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Budget request for Medford schools seeks 9.4% increase

Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long unveiled a proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year Tuesday night that assumes the district will be able to boost its budget by $8.8 million over the current year's figure, the first substantial hike in five years.

While the proposed $102.4 million budget is a 9.4 percent increase over the current budget, Long still proposes to tap $3 million in reserve funds, and says there will be few new jobs.

In a statement Long read during the district's first Budget Committee meeting of the year, he made it clear that ongoing negotiations over pension reform, the possibility of a taxpayer rebate and other variables could affect his plans for the next school year.

"This is a modest budget," he said, based on no significant reform in the Public Employee Retirement System, which could cost the district $14 million this year, a $3 million increase.

Chief Financial Officer Brad Earl said in an interview that half of the increase in district funding could be diverted to PERS and other contractual obligations.

If the Legislature acts to reduce projected PERS increases, the district would use those funds to hire teachers, support specialists, counselors and campus monitors, and expand catch-up programs in reading and math, physical education and enrichment programs.

The Budget Committee will have two weeks to study the proposed budget before its next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. April 23, at the district boardroom, 815 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford. The public is invited to comment.

The public also can ask the Budget Committee questions at community forums to be held Wednesday, April 24, at Washington Elementary School, Saturday, April 27, at the district education center and Tuesday, April 30, at Roosevelt Elementary School, where the discussion will be in Spanish.

Long said the school district has cut expenses over the last five years by consolidating non-classroom operations, reducing insurance costs and renegotiating early-retirement incentives, among other cuts.

The school district had a record enrollment of 13,200 in September, due to growth at public charter schools Madrone Trail and Logos and at regular schools. On Monday, the school board will decide on an application for a charter school at Kids Unlimited.

Despite three years of increased enrollment, the district projected flat enrollment in its budget calculations.

The proposed budget funds 174 instructional days. Summer school and extended support for special needs could be added if PERS reform is resolved and budget gains are not lost through a statewide "kicker" refund to taxpayers.

The proposed budget includes funding for eight English Language Learner positions.

The district is involved in contract negotiations with teachers, so the budget draft does not include final figures on compensation.

Long said the district preserved arts and music programs during the leanest years, proving they are sustainable.

The proposed budget bolsters programs for students with disabilities, students who are learning English as their second language, and more instructional time and academic interventions for struggling students.

"We want to provide more time for kids who need time and support," said Long.

The proposed budget also continues to subsidize the cost of lending school facilities to youth activities organized by Kids Unlimited and the YMCA.

On April 15, the board will also discuss recommendations for additional security-related upgrades and projects at schools referred to in the budget, and it will talk about potential sources for the $2 million needed to fund the improvements.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com