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Medford schools add back teacher days

Following an unexpected increase in state funding, the Medford School Board Monday was able to approve the addition of four teacher contract days to the calendar for 2012-13.

As per the district's contract with the Medford Education Association, teacher prep and development days cut as part of the current contract would be re-established provided the necessary funding resurfaced during the contract period.

Previously contracted to work 190 days per year, teachers had been reduced to 182 days last year. For the coming year, they will work 186 days.

"This is good news for instruction," said Superintendent Phil Long. "We have some added prep time for teachers.

The number of student-contact days will stay fixed at 170, the same amount since 2010-11.

The increase in state money came after the Oregon Department of Education calculated 2010-11 year-end totals for enrollment and state spending, unexpectedly leaving Medford in a good position.

The district received an increase in per-pupil funding totals, likely a product of decreased enrollment statewide and increased district enrollment.

It also received a one-time funding amount of $830,000, awarded by the state after reviewing Oregon's projected spending versus the amount used.

For every half-percent increase in per-pupil funding, the district agreed to add one day back for teachers, and for every $350,000 in one-time money, the district would add days back.

The addition of the four teacher contract days will cost the district about $890,000 but will only increase prep and development time, not student-contact time.

"There's no change for families or students," said Long. Because a large chunk of the new funding will have to be passed along to the district's charter schools, not all of the added revenue will go directly to the general fund, although it will provide more than enough to cover the cost of the teacher contract days.

Although the numbers still are being finalized, the added revenue will keep the district from dipping as far into reserves as it had planned for the coming year.

In ongoing budget talks, the district has recommended dipping $4.1 million into reserves to balance the budget for 2012-13 rather than making any significant cuts.

"Now, it's penciling in to be about $3.8 million," said Brad Earl, chief financial officer for the district.

The extra $300,000 came as good news to the School Board, which has repeatedly raised concerns over using reserves.

"I've been trying to get comfortable, but I'm very uncomfortable with spending the $4.1 (million)," said board member Kim Wallan.

The board approved the added teacher contract days as part of the adoption of a new school calendar — one that adds a two-week spring break in 2013.

The extended break was an option made possible because of a very early Labor Day this year, which would have led to school ending in the last week of May.

The board approved the new calendar 4-2, with board Chairwoman Paulie Brading and member Marlene Yesquen favoring a shorter spring break and a school year that ended sooner.

Board member Ron Anderson was not at the meeting.

Yesquen and Brading shared concerns that a two-week break in March might come unexpectedly for parents, many of whom rely on free lunches provided by the schools for their children.

"I have some real concerns about the two-week break," said Brading, who worried that the high rate of students in the district utilizing free or reduced-price lunches would suffer during the break.

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