Medford shuns open enrollment experiment

The Medford School Board voted unanimously Monday against implementing an open enrollment policy, which would have eased restrictions for students transferring to schools outside their neighborhood or district boundaries.

One board member called the legislation approved by the 2011 Oregon Legislature "rushed," and other members said they failed to see any benefits for students.

"It's premature until the Legislature takes the time to fine-tune this," said board member Ron Anderson. "I see very little in the way of benefits."

The Legislature passed the open enrollment law after a Portland-area parent lobbied for the change. The open enrollment policy — for districts that choose to implement it — allows a district to open its doors and allow new students in without permission from a child's home district. Currently, both districts must approve a transfer.

Districts would be able to put a cap on the number of students they accept, by school or grade, but would have no input regarding students who leave their district.

Members of the Medford School Board said they couldn't see any upside to approving the policy for the coming school year, adding they thought approving it would put a strain on resources.

"We have a lot going on this year, and I don't think we need to make ourselves crazy with one more thing," said board member Tricia Prendergast. "But I would like to watch and see what happens in the districts that do implement it."

Many board members said they were initially interested in the potential benefits of open enrollment, including the per-pupil revenue it might bring to the district, but also said they didn't see the point in implementing it so quickly.

"This was an idea that I was excited about, but it's rushed," said board member Jeff Thomas.

Thomas said he believed Medford has a strong special-education program, and open enrollment might encourage special-education students from other districts to transfer to Medford schools. Under the legislation, the district would have to accept any students that apply and would then have to find the resources to serve them.

The board ultimately decided to keep the school district's current transfer policy for the coming year, which approves transfers on a case-by-case basis, allowing cases that seem appropriate for child care and parent-employment issues or pressing academic requests.

Under its current transfer policy, the Medford district approved 102 high school and middle school outbound transfers this school year and 77 inbound. The district also approved 186 transfers within the district.

Superintendant Phil Long was not at Monday's meeting but wrote the board a letter urging members to vote against implementing the open enrollment policy.

"Spending time and energy on non-instructional issues that do not advance our mission is not going to help us provide stability and sustainability for our K-12 system," Long wrote.

Long has expressed concern in the past that open enrollment would pit districts against each other and said he saw no problems with the current inter-district transfer policy.

All Oregon school districts have until March 1 to decide whether to approve open enrollment policies for the following school year.

Reach Reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or

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