Change drives a sports car. But government’s stuck in the wheelhouse of an oil tanker. That pretty much sums up the problem with overhauling Payson’s General Plan — the land use blueprint on which this town’s future depends.
Consider the latest report from the early phase of Payson’s year-long effort to plan its future. More than 600 surveys filled out by the public so far reflect an overwhelming need to provide more stable, well-paid, year-round jobs. The shock therapy of the past four years has driven the lesson home, replacing the concerns about growing too fast with providing enough jobs so our kids don’t have to flee the minute they graduate and our working families don’t have to line up for help at the food bank. Residents have a whole new appreciation for sales tax-generating businesses, after four years of closing schools and cutting key public services.
So by all means: Let us make sure that the General Plan focuses intently on providing zoning for light industry, integrating the university into the overall plan, filling in the empty storefronts and creating a dense, pedestrian-friendly town center — perhaps along some portion of the architecturally run-on sentence of Main Street.
But the General Plan must take the long view, rather than skitter from crisis to crisis. That means addressing the needs of the future.
For instance, no one’s talking about affordable housing these days — what with the devastating decline in home values in recent years. But make no mistake, providing workforce housing will pose a serious challenge in the future.
Consider the impact of the university and its hoped-for spinoff enterprises. The university will eventually bring some 6,000 students to town, some of which will look for low-cost, off-campus housing. The new employers drawn to the campus zone will also attract many higher-wage workers, who will join with the retirees and second-home owners to start bidding up the price of housing. In a few years, we suspect that the current fixation on jobs will give way to an urgent need to provide housing that the average Payson worker can afford. If we don’t provide a mix of housing types and densities, the balance and sense of community we treasure could fade away.
That’s why the debate about the General Plan is so important to the future of our community. So don’t get too fixated on the swerving of the sports car. It takes time to turn an oil tanker — so we need to get a grip on the wheel now.
A little bit of fame
We’re pretty sure that Daria Mason is the hardest working person in Payson.
Leastwise, for months now it seems like every time we turn around, we’re bumping into the Payson High School marching band/concert band/choral director.
She took her band to state finals, marched them in the Fiesta Bowl Parade and flew them to Hawaii for the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and performed a round of Christmas concerts — all in addition to her normal teaching load. Oh, yeah, she also conducts the marvelous Payson Choral Society.
This week, she received a well-deserved induction into the Arizona Music Educators Hall of Fame, in recognition of her endless sequence of 60-hour work weeks.
Remarkably enough, she’s not alone in her astonishing dedication to our children. Payson has a treasure trove of such teachers. They take their students to the Mars research program at Arizona State University, they coach their kids into the playoffs in a host of sports, they teach students to measure water quality, they climb cliffs, lead ski trips, pour sidewalks and rebuild cars.
Mostly, they put in their long hours without recognition — and not nearly enough pay. They don’t count the hours. They’ve never collected a single hour of overtime. And they rarely falter. The kids need them, after all — and they can’t stand to let the kids down.
Consider the results of a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which tried to put a dollar value on extraordinary teachers. The researchers undertook a daunting analysis of the long-term impact of teachers on a sample of 2.5 million children. They compared the salaries of former students at age 28 based on whether they had high-ranked or low-ranked teachers. Remarkably, they found that replacing a bottom-ranked teacher with a top-ranked teacher would increase a student’s lifetime earnings by about $250,000.
Now, maybe you can quibble with the figure — but no one who has watched Daria Mason conducting the Longhorn Marching Band can doubt she had been a blessing in the lives of uncounted students.
Fortunately, she’s representative of a host of teachers in this community who give their hearts and lives to our children every week. We’re more grateful that we can say in such a small space.