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Medford parents push for lower class sizes

About 25 parents Tuesday urged the Medford School Board to use $1 million in contingency funds to reduce class sizes across the school district of 12,000 students.

"Our children get one and only one chance at their education," said Karen Garske, a Jacksonville Elementary parent and representative of the Stand for Children education advocacy organization. "We are relying on you to provide them with an environment that allows them to be successful."

As many as 14 full-time teaching positions could be hired with $1 million, Stand for Children estimated based on last year's average teacher cost.

District officials said they could consider adding some temporary part-time positions to help alleviate large class sizes if the sizes grow more but likely couldn't afford to spend $1 million in contingency funds on more staffing.

Depleting contingency funds could be risky because the state's revenues continue to fall, and education could take part of the losses next year, said School Board Chairman Eric Dziura.

District officials already announced last week that they would add 12 teachers, or about 8.5 full-time positions, to the elementary teaching force to address class sizes that were as high as 38 students at Hoover Elementary School in Medford.

That step reduced the average class size by about 0.6, but there were at least three intermediate elementary classes of 34 or 35 as of Tuesday at Jackson, Lone Pine and Oak Grove elementary schools, said Rich Miles, district elementary education director.

Class sizes continue to fluctuate as some parents are still bringing in children who haven't enrolled yet, Miles said. The first day of classes began Sept. 8.

"Kids could drop out; kids could enroll," he said.

"When my son was in the third grade with 33 students, his class was considered unusual," said Karen Starchvick, a Stand for Children representative and a parent of two Medford students. "Superintendent (Phil) Long referred to it as 'the bubble'. Now the district's target for intermediate classes is 32 students. The bubble is to become the standard."

The district's elementary class size targets are 22 for kindergarten, 26 for first grade, 28 for grades 2-3 and 32 for grades 4-6. Class sizes vary widely at the secondary level, but one teacher sees an average of 180 to 190 students per day during several periods, Long said.

Starchvick recently transferred her fifth-grade daughter from Jacksonville Elementary to Ruch Elementary because her daughter's class at Jacksonville had 33 students in it. Her class at Ruch has only 21, Starchvick said.

"Other parents don't have that option," she said.

Long said the district's target class sizes are three to four students larger than eight years ago.

"We don't have the resources to go back to that level (eight years ago), so we have to find ways to mitigate the worst cases," Long said.

Starchvick said she had expected a larger audience at the School Board's meeting Tuesday given that there was a protest Friday against the superintendent's decision not to air President Obama's speech to the nation's students live on the first day of classes.

The district wanted time to review the speech, which had stirred controversy before it was ever given, and to wait for students to become acclimated to the new school year before showing it.

Social studies and English teachers may begin showing the speech today and making associated assignments. Parents may opt out from their child seeing the speech by contacting their school principal, Long said.

Starchvick said she was hoping there would be a larger audience Tuesday in order to recruit more people to write to the governor and the Oregon Lottery Commission in support of dedicating more lottery revenue to education.

A hearing on a proposal to reduce the lottery proceeds that go to lottery retailers such as taverns from 24 percent to no more than 16 percent is scheduled for Sept. 25. Stand for Children is pushing for the difference in revenue to go to education.

That would generate about $56 million more for public schools each year, and about $1 million of that would likely go to the Medford district, Starchvick said.

The Medford district serves the towns of Medford, Jacksonville and Ruch.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.