Record Number Seek Payson School Board Seats

Nine candidates vie for five seats amidst a swirl of issues and financial woes

Payson Unified School District Office

Payson Unified School District Office Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Something’s up with the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) — what else can explain nine candidates running for school board?

Guess it should not surprise anyone the district faces controversies with a shrinking budget, layoffs, steep athletic fees, frozen teacher salaries, curriculum overhauls and non-existent funds to improve curriculum and ever-increasing class sizes.

Moreover, a Morrison Institute poll shows that Arizona voters consider education one of their top five concerns and a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded the Arizona Legislature inflicted the deepest proportionate cuts to education in the nation.

These issues have enveloped the district with a blinding dust storm of change, which this year has spawned a hailstorm of candidates.

Most of the contenders have worked as teachers.

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Gerald R. Rutz

Gerald Rutz

Rutz started his teaching career in his native Wisconsin. He was the first in his family to receive a college education and graduated from the University of Wisconsin. After teaching and spending time in the Army in the early ’60s, he received a grant from the National Science Foundation to pursue a master’s in math.

Rutz moved to Arizona in 1962 and spent the rest of his career in the Scottsdale area teaching at Scottsdale High School and then Arcadia. He was math chairman at both schools.

He supplemented his experience and salary by teaching math classes at Scottsdale Community College.

Rutz also studied educational administration at Arizona State University.

Now in retirement, Rutz has the time and desire to help the Payson schools, since he believes Payson is heaven on earth.

“Every board member should have as their goal giving the best education and social education to every student at the school,” he said of his platform.

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Ron Silverman

Ron Silverman

Silverman hails from Pittsburgh, Penn. Education ran in his background. His father was a pediatrician and his mother a nurse, but Silverman did not consider higher education until his junior year of high school when his mother said, “What college do you want to got to? You’re going to go.”

After completing his undergraduate education at Temple University, he decided to pursue further education in architecture, but teaching caught his eye.

He moved to North Carolina and subbed while finishing up his teaching credential.

In 1997, he decided to heed the invitation of a friend and moved to Tucson. He worked in a middle school and high school in the city before missing trees and a small-town atmosphere. When Kathe Ketchem and Anna Van Zile offered him a teaching position to create rigor in the Payson High School social studies department, he took the offer.

Unfortunately, his tenure was short due to layoffs and budget cuts. Last May, the district let him go, although students showed up at a board meeting to plead for his job.

Silverman is running for the board because he feels resources are not being used correctly. He believes Payson needs better schools with more rigor and accountability to attract families.

“We could have a whole engine of change — people will want to move here,” he said.

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Carmelita Locke

Carmelita Locke

Locke originally wanted to be a nuclear physicist or a research scientist, because of the first moonwalk, but she detoured into music and elementary education instead.

She grew up terribly poor with a divorced single mother in Ajo, Ariz. and Texarkana, Texas.

Although her mother told she and her two older brothers the family did not have enough money to send them to college, they all persevered and got degrees.

She credits her brothers with teaching her to stand up for herself and giving her the courage to go for her dreams.

Once, a group of bullies followed Locke home. When her brothers found out, they told her to grab a broom, step outside and tell them to back off. She did as they told her to, except they silently stood behind her to add to her defense as she brandished the broom at her assailants. Needless to say, the bullies never bothered her again.

Locke received a scholarship to a small liberal arts college that did not have a science program, so she chose to study to become a teacher.

She has taught music for 20 years during her 30 years as a teacher. The remainder of her career included teaching fifth- and sixth-grade students.

She retired from PUSD two years ago, but still volunteers and substitute teaches in the district.

She has three goals she would like to accomplish as a school board member:

Re-center the focus on student learning and success.

Open communication and shared decision making with the administration.

Encourage communication and involvement with the community.

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James Quinlan

James Quinlan

Quinlan grew up in the state of Washington. His father had a degree in geology and worked as the chief engineer for a mining company. Quinlan’s family moved throughout the north and southwest following his father’s work.

As a senior in high school, he took a college preparation course in English and had to read a book a week.

Because of that class, he found a lifelong passion for literature.

Because his grandmother was an English teacher, he went into teaching. He has taught every level of English class from remedial to advanced placement classes in high school.

His first teaching job was in Casa Grande where he graduated from high school. Returning there felt like a scene from the late “Welcome Back Kotter” 1970s T.V. show. He said he either had to learn about discipline or they would have controlled the classroom.

He spent 10 years teaching in Casa Grande and then came to Payson to teach another 20 years at Payson High School, but now works for Gila Community College.

He still has many friends in the district. They have asked him to run for school board because they feel teacher morale is at an all-time low.

He also believes that school administrators should answer to the public for the decisions they make.

“My only agenda is I want to see our students in our town with the best education possible and teachers treated with respect,” said Quinlan.

Some candidates are running because of their community volunteerism.

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Jim Muhr

Jim Muhr

Muhr grew up in Casper, Wyo., but moved to Los Angeles when he was 18. He found a good job in the aerospace industry — then the draft for the Vietnam War whisked him away from the life he had started to build.

He found he excelled in the military and graduated eighth in his class of 250 at Fort Benning. He spent nine months in Vietnam, narrowly avoiding death during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Getting shot changed his perspective. He turned down a promotion to officer to come home, get married and start school at Cal State Long Beach.

