School Board’S Bleak Choice

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Would you rather cut off your right foot or your left hand? Rather be blind or deaf? Rather never see your brother again or your father? Alas, it seems like the Payson school board has to answer some such question at every other meeting these days.

So the school board on a split vote this week narrowly approved Payson High School principal-in-waiting Anna Van Zile’s plan to make the athletic/activities director full time and put off hiring a vice principal.

We’re grieved that the board and the administration had to contemplate cutting the baby in two. In truth, the high school urgently needs a vice principal — given problems with bullying, discipline, teacher evaluations and the rising toll of poverty, unemployment and stress afflicting far too many Rim Country families these days. The need will become more acute next year when various burdensome state and federal requirements kick in.

However, the school also badly needs a full-time athletic director who can also coordinate the efforts of the growing array of parent and student groups involved in a wealth of vital activities like band, drama and academic competitions.

Unfortunately, the district also faces urgent needs in the classroom. The high school badly needs broader vocational offerings, more advanced placement classes and an adequate foreign language program. Teachers have taken the brunt of the cuts in the past two years, resulting in a big rise in elementary school class sizes and the encroaching impoverishment of the high schools electives options.

The school board did the right thing — although for perhaps the wrong reasons.

Incoming Superintendent Ron Hitchcock cautioned a reluctant school board that if they overruled Van Zile’s plan, they would become responsible for any problems that arose. However, if they accepted the plan they could blame the principal if things didn’t work out. That just sounded weird, as though the important point lies in knowing who to blame.

However, we do agree that the school board must resist the urge to micromanage and empower the principals, while holding them accountable for results.

That said, Principal Van Zile’s plan has a lot going for it — providing you accept the premise we can afford to return to three full-time administrators at the high school a year from now. The high school has been muddling along with a half-time athletic director since the layoffs started.

More to the point, the relentless budget cuts have forced the crucial athletics program and a whole host of vital extracurricular programs to become virtually self-supporting. We think it’s a tragedy the Legislature’s abandonment of our children has forced such debilitating cuts. But given the current budget realities, the district urgently needs an athletic director who can not only build up the extracurricular programs, but build up community support and partnerships.

So we applaud yet another tough decision by the school board. At least, we would applaud, if they hadn’t cut off our hand.

Protect our forest

Another weekend looms, full of danger and opportunity. We’ve had about one-third our normal rainfall so far this year, so the fire danger for the weekend has been reset to “extreme.” So far, the Tonto National Forest has imposed restrictions that ban virtually any use of fire in the forest. However, the worried forest managers haven’t shut down the forest yet as they did last year, to the great relief of the businesses here.

Certainly, it’s better to struggle through a weak summer economically than to risk a megafire that could blight our economy for generations. Still, every extra weekend of strong sales remains critical when so many of the businesses run by our friends and neighbors have grown weary of clinging to the long end of a frayed rope.

And to keep the forest open as long as possible without facing disaster, we must each remain willing to help the Forest Service protect our homes. If you see someone violating the rules, don’t stand politely aside. Tell them they’re breaking the law — and if they resist the advice, just walk away and call the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.

Hopefully, we’ll soon see results from discussions involving the Payson Ranger District and the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce about setting up a non-profit foundation that can deploy willing volunteers. Once the Forest Service sets up the framework, we hope many Rim Country residents will volunteer to help patrol and protect our forests.

In the meantime, don’t stand silently aside. Make sure our visitors know the rules — and follow them.

That way we can get through the long, dangerous summer — one weekend at a time.

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