Buried Beneath Paper

School district lays off teachers, hires secretaries to cope with mountains of state, federal forms

Buried in paper.

Buried in paper. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The Payson school district found itself in a Catch-22 situation: either hire another secretary for the district office or lose boatloads of state and federal money.

After hearing arguments at its Oct. 9 meeting, the frustrated school board voted to support Superintendent Ron Hitchcock’s request for a secretary to help meet cumbersome state reporting requirements — despite voting to lay off teaching staff last year.

“The cuts you’ve had to do have been painful, but the district has come to rely on over $1 million in grants,” he said to the board. “That creates an unbelievable amount of compliance.”

Hitchcock said that getting a single $300,000 grant for the state to provide vocational education required more than 800 meetings, 42 reports and 44 student assessments.

“This is a really important position,” said board member Kim Pound. “As someone who has written grants, writing grants is a headache. It takes a lot of legwork.”

And that’s not all. State and federal programs like the AIMS test and federal Title I programs to help low-income students, force teachers to spend hundreds of hours collecting information.

Take Career Technical Education (CTE): Last year, the state slashed spending for the freshman CTE classes. As these classes feed the upper level vocational classes, the cuts represented a body blow for Payson.

Not every student wishes to pursue a college career and the CTE classes offer an alternative.

After a conference in Phoenix on the CTE program, Hitchcock came back seething about what the district has to do to get the state grants.

“In my small sample, Arizona is more concerned with compliance than the other two states I’ve worked in,” he said. Hitchcock has worked in education in both Utah and Oregon.

He said the $300,000 state grant involved 836 meetings, 42 compliance reports, 44 student assessments and 53 deadlines. Meanwhile, the state could change the rules at any time with little or no notice or input.

In a memo to State Superintendent John Huppenthal, Hitchcock wrote, “I love customer service, and I love customer support ... I understand the need, and support the monitoring, measuring and reporting that allows us to improve our processes and programs ... (but) I do not see that either commitment is yet realized, nor do I see progress.”

Hitchcock said small districts labor to fill out all the paperwork on top of the reports for the myriad of more than 35 other state and federal programs. “We’re at risk of violating reporting requirements,” said Hitchcock. “The district is exposed in a number of areas.”

Exactly the reason the board voted to hire the new secretary.

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