Scrambling to adjust to an avalanche of change after approving teacher layoffs, the Payson Unified School District Board at a special meeting on Thursday approved a new administrative position and a complicated shuffle of assignments.
The person in the new position will make between $55,000 and $65,000 and will serve as high school athletic director and the lead teacher and administrator at the Payson Center for Success, an alternative charter school on the high school campus.
The proposal touched off a board discussion about the economics of having four teachers at the alternative school, which has only 62 students — mostly kids trying to finish high school after having trouble in regular classes.
The district will consider only applicants with administrative credentials that are already working for the district to fill the new spot.
In addition, Superintendent Casey O’Brien confirmed a plan to move Payson Elementary School Principal Will Dunman to the Rim Country Middle School slot vacated by the resignation of Gary Witherspoon.
As a result, the district will also recruit for a new Payson Elementary School principal, which next year will take in all the K-2 students. The district will try to make a selection in the next month, after reviewing applications from both inside and outside the district.
The move comes in the wake of the board’s decision to lay off seven teachers and accept the resignations of four more to trim the teaching ranks by about 8 percent in an effort to close a $900,000 deficit for next year. The board also reduced the ranks of the classified staff by about 15 through a combination of layoffs and resignations.
The board didn’t cut any administrative positions this year, although it cut the ranks of administration by about 20 percent last year.
The board on Thursday also adopted a virtually unchanged salary schedule for administrators and other employees on 12-month contracts exempt from things like overtime.
The salary ranges include $85,000 to $105,000 for the superintendent, $73,000 to $86,000 for the assistant superintendent and the principal at the high school and somewhere between $58,000 and $83,000 for other principals in the district.
Other positions on the salary schedule include things like nurses ($28,000 to $38,000), psychologists ($50,000 to $60,000), director of curriculum ($60,000 to $75,000), and a certified occupational therapy assistant ($17,000 to $25,000).
The school board debated the impact of the administrative shuffle.
Currently, Julia Randall Elementary School Principal Rob Varner doubles as the high school athletic director. Meanwhile, high school Principal Kathy Ketchem has also served as the administrator for PCS, for which she was the full-time director and lead teacher last year.
In addition, Dunman doubled this year as principal for both Payson and Frontier elementary schools.
The creation of the combo position of athletic director and lead teacher at Payson Center for Success will yield all kinds of benefits, O’Brien told the board at its special session at noon Thursday.
The shift will free up Ketchem to focus on the high school and Rob Varner to focus on Julia Randall Elementary School.
Meanwhile, whoever lands the spot as the lead teacher for the alternative school should have the flexibility to also run the sports programs at the regular high school.
However, board member Rory Huff questioned the cost of running the alternative school with four teachers and 62 students.
Huff said it seemed like the alternative school has a far higher teacher-student ratio than the regular high school.
“How do we justify that?” asked Huff.
But O’Brien said the district “makes money” on the alternative school — collecting about $450,000, but spending only about $200,000 on staffing — even with four teachers.
However, Huff said that calculation doesn’t consider the hidden subsidy of the alternative school in the overall cost of staffing and maintaining the high school.
O’Brien countered that the district would have to pay all those overhead costs anyway, without the offsetting revenue from the state for the alternative school.
In addition, he said the alternative school meets a critical need.
“Many students there work very independently and we’ve had some great success stories. Other than us, if these kids couldn’t do that, they wouldn’t be served.”
Board member Matt Van Camp said the administrative shuffle will yield many benefits.
“There will be a lot of unintended positive consequences for the high school,” including freeing up part of a school counselor’s time that has been devoted to working with kids at the alternative school.
O’Brien agreed. “This is a huge win for the high school ... as athletic director, he’ll have a lot more flexibility (than JRE principal Rob Varner had). Rob couldn’t drop what he was doing and go over there. We’ll have a flexibility we just didn’t have this year. And we’ll fill (the new position) in-house at no cost (to the overall budget).”