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Education service district plan OK'd, but barely

A divided Medford School Board narrowly endorsed the Southern Oregon Education Service District's annual plan for special education services, with several members expressing concerns over budget cuts.

"I want on the record some understanding that there is concern," said board member Ron Andersen, who wanted the SOESD to understand his apprehension about supporting the special education plan, which detailed cuts of up to 15 percent in STEPS classrooms for severely disabled students.

"I think they need to realize we're very interested in what they do next year," said Andersen, who ultimately voted in favor of the special education piece because he voted last and the motion wouldn't have passed without his support.

Board members Marlene Yesquen and Paulie Brading voted against the special education plan, while board member Kim Wallan abstained from voting.

The SOESD had presented its plan to the board at a Feb. 6 meeting, but no representatives were present Monday to see the votes play out.

Medford is one of 13 districts served by the SOESD in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties, and represents about 25 percent of the total students served.

Education service districts in Oregon receive 4.5 percent of the state's school fund in addition to other program-specific grants, and end up offering a menu of services that districts can choose to purchase for their schools.

The Medford School Board on Monday voted on three separate motions on the SOESD plan, which is essentially a menu of services that will be offered to local school districts. School Board members voted separately on technology, school improvement and special education services.

In the face of a projected flat budget forecast last year, superintendents from various districts in the SOESD service area requested that work be streamlined, but special education programs remain intact, according to SOESD Superintendent Scott Perry.

As a result, cuts were made in the other services the district offers — school improvement and technology — but not in special education.

During the year, Perry said, the SOESD was able to identify efficiencies and areas in special education that could sustain cuts, which would lessen the cuts to the school improvement and technology budgets.

Districts had until March 1 to vote on the plan, and according to Perry, enough districts had approved the plan by Tuesday that it had passed, though districts have no obligation to then use the services the SOESD offers.

"Even if we approve this, we don't have to use the services," said board vice-chairman Jeff Thomas.

For the SOESD's service plan to be approved, at least two-thirds of the districts served and enough to represent half of the total served students must approve the plan.

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