School Board Reviews $34 Million In Projects

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The Payson School Board on Monday received a final accounting of how the district spent nearly $34 million in bond money voters approved in 2006.

“I’m just so grateful to the community for this support,” said board president Barbara Underwood.

The bulk of the money financed a $17 million renovation of Julia Randall Elementary School, including $14 million to replace existing buildings and upgrade the grounds and build athletic facilities.

Another $9 million went to upgrade Rim Country Middle School, including $5.5 million for building replacement and new facilities.

The bond issue also paid for $4.8 million in renovations at the high school, but only about $356,000 at Payson Elementary School.

The district also spent $676,000 on Frontier Elementary School, which the board voted to close this year to help close a $1 million budget deficit in the face of declining enrollment and dwindling state support.

Voters approved the bond issue supported by an extra charge on their property tax back in 2006, in the shadow of a frantic building boom that saw Payson adding about 200 to 300 homes each year.

The district spent the bulk of the money in 2008 and 2009 — about $22 million — just as the recession hit.

Almost overnight, the Rim Country housing market collapsed. Payson went from adding 300 homes a year to less than five in each of the past three years.

The district’s enrollment immediately began to decline, dropping by 50 to 100 students annually. Last year, that decline cost the district about $600,000 in state payments — accounting for more than half of the deficit.

The decline in state support, miscalculations by the district and action by the Legislature to boost local property taxes to compensate for a statewide plunge in property values all combined to boost the district’s property tax rate by a sobering 50 percent this year, a bill that’s just hitting many homeowners.

Student statistics compiled by the district have demonstrated that the recession and collapse of the construction industry had a devastating impact on the community’s young families. The percentage of low-income students in the district rose from just more than 40 percent to a stunning 70 percent this year.

The district has mothballed Frontier Elementary School for now, unsure whether to sell the site or hold onto it in case the town resumes growth.

Payson’s general plan envisions a build-out population of about 38,000, compared to the present population of maybe 15,000. If the town manages to strike a deal to build a four-year university here, growth may get a jump-start. However, the population would have to grow by 1,000 to 2,000 people just to get back to the population here before the recession.

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