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Despite some initial disappointment, many Medford School District parents say they're comfortable with the administration's decision to forgo parent-teacher conferences, as long as strong communication remains intact.

"I think it's fine, as long as my child doesn't slip through any cracks," said Wendi Gebhart, a parent of a kindergartner and a fifth-grader at Hoover Elementary. "I have an active line of communication with the teachers."

Gebhart, president of the Hoover Parent Teacher Organization, said she is confident in teachers' ability to keep parents informed and she supports the district's decision to cut the conferences.

As part of contract negotiations in the spring, district teachers agreed to cut eight days from the 2011-12 calendar but insisted they be from their 14 professional development or preparation days, and not student-contact days.

In doing so, they opened the door for parent-teacher conferences — which aren't considered student-contact days — to be cut from the school calendar.

According to Cheryl Lashley, a representative of the teacher's union, the possibility of cutting conference days was discussed during contract negotiations in June, but the ultimate decision came from the district's administration.

"It was a collaborative decision," said Todd Bloomquist, director of human resources for the district. "It was definitely a concession in hard economic times."

Bloomquist cited the district's $11 million shortfall this year as the reason for the cuts.

Lashley says teachers are tolerating the decision to eliminate the conferences, partly because they take significant planning time, and because two of three conference days were replaced with instructional days.

With or without conferences, teachers will still communicate with parents, according to Lashley.

"It's a teacher's professional duty to have contact with parents," she said.

Parent-teacher contact is considered important at most elementary schools, including Jefferson Elementary, according to Principal Tom Sherwood.

"We make it a point that parent contact is very vital," said Sherwood.

Sherwood said teachers at Jefferson will still be able to make contact with parents, but he was disappointed the conferences won't happen.

"It is very valuable for teachers to meet with parents," said Sherwood. "I have no idea what they were thinking during negotiations."

Some parents, however, remain unhappy with the district's decision.

"I am very disappointed," said Brooke Breazeale, the parent of a first-grader at Lone Pine Elementary.

Breazeale said parent-teacher conferences are important for younger children, and she thinks having scheduled meetings makes communicating easier on parents.

"It's valuable connecting with the teacher and having that one-on-one time," Breazeale said.

Medford School Board Director Sally Killen said she understands the district's decision but is concerned that eliminating conferences could hinder parent-teacher relationships.

"It's not something I am happy about," said Killen. "One of our board goals was to have more parent-teacher contact."

Despite varied concerns from parents and school administrators, Gebhart said parents have their own duty to keep informed about their students.

"I talk to my kids' teachers all the time," said Gebhart. "There's no teacher at Hoover who would say they don't have time to meet with you."

Gebhart said parents at Hoover can check the progress of their children online, and teachers at the school already are diligent at keeping parents informed.

Gebhart said students will gain added instruction days during the week of Thanksgiving, when conferences would have taken place.

"It's too bad that our budget is the way that it is," said Gebhart, "but I would rather they have a good curriculum-based school day than a conference."

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

Wendi Gebhart, president of the Hoover Parent Teacher Organization and mother of Bodie Gebhart, 6, and Halle Gebhart, 10, (center), says parents and teachers will need to make the effort to stay in touch after parent-teacher conferences were dropped due to budget cuts. Also pictured is Hoover student Rachel Wilder, 10, right. - Jamie Lusch