Superintendent Surprises Board; Is Retiring Soon

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Well, we can’t say we didn’t see it coming.

Payson Unified School District Superintendent Casey O’Brien has applied for jobs elsewhere before.

Still, the news of O’Brien’s retirement Thursday took us all aback. We were most surprised to learn he isn’t leaving us for a bigger and better district, but for the hills of Spain.

Or so he dreams.

O’Brien says he plans to cross a few things off his bucket list while he still can. From backpacking across northern Spain, traveling around in a travel trailer his wife is sprucing up, to kicking back with his parents in southern Arizona.

We say, “Go ahead, enjoy the good life.”

We would retire too — if we could.

Still, it hasn’t been roses for O’Brien running the district.

Like most school districts, PUSD has lost a substantial amount of funding and been forced to cut positions, close a school and increase class sizes — tough choices no one would want to make.

But for all the district has lost and been forced to cut, O’Brien has helped bring a lot of good things to the area.

From building an adventure course out front of Payson High School, to helping design the new Julia Randall Elementary School, to renovations at the middle school and Payson Center for Success — O’Brien has left the district in good shape facility wise.

We also have a new virtual school, enough solar panels to power nearly the whole district and a budding engineering program, among other things.

Most recently, O’Brien successfully lobbied to keep $95,000 in the district. The Arizona Department of Education had threatened to take away $1,600 per student enrolled in charter schools, which would have nearly wiped out the district’s soft capital fund. Outraged, O’Brien went to the state Capitol multiple times, meeting with other superintendents also affected by the cuts. The state schools superintendent heard their pleas and said he would find another solution.

While O’Brien’s days will soon be filled with deciding whether he should go to northern or southern Europe for the summer, we hope the next superintendent does as much good.

Barbara Underwood, PUSD board president, said she hopes the board can find a superintendent as easy to work with as O’Brien. “We have benefited from five years of Casey’s devotion, experience, vision and calm leadership,” she said.

County won’t get state prisoners, but will still have to ‘help’ with budget

Just when we have given up on politicians, they see the light and do the right thing — or so we hope.

Last week, Gila County supervisors and state senators had a powwow to address the rapidly dwindling coffers at the county.

Up to this point, state legislators have crowed about balancing their budget, but the secret of their impressive balancing act rested on the backs of the counties.

Withholding funds, shifting program costs and flat out demanding contributions made the state look good, but added line items to already overloaded county budgets.

As if those measures were not bad enough, the state threatened to transfer hundreds of hardened state prisoners to county jails.

County law enforcement justifiably claimed this would be chaos. Hardened long-term criminals in facilities made for short-term inmates and the added millions of dollars needed to house them would have bankrupted counties.

Miraculously, state government officials, from the governor down, realized the absurdity of the plan — at least of transferring prisoners. The other cost-shifting measures remain in place.

Of course, the prison transfer is still on the books. Politicians, famous for saying one thing and doing another, still have to vote on rescinding the idea.

We hope they do it sooner rather than later.

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