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Jacksonville Elementary parents seek one more teacher

Jacksonville Elementary School parents are pleading with the Medford School District to hire another teacher for this school year, citing several classes averaging about 35 students each.

Several parents spoke at a School Board meeting Monday, explaining that one additional teacher would reduce four especially large classes at the school.

As of Sept. 28, Jacksonville Elementary had a 36-student fourth-grade class, a 35-student fourth-fifth blend class, a 34-student fifth-sixth blend class and a 36-student sixth-grade class.

All four of those large classes could be balanced out with the addition of one full-time teacher, said Jacksonville Elementary parent Sandy Metwally.

Metwally brought parents together for Monday's board meeting after hearing that another child might be added to her daughter's fourth-grade class.

"One morning there was wind of another student coming in and making it 37, and that was kind of my tipping point," said Metwally.

According to Metwally, the large classes are loud and distracting, and are difficult for students and teachers alike.

"I believe our district is better than this," Christie Fairbanks, Parent Teacher Organization president, told the board Monday. "These children deserve to be in smaller classes today."

By adding one more teacher, all of the blend classes at the school could be eliminated, and all the class sizes would fall more in range with other schools in the district, according to Fairbanks.

Fairbanks, who has a fourth-grader, second-grader and kindergartner at Jacksonville Elementary, said it is unfortunate that students have already settled into their classes for the year, but she believes it isn't too late to add another teacher.

"It's really unfortunate that we couldn't have done this earlier," said Fairbanks.

The district previously approved adding a quarter-time math teacher for Jacksonville Elementary to help break up large class sizes for math instruction two hours per day. Parents are asking the district to add a three-quarter position as well, essentially hiring one new teacher.

Parents on Monday suggested the district dip into contingency funds and special project reserves to pay for the teacher, claiming the Medford School District keeps more reserve funds than other districts in the state.

The district is working off an operational budget of just over $98 million, and has more than $12 million in reserve funding.

However, by adding a teacher at Jacksonville Elementary, the district would be legally obligated to consider adding teachers at other elementary schools with similar class sizes, according to Rich Miles, director of elementary education.

The district might have to hire more teachers for Jefferson and Oak Grove elementary schools if it adds a teacher in Jacksonville, he said, or hire no teachers at all.

Even though the Medford School District does have a sizeable reserve account, officials already have plans for that money, according to Chief Financial Officer Brad Earl.

"Our current cost/revenue structure will deplete our reserves in just two years," said Earl. "We are on a trajectory to spend far more than we make."

In mid-September, Miles said adding teachers to eliminate all split classes in the district would cost $1 million.

This far into the school year, parents such as Metwally don't think moving children around is ideal, but they believe the larger picture is more important.

"The issue is bigger than how I would feel if my child were to go into a new class," said Metwally. "It's important to look at the school as a whole, and ultimately she would be in a smaller class."

Miles said he is working on a cost analysis for the board, and will prepare a proposal or recommendation concerning the parents' request by the end of the week.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or by email at tristow@mailtribune.com.