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Central Point schools may withdraw from education service district

The Central Point School District has issued a letter of intent to withdraw from the Southern Oregon Education Service District, buying it time to assess the value of the partnership.

Now the district has until March 1 to evaluate the special education, technology and school improvement services it gets from the SOESD and determine whether to continue the relationship with the regional service hub or issue a notice of withdrawal and provide those services in-house.

“The action of the board allows for our district to do an in-depth analysis of the cost of those programs and, ultimately, the value of the services and staff (SOESD) provides,” said Central Point Superintendent Samantha Steele. The letter was issued Nov. 1.

The district looked at the cost-efficiency of SOESD services a few years ago and determined that, although it could provide some of those services in-house for fewer dollars, there was “great value” in networking and sharing resources with the other districts in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties, Steele explained.

At this time, Steele said she isn’t sure how much the district would save by leaving the SOESD.

“Over the next few months, we will work with the district-level staff who oversee those programs and go over the analysis, provided by the SOESD, and determine whether it makes sense fiscally and philosophically to continue with regional services or provide those on our own,” she said.

The Central Point School District accounts for about 9 percent of the student population served by SOESD and about 3 percent of its total budget, explained SOESD Superintendent Scott Beveridge.

About 40 percent of the SOESD’s $49 million budget is from the State School Fund, which is allocated to districts based on their size. Grants, contracts and other revenue streams make up about 60 percent of the budget, he said.

If the Central Point School District were to withdraw from the SOESD, the agency would be responsible for passing 90 percent — roughly $1.6 million — of those State School Fund dollars through to the district. The district would then have the option of providing those services itself or coming to an agreement with SOESD to buy back services with a surcharge.

“We absolutely would look at buying back services, but the ESD is currently looking at whether it would allow districts to buy back services in the future,” Steele said.

Beveridge explained that all Southern Oregon superintendents contribute to the development of a local service plan that must be approved by their respective boards.

“In other words, we need to have a consensus on what that model looks like,” Beveridge said.

The Grants Pass School District opted out of the SOESD in 2014. In 2013-14, before it opted out, the district used $407,909 of its allocation for special education and about $537,726 for other services, leaving a balance of $940,635 that came back to the general fund to supplement special education and technology services that it couldn’t access in Josephine County, explained Sherry Ely, Grants Pass' director of business services.

In 2014-15, after it opted out of the SOESD, it received nearly $2 million — 90 percent of its State School Fund allocation — from the SOESD and bought back $291,000 in special education services and an additional $253,000 in technology, networking, career and technical education and migrant services. (The district pays a 7 percent surcharge on all services bought back, except for special education services.) This left the district with about $1.4 million for replicating some services that it had received from the SOESD. The majority of that money goes toward special education, Ely said.

Like Central Point, the Medford School District also is considering withdrawing from the SOESD. Medford issued a letter of intent Nov. 1 and now will conduct a thorough analysis of the SOESD services it receives.

Chief Operations Officer Brad Earl informed the Medford School Board during a work session in October that, based on a preliminary analysis, the district would have about $2 million in excess funds available if it were to withdraw from the SOESD and provide services in-house.

Central Point’s current State School Fund allocation is about $1.6 million, of that about $1.2 million is earmarked for special education services and the rest for migrant education, teacher professional development, electrical wiring, technology installation and other services.

This year, the district is projected to not only use all of its $1.2 million in special education but also purchase an additional $500,000 of special education services from the SOESD, Beveridge said.

“Our service report showed they received full value in all of our service areas,” he said.

Under the current service plan, districts that are part of the SOESD can choose to accept cash in lieu of special education services. In Central Point’s case, that equates to about $1.2 million.

However, by opting out of the SOESD, the district would receive its $1.6 million allocation.

“A withdrawal only unlocks roughly $400,000 currently available to them in school improvement and technology services," Beveridge said.

Steele said she recognizes the value of the SOESD and the expertise its staff brings to the district. Furthermore, the district currently houses the regional Profoundly Deaf and Hard of Hearing program, offered by SOESD, and relies on SOESD to manage the substitutes for its certified employees, “an essential service,” she said.

“But we are responsible for being judicious with taxpayer dollars and evaluating the cost efficiency of all our programs,” she added.

“The ESD offers a lot of valuable services, but we have to determine which ones we actually use and need,” she said.

Beveridge said he won’t know the full impact on the SOESD of Central Point withdrawing until he knows what services they would potentially buy back.

“But at the board meeting, they made it clear that they were issuing the letter not because they wanted to withdraw but because they wanted more time to review their services like they did two years ago,” he said.

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