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Medford school plan cuts staff, programs

Medford schools Superintendent Brian Shumate on Monday presented his plan for getting the district back to a balanced budget in 2016-17, including eliminating seven secondary teaching positions and making cuts in two programs launched just a year ago to improve academic performance.

Medford School District officials are projecting $125.85 million in general fund revenue in 2016-17 — $3.3 million more than it received this year, but $1.2 million less than it spent this year. With inflation and other increases, $2.2 million needs to be cut from current services to balance the budget.

“The funding increase will not cover our rising costs and levels of service,” Shumate said in his message to the budget committee Monday.

This fiscal year, the district spent $4.5 million in reserve funds, of which $2.2 million went toward new initiatives, including full-day kindergarten. The current budget also set aside $2.3 million to mitigate the impact of significantly higher Public Employees Retirement System rates in the next biennium.

The proposed cuts include reducing the Medford After School program and eliminating the district's 8.5 Transition Program, both of which were launched last year. The after-school program provides more academic instruction than previous private programs while the 8.5 program was aimed at better preparing lagging middle school students for high school and improving graduation rates.

“PERS took away our cushion,” said Shumate, adding that district has been able to retain 5 percent of its general fund revenue in reserves thanks to lower-than-projected staffing costs.

Next year, overall costs are projected to increase by about $5.3 million, which includes $1.2 million in health care expenses, $2.4 million in contractual pay increases for employees and $1 million in increased costs for services, supplies and fees. The $2.4 million in contractual pay increases represents a 2 percent cost of living increase for all employees but is subject to change as next year’s teacher’s contract has not yet been negotiated.

“The primary budgetary risk facing our district in the coming years will be to support an ever-increasing compensation cost structure that is outpacing increases in school funding,” Shumate said in his budget message.

Shumate recommended specific cuts to the budget committee, including eliminating seven secondary teaching positions, a $700,000 savings, and restructuring the after school program, which would save $240,000.

The 8.5 Transition Program was seen as an innovative approach to improving graduation rates by intervening early with struggling middle school students and ensuring they weren't falling behind even before they entered high school.

The secondary teaching position associated with the 8.5 program will be eliminated and the remedial services for eighth-graders will be handled by other programs at the schools, said Chief Operations Officer Brad Earl.

“It’s not that we’re orphaning kids that were in the program,” Earl said. “We are finding other ways in the school to reach them."

The district plans to restructure its after-school program, including collaborating with outside organizations and eliminating three coordinator positions and several part-time classified positions.

The free after-school program is centered on providing academic support to students and currently serves 230 students at Roosevelt, Washington and Howard elementary schools and has many more students on waiting lists. It replaced after-school programs offered for a fee by Kids Unlimited and the Rogue Valley Family YMCA at those schools. Now it appears the district will bring outside agencies back into the mix.

“We are really excited about the program, like really excited,” Earl said. “But our first-year model was pretty expensive. And Brian (Shumate) has worked tirelessly over the last couple months to bring in community partners, and I think we’ve almost landed on a new model.”

Shumate’s proposal also includes making the athletic director position at both high schools part-time, thus eliminating one full-time secondary position. That comes, however, after he created a district administrator position in 2015 with primary responsibility for athletics.

“Now that we have a district athletic/safety director, we are going to reduce the school-based athletic directors to half-time, and the other half of the day, they will be teaching classes,” he said.

Five secondary teaching positions that will be eliminated have not been specifically identified but may be found by not filling positions vacated by retiring teachers, Shumate said.

Shumate also said the district will save $200,000 in Worker’s Compensation insurance and unemployment premiums next year thanks to improved processes, $500,000 by filling positions vacated by retiring teachers with newer teachers lower on the salary schedule and another $500,000 by under-budgeting for medical insurance and spending down the medical insurance reserves.

“We’ve felt the need to maintain a higher level of reserves because of the unpredictability of costs,” Earl explained. “But because medical billing, due to better technology, happens faster, we are actually resolving medical bills about 45 days from when they’re happening instead of about three months so we think we can retain just two months of reserves in this fund.”

The district also is making "a conscious effort to manage the scheduling of professional development and other activities to avoid interfering with teacher time in the classroom," said district spokeswoman Natalie Hurd. That is expected to save $100,000 by reducing the use of substitute teachers.

The School Board has tentatively scheduled for May 23 a public hearing to deliberate on the budget approved by the budget committee. The board has until June 30 to adopt the 2016-17 budget.

The proposed budget supports the district’s commitment to smaller class sizes and art, music and other extracurricular activities, Shumate said. The district is also expanding its career and technical education opportunities for students, including Project Lead the Way which is currently offered at the middle schools and Central Medford High School but also will be offered at North and South Medford high schools in 2016-17.

“We did some tightening all around to get to this number,” he said. “And I think it’s a sign the district has been prudent. We set aside money for PERS. We maintained lower class sizes and … created efficiencies.”

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

South Medford High School seniors Philip Lighthouse, from left, Riley Innes and Shelby Hinton sit outside the school Monday. A budget proposal calls for eliminating seven high school teaching positions in the Medford district. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta