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Medford's school superintendent has the right idea: Tell it like it really is

Medford School Superintendent Kathy McCollum made a gutsy move last week when she reported that her district failed to meet state standards for class sizes and up-to-date textbooks.

We applaud the stand, and we hope other districts will follow her lead and send a message to Salem.

McCollum didn't have to do it. She could have reported that Medford schools comply with state requirements in all 49 specified areas. Most school districts do report full compliance, because they must in order to award credit, grant diplomas and received state money.

So are Medford schools meeting state standards or aren't they?

On paper, yes. But the fact that Medford technically complies isn't good enough for McCollum, and it shouldn't be good enough for Oregon voters.

She could have said Medford's class sizes were acceptable, because the state says only that class sizes must be adequate to ensure effective teaching and learning. McCollum doesn't think a sixth-grade classroom with 39 kids in it does that, and neither does anyone who takes even a moment to visualize that scene.

— She could have reported, truthfully, that Medford has performed the required curriculum reviews. But the district has not been able to afford new textbooks on a regular basis, so she reported failure in that category, too.

McCollum admits her action is a symbolic one.

It's a political statement, she said, as well as the truth.

One warning shot from one district probably won't get much attention in a budget year that once again sees the state facing a &

36;1 billion gap between the money it has and what's needed to maintain current services. Gov. Ted Kulongoski's proposed budget for schools is &

36;400 million short of maintaining current levels.

But imagine what might happen if every district in the state reported failure in one or more of the 49 categories.

Maybe, just maybe, legislators would sit up and take notice. And maybe Oregon voters would realize just how serious the funding situation is in their public schools.

Realistically, not all districts can take that stand. McCollum can get away with it this year because Medford will have a year to correct any deficiencies before its accreditation is threatened.

But other districts, including Ashland, have fallen short in past years, so they must satisfy all criteria this year. Still, Ashland Superintendent Juli Di Chiro notes, legal compliance does not equal quality.

Just so. It's time voters and lawmakers faced that fact.

A wise move

The Southern Oregon Historical Society deserves congratulations from the entire community for living within its means.

After 16 years in its downtown Medford History Center, the SOHS is planning to return to its administrative offices in the Jacksonville Museum.

The county said several years ago that it was entitled to money from a 1948 SOHS levy that dedicated a maximum 25 cents per &

36;1,000 assessed valuation. County officials contended the levy was ended by Measure 50, which allows counties to disperse money as they see fit. The courts agreed.

A settlement in 2003 provided three years of stable funding, and the society is making the right move in tightening and revamping its budget now.

In addition, there is no more appropriate place for the historical society headquarters than in the Jacksonville Museum.