In the coming school year, the Medford School District will expand its special education programs to replace $1.1 million-worth of services currently provided by the Southern Oregon Education Service District, which in turn will have to slash its staff.

In the coming school year, the Medford School District will expand its special education programs to replace $1.1 million-worth of services currently provided by the Southern Oregon Education Service District, which in turn will have to slash its staff.

The Medford district's budget committee is reviewing the proposed budget for 2014-15, which includes the addition of about 51 full-time equivalent licensed and classified staff.

Twenty-five of those new positions will be in special education, with their payroll costs partially offset by the $1.1 million savings from SOESD.

But that shift and similar actions by other districts means the local ESD will lose 40 to 50 jobs.

The state provides funding to ESDs for special education services, technology and school improvement. SOESD serves districts in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties.

"We can provide services, or the district can receive cash in lieu of services," said SOESD Superintendent Scott Perry.

Medford's portion of the ESD funding for next year is set at $3.3 million. Of that, the district has opted to purchase about $2.2 million of services from SOESD, including autism specialists, Braillers, interpreters, occupational and physical therapists, nursing support and other consultation services. It will use the remaining $1.1 million to increase its own special education programs.

"Historically, Medford has bought services beyond their allocation and received a bill for that," Perry said. "This time, they are buying less than their allocation so they are projected to receive dollars as well as our services."

Now, the district will internally provide transition services for students age 18 to 21 with severe disabilities who need assistance adapting to life after high school, as well as services to students with severe disabilities at Central Medford High School, said Tania Tong, the district's supervisor of student services.

"When you are trying to have a balanced budget, you need to weigh the pros and cons of having contracted services versus offering the programs in-house," she said.

This year, about 1,600 — more than 11 percent — of the district's 13,700 students are on individualized education plans. Of those, about 60 use the STEPS program, available to severely disabled students, at Jacksonville and Hoover elementary schools, Hedrick Middle School and Central Medford High School.

"Typically students in this program require a high level of adult and specialized support due to the impact of their disability," Tong said.

The district will continue to bring in SOESD teachers and support staff to teach STEPS classrooms at the elementary schools and Hedrick but will hire its own staff to meet that need at Central, Tong said.

It also will increase its staffing levels to provide a transition program comparable to the one currently offered through SOESD. The program is open to students who have graduated from high school with a modified or extended diploma or alternative certificate and require post-secondary support, such as vocational training or independent living education.

Tong said the cost of taking on and staffing these programs is about $650,000, leaving the district with about $450,000 to expand other special education programs and hire more staff.

In its contract with teachers, the district established caseloads for special education teachers and promised them additional instructional support. As a result, the district plans to hire about eight part-time special education assistants and one full-time IEP specialist. The specialist will assist special education teachers with case management and IEP paperwork, "which is quite lengthy and pretty involved," Tong said.

Three years ago, several local school districts conducted a cost study that showed they could offer the same level of service as SOESD at a lower cost.

In response, Perry said, SOESD reduced its costs by cutting classroom time for education assistants, consolidating STEPS classrooms and negotiating 10 furlough days with SOESD teachers.

This year, the ESD restored some time to the special education assistance and furlough days to the teachers. With costs rising, several districts, including Medford and Eagle Point, decided to scale back on SOESD services, while others — Central Point, Rogue River, Ashland and Phoenix-Talent — decided to maintain their current levels of SOESD services.

SOESD Business Manager Howard George said the agency is projecting $7.8 million in special education service requests for 2014-15, compared with $10.1 million this year.

"We may lose somewhere between 40 and 50 positions and that includes licensed and classified staff," Perry said.

However, he added, both Medford and Eagle Point school districts have indicated that they will consider hiring some of those employees.

Perry said he is anxious for his staff but understands that districts need to make decisions based on their budgets and students' needs.

"Part of the work of the ESD is to be flexible and nimble and continually look at how ESD services support district services in such a way that maximum efficiency can happen," he said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or Follow her at