The Medford School District is again considering parting ways with the Southern Oregon Education Service District, saying it believes it can offer the same services more efficiently.
School officials said withdrawal would give Medford more leeway to tailor services benefiting its students and save money in the long run, but SOESD said it’d be expensive for Medford and could adversely impact its students.
The School Board discussed the reconsideration at its work session Monday night as Medford continues to push for a menu option for the services SOESD provides.
“Imagine you belong to a country club, but you don’t play golf,” Medford Superintendent Brian Shumate said. “You’ll leave a lot on the table.”
SOESD provides services in special education, instructional support, and network and information technology to Medford and 12 other districts in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties.
"We work collaboratively with districts to come up with a local service plan that provides flexible services but also maintains a structure that would benefit all districts," said SOESD Superintendent Scott Beveridge.
Medford has expressed dissatisfaction since October 2016 with SOESD's mandatory bundle of services, saying it doesn’t use as many services as other districts.
The state pays SOESD to provide services to districts based on the districts' size. Medford was projected to use only $3 million of the $5.5 million in state funding for SOESD services this year — the remaining $2 million is yet to be allocated, Beveridge said.
Per Oregon law, Medford would receive 90 percent of the state allocation from SOESD by pulling out. Shumate said the money would help the district break even financially the first year of independence.
“I respect the work that ESD is doing,” Shumate said. “But ESD is more for the smaller districts where they can’t afford to pay for those services individually. ... We are here to do the best for our district.”
Medford considered pulling out last year, but the board voted to remain after SOESD refused to allow the district to buy back the services it needed with a surcharge. The district was not prepared to replicate all the services by the time school started, Shumate said.
“We’ll have to be careful if we decide to do it, because it’s our students who will suffer if there’s any hiccups during the transition phase,” School Board Chairwoman Karen Starchvick said Monday.
With more preparation this year, and by using funding from Measure 98 to pick up Career and Technical Education programs and collaborating with other districts on some special education programs, Shumate said it’s more viable for Medford to part ways now.
Beveridge said Medford benefits more than its fair share in many of the services included in the bundle.
“We were able to provide these services to them because of grants available to SOESD that Medford might not be able to obtain,” Beveridge said. “Our report shows they receive 30 percent more in funding than the allocation they received from the state.”
Some of the SOESD programs that Medford most utilized would cost the district much more to bring them in-house, he said. By using these services with SOESD, Medford is saving seven times the cost for using the regional data center and more than twice the cost for Low-Incidence Disabilities services and for mentoring programs, Beveridge said.
“I wouldn’t call SOESD a country club per se — it’d be more like an YMCA,” Beveridge said. “It is where we provide what is best for the students and their families that far outweighs the funding that could be available to a district.”
With months of preparation, Medford officials said they are more confident going forward with a withdrawal plan this year and will continue laying out their plans of how to replicate the services in-house without disrupting students.
“With that being said, we’re not there yet,” Shumate said. “We will be forthright about our investigation, and we will continue the conversation with the board, our staff and SOESD.”
Medford by law has until Nov. 1 to notify SOESD about its intention to withdraw and until March 1 to give the official notice.
— Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4485. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.