Medford schools will make it through the rest of this school year without cutting instructional days, thanks to federal stimulus money approved by the Legislature. But the outlook for next year's budget, for the school year beginning July 1, is far less certain.

Medford schools will make it through the rest of this school year without cutting instructional days, thanks to federal stimulus money approved by the Legislature. But the outlook for next year's budget, for the school year beginning July 1, is far less certain.

Medford School District officials are taking an unprecedented step this year and holding a series of public forums beginning tonight to seek advice from district patrons on what should be cut and what should be preserved when the district assembles its budget for 2009-2010.

District administrators and School Board members are to be congratulated for this attempt to include the public in the process before the budget is presented. But the forums will have value only if people attend them and make their voices heard.

The first forum is from 7 to 9 tonight at Washington Elementary School, 610 S. Peach St. The second will be from 7-9 p.m. Thursday, and third will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, accommodating those who have difficulty attending on a weeknight.

The Medford district estimates it will have to trim about $9 million next year from a budget of $94 million.

The district already has found ways to cut $5.5 million by reducing expenses for supplies and materials and by applying savings from a new contract with district employees, who agreed to forego a cost-of-living increase next year. But that still leaves $3.5 million to go, and that's where public involvement becomes critical.

Superintendent Phil Long says allowing class sizes to increase will probably be on the table, as well as "changing the calendar" — read cutting school days.

But nothing is cast in stone, and Long says public comments collected tonight, Thursday and Saturday will be taken into account before the budget is finalized.

It's important to realize that the figure of $3.5 million in cuts is not a sure thing either. It's an estimate, nothing more.

The next state revenue forecast, due in May, will determine the budget reality for all state departments, chief among them public schools, which amount to nearly half the state general fund budget. That forecast could be in line with the current estimate, or it could be worse. It is unlikely to be better.

So if you have children in Medford schools, or if you are simply concerned about public education and how it is spending your tax dollars, now is the time to speak up.

Medford school officials are giving you three unprecedented opportunities to be part of the budget process. Don't waste them.