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Saying goodbye to the class of 2019

Life isn’t about beating others, but setting and then besting your own personal records.

That was the message May 24 from Payson High School’s Cole Tenney, the class of 2019 salutatorian, speaking before the class of 116 graduates along with stands packed with family and friends.

Tenney said in track and field, a sport he competed in throughout high school, PRs or personal records are big with athletes.

“Ask if they would rather set a PR or get first and most would have a PR,” he said. “We would rather see progress than outperform others.”

Tenney urged his classmates to take pride in their achievements, however great or small, and to “revel in personal records.”

Before a race, Tenney said coach Jonathan Ball taught them to envision the run and the finish. Tenney said the same technique could be applied in life toward any goal.

“You have to see it in your mind,” he said.

And whenever you are unsure if you can do it, Tenney said to remember, “you have what it takes — because you do.”

Valedictorian Kajal Daya reminded graduates to see failure as a tool in personal growth and not something that defines a person.

“Success is defined by the life you live,” she said.

Principal Jeff Simon congratulated the class for their accomplishments. Those included completing 1,200 dual enrollment college credit hours and receiving $1.475 million in scholarship offers. He also acknowledged a handful who had signed up for military service.

At the end of his speech he asked, “What will you do with your chance?”

And sending them off with one last performance under band director Kyle Headstream (who is leaving the district to work on cruise ships) the band rocked out to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.

The PHS choir performed “Imagine” by John Lennon.

Scholarship recipients

Raegen Ashby, Cloee Beeler, Bobbie Benkert, Amy Borges, Taylor Brade, Xing Brouwer, Elena Burciaga, Ronald Butler, Kailey Carnes, Carli Carpenter, Azuncena Coronado, Brock Davis, Kajal Daya, Tienara Dean, Luis Diaz, Samuel Doria, Caitlin Gann, Hannah Goldman, Makyla Hill, Olivia Hobson, Katrina Kendall, Meredith Kiekintveld, Angelina Knorr, Melissa LaSpisa, Perla Luna, Tanner Mansoor, Rayce Mathews, Timothy McCarthy, Peter Menghini, Mercedes Miranda, Rylinn Neese, Kyla Pacheco, David Pasquini-Jonasson, Ibeth Perez, Tara Ramirez, Austin Rice, Hailey Roberson, Gage Ryden, Megan Ryden, Elly Schreur, Lilya Smith, Makiah Taylor, Cole Tenney, Anyssa Thompson, Ivan Wade, Andrew Ward, Savanna White and Katelynn Wilbanks.

Pine Strawberry Elementary knows how to end a school year

A concerned Kathlene Thomson kept an eye on the weather forecast.

The Pine Strawberry Elementary School principal didn’t want to go to plan B, but when snow blanketed the ground on May 23, she and her staff figured out a contingency plan.

“We were going to move everything into the gym with no water activities,” Thomson said. “But we didn’t have to go with it. We are truly blessed. They would have been really disappointed.”

Sunny skies and warmer temperatures greeted excited students and staff on the final day of the school year the next day.

The final day of school at this pre-K through eighth -grade institution is special with a field day featuring some 20-something activities — half dry and half involving water.

Even with temperatures in the high 50s, everything went on as planned.

Among the most popular activities is the giant water slide.

“We have a good time with the kids,” Thomson said. “It’s just a way to celebrate the end of the year.”

It’s something the school has done for decades.

“We’ve been doing this since I was in school here, so over 30 years,” said PSE executive secretary Megan Ward. “We’ve just always let the kids have fun at the end of the year.”

There’s one thing school officials can count on each year.

“We have good attendance on the last day of school,” Ward said.

She said parents and community members really step up and make the day possible by donating items. And more than 40 teachers, staff and teacher aides worked the event, as students in each class moved from one activity to the next. They enjoyed snow cones between the dry and wet activities. A half-day ended with a barbecue.

“It’s crazy, but the kids enjoy it,” said teacher Brett River. “And the teachers enjoy it, too, because you’re not stuck behind walls all day.”

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Summer Concert Series returns June 1

Free music in Green Valley Park returns Saturday nights this summer with the first concert June 1.

This is a free family event in the amphitheater area of the park and is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Bring a blanket or chairs.

The first performance of the season is by Sol De Ville, a multi-genre band. It plays country, blues, R&B, soul, funk, pop and original material.

Members include Payson’s John Scott on guitar and vocals; Paysonite Rick Hartfiel on drums and vocals; David Rowell, guitar and vocals; and another Rim resident, Arnold Martinez, bass and vocals.

