Shane Keith

Board chair Barbara Underwood with outgoing board member Shane Keith.

Payson School Board member Shane Keith this week resigned his seat after the district hired his wife as an English teacher, creating a conflict of interest.

Gila County School Superintendent Roy Sandoval has asked former board member Sheila DeSchaaf to fill out the last year and a half of Keith’s term. She has agreed to return to the school board, Sandoval said.

There are more changes coming to the district. A new superintendent will take over in July and the board this week decided to seek voter approval to renew its 10 percent budget override.

If the measure fails, the district would have to cut $1.2 million in phases from the budget. The specter of the override vote increases the pressure on a largely inexperienced school board.

A graduate of Payson High School, Keith in his two years on the board brought a fresh perspective and often skeptical questions to the consensus driven board. He was the board member most likely to challenge that consensus with careful, politely phrased questions.

Board President Barbara Underwood said, “he will be missed so much. He has been such a great board member.”

He departed reluctantly, with expressions of gratitude and affection.

Keith commented, “I want to thank the district administrators and principals. It’s not always been fun, but every day when we walk out of here, we know we’ve done our best for the students.”

Keith’s wife was hired this summer to teach English at Rim Country Middle School. The district’s conflict of interest rules bar a board member’s spouse from working for the district. The rule also prompted Gila Community College English professor Jim Quinlan to leave the board recently, after his wife got a job with the district.

However, the rule allows other relatives to work for the district. Underwood’s daughter and son-in-law both work for the district.

Keith not only graduated from Payson High School, but also works as a financial adviser for a company in the Valley. This gave him a different perspective on many issues that came before a board. For instance, his questions helped force a protracted, difficult discussion about the district pay scales for administrators. He pushed for a performance pay plan that would treat principals like CEOs, with bonuses dependent on making their goals. Teachers currently have a performance pay plan, but almost all get the pay boost after setting their own goals.

The remaining board members include Underwood and three newcomers — Michelle Marinelli, Jolyn Schinstock and Joanne Conlin.

Superintendent Greg Wyman is leaving, moving to the Valley for family reasons. His careful and soothing handling of the board resulted in mostly unanimous votes and board meetings dominated by the feel-good recognition of employees and school supporters in the community.

Stan Rentz will take over as superintendent in July. He’s the retired superintendent of a small school district in Georgia.

Sandoval has the job of appointing a new board member.

He asked DeSchaaf to return because she can hit the ground running. “With a new superintendent coming in and an override on the line, an experienced board member with a history of working well with fellow members is important.”

Keith left on a grace note. “I came into this position thinking I was going to give something, but I received a lot more than I gave on this board, whether it was correcting me when I was wrong or giving me the knowledge accumulated over your professional careers, I appreciate how welcomed I was. I appreciate everybody.”

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