Nine Candidates Debate School District Priorities

Role of teachers, budget cuts, district secrets, school excellence divide and unite those seeking board seats

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Stepping into the voting booth on Nov. 6 to ponder the ballot Payson Unified District School (PUSD) Board may overwhelm many voters -- with nine candidates for just three spots.

The record number of candidates reflects the challenges the district has faced in the past three years, with teacher layoffs, school closures and a sharp rise in fees for sports and extra curricular activities. Packed school board meetings have drawn parents, teachers, supporters, and even students, who made an emotional appeal to save the jobs of teachers and administrators facing layoffs.

The furor has drawn a mix of candidates. Some support the school board’s choices, including incumbent Barbara Underwood.

Another group wants the school district to continue to cut waste and administration, while holding teachers and students accountable.

A third group focuses chiefly on providing more support for teachers as they criticize the district’s layoff criteria, hiring freeze, evaluations system and deteriorating morale and working conditions.

Clearly, whoever wins will face serious challenges, with the district’s enrollment decline compounding dwindling state support. A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded the Arizona legislature had made the deepest proportionate cuts to education in the nation. The cuts eliminated money for curriculum development, even though state and federal governments have required a radical overhaul of teaching methods and evaluations.

Class sizes have risen sharply as the district has cut teaching positions. Teachers must now not only handle more students, but often dig into their own pockets to pay for classroom projects.

Yet, in the face of dwindling enrollment, some candidates say the schools could actually attract families to Payson. Their hope inspired them to run.

A vote could give them the opportunity to implement their ideas.

But what are those ideas? What do the candidates believe? From ideas on how to create excellence in the schools, to budgets and transparency, the candidates shared their ideas.

School Excellence

The district’s test scores have drifted lower, leading to mediocre state ratings. Now, the district faces state and federal mandates that will require a complete overhaul of the curriculum and a greater reliance on standardized test scores to rate both teachers and schools.

The three candidates with long experience as teachers all stressed the need to support and empower teachers to improve schools.

James Quinlan said that if the teachers are happy, the students will learn.

Carmelita Locke said the key lies in improving communications with the community. Locke firmly believes parents should volunteer in the classroom as part of their responsibility for their child’s education.

Ron Silverman believes the growth the community relies on improving the school. “We’ve been looking at the school system the wrong way.” Good school drive community growth by attracting businesses and entrepreneurs.” Instead, he said would rather home school his kids than send them to PUSD schools. “We have an opportunity to change that paradigm,” he said.

Gerald Rutz believes that every board member should insist on offering the best academic and social education possible.

Jim Muhr would like to add options, such as a vocational track to the schools because he recognizes some of the student would like to pursue an entrepreneurial track in their career.

Shirley Dye believes schools have lost their effectiveness by moving away from teaching the basics: reading, writing, math and science. “They have moved away from the Constitution by teaching multi-cultural studies where children find out they are different,” said Dye, “Everybody is one (in the U.S.)”

Incumbent Barbara Underwood believes her volunteerism in the town and schools help her understand what the schools need. “I’m helping to bring the community and schools together. I feel in four years I’ve learned how the school operates,” she said, “Your vision and goals drive the district.”

Since Devin Wala has two children in the Payson school system, he has a vested interest in its excellence. “I’m not looking to join the school board for any one issue, just a great education for all children,” he said.

Lynette Brouwer believes Payson has the same natural beauty and recreation opportunities that places like Fruita, Colorado - a small town that turned itself around by focusing on its location and environmental assets. Throughout her career, she has analyzed programs to decide if they add or subtract value from the organization. She hopes to apply her skills to PUSD and make the educational opportunities for the children of Payson the best.

Budget

The board has coped with a steady decline in enrollment and big cuts in state support by closing Frontier Elementary School, which forced a dramatic increase in elementary school class sizes. The board has approved teacher layoffs in each of the past three years, which has spurred complaints about favoritism and a lack of openness about layoff criteria. The board has also cut budget support for almost all extra curricular programs.

James Quinlan would like to make sure the budget takes care of teachers.

Gerald Rutz hopes students have a level playing field and money is spent fairly.

Carmelita Locke understands we can’t do much with the finances because the money comes from the state, but the budget process needs to be more transparent. “Start talking about how the money is spent,” she said, “It’s the board members responsibility to say how does this affect our goals.”

Ron Silverman says he has experience managing and maintaining budgets in his previous career as a small business owner.

Jim Muhr says the state should raise more money for education by selling state-owned land. “The board should be actively involved with the state legislators, prior to them writing bills,” he said. Muhr looks forward to applying his years of budget experience to understanding the state school budget process to see what is possible.

