Schools Make Painful Choices

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Flipping through the paper today, we came across something crazy. On page one, we learned that the Payson Unified School District opted to cut the student counselor at Rim Country Middle School.

Counselor Byron Quinlan has mercifully already landed another position, but the cut will leave the middle school without a desperately needed counselor. But Quinlan noted that as the school counselor he has dealt with more suicide threats, body cutting, bullying and abuse cases than ever before.

Adequate counseling services and intervention clearly serves a vital purpose on a campus where students must struggle with more stress, choices and trauma than ever before.

Elsewhere, you’ll find the stunning results of a poll of Arizona voters completed by the Merrill/Morrison Institute Poll, which is based at Arizona State University.

Turns out, 97 percent of the voters say that schools are “important” or “very important” to the state’s future.

However, half the voters rank our schools as “poor” or “very poor.”

Moreover, 74 percent said the state Legislature has not provided our schools with the money they need to thrive.

The juxtaposition of those two stories underscores the outrageous failure of the state Legislature to meet the urgent needs of our children. Business tax cuts and big increases in the budget for private prisons took priority over restoring the deep cutbacks of the past three years.

So now the children of Payson and every other community in this state will suffer the consequences of the Legislature’s willful disregard for the priorities of the voters.

Unfortunately, it turns to the local school boards to make the wrenching decisions. Here, the administration continues to shuffle the deck chairs on the stricken ship. They confront only bad choices — whether it’s cutting a counselor, laying off a teacher or fussing with the job description of the vice principal.

We do not envy the school board or the administration these painful and thankless choices.

We got lucky

We got lucky — again. The 15,000-acre Sunflower Fire filled Rim Country with a frightening pall of smoke this week, but despite the red flag conditions the fire remains trapped between two older burned areas.

As a result, fire crews appear confident they can keep the monster caged.

But a growing body of research has now underscored the inevitability of tragedy if we fail to act now.

For instance, University of Arizona researchers recently concluded that our foolishly shortsighted management of the forest has created a rising number of 500,000-acre mega fires. By discerning wildfire patterns in tree-ring data going back 1,500 years, the researchers concluded such massive, devastating crown fires did not occur in Arizona until we unhinged the ecology of a once-fire-adapted forest.

Alas, we unleashed cattle and loggers and firefighters without understanding those ancient, exquisitely evolved systems, with disastrous consequences.

The research concluded that even during decades-long periods of drought in the Southwest in the past 1,000 years, fires remains scattered, small and mostly confined to the ground. Almost nowhere in that long record did the researchers find cataclysms like the Wallow Fire last summer in the White Mountains or the Rodeo-Chediski Fire that threatened all of Rim Country in 2002.

Ironically, we have created the monster that now poses the single greatest threat to the future of the community we love so dearly.

Fortunately, the Forest Service appears to have awakened finally to the danger of managing the forest without regard to its natural adaptations and cycles. Reportedly, the Forest Service today in Flagstaff will announce the award of the first contracts in the 4-Forests Restoration Project. This visionary effort will attempt to reinvent the timber industry to turn a profit in clearing the thickets of saplings that now choke millions of acres in Rim Country and beyond.

We got lucky this time.

But we can’t bet our futures on mere dumb luck.

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