About the band

John Scott

Born in the mountains of New York, Scott began playing guitar by age eight. He came to Phoenix in 1980 and by the early 90s began to cut his teeth with local blues bands — most notably, Chico Chism, Hans Olsen, Joey McCall and Backstreet.

Opening up for a variety of acts including, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Guitar Shorty, Long John Hunter, as well as being a guest guitarist for Blues Today Vol. 2 and David Lewis’ first album are just a few of the musical highlights in Scott’s career.

Rick Hartfiel

Hartfiel came to Payson when he retired. He performed professionally for 20 years as a full-time nightclub and studio musician. He has opened for national acts such as Tommy James, The Grass Roots, Guess Who, Collin Ray, Billy Dean. He toured as drummer for Bobby Vee, Del Shannon and Little Anthony.

Hartfiel worked for a major bio-tech company for 25 years while still performing part-time.

David Rowell

Rowell began playing guitar at six and was making money at it by the time he was 14. He started playing clubs at 18 and worked full time while raising a family. He has played with some of New England’s best musicians and has opened up for Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette, John Anderson and many more.

After touring six countries in Europe playing many different styles, Rowell has come to realize R&B is his first love as a style.

Arnold Martinez

Born and raised in Superior, Ariz., Martinez is a Valley-based bass player and vocalist who now resides in Beaver Valley.

With 56 years of musical experience, he has toured and played professionally for a period of 13 years, which consisted of studio work, opening acts, club venues and every genre of the music business.

Touring consisted of the western, central and southern regions of the United States, Las Vegas, Canada and the Hawaiian Islands. Some concert headline acts with which he shared the stage with were: Tower of Power, Ike and Tina Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jose Feliciano, Freddie Fender, David Ruffin, John McLagughlin Mahavisnu Orchestra, Buddy Miles Express, Lee Oscar & War and the Les Brown Orchestra.

The rest of the series

The Payson Parks Summer Concert Series continues through Saturday, July 27 and features both familiar faces and new bands.

The Big Fellahs bring Celtic rock, traditional sounds, Americana and soul to the Green Valley Park bandstand from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, June 8.

Hometown favorite Junction 87, a country band, rocks out Saturday, June 15.

Back to the Fifties is the featured group for the June 22 show.

Expect to hear your favorite hits all performed with many of the original musical arrangements. The show features the music of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Frankie Avalon, The Beatles, Chubby Checker, Fabian, The Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Rick Nelson, Bill Haley and the Comets, Carl Perkins, The Ventures and many more.

New to the series, FoxyKoshka performs June 29.

The duo of FoxyKoshka brings an eclectic repertoire of music including: Latin blues, gypsy swing, rumba, cha cha and world music.

They sing in a variety of languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and more.

Ryan Biter returns to the Rim Country July 6.

From Flagstaff, Biter’s music is equal parts rural Americana, spectacled college town hipster, mountain bluegrass and new age funk beatbox drum circle.

Outside the Line performs July 13 with a little something for everyone to enjoy — classic rock, funk, soul, Motown, oldies and dance tunes too.

Kilted Spirit brings lively toe-tapping Irish and Scottish jigs and reels, drinking songs, popular classic and modern rock covers to Green Valley Park July 20.

Kilted Spirit is a Phoenix Irish band.

Led by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Colleen Collins, the band consists of guitar, bass, fiddle, drums, Irish flute, tin whistle, Irish bouzouki and vocals.

The Vintage closes out the 2019 Summer Concert Series July 27.

The Vintage has a wide variety of musical influences that are a tribute to the essence of “vintage favorites” that includes the likes of The Beatles, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, Wilson Pickett, Joe Cocker, Cheap Trick, The Grateful Dead, Jimmy Buffett, Alan Jackson, Hank Williams and, Johnny Cash, along with many other popular musicians.

Pinal County has some economic lessons for Gila County

Pinal and Gila counties could have been siblings.

Both started as ranching and mining communities.

Both were rural, with no big population center.

Both struggled to create an economic base to provide good jobs.

But then, Pinal took a different path.

As a result, in the last 10 years Pinal has boomed while Gila struggled to escape the recession.

“We have the lowest poverty rate in the state,” said Timothy Kanavel, Economic Development program manager for Pinal County. “We’ve also lowered our property taxes for the third year in a row.”

Kanavel has spent his career in economic development. He served as the rural economic development manager for the Arizona Department of Commerce before joining Pinal County in 2009.

