Generous Volunteers In A Tight-Fisted Town

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Once again, Payson residents proved why Payson remains the best place to live in Arizona — heck, maybe even this quadrant of the galaxy.

All right, maybe that’s exaggerating — given our lack of detailed, firsthand information about anything outside the solar system.

But the community showed its stuff once more by rallying around Payson Community Kids, which in just three weeks raised the $6,000 it needed to pave the street in front of its new after-school facility for kids who need to know someone cares.

A group of great-hearted volunteers has labored mightily to ensure that Payson Community Kids survived the tragic death of its founder a few years ago. The need for the after-school programs, food and clothing has tripled since 2009, thanks to the collapse of the housing industry here. The downturn has left 400 of the Payson Unified School District’s students either homeless or displaced — and in urgent need of a safe and nurturing place to go after school.

Backers raised some $68,000 to acquire a property and add space for its marvelous mix of programs — including enough money to pay the Town of Payson’s somewhat discounted permit and building fees. But last March as backers got ready to move into the new digs for the summer, they discovered that the town’s conditional use permit required them to turn the section of dirt road out front into an asphalt street atop a roadbed. About a third of the road the non-profit group had to pave wasn’t even in front of the facility. The required road would far exceed the quality of the road on each side of the asphalt patch.

Payson Community Kids sought permission to build a cheaper road.

No way, said the town.

So backers pleaded for permission to move into the facility while they continued to raise money for the paving project.

No way, said the town.

Fortunately, anonymous donors rode to the rescue. Moreover, the rotten building market also produced a happily low bid on the project, ensuring Payson Community Kids will have money left over for landscaping and furnishings.

The long, stubborn, great-hearted effort speaks well for this community — and the people who have given their time so generously to our kids.

Fortunately, that public-spirited generosity also overcame the town’s stubborn insistence on getting all its improvements up front.

A paperwork swamp

First the state cuts money for vocational education. Then it offers grants to replace some of that self-same money. Cool. Good old Arizona. Generous Arizona Department of Education. Let us link arms and sing “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore.”

Just one thing guys: Gotta fill out a form — maybe a report or two. Attend a meeting. Get a little training.

Then Payson Unified School District Superintendent Ron Hitchcock got a look at the fine print.

What did the school district have to do to qualify for $300,000 in vital vocational training money? Simple: Just attend 836 meetings, prepare 42 compliance reports, conduct 44 student assessment tests and meet 53 different deadlines.

Let us repeat that:

836 meetings

Good Lord. What are these people thinking?

Mind you, these requirements flow from the Arizona Legislature, which spends about half of its waking time whining about federal mandates. It’s enough to make you gnaw off the tips of your fingers and move to Finland.

The terrible tale of the $300,000 and the 836 meetings neatly illustrates what’s wrong with the politically self-serving, teacher-abusing, reality-avoiding education reform movement in Arizona these days.

Certainly, we must hold teachers and administrators accountable — and insist on improving student performance. Certainly, the link between student learning and school spending remains problematic, as these same lawmakers tell you every time you object to the state’s dead-last ranking when it comes to per-student spending.

But can any rational reformer defend a system that inflicts 836 meetings on a small school district seeking $300,000 to sustain something so vital as vocational education programs?

Cancel the chorus of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore.” Because this Legislature has left our school districts far up the fetid and swampy creek without a paddle in a boat about to sink beneath the weight of a sodden stack of paper.

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