Shirley Dye supports the premise of Proposition 120, that Arizona should have sovereignty over the lands within its border. “I want to be a good steward (of the land), but they (environmentalists) have hit the economy of Gila County hard,” said Dye. She believes once the state has sovereignty over its land, it would be free to lease it to cattle ranchers, lumber companies and mining interests. The money raised could fund schools.

Incumbent Barbara Underwood has weathered some tough cuts and decisions because of the economy and shrinking budget. “For every 30 kids lost, you lose a teacher,” she said, “We’re still looking at struggles.” She says the projections show declining enrollment through 2018 and yet she hopes to continue to help through the difficult times.

Devin Wala has worked with budgets as a former small business owner and member of parent teacher organization. “We keep costs low and look for creative solutions, which is no different than what the school system is doing,” he said.

In his family’s many travels around the country and world, Wala has seen poor school systems in place such as Guatemala and privileged systems in places like Los Angeles. He said money does not always solve a school system’s problems. “We’ve seen school systems doing more with less and less with more,” said Wala.

Lynette Brouwer has worked with budgets shackled by government limitations for years. “I know what it means to have a state and Federal mandate,” she said, “It means find the opportunities within the structure and work with what you’ve got.” She has worked with public budgets and personnel throughout her career and looks forward to the challenge of looking at the whole of PUSD’s situation to find out-of-the-box solutions. She would like to apply the “zero budget” tactic to the PUSD budget.

Teacher/Student Advocacy

Gerald Rutz believes all children deserve an equal opportunity in education.

“These kids are economically deprived and can’t play sports, (because of fees),” he said. He would like to help find ways to level the playing field.

James Quinlan has two items on his agenda, “I want to see our students in our town with the best education possible and teachers treated with respect. I’ve seen too many people mistreated by the district,” he said. He feels teacher moral is at its lowest point, especially since teachers have not had a raise in five years.

He believes if teachers had more input they feel a greater stake in creating better schools.

Carmelita Locke wants to refocus the board on student’s learning and success.

“We’re really good at the bottom 25 percent, but our overall scores have gone down,” she said. She believes teachers would do a better job if they were part of the decision making process. She would like to see a committee of teachers contribute to curriculum development.

Ron Silverman, a social studies teacher who was himself laid off last year, believes administration has much to do with teacher performance and moral. “I don’t believe in the on-site leadership,” he said, “(and) the board is voting on stuff in a rubber stamp way without due diligence.” He wants to increase the rigor of the classes. “It’s about getting these kids competitive,” he said, “How do you justify giving these kids a degree and they can’t do basic things?”

Jim Muhr would like to focus on what the children need in an education.“We need to focus on what the kids need,” he said.

Shirley Dye is concerned that schools are getting dumbed down. She advocates for homework and improving children’s reading skills.

Barbara Underwood feels her continuing volunteerism in the classroom gives her a hands-on understanding of what teachers need. “I have volunteered at all schools and this gives you a day-to-day idea of what needs are in the school district,” she said. She particularly wants to focus on keeping the kindergarten through second grade classes small, although last year’s budget cuts forced a big increase in those class sizes. “Studies show they learn language and math better in the early years,” she said.

Devin Wala said his own his father went from being in the foster care system to obtain a college degree. His father gave him a solid, safe upbringing, but never shied from telling his story. This gave Wala sympathy for the realities of the student’s struggles and triumphs.

“I would like a level playing field for all students,” he said. He also understands that some demoralized teachers are just going through the motions, but he would like to inspire them because he believes in what they do. “I’d like to see a good evaluation process but put a financial remuneration on the results,” he said.

Lynette Brouwer felt drawn to run for the school board because of her children. She started attending school board meetings when the middle school cut the counselor position. Since former counselor Byron Quinlan changed her oldest daughter’s school career, she insisted the District replace the position and it did. She now would like to take her advocacy to the school board. “I got drawn in by my kids over the counselor issue. I believe I could bring new perspectives,” she said.

Transparency

Gerald Rutz talked to a lot of people while collecting the 85 signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. “They gave me certain ideas, (such as), communicate with the parents and teachers need to communicate with the administration and class,” he said, “I have two C’s (a pun on Arizona’s five C’s), cooperation and communication, if those two things are optimum, things work well.”

Carmelita Locke agrees with Rutz.

James Quinlan believes the board and district administrators answer to the public. “There are consequences to the administration for the decisions that they make,” he said. He cited the recent windfall from the Federal government in the form of fees from the forest. He would like to see that money go towards a one-year teacher stipend.

Carmelita Locke has as her second goal if voters select her to run on the board, open communication and teachers sharing in the decision making process with administrators. “We need to empower our teachers,” said Locke. Locke would also like the board to be more honest and forthcoming about budget decisions.

