School Shocker: Enrollment Rises

Surge in lower grades strains school’s capacity

Ron Hitchcock

Ron Hitchcock Photo by Andy Towle. |

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For the first time in six years, enrollment jumped in the Payson Unified School District. Abruptly, the school board turned from selling schools to worrying about overcrowding.

So in an effort to catch its breath, the board on Aug. 12 unanimously overrode the administration and refused to add classrooms to Payson Elementary School (PES).

Superintendent Ron Hitchcock said the surprising enrollment jump is concentrated in kindergarten and first grade classes. That means it may stem from the district’s decision to offer all-day kindergarten as much as from an underlying rise in the school-age population.

“I think it’s clear that there was pent up demand for free, full-day kindergarten, since we had about 140 students last year in kindergarten under the old model and now have over 200 students in first grade,” he wrote in an e-mail after the meeting, “Similarly, we had about 140 (kindergartners) last year, but this year with free, full-day kindergarten we have over 190.”

With the closure of Frontier Elementary, the district houses all kindergarten through second grade students at PES.

But PES has the least square footage of any school in the district.

Hitchcock said teachers are using closets and the library to house classrooms.

“Every spare bit of space is being used,” said Hitchcock.

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Ron Hitchcock

Still, the board balked at spending the $1 million the district received for selling Frontier to add about four classrooms to PES as Hitchcock requested.

“After talking to community members, I think we need to see where we are as a school district,” said board member Rory Huff in the meeting. “We have (a budget) override vote coming and I feel it would be in our best interest to put this (PES expansion) on the back burner.”

The override Huff discussed allows the school district to maintain the current property tax rate, which allows the district to spend up to about 10 percent more than the state formula.

“Last time, we bought textbooks with the override money,” said Huff after the meeting.

The override lasts for seven years. Huff said in November of 2014, the override will be up for a vote again. He wants to make sure voters understand the board is being careful with taxpayer money and thinking about its options.

Huff said enrollment needs to stabilize before the district can assess its needs and start any major projects.

“We’re going to need to look at reconfiguring the schools and make sure we have everything,” said Huff. “In the past, things have been built without thinking.”

After the vote to delay the build out, Brenda Case, director of student achievement, seemed visibly upset.

In his report at the end of the meeting, Hitchcock suggested the board might have to consider moving a grade out of PES to another school.

“You have lost $2 million for the last six years, that’s $12 million,” said Hitchcock. “Your legs were taken out from under you — they defunded everything — capital, soft capital, etc. I do not know how to fund our priorities — whether it is student achievement or facilities ... we’re trying to attend to these issues, but what about when we need more space? ... can the middle school accommodate four grades rather than three grades? Can the high school accommodate another grade? If we’re going to back away, we need to have concrete discussion.”

Comments

H. Wm. Rhea III 8 months, 1 week ago

From the Payson Roundup story 'Frontier site sold':

"With enrollment dropping, the Payson School Board has approved the sale of Frontier Elementary School to the competing Payson Community Christian School (PCCS) at a fraction of what taxpayers spent to build it."

I think the school board was short sighted, as I've said before. Others have even gone out of their way to point out illegalities surrounding the sale. And now, it's ooopps! We goofed over the enrollment.

We have good teachers, staff and administrators, but a school board that can't see the forest for the trees, no pun intended.

Perhaps it's time for Payson School Board to revisit that misguided escaped and review the sale or else it's time for the state to investigate the Payson School Board.

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Barbara Rasmussen 8 months, 1 week ago

Maybe they should have held onto Frontier School instead of jamming students and teachers into crowded classrooms. Doesn't that pose safety issues as well? Shame on our School board and their previous decisions! Budget Over Ride Vote? Seriously?

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roy sandoval 8 months ago

Relative to Mr. Huff's quote, "Last time we bought textbooks with the override money." I provide you with November 11, 2011 Roundup article on the override, "This year, the override money will provide $475,000 to reduce the number of teacher layoffs otherwise forced by state funding cuts, $58,000 to protect small, advanced classes at the high school level and $685,000 to protect music and physical education programs as well as pay stipends to coordinators at each campus to help students struggling to keep up in reading, writing and math."

Secondly, I might mention a chain of events leading to the current student crises. When FES was built, the district efficiently housed a student population of about 2800. Three years ago, the board and PUSD moved to an educational model creating a grade K-2 elementary school and a grade 3-5 elementary school while closing FES. It should be noted that while there is considerable research supporting a K-8 model, there is very, very little to support the K-2/3-5. Two years later, the Board sold FES for 1.25 million though evidence will show that with initial building costs, subsequent additions, and modification, corridor grants for sidewalks etc. and money for a new parking lot from a second capital bond there was close to 9 million taxpayer dollars invested. Now the student enrollment goes up - just a little and they cannot house them. JRE at grades 3-5 is not filled to capacity. PES at K-2 is overfilled.

Wouldn't it be amazing to look at what the numbers would be if they were both K-5; which is a more effective educational model and keeps siblings together.

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Pat Randall 8 months ago

Seems it would save transportation costs for buses too. Taking a child that lives across the street from a school and hauling them across town with the bus drivers we have is a little scarey. Also the kids have to get up earlier and get home later. Do the bus drivers have any training and CDL licenses? Most of the ones I have seen drive like it was the first time they were ever behind the wheel of a vehicle. No wonder so many parents are lined up at the schools to deliver and pick up their kids.

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Pat Randall 8 months ago

How can Huff say he wants voters to understand the board is being careful with taxpayer money? Sell a complete school for a little more than they want to spend to add 4 rooms to another school. Does he think we are all idiots? He says in the past things have been built without thinking. Seems they are being sold now without thinking. Who is doing the thinking for them now?

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