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Critic says tap rainy day fund

Critic says tap rainy day fund

A Medford school district critic demanded this month that Medford administrators use a rainy day fund to avoid shortening the school year.

But stripping the district's &

36;950,000 contingency fund ' money earmarked for emergencies ' would leave schools high and dry if disaster strikes, said school board member Tricia Prendergast.

If we use that, we have no money if a boiler goes out or a storm blows off a roof, Prendergast said. We won't be able to fix it.

The Medford School District must slash an estimated &

36;4 million from its &

36;82.5 million general operating budget by June.

According to Business Director Galen Anderson, the district can apply &

36;1.5 million to the deficit by using cash carried over from the 2001-02 school year and belt-tightening.

He added that district officials can knock off the remaining &

36;2.5 million by slashing 10 school days this year. The average daily payroll for the Medford district is &

36;250,000.

Although four other Jackson County districts have cut the school year, the Medford school board has yet to vote on the issue.

The district began the year with &

36;1 million in its contingency fund, but &

36;50,000 was spent in November when a storm blew portions of the roof off South Medford High School.

Earlier this month, Medford School Watch Chairman Loretta Francis presented a list of demands to the school board that she said would reduce the number days the district would need to cut to balance its budget.

Francis said district officials should stop creating new administrative positions, freeze open administrative positions and use the contingency fund to avoid cutting days.

She said the district could save three or four school days by using its contingency fund. If disaster does strike, Francis said the district could divert money from other funds that aren't being used in the district.

They do have insurance. It's something to think about, said Francis. Cutting days should be our last resort.

But local parent Karla Lyle disagreed with Francis' proposal.

That money is there for a purpose and it should stay there, said Lyle, who attended the Feb. 4 school board meeting where Francis made the demands. Some people have no idea. If we use that, then we're in real trouble if something happens.

The majority of Medford school board members have said they do not support using the contingency fund to balance the budget.

While cutting school days is a terrible disaster, it would be fiscally irresponsible to go into that contingency fund any deeper, said school board Chairman Mike Moran. Contingency is your last line of defense before having a situation where you have to shut down schools.

Board member Joe Frodsham has suggested that the district use a portion of the &

36;950,000 to limit the days cut.

Personnel and secondary education director Dan Zackland said the district already has a freeze on administrative salaries and hiring at the beginning of the year.

Medford has 13,075 students and 37.5 administrators. Twenty-six administrators work at schools, and 11.5 work at the district's central office.

We're not that heavy (on administration) when compared to other districts, Zackland added.

Reach reporter Jill Briskey at 776-4485, or e-mail