More than half of Medford School District’s proposed 33 new employees next year would work in special education and student services, according to the 2018-19 budget draft distributed this week.
Those positions would primarily focus on early childhood intervention, behavior support, student mental health and students with special needs. District officials said they expect to allocate most of the new resources to elementary schools because of increased enrollment and “significant behavior challenges” among some current students.
“We want to make sure that we can provide services quickly and efficiently that are very close to the kids that need the service,” said Medford schools Superintendent Brian Shumate.
The cost of the 33 additional positions account for $2.5 million of the overall $149.9 million budget proposed by district administrators for next year. That’s a $1.7 million increase over the current budget; like this year, the proposed budget would leave just slightly more than the required 5 percent minimum in reserves at $8.1 million.
Shumate listed five guiding priorities in the message he delivered to the Budget Committee Monday night, four of which were the same as the previous year. “Educating the whole child,” the category into which the staff increases to student services fall, was added to next year’s priorities.
“We’re really trying to focus money on social and emotional health, including student behaviors, trauma-informed practices, pushing forward with CTE initiatives, and while maintaining a balanced budget,” Shumate said.
Another area that would see staff increases is the district’s expansion of career Pathway courses at the high school level. This would include creating two administrative positions: a Pathways director and online school developer to coordinate what the superintendent has touted as two avenues to engage students and increase graduation.
The school district broadened its Pathway offerings this year by hiring plumbing and electrical instructors, and it is going out for a bond in the May 15 election to build two new facilities at North and South Medford high schools.
Spending overall is projected to increase by $1.72 million, which is slightly over the $1.48 million projected increase in revenue.
One source of additional funds to balance the budget comes from an increased state weighting that determines per-student funding that will yield a $200,000 increase, according to the proposed budget. Additional funding also comes from projected increased student enrollment as a result of the first year of open enrollment at the high school level. The majority of the open enrollment increase, however, is going to charter schools (the district keeps 20 percent of charter school state funding, while the remaining 80 percent is passed to the schools themselves).
The district also plans to reduce its contributions next year to both its own reserve fund for Public Employee Retirement System payments and its projects reserve, by $1.84 million and $1.19 million, respectively.
The proposed budget will also invest additional money into hiring more technology positions to maintain the district’s growing supply of Chromebooks. It expects to purchase up to 1,000 more and repair 112 Chromebooks already in schools, said district spokeswoman Natalie Hurd and Chief Operations Officer Brad Earl.
Part of Medford’s projected costs associated with network and IT professionals is shaped by its altered relationship with the Southern Oregon Education Service District. Since SOESD approved changes to its local service plan that allowed its member school districts to choose services in a menu style, Medford has decided to bring its own IT services in-house. Altogether, it stands to receive $1.09 million in cash instead of services from the SOESD for all non-special-education services.
Strengthening technology and associated services would reinforce the district’s goals of increasing online education options. The superintendent has said that online courses can not only help students recover credits quickly if they fall behind, but can also engage students who may be better suited for the flexibility of online courses, including home-schooled students.
The district has a goal to increase graduation rates to 90 percent by 2020. Graduation numbers for 2017 released in January 2018 showed that the district fell almost 2 percent short of its 2017 benchmark of 80 percent graduation. College- and career-focused initiatives continue to be where the district looks to boost graduation rates.
“How we fund is based on that belief of every kid being connected and affiliated with the process and to find things that interest them,” Shumate said.
All budget committee meetings are public and held at the board meeting room at 815 S. Oakdale Ave. A public hearing is scheduled for the May 21 board meeting at 7 p.m. The budget adoption is scheduled for the June 4 board meeting, also at 7 p.m.