State Paperwork Choking Schools

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In these austere times, the community watches every penny the school district spends — especially if the money goes somewhere besides the classroom.

So Superintendent Ron Hitchcock will have some explaining to do on Monday, when he will ask the Payson School Board that not long ago approved teacher layoffs to approve a new secretary position.

Behind this request lies a sad fact: The district needs a new secretary to help handle all of the mountains of paperwork generated from extra reporting requirements.

At this same meeting, District Business Manager Kathe Manning will present yet more financial reports for PUSD and Payson Center for Success to please auditors the state sends to breathe down her neck to make sure every penny is spent according to its exacting and onerous requirements.

In justifying the expense of a secretary, Hitchcock hopes to avoid the same problem the district suffered last year when the Arizona Department of Education docked PUSD $300,000 for a class period Rim Country Middle School used for students to spend time beefing up reading skills and tutoring in classes they struggled with.

Hitchcock points out that as basic state support has dwindled, the district has become ever more reliant on state and federal grants even for vital classroom programs. The total this year comes to about $1 million, nearly 10 percent of the district’s budget. Unfortunately, the state and federal government have attached so many strings to the grants that the district may well strangle on the loose ends.

Even collecting $300,000 in funding for vocational and technical programs involves hundreds of meetings, scores of reports and dismaying stacks of paperwork. Hardly any of that time and expense contributed to student learning.

In a bitter irony, the State Department of Education continues to pile mandates and reporting requirements on local school districts — even as the state Legislature bemoans the burdens of accounting for federal grants.

That helps explain why voters have grown so frustrated with politicians who so loudly proclaim their devotion to education and decry bureaucracy — and then in the next vote cut education and empower bureaucrats.

Great, bittersweet news

Score: We’ll finally have a place to buy bats and balls and cleats and rackets. We no longer have to drive 90 miles south to purchase a tent, only to turn around and drive back to beautiful Rim Country to pitch it.

We’ll even have a store that can outfit our pup for the weekend camping trip.

National retailers are finally making their way to Payson.

Rim Country enjoyed one of the best weeks since the onset of the recession this week with the confirmation that Big Lots, PetSmart and Big 5 Sporting Goods are setting up shop later this year.

We put the word out on our Facebook account and 40 people “liked” the news in just a few hours.

One man commented, “Yea! Somewhere to buy kids sports shoes!”

Another woman posted, “WHOOOO HOOOO!!! You just made my husband’s day!! He’s all excited!!”

And someone from southern Gila County looked on enviously — “Gosh I wish Globe would get some new businesses, we have nothing here,” they wrote.

The stores not only bring products and services to town, they keep sales tax dollars here. Those sales tax dollars pay for Payson’s fire department, its police department, its parks — and most town services.

More importantly, the arrival of three major retail outlets will result in a flush of new jobs, mitigating Rim Country’s great struggle reflected so tellingly in the need to mount yet another food drive.

Ironically, the happy economic news came in the same week we learned to our sorrow that Payson Economic Development Director Mike Vogel has decided to step down to deal with some pressing health issues.

Vogel has labored mightily on behalf of this community, first on the town council, then as both economic development director and head of the Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE. He spent countless hours working on behalf of his neighbors and everyone in this community. He labored to change the perception that Payson didn’t care about growth and didn’t want new businesses. His gruff, persistent, hands-on, common-sense approach served the town well, although hard times forced him to work long hours for every success.

The news of his departure feels bittersweet on the heels of such good news, linked so intimately to his service.

But it reminds us of how much we owe to those who work on our behalf and on behalf of this beloved community.

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