The Medford School District budget committee Monday shared concerns over Superintendent Phil Long's proposal to dip into reserves to balance the budget for the upcoming year.

The Medford School District budget committee Monday shared concerns over Superintendent Phil Long's proposal to dip into reserves to balance the budget for the upcoming year.

Long said two weeks ago that while he wasn't proposing any large cuts for the budget, he hoped a community dialogue would identify potential reductions over the next year.

"I feel like we're kicking a can down the road, and I'd rather not stall," School Board Chairwoman Paulie Brading said. "We're not doing ourselves a favor."

Brading said she hoped Long's suggestion to start a dialogue would be taken seriously.

"We can't make this plan in isolation. We must involve the community," said Brading.

The committee, which is made up of community members and the Medford School Board, posed a series of questions to administrators over the past two weeks and heard answers during the meeting.

"Things would be very different if we had a giant pot of money," said Chief Financial Officer Brad Earl. "I fully believe we are in crisis mode."

Earl said the district would have to create an entirely new operational model to stay in business and that reserves could deplete extremely fast.

Administrators have recommended that the district use about $4 million of its $10 million reserve fund to make up a shortfall for the coming school year.

"Beginning July 1, we will be going through $10,000 a day in reserves," said Earl.

Funding for the next few years is expected to remain stagnant while costs related to insurance and pensions will continue to rise, according to Earl, who said insurance costs make up 15 percent of the district's total budget.

Long told the budget committee that while using reserves wasn't a long-term fix, it was a possibility because of the steep cuts made during the past year.

"We have persevered," said Long, who cautioned that cuts were a problem plaguing districts statewide, many of which are worse off than Medford.

"The hard reality is in Oregon, we will have some districts facing bankruptcy in the next year," said Long.

During the meeting, committee members reviewed a packet filled with answers to their questions, including an efficiency analysis that examined the district's five smallest schools.

Though closing schools was not proposed for the upcoming budget, both budget meetings this spring have attracted dozens of members from the Ruch community, who fear that a proposal to close that school may be on the horizon.

The efficiency model showed that both Ruch and Central Medford High School have negative operating income, meaning per-pupil revenue isn't enough to cover operating expenses.

However, closing one of these schools doesn't mean operational costs will all become savings, according to John Petach, a district finance controller.

While Ruch parents intently listened from the audience, Petach explained that when a school is closed, many of the costs are transferred to other schools along with the retained students, and only building-specific costs are saved.

For example, closing a school might equate to savings in the cost of that school's administration and utility fees, though district overhead would remain, and many teachers and some other staff could be transferred to other schools.

Administrators estimated between 20 and 60 percent of Ruch students would remain in the district if the school were to close.

Two members of the Ruch community spoke Monday night, reiterating their desire to keep the school open.

"No doctor would propose to heal a sick patient by amputating a healthy extremity," said Jim Horner, who added that a group of working community members in Ruch are interested in helping the district find alternatives to school closure.

Community forums to educate the public about the budget are planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 24 in the South Medford High School theater and 10 a.m. Saturday, April 28 in the district board room. An additional forum in Spanish is scheduled for 6 p.m, Thursday, April 26 at North Medford High School.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.