Budget panel will look at class sizes, music hours

More music teachers or smaller class sizes? Those are among the issues the Medford schools budget committee has wrestled with as it prepares to recommend a budget for the district of 12,000 pupils.

The committee convenes at 6 p.m. today in the library at Oak Grove Elementary School, 2838 W. Main St., Medford. The meeting is open to the public.

The proposed 2010-11 budget of $99.3 million restores some of the state funding missing from the budget this year, but there's disagreement about where the restored funds should go.

The budget includes a boost in the number of secondary music teachers, but some budget committee members and other community members have asked the district to instead beef up elementary music programs, which have eroded over the past several years. Others have pushed for more classroom teachers to reduce class size.

"I hope that we're going to have a healthy discussion of all the competing interests and answer some questions about the budget and that the committee can make a recommendation about whether they want to make changes," said Eric Dziura, School Board president. "The board will ultimately have to decide."

The elementary music program was proposed for elimination last year, but the School Board ultimately dropped that plan after a storm of public outcry and petitions in support of saving it.

Elementary pupils this year received 40 minutes of music instruction per week, about the same as the previous year, but some community members have called on the district to provide at least an hour of music instruction each week. They argue that music programs are crucial to students' success and development, and say the time away from the main classroom also provides teachers with more preparation time.

The proposed budget would add 21/2 secondary music teachers but leaves the elementary program untouched, with no additional music teachers or classroom teachers.

"Some people felt that was the wrong priority," Dziura said. "We have a lot of needs that are going unmet. I'm having a very difficult time prioritizing things.

"The governor is predicting doom and gloom for the state's economy... . We can't meet all those needs."

The budget proposal also would add back six work days for teachers, full stipends for athletic coaches, a total of 61/2 secondary teachers and more funds for campus materials and supplies.

In all, it includes about $49 million for salaries, $29 million for benefits, $11 million for purchased services such as busing, $3 million for supplies and materials and $5.5 million for contingency and an unappropriated fund balance.

The district's budget shrank by $10 million this year, from $101.7 million in 2008-09 to $91.7 million, because of the economy's impact on state funding for education and other state services. New income tax and business tax measures restored some of those funds.

The School Board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 15 at South Medford High School and will likely adopt the budget at the same meeting.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

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