SALT LAKE CITY — A longtime teacher of a St. George elementary school was ordered this week to serve up to life in prison, the culmination of a case that included more than 30 accusations dating back to 1999.

Fifth District Judge Jeffrey Wilcox sentenced Curtis William Payne, 60, of Santa Clara, to four consecutive terms of 15 years to life in the Utah State Prison on Tuesday, court records show.

Wilcox criticized the way the Washington County School District had handled complaints against Payne, saying he was “frankly appalled” that he was allowed to keep teaching 9- and 10-year-old girls, the main group he victimized, according to the St. George Spectrum.

Five victims initially came forward between December 2017 and February 2018, alleging that Payne had groped them in various school settings and at Payne’s home, police said.

Wilcox read aloud during the sentencing hearing from a 1999 disciplinary report that required Payne to leave lights on in his classroom, not be alone with students and stay at least an arm’s length away from them at all times, the Spectrum reported.

Payne did not speak during the emotional hearing, where one victim called him “a very sick individual” and said the shame of the abuse affects how she parents in her own family.

Payne, the former Sunset Elementary School teacher who worked in the St. George School District for more than three decades, pleaded no contest to four counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony, in August, court records show. In exchange for his pleas, two remaining counts of the same charge were dismissed.

Payne, a choir teacher at Sunrise Ridge Intermediate School at the time of his arrest last year, was placed on administrative leave by the district.

Washington County School District spokesman Steve Dunham declined to respond to the judge’s criticism of administrators, telling the Deseret News he wasn’t there to hear the judge’s comments.

“First and foremost, we are appalled and deeply saddened by the incidents that have been so traumatic to the victims in this case. Nobody should have to go through this. We’re disgusted and we feel pain on their behalf.”

When the district learned of the criminal allegations last year, it cooperated with police and put Payne on administrative leave, Dunham said. Payne resigned the following day.

While the district had taken action against Payne in the past based on reports of misconduct — including a complaint that led to child welfare and police investigations — no formal charges were filed at the time, Dunham said

“None of those concerns were known to be as severe or as egregious as what is currently on the public record,” Dunham said. Moreover, in the past 20 years, “a lot has changed” at the school district, he said, emphasizing that student safety is a serious concern.