ESD compromise seems to be a good one

The Southern Oregon Education Service District has done the right thing by agreeing to a compromise with school districts that want to limit the services they receive from it. Now it's up to the districts to accept or reject the new plan. In the process, the larger districts such as Medford need to ensure that their students receive all the services they need.

The Southern Oregon ESD, headquartered in Medford, is one of 20 statewide. SOESD serves districts in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties, providing special education, instructional support, and network and information technology services. ESD support is especially important to small districts that lack the resources to provide them on their own. 

Larger districts, looking to squeeze as much as possible from tight budgets, reason that they can provide some services themselves for less money. SOESD receives $5.5 million for the services it provides the Medford district, for example. Medford would keep 90 percent of that money if it withdrew.

The two largest districts, Medford and Central Point, notified the SOESD in 2016 that they might pull out, but district officials wanted the ability to buy back services they still needed by paying a surcharge. The SOESD refused, and the districts stayed in for another year.

Since last fall, SOESD's 13 districts worked to draw up a new formula that would persuade the big districts to stay. Finding a compromise was important, because losing the big-district funds could threaten the services the smaller districts rely on. The most popular plan they came up with would designate an "essential core" of services every district must participate in, but allow districts flexibility on the rest.

That makes sense for the SOESD, and its board has approved the plan. It makes sense for Medford and Central Point, too, which potentially could save money by providing some services in-house.

Medford Superintendent Brian Shumate will present the proposal to the Medford School Board this week; a vote is expected next month. Two-thirds of the SOESD's districts, representing 50 percent of the total number of students, must agree to the plan before it can take effect.

The plan seems to be a good one for all concerned, as long as districts limiting their involvement maintain important services.

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