This past summer, the exodus intensified.
Almost every student in the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) came home at the end of the last school year to report friends’ families leaving Payson.
Now the sobering 40th day of instruction attendance numbers have confirmed the bad news.
“I about fell off my chair,” said Director of Technology Joni de Szendeffy after she pulled the district attendance numbers. “We are hemorrhaging.”
Between this year and last, PUSD lost 94 students.
“We’ve lost an average of 60 to 80 students every year,” said de Szendeffy, but she said this past year saw a substantial increase in the loss.
School board chair Barbara Underwood said that for every drop in 30 students, a teacher loses his or her job, because each student represents thousands of dollars to the district in state funds.
The state pays PUSD based on the district’s average daily enrollment numbers.
de Szendeffy said the biggest drops happened in the elementary schools.
“First grade is down by 28 kids, so is third grade,” she said.
The middle school is down by 35 students, while the high school is up by 22.
PUSD Superintendent Ron Hitchcock has said that the dwindling enrollment numbers in the lower grades will affect overall enrollment for the district for years to come and determines the direction the district takes moving forward.
“We’re trying to consider the set-point,” he said. “Will it be 3,000 or 2,000 students? Are we trying to adjust to the new reality, or patch up what we have and wait for what will come?”
Enrollment numbers determine the budget as well as how many students will be available to fill out sports teams and extracurricular activities.
So far, Hitchcock feels proud of the job the district has done.
“We’ve increased clubs, sports and technology, despite losing resources,” he said.
Along with the students, the town has lost some stellar parents as well. That includes people like Deb Rose, special events coordinator for the Town of Payson.
“It’s a financial decision,” she said of her family’s move. “It’s bitter sweet.”
In a letter to the editor, Rose wrote, “As my family and I pack and move to the Valley, I wanted to take this opportunity to send a big thank you to everyone that I have worked with for the five years ... What a long, strange, but fun trip this has been.”
Both she and her husband have college degrees and work in software and Web development. But they could not make it in Payson.
Rose said when her husband put his resumé online; he received multiple job offers in the Valley within a week, but none from the Rim Country. As a consequence, they have moved to south Tempe.
Rose said the economic crisis has created a downward spiral for other families in the Rim Country as well — even pioneer families like the Randalls and Gibsons.
Most of the families that left worked in construction.
The Robb family from Whispering Pines had three children in the district. Devin Robb, who had just finished his freshman year at Payson High School, reported that his family had to move nearer relatives on the East Coast despite his father finding success in the construction trades in the Rim Country for the past 15 years.