Should the Payson Unified School District sell Frontier Elementary School?
That’s the question the district will put to the voters in November as a result of the school board’s action on Monday.
The ballot measure will seek authorization from the voters to sell the site closed to save money last year, but that doesn’t mean the district actually will sell the school.
Superintendent Casey O’Brien told a reluctant school board that the clearance from the voters would simply give the district the latitude to respond to an offer or changing conditions in the future. State law requires voter approval before the district can dispose of a school site.
Board member Barbara Shepherd questioned the wisdom of selling Frontier, which the district closed in the face of dwindling enrollment and shrinking state funds. The closure last year saved about $200,000 in annual maintenance and operating costs and consolidates all the elementary school students in the two other school sites. That resulted in a 20 to 30 percent increase in elementary school class sizes.
The district has lost 50 to 100 students each year for the past three years. However, Payson’s general plan envisions the town eventually growing from about 15,000 residents to about 38,000 residents, which would almost certainly require the school district to open new schools.
“Some day we’re going to run out of room,” said Shepherd, “and we won’t have the room to expand” on any of the existing campuses.
However, board president Barbara Underwood said the district could surely acquire low-cost federal land should it need to build a new school site in the future. “The schools would get, like, Forest Service land or government land if that occurred.”
But Shepherd persisted. “I don’t want to say ‘this is what’s best for us right now and we don’t care about future boards.’ I do care about future boards.”
But then she thought about it and shifted her position in mid-discourse. “But then if it’s going to cost us a couple hundred thousand dollars to repair the roof or something, then we don’t have much choice” but to sell the property.
O’Brien later said the school doesn’t at this point need major repairs and voter approval would just give the district the option of moving forward at some future point, without having to call a special election — which could cost more than $40,000.
Underwood pressed for the authorization, saying that if the enrollment decline doesn’t stop, the district could face substantial costs by holding onto the site. “If it’s something that’s long term, the buildings would just deteriorate. A vacant building deteriorates.”
“Even if we approve this tonight, that doesn’t mean we have to sell it,” said Shepherd.
“All this does is authorize the board to go forward,” said O’Brien.
With that, the board unanimously approved a motion to put the proposal before the voters in November.