He explained how Pinal County has gone from sleepy bedroom community to economic powerhouse during his presentation at the Arizona Association for Economic Development meeting in Payson earlier this month.

“We are pushing our assets,” he told the economic development leaders at the AAED meeting.

Pinal has I-10 running through it and lies between the two largest cities in the state — Phoenix and Tucson.

“We’re the Oreo cookie county,” said Kanavel.

Pinal also has natural resources.

“We are bringing in thousands of dollars of industrial business,” said Kanavel.

Gila County does not have the same assets Pinal does, but Kanavel believes Gila could follow the Pinal example by creating a strategic plan and committing to economic development.

In order to start, “you have to have a unified vision” — not easy to do because “people don’t like change,” said Kanavel.

The voters of Pinal jump-started the economic development conversation.

When families moved to the county, they asked, “Where am I going to work? Where will my kids go to school? Where am I going to shop?” said Kanavel.

Pinal voters ousted the majority of the old supervisors and expanded the number from three to five, all elected at-large.

They realized then that if one area prospered, all areas would prosper.

They developed a new strategic plan and hired a powerhouse of a county manager.

“He was a West Point graduate, the nicest guy,” said Kanavel.

Then, the culture changed.

“We now say we are facilitators, not regulators,” said Kanavel. “Come and tell us what you want to do and we’ll figure out a way to make it happen.”

In that spirit, Pinal identified desired industries.

“In Pinal, we realized we used to be agricultural and mining so we said, ‘OK, we’ll embrace that,’” said Kanavel.

The county explored and expanded on its other assets:

• Manufacturing: Frito Lay and auto manufacturing plants are in Pinal.

• Renewable resources: There are solar, methane gas and ethanol plants.

• Health services: Hospitals and specialty clinics such as heart and kidney.

• Air, space and defense industries: Pinal has the largest National Guard Armory in Arizona.

• Tourism: Not only does Pinal have lots of places to visit, the county is looking to build a film studio.

• High tech: This is the newest addition to Pinal’s line up of industry.

“We’re declaring the I-10 corridor a ‘high-tech corridor,’” said Kanavel.

Yet the Pinal government recognizes the county doesn’t want to lose its charm.

“We’re balancing that with open spaces and trails,” said Kanavel.

As Pinal has embraced its role in creating an economic foundation for its residents, the county has reaped the benefits.

Since 2010, Pinal County’s population has increased more than 15 percent.

Pinal has a poverty level 2.5 percent lower than the rest of the state.

Nearly 90 percent of Pinal residents have a high school degree or more.

Pinal County is experiencing a growth rate of 3 percent, the fastest in the state.

In 2017, Pinal County realized $700 million in tourism dollars.

Nearly $3 billion came from agricultural related sales and business in 2017, placing Pinal in the top 2 percent of all U.S. counties in the agriculture industry.

The median household income in Pinal County is $51,190.

Gila could find inspiration in Pinal’s success.

“We started with baby steps,” said Kanavel. “We had to show benefits ... then everybody said, let’s take bigger and bigger steps.”

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State Schools budget
State budget bolsters reserves, cuts taxes – disappoints educators

The state’s new $11.8 billion budget nearly doubled the reserve fund, increased spending by 11 percent and cut taxes by nearly $500 million — but gave the state’s schools much less than they’d hoped for in light of the state’s booming economy.

Payson could get more money to whittle away at $12 million in deferred capital needs as well as money to boost teacher pay by about 5 percent — but may not qualify for some of the other increases for education like counselors and security, said Payson Unified School District Superintendent Greg Wyman.

Moreover, the district will get $70,000 less than it hoped for from federal forest fees, due to Gila County School Superintendent Roy Sandoval’s push to set aside more money for adult education. Payson learned about that shortfall last week. However, the shortage won’t affect the budget until next year.

The state budget, however, will have immediate consequences.

“The budget will provide some additional dollars for school districts in general,” said Wyman. “The stipulations on the different aspects of the budget may limit how much the Payson district will receive. The district will receive additional funds for capital items. This is not technically new money, but rather speeding up the five-year timeline to fully fund the formula, which has not been fully funded in over a decade.”

The district can most likely follow through on a preliminary board decision to boost teacher salaries by about 5 percent, classified staff salaries by about 4 percent and administrative salaries by about 10 percent.

The state budget prompted another year of stark partisan differences, with Democrats unanimous in their opposition. One Republican voted against the budget, mostly because he wanted more tax cuts. The budget proved mostly a disappointment for education advocates, who hoped the state’s rise in tax revenue would help boost Arizona from ranking 48th in per-student school funding nationally.

