Better communication leading up to the decisions could have decreased the negativity, she added.
To increase transparency, Shepherd advocates guest columns in the newspaper and sending notices home with students.
The existing school board should also better communicate with parents and teachers to increase mutual trust.
“I don’t see a lot of unity with the teachers and the board,” said Shepherd. Several teachers regularly attend board meetings, but Shepherd wants to develop stronger relationships.
“Not all decisions are going to be popular with all the teachers or parents,” she said. “But I also believe that the board should always have its employees’ well-being in mind when they have to make those difficult decisions.”
As for the board’s role in shaping educational policy, Shepherd says board members should “ask hard questions of administration in order to help their decision-making process, and then to support administration,” as it makes changes.
Existing board members say their role is simply to hold the superintendent accountable and not micro-manage.
Shepherd agrees board members shouldn’t micro-manage, but “they also shouldn’t give him a free rein either. “You’ve got to remember the school board is the boss of the superintendent. They have to account to the public for what the superintendent does.”
Payson schools have established a committee to examine reconfiguring the elementary schools based on grade level to save money. Shepherd opposes this solution, although she acknowledges she has limited information.
“My gut instinct is that consolidating (grade) levels at one location would be harmful in the long-run,” said Shepherd, adding that it could burden families. She would rather see two grades combined at the same school.
Shepherd also says that in cutting expenses she would look at the salaries of top-paid employees, as well as operations costs of insurance, books and supplies. “There is almost always some fat that can be trimmed on a budget,” she said.