Less than a year after selling Frontier Elementary School, the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) has a problem — too many kids and not enough classrooms for the elementary grades.
At its meeting on Nov. 12, the PUSD board heard three options from Payson Elementary School (PES) Principal Asa Hall and Julia Randall Elementary (JRE) Principal Will Dunman to solve the problem, but none of the options offered an easy answer.
“Good luck with your difficult decision,” said Michael Ellis, high school engineering teacher as he wrapped up his presentation on his engineering program.
By the murmurs of the audience, everyone agreed with Ellis that the board faces a tough decision managing the overcrowding.
Dunman and Hall then presented three different options.
Turn PES into a kindergarten and first grade school with a projected total of 400 students. With 21 available classrooms, the school would likely end up with four unused classrooms.
Moving second-graders to JRE would boost the second- through fourth-grade enrollment to a projected 535. That would require 22 classrooms, which JRE does not have. So administrators would have to relocate a special education class.
The ousted fifth-graders would
then move to Rim Country Middle School (RCMS) — and that is where the rubber met the road.
“Fifth-graders, developmentally, physically, lots of other things, they’re not ready to be with seventh- and eighth-graders,” said Tiffany Herald the mother of a child in fourth grade and another in seventh.
Herald said her fourth-grade daughter is already getting nervous about next year because she fears the older kids, despite having an older brother.
Move the fifth-grade students to RCMS, but turn both PES and JRE both into K-4 campuses, with 21 classrooms at each school.
Keep the fifth-graders at JRE by building four new classrooms at PES. Previous estimates have put the cost of adding those classrooms at nearly $1 million.
“Could we not get four new classrooms at PES before next year?” asked board member Shirley Dye.
The rest of the board told her that would be impossible.
Board member Jim Quinlan asked RCMS Principal Rob Varner if he had any thoughts on how to manage all four grades.
“I have not shared this or consulted with my staff yet, but my idea would be making a school within a school,” said Varner.
He said he would consult with Todd Poer, facilities and transportation manager, about arranging a separate bus schedule to start the fifth- and sixth-grade students earlier on the middle school campus and get them home before the older students.
He said he could arrange different times for lunch, recess and gym time.
“My goal is for the fifth-graders to have very little interaction with seventh- and eighth-graders,” said Varner.
The parents in the audience opposed to moving the fifth-graders to RCMS still murmured their displeasure.
Dunman then proposed a fourth option.
“For this upcoming year we could maintain the current grade configurations, but possibly do something to bring three second-grade classrooms to JRE — that would keep everyone from shifting,” he said.
Instead of discussing that option, Quinlan wondered about turning all three schools into K-8 schools, a model that substantial research suggests boosts student achievement and reduces discipline problems.
Both the crowd and board members collectively gasped in opposition.
“I understand Pine does it with good results,” Quinlan said.
Rory Huff said PES is not sized properly for the larger students, nor does it have the required lab stations for the upper grades.
“It would require a lot of facilities upgrades we can’t afford,” he said.
Dunman said the numbers for that option would not work.
“We looked at a K-8 divide across the district — there would be a need to have four classes across the three schools ... we do not have the room at JRE and PES for that many classes and RCMS could not hold the extra,” he said.
“This is such a big decision,” said Barbara Underwood.
The principals looked at her with expectation.
“Were you guys looking for an answer tonight?” asked Rory Huff.
“We’d like to start planning,” said Varner.
Quinlan said he felt he did not have enough information because Varner had not been included in the options discussion.
The board tabled a decision until the three principals can get together and agree on the best approach.
“Next meeting we’d better be prepared to make a decision,” said Huff to the other board members as the discussion wrapped up.