Payson Schools Teacher Layoffs Too Lopsided

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“Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.” – Chinese Proverb

Once more, declining enrollment and declining state support have forced painful budget cuts on the Payson Unified School District.

We understand the necessity, but last night’s decision to lay off only teachers — and some gifted teachers at that — did the students of this district no favors.

Teachers account for only about half of the employees in the district — but they had to absorb all the layoffs.

But that’s not even the worst of it.

A brave protest by a dozen students fighting to save the job of a demanding but inspirational teacher raised grave questions about the standards the administration used to determine the layoffs.

The protests involved the ouster of social studies teacher Ron Silverman, whose chief sin seems to have been that he demanded so much of his students.

Silverman ran his classroom with an iron will. He didn’t play politics, although he taught about politics in his social studies classes. Throughout the year, far too many parents whose children complained about how hard Silverman pushed them ran to school administrators to demand their child be protected from such a taxing teacher — although school policy says students can’t cherry pick their teachers.

Silverman’s class sizes shrunk. But curiously enough, many students who stuck it out considered him an inspirational teacher.

The end result: He got riffed at Wednesday night’s school board meeting.

Amazingly, 15 of his students came to sit in support while PHS senior Tyler McMinimy spoke eloquently about the impact Silverman had on the lives of students.

“Fifty years ago, a student would come home and tell his parents that he got an F in geometry,” said McMinimy. “What happened next? He would get a swat on the rear-end and ... he gets no TV, dessert, or radio and that he has to hit the books. Nowadays when a kid comes home and says he has an F ... the parents want to blame the teachers, the administration, and the superintendent.”

He said many students felt indebted to Silverman because he prepared them for the rigors of life by challenging them to prove their point in a persuasive essay, communicate clearly and tackle tough questions.

In short — to think.

Some might now wonder, “Does the school board truly believe in their mission: “Every student prepared to be a productive citizen”?

The world is not an easy place and as the playing field for our future students globalizes, not many will cut them slack. That’s why our schools do our children no favors by coddling them.

Moreover, it makes no sense to focus all the cuts on the teachers — when they’re the ones actually educating our children.

Tragic lessons

Many residents of the isolated, unincorporated community of Deer Creek got a shock last week when they found themselves trying to keep a house fire from spreading with garden hoses.

Turns out, Deer Creek never set up a fire protection district, which came as a surprise to many of the newer residents. They had to stand and watch their neighbor’s house burn, wondering why the fire trucks hadn’t arrived.

Then yesterday, lightning struck a house in Payson, sparking a smoldering attic fire. Untended, that fire would have consumed the house — spread to the neighbors and perhaps out into the thickets of trees. Fire trucks arrived within minutes.

Alas, Deer Creek residents now face hard choices.

Establishing a fire department is costly, especially when supported by nothing but property taxes. Hopefully, they’ll establish a district that will provide coverage for Deer Creek and Rye — perhaps in partnership with Gisela, which has a bare-bones volunteer department.

So what lessons can we extract?

First, we hope Gila County will move to adopt firewise building codes and require all subdivisions to have fire protection. Unprotected homes can easily generate a catastrophic wildfire that will endanger all of Rim Country.

Second, we hope Payson residents will think twice before they grumble about the next highway clot of flatlanders. Payson pays for its fire department with sales tax revenues, mostly paid by out-of-towners.

In the meantime, we can only extend our thanks once more to the firefighters and paramedics who responded to the call — including the crews that showed up in Deer Creek, although they had no legal obligation to do so.

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