A Rough Landing, But A Good Start

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Half the time it looked like an instrument landing in the fog, but when it comes to the town’s resumption of control over the Payson Airport — we’ll go for that famous pilot’s adage: Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.

The Payson Town Council this week moved decisively to take back the management of the airport it so eagerly gave up in 2007.

The move spurred the opposition of some people who recalled the bad old days — when the town treated the airport like a three-legged dog with fleas.

Fortunately, we see hopeful signs the town won’t make those same mistakes again. For starters, the council seems to realize the airport will play a crucial role in the region’s future — especially when we have a university and spin-off facilities everyone hopes will jump-start a resumption of economically vital growth.

Previously, the town paid big salaries to town employees without sufficient knowledge of the needs of pilots and without much flight experience of their own. This time, the town plans to pay about half as much to Beth Myers, an experienced pilot with deep experience in the operations of small airports — who can also run a runway snowplow.

Previously, the town often waved aside concerns of the pilots who knew the most about how to make a small, regional airport successful.

This time, the council put on the new airport commission not only key members of the Payson Regional Airport Authority board, but also some of the airport users who had raised the most pointed questions about the takeover.

Of course, we’re always leery about letting government run a business. The airport must pull its own weight, with hangar rentals and spin-off businesses and good relationships with its customers. Without deep involvement by airport users and careful oversight by the council, the airport could easily run off the end of the political runway.

Fortunately, this week’s hearing put to rest some of our most pressing concerns — most of which revolved around the cost of the switchover. The town already pays more than $70,000 to lease land it doesn’t really need, part of an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in return for the money to buy the land. That money will cover most of the costs of operating the airport — if the town continues to pinch its pennies.

So on the whole, the takeover’s rough landing should clear the way for a smooth takeoff.

Community, schools rally to help homeless children

We were terribly relieved to hear this week that the Payson Unified School District has cobbled together enough grant money and community support to continue providing support services for the district’s homeless students.

The district for the past two years has used state grant money to pay the $30,000 salary of a homeless services coordinator in the face of a staggering rise in the number of students living in chaotic and unstable conditions.

The program that serves as many as 400 students seemed threatened a month ago when the district learned that its application for another year of funding was rejected. Unaccountably, rich districts in the Valley like Scottsdale and Paradise Valley did get funding, although they have much smaller populations of displaced students.

Mind you, schools have a fairly specialized definition of “homeless.” Some of those students certainly meet the conventional definition — living on the streets or in campgrounds or bouncing from one friend’s house to another. Others are simply living with relatives, like cousins or grandparents. Some are living with a parent, but doubling up in someone else’s home.

District administrators won permission to spend leftover grant money and add money from other sources to fund the homeless coordinator’s position. This means the someone will keep track of those students — and make sure they get help. For instance, if those students start to falter academically — the district can provide tutoring or break-out sessions to help them catch up. The coordinator can also connect the students and their families or guardians to community agencies that stand ready to help as well.

Such an approach makes perfect sense, given the many studies that show such chaos has a huge impact on most students.

We’re also proud of the response in the community to the plight of our children in these difficult times. Many community members have donated money and goods to help these struggling students — including a $1,000 donation from Mountain Bible Church. Moreover, community groups continue to place homeless students with supportive families so they can finish their schooling.

Bless you — in this season and every other — for making this the best place anywhere.

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