Laura Nanty came with a full load of pointed questions for the Payson Unified School Board on Monday.
But her salvo bounced harmlessly off the public meeting rules, which bar the board members from commenting on public comments unless that topic is already on the agenda. Nanty raised a host of questions about the district’s plans to cope with a projected $900,000 deficit by closing Frontier Elementary School and laying off more than 20 employees — including enough teachers to force a big increase in class sizes. An unusual crowd of about 50 people filled most of the seats in the normally empty board room, but it was not clear how many came in support of Nanty’s presentation.
“The district needs to be creative in solving the current budget crisis,” said Nanty, who has four children in elementary school, “and they should utilize the parents in coming up with solutions. We have the biggest stake in this. We’re sending our children to your schools. Please make them our schools.”
However, Superintendent Casey O’Brien said that the board members could not comment on her list of detailed questions unless that topic specifically showed up on the agenda posted publicly prior to the meeting.
“If you have questions, you can ask me” after the meeting, said O’Brien.
Board member Rory Huff added, “If you’re not satisfied with the response, you can request any one of us to put the topic on the agenda.”
The board has already held one hearing on the proposed closure of Frontier, which drew a big crowd but few questions or objections.
Nanty left frustrated at her inability to spur a discussion of a plan that will close a school and force a increase in class sizes. She said about a dozen parents have formed to demand more information and alternatives at a scheduled Feb. 23 hearing on the proposed closure of Frontier Elementary School.
“I’m afraid that by Feb. 23 it will be a done deal,” she said of the recommendations made by a study committee. “We’ve asked for callbacks and don’t get them. We leave messages and don’t get a return. When you get up at the meeting, they say they have to put it on some later agenda. At every turn it’s like, ‘we can’t talk about this — it’s not going to happen.’”
She said few parents realized what the committee was doing and most came to the last public hearing to get information rather than to present alternatives. She said other parents interested in joining a group seeking solutions to the district’s budget woes should call her at (928) 978-0287.
Nanty read a two-page list of concerns and questions during the public comment period of the meeting, all focused on the recommendation by a committee set up by the administration in December that recommended the district save about $300,000 by shutting Frontier and about $600,000 by laying off 20 employees — half of them teachers. Those layoffs would force an average increase in class sizes at the middle school and high school of maybe 5 to 10 percent and an increase in most elementary classes of 10 to 30 percent.
“I understand the budget constraints forcing the closure of Frontier,” said Nanty. We all have had to make some drastic lifestyle changes due to the economy. I do not believe teachers should bear the brunt of the cuts.”
Nanty asked how many cuts the administration would take and whether the district would set a maximum number of students in one class. She also wondered whether the district would cushion the impact of the increase in class sizes with teacher’s aides in the largest classes.