Donations, Layoffs Keep Christian-Based School Open

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Just a month ago, the Rim Country almost lost its only Christian-based private school.

With dwindling enrollment numbers and crumbling finances, the Payson Community Christian School board decided it was time to shut down after 25 years.

But thanks to a surge in donations and a difficult round of teacher layoffs, the school is back on its feet, but still struggling to find its balance.

School principal Patricia Fleeger said the school has lost dozens of students in recent years because parents either are no longer able to pay, or refuse. With only 66 students currently enrolled, having even a few parents behind on payments has a huge impact on the school’s budget.

When Fleeger started with the school in October 2009, the school was owed $120,000 by parents on top of dwindling enrollment.

In December, things came to a head when it became clear the school did not have the money it needed to continue.

Part of the problem the school board faces results from basing its budget on an anticipated number of students and those parents making timely payments. When those numbers fell short, so did the school’s options.

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Suzannah Gonzales, a kindergarten teacher at Payson Community Christian School, teaches a math lesson while students try to figure out the answers.

Luckily, several donors came forward, one even donating $62,000 in matching funds, and the school has managed to stay open for now.

The board will begin planning next year’s budget in February.

“We start from scratch every year,” she said.

Fleeger prays with an increase in student enrollment, the school will make it through another year.

To combat the deficit this year, two teachers were laid off along with the school’s secretary and two part-time reading assistants.

“The people who were let go had been here for years and had huge hearts,” Fleeger said. “Working here is like working with a bunch of missionaries. They don’t get paid much, but they care so much about the children.”

Several staff members even stepped forward to volunteer their services.

The majority of the school’s funding comes from tuition and donations. Only a small percentage is covered by grants. The school’s only current grant, First Things First, covers the tuition for 10 preschool students.

All other preschool through 12th-grade students pay tuition. For 6-12, the cost is $5,207, and K-5, $4,400.

Each middle and high school student is issued their own laptop, which they keep after three years, to complete online course work.

Both the middle and high school core classes are taught online through a Christian-based program out of Florida. Elective programs, like home economics, are taught on site by staff. Only five students are currently enrolled at the high school.

“We have always been able to offer small class sizes,” Fleeger said.

Three teachers cover K-5 classes in a separate part of the multi-building campus, while two teachers teach preschool off-site. One of the newest teachers is Fleeger’s husband Harold Fleeger, who instructs third- through fifth-grades.

Although the school is not accredited, Fleeger said they are working hard to get the certification, but it could take several more years.

The school has plans to build a new campus on a seven-acre site off Mud Springs Road.

Plans are drawn and approved by the Payson Town Council. All that is left is funding. Several major donors have put the brakes on the project, citing low enrollment numbers. Once the school reaches 100 students, Fleeger anticipates construction could start.

Until then, a new building “would be too much room for us right now,” she said.

Staff is making due with the current facilities. What once were the administrative offices have been turned into a cafeteria by knocking down several walls. Students no longer have to eat in their classroom and the cost of meals has decreased.

The school is holding several fund-raisers in the next few months.

On Feb. 16, Fleeger will host a Navajo taco sale in the school’s parking lot, at 213 S. Colcord Road.

On May 15, the annual golf tournament will be held at Chaparral Pines Golf Course.

Call the school for more details, at (928) 474-8050.

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