Instead, lawmakers opted to double reserves to about $1 billion, which they hope will avoid another round of cuts should the state lapse again into recession. Arizona’s revenues dropped by a third during the last recession.

Lawmakers also did nothing to either limit taxpayer dollars funding vouchers for private school tuition nor did they enact major increases in oversight for charter schools.

The budget did include $30 million in increased funding for social workers, counselors and police officers on campus.

Payson may not qualify for the new money, said Wyman.

“Depending on the criteria, Payson may — or may not — qualify,” said Wyman. “If the district does qualify, it will be on a competitive basis with all public school districts and charter schools competing for the money.”

Wyman welcomed the Legislature’s decision to put money into the court-ordered system for financing capital improvements, like public safety improvements, added classroom space and building maintenance. Lawmakers have refused to fund the capital improvements formula for years, resulting in an estimated $2.5 billion shortfall, according to the Arizona School Boards Association.

A consultant recently put Payson’s deferred capital improvements needs at $12 million and said the district would need to spend about $3 million annually to catch up. The district instead has a capital budget of about $300,000.

Education advocates had hoped the state would finally make strides on restoring some $4.5 billion in K-12 funding cuts that have accumulated since the recession.

Highlights of the budget include:

• Money for a 5 percent teacher pay raise, part of a three-year, 20 percent raise.

• The phase out of a $32 vehicle registration fee over the next two years.

• Roughly $130 million to help expand Interstate 17 over the next three years.

• Some $15 million to help the state’s universities train more teachers.

• About $20 million to hire more officers to work on campus or school counselors.

• Substantial raises for prison guards, highway patrol officers and Department of Child Safety caseworkers. This includes $11 million to hire 48 new state troopers.

• $1.6 million to eliminate the freeze on KidsCare, which provides health insurance for children from low-income families.

• Lawmakers tripled their daily expense allowance.

The Republican-controlled Legislature gave Gov. Doug Ducey most of what he sought, but rejected virtually every single amendment or spending bill offered by Democrats.

As a result, the Republicans needed the vote of all but one Republican lawmaker to pass a budget. Two Republicans held up adoption of the budget when they insisted the Legislature pass a bill giving the victims of child sexual assault more time to sue their abuser.

Republicans hailed the budget as a return to fiscal responsibility, with a big increase in the contingency fund for future emergencies and continued tax cuts to keep the economy strong.

But Democrats bemoaned the tax cuts and lack of support for education in a state that ranks 48th in per-student spending, with low teacher salaries and large class sizes.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley (D-Tucson) in a statement said, “We had an opportunity this session to work in a bipartisan way and take the next big step, building upon 20 by 2020, in restoring funding to our desperately underfunded classrooms. Instead, this budget puts funding for Arizona schools at serious risk with the sunset of the Trump tax cuts in 2025, the looming Prop. 123 cliff that same year and the possibility of a future recession. Permanently forgoing this revenue for a half billion dollar tax cut is irresponsible.”

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman also criticized the budget.

“This year, the state made some movements in the right direction by funding several K-12 education initiatives, including giving schools more money to spend on new counselors, the next installment of the promised 20 by 2020 teacher raises, and increased funding to address our teacher shortage by training the next generation of educators. However, it is disheartening to see another tax cut of nearly $400 million when Arizona’s education spending remains among the lowest in the nation.”

She also worried that the budget didn’t furnish enough money to provide oversight of charter schools or the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA), school vouchers for private schools.

“While the department received critical funds needed to begin upgrading our school finance payment system, currently running on outdated 1990’s technology, many of our budget requests were not granted. We were not given the spending authority for anywhere close to what is needed to manage the ESA program effectively and efficiently,” said Hoffman.

The budget did include $400,000 in new funding in FY 20 and FY 21 for the Arizona Charter Schools Board, enough for 10 new staff members.

Expect More Arizona, an educational advocacy group, hailed the increases for counselors, capital spending, school security and teacher raises. However, the budget left needs unaddressed, including:

• The state needed $56 million as matching money to attract federal Child Care Development Block Grants, but the money didn’t wind up in the budget.

• The budget did include $136 million for school capital needs, but deferred another $140 million to fully fund the formula.

• The budget includes an extra $10 million for career and technical education, with a $1,000 incentive for each student who graduates with an approved industry certification.

• The budget included $20 million for school resource officers and counselors.

• The budget includes $88 million for building renewal, which includes $25 million in supplemental funding in the current fiscal year.