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Deficit spending worries school board members

Members of the Medford School Board shared last-ditch concerns Monday over the district's decision to spend more than $4 million in reserves next year to balance the budget.

The budget document was approved by the district's budget committee in May, but the board will vote whether to adopt the budget during its meeting Monday, June 18.

Board chairwoman Paulie Brading said she had hoped administrators would offer an alternate proposal with $750,000 in cuts so that the district could demonstrate some ability to make reductions this year.

Administrators have presented no such proposal and instead will seek board approval of the current budget document later this month.

Brading, along with board members Kim Wallan and Marlene Yesquen, were the only three members of the 14-person budget committee not to approve the proposed budget document during a meeting May 14.

The budget committee comprises seven board members and seven community members.

"I did not support it, and am really struggling with deficit spending to this extent," said Wallan. "We are postponing the inevitable. It's not like we didn't know this was coming."

The budget committee approved the budget after a recommendation from Superintendent Phil Long, who announced in April his plan to deficit-spend while using the next year to identify cost-saving measures for the future.

Board member Tricia Prendergast said the plan to spend the next year identifying potential reductions and cuts will be a welcome change from the previous procedure.

"We usually wait for the superintendent budget message to come down the pike," said Prendergast.

Board member Ron Andersen voted to approve the budget last month, saying that making steep cuts while sitting on reserves would be harmful to the district.

"The staff of this district has already taken a lot of pain," said Andersen "I think we have a very solid budget, and I'm happy to support it."

Andersen compared the $4.3 million in proposed deficit spending as comparable to cutting 14 teachers and 20 classified staff, implementing three furlough days and closing an elementary school, the latter of which Andersen said would save about $350,000.

Although the budget made no reference to the closing of any schools next fiscal year, members of the Ruch community were in attendance Monday night and at a number of other school board and budget meetings over the last two months, voicing concerns over the possible closure of Ruch Elementary School.

Brading said that while the district revealed no plans to close the school next year, steep cuts in the future could put the campus in jeopardy within a few years.

"There are some real problems and issues coming up," said Brading, who applauded the Ruch community for its work to stay proactive by attending the meetings and working toward its own cost-saving strategies.

Board member Jeff Thomas said he hoped that reiterating that the district had no immediate plans to close the school would alleviate some stress on the Ruch community.

"In no way is Ruch going to be closed in the next fiscal year," said Thomas.

No community members chose to spoke during the public budget hearing Monday.

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