SOESD passes a la carte service plan

School districts will be able to choose from a menu of services provided by the Southern Oregon Education Service District in a compromise approved Wednesday in hopes of keeping Medford and Central Point from pulling out altogether.

The local service plan for the 2018-19 school year approved by the SOESD board allows school districts to opt out of services they don't want. The change may solve sticking points for Medford and Central Point school boards, who signaled in October they were considering leaving SOESD because they could provide many of those services themselves and save money.

Superintendents from the 13 districts served by SOESD have been working to adjust the local service plan to persuade the two major players to stay. Out of three options they came up with, the most popular was one that incorporates both an "essential core" of services that districts are required to participate in, along with flexibility on additional services. Districts previously could not opt out of services they didn't want.

"We’re in agreement at this point that option B is palatable for all the school districts involved," Medford Superintendent Brian Shumate said. He will present the plan to Medford School Board members Jan. 22, and he anticipates a vote Feb. 12.

The SOESD, funded in part by local property taxes, state timber receipts and the State School Fund, provides services to individual school districts, with the idea that it helps smaller school districts with services they couldn't start or sustain on their own. The SOESD has categorized those into administrative and business services; special education services; and technology, media and school improvement services. Its budget is determined by the population of students it serves and the size of respective districts. The districts within the SOESD range widely in size. Medford School District is the largest.

All of the SOESD school districts that have either considered leaving or loosened ties are on the larger side. In 2013, Grants Pass School District withdrew from SOESD to provide services in-house; this withdrawal, under Oregon law, meant that Grants Pass received 90 percent of its respective state fund allocation in cash rather than through services. At the time, SOESD allowed Grants Pass to buy back a few services with an added surcharge.

In October 2016, both Medford and Central Point said they were interested in a similar course of action, after each ran a cost analysis that indicated they could more efficiently provide some services themselves or go without others.

They ran into an obstacle, however: SOESD no longer allowed districts to buy back only certain services — it was a fully committed relationship or a severed one.

By the time Medford and Central Point reached their March 1 deadline to officially withdraw, both school boards had decided against it. They said they could not afford to provide all their services on their own.

"It forced our decision to stay in at this time," Shumate said in March 2017.

SOESD Superintendent Scott Beveridge said at that time that he anticipated "a continued evaluation" of the plan in the coming year.

"This is a very good outcome," he said Wednesday.

Two-thirds of the component school districts, which together include greater than 50 percent of the students, need to pass the plan for it to be officially adopted. New requirements in the plan include an agreement that districts will use a minimum of 30 percent of their district allocations for SOESD services, and that they'll commit to their special education and technology service selections for the next three years.

A chart that Shumate will present to the Medford board shows Central Point and Medford cutting back on ESD services that aren't part of the essential core, but those selections are still subject to change.

Beveridge said the Grants Pass School District has also indicated it would rejoin the SOESD under the new plan. Districts have until March 1 to approve or reject the local service plan.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com.

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