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Town hall meeting airs views on charter school's locale

More than half of about 20 people who turned out at the Medford School District's town hall meeting Wednesday urged School Board members to support a proposal to give the soon-to-be-vacant West Side School to the Madrone Trail Public Charter School without rent for 18 months.

Three School Board members hosted the town hall meeting as a way to hear constituents' thoughts about the School District. Speakers on Wednesday addressed issues ranging from whether students should be required to wear uniforms to methods of math instruction.

But the majority of attendees had the future of the charter school on their minds. The school, which uses Waldorf-style methods, has outgrown its existing space in a former child-care center at 129 N. Oakdale Ave. It has shown interest in the West Side School, which is occupied by Jackson Elementary students who were displaced while their school underwent renovations.

The charter school has been in property negotiations with Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long and his staff for about a year to lease the West Side property, 3070 Ross Lane, which will be vacant in January after Jackson Elementary pupils move back to their home campus on Jackson Street in west Medford.

The public charter school, fostered by the School District, has its own board that governs it as well as its own instructional practices.

About 20 percent of its per-pupil state funding goes to the School District to pay for the administrative costs of hosting the charter school.

On Wednesday, charter school leaders and parents expressed frustration that they hadn't yet had an audience with the School Board to explain their proposal. They also complained at how slow the negotiations have been moving.

The district is having the property appraised, and district officials have said the outcome of that appraisal will likely play a role in what kind of lease the district will offer the charter school. Some district officials have suggested charging the charter school rent.

"We are one of the district's schools," said Madrone Trail board member Gesine Abraham. "Don't charge rent to one of your schools. Don't look at us as a revenue stream or as a business."

The final proposal by the charter school agreed to pay for maintenance of the West Side School, utilities and insurance, a cost equal to about $80,000, and asked that the charter school not be charged rent for 18 months.

"That will help us stabilize because when we move from our current location we might lose students, and it's going to cost us a lot to move," said Daniele Anderson, a Madrone Trail founder and board member.

Board members Tricia Prendergast, Jeff Thomas and Larry Nicholson all said they personally feel that the West Side School is the best location for Madrone Trail.

But they said the district has to keep the interests of the entire district in mind and want to avoid incurring any extra costs. They said they would know more about what the cost of the building might be to Madrone Trail after the appraisal is completed.

"At the end of the day, we have limited resources," Thomas said. "We have to look at everything and make the best decision."

Madrone Trail leaders argued that the district would pay more in keeping up the West Side property if it were vacant than if Madrone Trail occupied it and paid for maintenance.

The charter school has 112 students and expects to expand to the fifth and sixth grades in the next two years. The school could be in a better position to pay rent after it's established at the West Side School, Anderson said.

"Since we have a public charter school — and I realize charter schools are sometimes treated like the red-headed stepchild — it is a public school and should have access to public facilities," said Jan Esquivel, a parent of former West Side students, head of the Jackson County Republican Women and wife of state Rep. Sal Esquivel.

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