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Medford schools should tear down the wall

The Medford School District is feeling the effects of deciding not to accept open enrollment of students from other districts, and now is poised to do the only thing it really can do if it wants to stop losing out to neighboring districts. A considerable amount of state per-student funding is at stake.

The Legislature changed the rules in 2014 to allow districts to choose to open their borders to all students who wanted in or close them to all. Before that, districts were permitted to admit students on a case-by-case basis as long as the district they lived in agreed. The new law was designed to eliminate any discrimination as a result of the case-by-case approach.

Ashland, Phoenix-Talent and Central Point school districts all decided to adopt open enrollment. Medford decided against it.

The result is that Medford has lost students to those neighboring districts through open enrollment: 41 to Ashland, 23 to Phoenix-Talent and 39 to Central Point. At $8,600 per student, that has cost Medford nearly $886,000 in state funding.

Open enrollment must take place between March 1 and April 1 each year. Interdistrict transfers, which still require the consent of both the sending and receiving district, can happen at any point during the year.

When interdistrict transfers are included, the total number of students living in the Medford district but attending one of the other three districts rises to 176, representing $1.5 million in state school funding. Superintendent Brian Shumate has recommended the School Board open the borders to compensate.

Some board members said it could be seen as hypocritical to ask district voters for a construction bond for a new school while accepting students from outside the district.

The district has room in seven elementary schools, both middle schools and both high schools. And the  students transferring in would be unlikely to be numerous enough in any one building to require new construction by themselves. In any case, state rules allow districts to cap transfers by grade and by school for space considerations.

Board Chairman Jeff Thomas objected to letting students from outside the district choose their high school when residents students aren't given that choice. Any policy the district adopts should be fair to resident students, but that shouldn't prevent adopting open enrollment.

The Medford district should join its neighboring districts in allowing more choice for parents and students, while ensuring the result doesn't harm resident students or district taxpayers.