Navajo Generating Station (NGS) is a significant contributor to Page’s economy, providing a relatively constant stream of above average wages and salaries paid to workers employed at the plant. The NGS is scheduled to close in Dec. 2019, and those steady, high-paying jobs will leave with it and that loss of revenue will cause several economic ripple effects that will be felt throughout Page.
This week the Chronicle examines how NGS’s closing will affect Page Unified School District (PUSD).
Nearly 2,600 students are enrolled in the Page Unified School District, which includes Lake View Primary School, Desert View Intermediate School, Page Middle School, Page High School, Manson Mesa High School and Tse Yaato High School. PUSD employs about 420 people.
The latest student enrollment numbers showed about 2,560 students attend PUSD. Of those students 179 have parents who work at NGS, which is seven percent of the student population.
The closure of the plant will have cascading effects on Page businesses, some of which may close or shrink due to lost revenue form plant-worker families moving away.
In addition the 179 students whose father or mothers work at the power plant, the study shows that another 100 students may leave the school district. According the study, these students belong to families whose businesses or source of income will be significantly impacted due to revenue loss when the plant closes.
After the plant closes in Dec. 2019 the school district could lose around 1.9 million dollars. According to the study, the State General Fund will add 1.1 million dollars to PUSD. The difference between the two funding sources will be a loss off 772,000 dollars to the district.
According to the report, the “district will lose after-school educational engaging programs, as well as athletics, due to loss of funds to support them.”
But PUSD Superintendent Rob Varner says that won’t be the case.
“No school programs will be cut, nor will there be a cut to student and classroom supplies such as computers or textbooks,” he said.
So where will that budget deficit be felt? Fewer teachers, said Superintendent Varner. But, he’s quick to add that no teachers will be laid off.
“Whoever wants to work here can work here,” he said. “We’ll still lose teachers due to normal attrition, such as retirement, and we just won’t hire new teachers to take their place.”
Having a need for fewer teachers could actually be beneficial for PUSD, which has a difficult time attracting teachers to our remote city.
Currently the district’s teacher to student ratio is one teacher per eleven students. The study estimates that that ratio could increase to 16 students per teacher.
Superintendent Varner is taking a “wait and see” approach to the study and its possible impact on the school district. The study shows 279 students leaving – some directly, some indirectly – after the plant closes, but that assumes all those families will move away after the plant closes, said Varner, and that’s a big assumption.
It’s quite common for Navajo families to remain in Page, LeChee and the other surrounding towns while their father travels to find work, so while the breadwinner may leave, the family may stay, said Varner.
In addition, affected families may find other employment in town, not to mention families completed un-related to NGS moving in.
“There are a lot of factors and moving parts,” said Superintendent Varner. “We’ll only know what our student enrollment will be when that day comes.”
If student enrollment drops it could have other impacts on the school district, one of which will be lower bonding capacity. According to the study, PUSD’s current bonding capacity stands at 34 million dollars. That number could drop to 14 million dollars, but that’s based on the figures that the school district loses 279 students, which it may not.
The annual PUSD maintenance and operations budget is just over 15 million dollars. Additional district expenditures adds up to another 14 million dollars, which is a significant factor in Page’s overall economy.
SRP commissioned Northern Arizona University, in conjunction with Alliance Bank Business Outreach Center, under the commission of SRP.