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Kids Unlimited's charter school plan gets hearing before packed house

Supporters of Kids Unlimited's proposed charter school packed the Medford School Board meeting room Monday night.

The School Board held a public hearing for community members to voice opinions about VIBES, a K-8 charter school Kids Unlimited wants to open in Medford this fall.

"It makes sense to partner with the organization that best serves kids in poverty in our community," said Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way of Jackson County. "They have an amazing track record with the kids and families they serve."

Members of the Medford School Board have shared concerns with VIBES developers that the school could deplete resources from the Medford School District and that Kids Unlimited doesn't have adequate space to house the 300 students it hopes to eventually attract to the school.

Barbara Low, a teacher at Wilson Elementary, said that the school might attract the low-income students that bring the district Title 1 federal funding.

She said the school would likely draw many students from Wilson, Jackson and Howard Elementary, all which receive Title 1 funding.

"Next year, we are already facing a cut to our federal funding," said Low.

Kids Unlimited Director Tom Cole said he hoped the board would look past budget numbers to consider the benefits to children if VIBES were opened.

Cole said the charter school would send eighth grade students back into Medford high schools performing at grade level, and ready to graduate.

"Our graduation rate can change," Cole said.

Started as an after-school program at Oak Grove Elementary 15 years ago, Kids Unlimited has grown to six sites and operates an annual budget of more than $1.5 million.

The VIBES school would offer students an extended day, running from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with three meals served each day. It would utilize community partnerships to work with families of high-risk students.

If opened in the fall, the school would have a target population of 300 kids in grades K-5, and expand by one grade each year until it reaches K-8.

School organizers said they could reconfigure the current Kids Unlimited building at 821 N. Riverside to house the school next year, and are confident they could secure additional adjacent buildings to house the program as it expands.

A team from Kids Unlimited has worked for three years on its application for a charter school in Medford, which was finally deemed complete by the Medford School District last month.

The Medford School Board is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the school and allow the superintendent to move forward with charter negotiations at its April 15 meeting.

— Teresa Ristow

Read more in Wednesday's Mail Tribune.