During the day, he worked in the automotive industry and took night classes and summer school to complete a degree in Political Science.

While he studied at night, his young son would come and color in coloring books to mimic Daddy’s studying.

His career track in the automotive industry took him in many directions. He rode the wave of the introduction of Asian cars into the U.S. market, working his way up to the management level.

Then he struck out on his own to convert chemicals into urethane products such as nerf-like footballs, spray-on truck bed liners, to panels for Titan and Delta rockets.

He sold his business in 2004 to retire to Payson, where his mother and sister lived. When he moved here, he promptly got involved with the community.

He volunteered on the Gila County redistricting committee, got involved with veterans advocacy, and became the driving force of the Payson Tea Party.

He believes a strong school system will draw quality people to Payson. To reach that goal, he would like to bring transparency, stop the rubber stamping of the board, and advocate at the state level for a different perspective on funding such as selling state lands for education.

“I want Payson to be a go-to school. I want people to move to Payson because of the schools,” said Muhr.

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Shirley Dye

Shirley Dye

Dye was brought up in Glendale, Calif. After high school, she jumped into marriage and motherhood, along with volunteering for her children’s activities and schools. That tradition continues today with her involvement in her grandchildren’s education, despite their multi-state locations.

She laments that schools have steadily declined in quality and substance from when she went to school through her children’s to her grandchildren’s schooling. After her children left home, Dye went to work at a major construction company working to pull permits. Day after day she saw the value of a good education simply in the skills needed to understand geology, engineering and legal terms.

Since retiring to Payson in 2005, Dye has volunteered with the Ponderosa Bible Church to help children read and memorize verses. She was shocked to find how many students could not read or comprehend vocabulary words.

Dye decided to run for the school board when she read that PUSD administration supported the one-cent sales tax initiative. She would prefer to fund the schools from Proposition 120, which would authorize the state to take over millions of acres of federal land in the state. Critics have said federal judges would overturn the proposition, but Dye believes that if the state seized the federal land it would generate revenue by leasing it to private industry for timber harvesting, cattle grazing and mining.

She also believes schools should return to the basics, reading, writing and mathematics and leave aside teaching multi-cultural studies, in multiple languages.

“I represent a whole lot of grandparents. They’ve watched the schools become dumbed down,” said Dye.

Other candidates have children or grandchildren in the Payson school system.

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Lynette Brouwer

Lynnette Brouwer

Brouwer grew up in a Minnesota farming family. Although her parents did not go past the eighth grade, they supported all four of the their children getting a higher education.

Brouwer continued in school to earn a master’s in public administration and a PhD in Education with an emphasis on organization. She served on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin and then worked for the Forest Service starting managing and analyzing programs.

She has experience working within government mandates and budgets finding what is possible within the limits allowed.

Currently, she teaches on-line courses and could live anywhere. She chose Payson because of the weather, beauty and proximity to family. Her father winters in Sun City.

She got involved with the local schools because of her children. Her oldest child was born in Eastern Siberia and her youngest in China. Both have unique educational needs Brouwer found herself working within the guts of the school to resolve.

Recently, she spearheaded the effort to bring the Missoula Children’s Theatre to Payson. She raised over $5,000 through businesses and community members to put on a show that surprised and pleased audiences and engaged children from all over Rim Country.

Brouwer believes the schools need the community as much as the community needs the schools, but she has concerns that the board has not worked efficiently to create relationships or, as she calls it, social capital.

She believes that, together, the community and schools could create magnet schools that would inspire families to move to Payson.

“If you want it, you put things in place. It happens,” Brouwer said.

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Devin Wala

Devin Wala

Wala grew up in Iowa and Illinois. His family has a long history of higher education from the time of his great-grandparents. Wala has a degree in computer engineering.

He came to Arizona to support his wife going on in her education. She has a law degree from Arizona State University.

Wala and his family moved to Payson nine years ago because of the schools, the weather, the beauty, and the small-town atmosphere. He started Manzanita Adventure Sports and ran it for three years until lightning burned down the store.

Now he manages property and volunteers for the schools. He has two children in the school system and strives to improve the quality of education for all students.

He, along with other Rim country parents started the Payson Association for Advanced Learners to bring expanded educational opportunities to all students looking to push the limits.

He hopes to make sure the members of the school board remain focused on the needs of the kids.

Wala believes the kids deserve a level playing field with their education.

Take for example the hope of the district to allow kids to bring their own technological device to school. He hopes that the school will be able to help those students who do not have the resources to purchase an iPad or laptop computer — if those are required to learn.

“It’s important to me that schools meet the needs of all the students,” said Wala.

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Barbara Underwood

Barbara Underwood

Underwood is the only incumbent running in the race. She has completed one four-year term and feels she will be a better board member after going through all of the training offered to school board members.

Underwood grew up in Phoenix and moved to Payson in 1977, where she and her family started Mario’s Italian restaurant.

All of Underwood’s children attended Payson schools and now one of her daughters teaches second grade. She has grandchildren throughout the district.

Underwood keeps her finger on the pulse of the schools by volunteering in the classrooms.

In the last election, she ran on the platform of bringing security to the schools. She is pleased that each campus now has a fence and secure access for the students.

She is also immensely proud of keeping extracurricular activities despite deep cuts to education.

“I’d like the board to offer all things to be able to continue the whole child education,” said Underwood.

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