Despite a slew of proposals from the community, the Payson School Board voted to try and sell the former Frontier Elementary School site for $1.25 million at its meeting Monday, Feb. 11, after discussing the matter in two executive session meetings.
At the same meeting, the board voted to offer for sale the former Payson Center for Success building at a price of $130,000.
Board President Barbara Underwood said the school board based its decision on research done by the Arizona School Facilities Board (ASFB), population demographics and the iffy nature of the Arizona State University campus.
“The school facilities board does their homework and gave us a recommendation,” said Underwood. “Their projections said it would be five years before they feel our district will see a growth trend.”
Since 2008, the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) has seen a decline in student population.
Already at the 100th day of instruction this year, the district has lost 94 students, most from the lower elementary school grades.
Superintendent Ron Hitchcock said that PUSD doesn’t need another school site until it increases its enrollment to 3,000, where it stood before the recent drop in enrollment.
“Right now we have a population of about 15,000 (in Payson) and a student population of 2,400,” he said.
Based on those numbers, school-age children constitute 16 percent of the population in the Payson district.
In order to increase the school district population by 600 students, the surrounding population would have to increase by almost 4,000 people.
Hitchcock said town officials have reported the loss of 200 families in the last two years, a trend that does not look to slow down, unless something changes — such as ASU coming to town.
But ASU coming to town is still a big “if,” said Hitchcock.
“The whole dynamic would change if we had a date for opening or a construction start date,” said Hitchcock.
Even then, Underwood said the school system would not see an immediate uptick in enrollment numbers.
However, she did say all proceeds from the sale would go into a capital expense account to pay for future expansions.
“We might decide to expand the current facilities,” she said, “We just don’t know now.”
What is certain, said Underwood, is that the school district cannot deal in maybes and ifs.
Hitchcock said that with so much uncertainty, the proposals the district received did not alleviate the pressing problems the district currently faces, such as facilities management costs and insurance.
Hitchcock advised the board he did not want to squander scant district resources on being a landlord.
“Regardless of all the offers, we would have still been liable,” he said.
Once the board understood the ASFB research, the outstanding responsibilities, continuing cost in time and money to the district of functioning as a landlord, in addition to supporting another entity with public funds, the board agreed with Hitchcock and ASFB that selling was the best answer.
“We feel as a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollar, you can’t subsidize another entity,” said Underwood.
But that does not mean the public meetings were a waste of time.
Underwood said Hitchcock had hosted the public input meetings to give the board a chance to see what was possible.
“The board hopes that now people know what we want, it will be easier to give an offer,” said Underwood.
During the numerous public meetings the board held to solicit ideas on what to do with the property, applicants repeatedly complained they had no idea what the board wanted.
Now they know.