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Southern Oregon ESD could see layoffs

A new state law could lead to layoffs for the Southern Oregon Education Service District if Jackson County educators opt out of the district's services this academic year.

"There could be layoffs if we don't receive the money back from the districts," Superintendent Scott Perry said this week. "We'll give them a menu of services, and they'll pick from the menu, and then we'll have to look at what their choices are and what decisions we'll have to make."

Senate Bill 250 takes away just over 5 percent of education service districts' share of the state school fund. That money will now go to the school districts, which can decide if they want to purchase services from the ESD or provide it themselves.

Perry said he hopes the 13 local districts will decide to pay for the ESD's special education assistants, school psychologists, speech therapists, interpreters and other services geared toward kids who need extra help in the classroom.

"It makes more fiscal sense to do those things on a regional level," he said.

Perry said he couldn't specify how many or what type of layoffs could occur because he's waiting to hear what the districts decide to pay for. He hopes to know by Aug. 20.

"We're still in the process of having conversations with the districts," Perry said.

Under the new law, the Southern Oregon ESD will lose about $850,000 this academic year, which will instead be distributed to the 13 school districts. That's about a 5 percent cut in the district's $17 million budget, Perry said.

The percentage of the $850,000 that each school district will receive is based on a number of factors, including enrollment and poverty levels. Medford School District, the largest in Southern Oregon, should receive several hundred thousand dollars. Specific numbers were unavailable because the ESD's business manager was on vacation, Perry said.

Local districts have expressed an interest in buying the ESD's services for next academic year, but it's possible they will decide they don't have enough money to do so, he said.

Another part of Senate Bill 250 temporarily takes away $10.1 million from the state's school districts and funnels it through the newly created Office of Regional Education Services, which will oversee all Oregon Education Service Districts. The state office must redistribute the money, but districts are waiting to find out whether they'll receive that money back this school year or the following year, Perry said.

"We're seeking reassurance right now from the state that that money will be released this year," he said, "because at this point the districts don't know if they're going to have enough money to buy the ESD's services."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. She can be reached at 541-776-4459 or email hguzik@mailtribune.com.