Ron Silverman believes the current board simply goes from fire to fire instead of looking at the long term. “People need to understand the board’s responsibility is to the students and the community,” he said.

Transparency is a key issue for Jim Muhr. He particularly does not care for the riffing of Ron Silverman or Roy Sandoval, especially since he believes both men did much for the children of Payson. “I need to stop the rubber stamping,” he said, “I need people to give explanations.”

Because Barbara Underwood is on the campuses through her volunteerism, she feels the staff appreciates her being there and has gotten to know her. Although she readily admits she cannot act as an individual board member while vounteering, she can listen.

Devin Wala has one overarching goal, “My biggest thing is to make sure members of the school board remain focused on the kids.”

Lynette Brouwer in board meetings asked point blank why she did not know what the board had on the agenda or why the meeting time and location was not published in the paper. The board changed and started publishing its agenda to conform to the needs of the paper. Now Brouwer would like to make both the external and internal transparency of the board better. “Having worked for the Forest Service, you invite people to come even if what they say is not always comfortable,” she said.

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Gerald Rutz

Gerald Rutz

• Spent his career in education

• Lived in Arizona since 1962

• Degrees from the University of

Wisconsin

• Spent time in the U.S. Army

• Received National Science grant to

obtain Masters in mathematics

• Coached freshman football

• Believes in equality of opportunity in

education

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James Quinlan

James Quinlan

• Degree in English from Gonzaga

University in Spokane, Wa.

• Spent his career teaching literature

• Worked 20 years at Payson High

School, currently teaches at Gila

Community College

• Coached varsity sports

• His six children went through the

Payson school system.

• Believes if teachers are supported,

education improves

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Carmelita Locke

Carmelita Locke

• Graduated from college with a

degree in Elementary education

and Music

• Received a Masters in Educational

Leadership

• Taught for 31 years in PUSD and son attended Payson schools.

• Taught elementary classes, music

• Goals: Focus on student learning and success. Open communication and shared decision. Encourage

communication and involvement

with the community.

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Ron Silverman

Ron Silverman

• Received degrees from Temple

University and the University of

Arizona

• Has taught for 11 years. Two in

PUSD, eight in the Tucson school

district and currently works in the

Alchezoa district near White River.

• Lived in Arizona since 1997

• Believes in academic rigor to

improve the school district

• Would like to see PUSD as an

economic driver for the town

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Jim Muhr

Jim Muhr

• Received degree from Cal State

Long Beach in Political Science

• Drafted into the Vietnam War in

  1. Wounded in Tet Offensive,

Received the Purple Heart.

• Spent career in business.

Corporate management in

automotive industry. Retired from

owning his own business in 2004

and moved to Payson.

• Family has lived in Payson since

1985.

• Currently, president of the Payson

Tea Party and a veteran’s advocate

• Muhr believes by applying what he l earned from business, he can find funding sources and create a system parents will want to attend.

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Devin Wala

Devin Wala

• Studied computer engineering at

the University of Iowa

• Moved to Payson nine years ago

for the rural atmosphere and

schools

• Has two children in Payson schools

• Founded a parent-teacher

organization that brings enrichment

activities to Payson students.

• Owned an outdoor sporting goods

store

• Believes district needs to inspire

teachers so they may inspire

students

• Will work to guarantee a level

playing field for every child

• Number one goal is to make sure the school board

remains focused on the kids

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“But why can’t we just say no more than ‘6 inches above the knee?’” Shirley Dye Payson school board

Shirley Dye

• Studied counseling after high school

• Volunteered in the schools for her

children

• Worked in construction industry on

permits

• Currently tutors grandchildren

• Volunteers for the Tea Party and

Republican Party

• Believes schools could be funded by

the state taking over Federal forest

land to lease for forestry, mining, and

cattle grazing.

• Wants schools to get back to basics

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Barbara Underwood

Barbara Underwood

• She and her family have lived in

Payson since 1977

• Her children went through the Payson school system. Her daughter, Karen Ormand, works as an

elementary school teacher. Has

grandchildren in all levels of the

system.

• Ran a family restaurant for years.

• Currently sits on the board of the

Senior Center, the Mogollon Sporting

Association and is involved with the

Payson design and review board.

• Worked as a secretary in the school

district and currently volunteers in the classroom

• The only incumbent running

• She hopes to return all day kindergarten and keep class

sizes small

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Lynette Brouwer

Lynette Brouwer

• First generation in her family to

obtain higher education

• Has a PhD in Education with

emphasis on organization and a

Master’s in Public Administration

• Was on the faculty at the University

of Wisconsin

• Managed and started programs for

the U.S. Forest Service

• Has two children in the Payson

school system

• She would like to build social capital

with the community.

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