After tossing the hot potato of the Payson Elementary School (PES) expansion back and forth a few times, the board finally let it come to rest in Superintendent Ron Hitchcock’s lap at its meeting Aug. 26.
He suggested moving one or two grades worth of students to other schools that have room to absorb the overflow.
“In your packet, we have made the choice to not increase the classroom sizes,” said Hitchcock. “Next year, if you try to cram 600 kids in that facility, in that building, there is no room.”
PES Principal Asa Hall reported that the school current-
ly has 196 kindergarten students and 209 first-grade students.
The second-graders bring the school total to 543, said Hitchcock.
That’s the most the school has ever held, said Hitchcock. Even during Payson’s expansion heyday — “when we had students and money” — PES only held 314 students.
Now the school is bursting at the seams and Hitchcock said the district anticipates a response similar to all-day kindergarten next year as they had this year.
The school board two years ago closed Frontier Elementary School and this year sold the campus to the Payson Christian School for about $1 million. The closure of
Frontier saved the district about $400,000 annually in maintenance and administrative costs, but forced a big increase in class sizes in the two remaining elementary schools for lack of classrooms.
But then a rise in the number of kindergartners and first-graders enrolled this year surprised everyone — and immediately created a classroom crisis at PES, which has grades K-2.
Several weeks ago, the school board balked at Hitchcock’s plan to spend the $1 million from the sale of Frontier to add four classrooms to PES, mostly to accommodate all-day kindergarten classes.
“At PES using 27 classrooms, if we are to add anymore teachers we would have no place to put those teachers,” said Hitchcock to the board. “The way we computed the class size standard we aspired to, we have had to add classrooms ... because we, a) have no space for another teacher and b) to have the class sizes we want, we don’t have space.”
As a solution, the superintendent suggested moving the second-grade students to Julia Randall Elementary (JRE) and shifting the fifth-grade students to Rim Country Middle School.
“I believe the board should consider turning PES into a K-1 school,” he said. “If you turn JRE into a 2-4 school, you still have room to expand at JRE. At the middle school put four grades — that’s where you accommodate the capacity that is lacking at PES. The only way, when you ask, ‘What about class size?’ is if you have a building with room to answer for a building where there is no room.”
The board also threw out suggestions that included moving the pre-school, shifting to two or three K-8 schools and putting up temporary buildings at PES.
In the end, board member Jim Quinlan handed the problem to the superintendent.
“I would look to Mr. Hitchcock to put together a plan to fix the problem,” said Quinlan.