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Central Point signals intention to leave SOESD

Central Point School Board voted Tuesday to signal its intention to withdraw from the Southern Oregon Education Service District.

It's the second time the district has moved to cut ties with the regional service hub, which provides programs in school improvement, special education and technology.

A letter of intent to withdraw, which is due Nov. 1, gives the district until March 1 to evaluate the local service plan from SOESD so it can decide whether to continue the relationship or to bring the services in-house.

“Right now we are following the law to be able to keep our options open and protect our best interests,” Board Chairman Bret Moore said at the Tuesday night meeting. “We know what we need for our students — it’s not just about the money.”

The effort started a couple of years ago when the district did an analysis of the SOESD programs it used, Superintendent Samantha Steele said.

“And that analysis shows we leave a lot on the table,” she said.

Central Point makes up 9 percent of the student population that SOESD serves and about 3 percent of its budget, according to SOESD’s 2017-18 budget. That equates to almost $2 million.

After Senate Bill 529 passed in 2013, Grants Pass became the first school district to withdraw from the SOESD. Under Oregon law, a district can collect 90 percent of its state allocation from SOESD if it brings services in-house. Grants Pass was also allowed to buy some of the programs back from SOESD when it left.

Since then, SOESD has restricted other districts that want to follow suit. A district either has to withdraw and be responsible for bringing all of the services in-house or remain a member and follow the local service plan.

The Medford School District has started the same conversation this year, with a desire to utilize a menu option as the model for SOESD services. The Medford School Board is scheduled to vote on the matter Oct. 23.

SOESD Superintendent Scott Beveridge said in a previous interview that SOESD sticks with the bundle option because it is more beneficial for districts.

“We want to work with districts to define a local service plan that works for all of them,” Beveridge said. “We work to provide flexible services but also maintain a structure. … Being a member of SOESD gives districts benefits they couldn’t obtain separately.”

Steele said the district depends heavily on SOESD for essential services such as programs for migrants, English learners, Native Americans and funding management for other core services such as Career and Technical Education.

“I would like to think that we are close now (to replicating services),” Steele said. “We will not go through with it if we believe there’s going to be a disruption in services. ... We’re going to need a plan to be self-sustaining and have our independent services if we are to withdraw.”

This year Central Point started replicating STEPS classes, a program that serves students with multiple disabilities, in its elementary and middle schools. The service, called PAWS and CLASS, has become a good trial and a taste of what the district will have to do if it becomes independent, Steele said.

“It’s an outstanding program that is both cost effective and high quality,” Steele said. “The program is well staffed, and the one thing we started to see is that students are able to integrate more in their school's culture and environment.”

The in-house service costs Central Point about $36,000 per student, compared with $50,000 per student with the service provided by SOESD through Choice and Equity, Steele said.

“Also by having our own program, we have on-site staff members to assist students at all times,” she said.

“Money is definitely a factor going into this,” Steele said. “But the primary reason is that we want to provide services that meet every student’s needs and provide personalized support to each of them.”

Central Point will continue the conversation with SOESD until March 1, when the district has to give the official notice, Steele said.

“SOESD has been collaborative with us throughout this process, so I haven’t given up,” Steele said. “I do have hope that we could bring together something that would work for every district.”

— Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@mailtribune.com. Follow her on twitter at @nguyenntrann.

Central Point signals intention to leave SOESD