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Long: Medford School District can begin budget recovery

The Medford School District's 2014-15 budget will add back staff, school days and services that have been cut over the last decade.

On Tuesday evening, the district's budget committee got its first look at next year's proposed $113.2 million operating budget.

The proposal includes a 5.1 percent — or $5.4 million — increase in revenue over the 2013-14 adopted budget.

In his message to the committee, Superintendent Phil Long said he would like to see that money used to hire about 50 licensed and classified staff, increase academic interventions for struggling students and add five instructional days to the school year. He also proposes to enhance school security systems and restore parent-teacher conferences, which were cut in 2011 after the district trimmed eight non-instructional days from the teachers' contract.

"We can finally begin building back the district which had to be reshaped during the difficult economic years," Long said.

Brad Earl, the district's chief financial officer, said the additional revenue primarily represents increases in both enrollment and state funding. It also includes $1 million from the Southern Oregon Education Service District to offset the costs of expanding the district's special education services, including some formerly provided by SOESD.

The budget also anticipates an increase of about $6 million in employee salaries and health care benefits. Last year, the district spent about $52 million on salaries and $31 million on benefits, but next year, it expects to spend $55 million on salaries and $34 million on benefits.

The increase is related in part to a contract settlement with the district's teachers, which came after a February strike that lasted 11 school days.

"If we hadn't had such big salary increases, we could have added more programs," Long said. "But, on the other hand, this is the cost of retaining a qualified staff."

Long said he was particularly pleased the budget will allow the district to fund 175 instructional days. For the past decade, the number of instructional days has ranged from 164 to 170.

Long's message to the budget committee Tuesday included a variety of other new expenses, including technology and software upgrades and replacements, a variety of facility maintenance projects, additional curriculum and more targeted intervention programs and enrichment opportunities.

"It's about taking the revenue we get and making some really thoughtful changes," he said.

The draft budget, as well as Long's message, are available on the district's website. Any questions or concerns can be emailed to budget.feedback@medford.k12.or.us.

The budget committee, which includes seven community members and all seven School Board members, will review the budget and convene on Tuesday, May 20, to discuss the budget and hear from the public.

Once the committee has approved the budget, the board has until June 30 to adopt it.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.