Medford district should charge rent to Madrone Trail

In its Dec. 18 editorial, the Mail Tribune makes an argument in favor of Medford School District 549C granting free use of the West Side School to the Madrone Trail Charter School (Madrone). I strongly disagree with the Mail Tribune on this issue, and wish to make the argument that 549C should charge fair-market rent to whomever uses the facility, and that includes Madrone.

First, Madrone is the equivalent of a private school. Granted, the students who attend the school do not pay any tuition. Nevertheless, it's an entity that's separate from 549C. Its only connection with 549C is that it got 549C to sponsor it with the state, which allowed Madrone to receive state funding. Madrone could have chosen to be sponsored by any neighboring school district, but the fact is that they chose to be sponsored by 549C, and 549C graciously acquiesced. Without 549C's generous sponsorship, Madrone probably would not exist.

Madrone is managed by a board of directors that is distinctly separate from the Medford 549C School Board. Registered voters living in the 549C School District are not allowed to vote for the Madrone Trail School Board, or have input in how Madrone is operated, in a manner like they do with 549C. Madrone only answers to the 549C School District in the instance that they don't meet certain standards. Otherwise, they are totally autonomous in daily operations from 549C and its voters. Every one of Madrone's employees is not an employee of 549C. There is a distinct separation between the two entities.

Madrone's director is not qualified to be an administrator in any of the Medford 549C schools, as she holds neither a state administrator's credential nor a graduate degree. Further, a number of Madrone teachers do not meet the same academic standards that are required for 549C teachers. Madrone operates under its own standards separate from 549C, and calls its own shots.

Approximately 30 percent of the students who attend Madrone do not even live within the 549C School District boundaries. It is not the obligation of Medford taxpayers to subsidize the education of children living in other school districts. 549C is in a tumultuous financial state at the moment, and can barely afford to fund class sizes of 37 students, let alone subsidize a separate school. Free rent granted to Madrone equates to less operating income and larger class sizes for 549C students. That's not a viable option.

The West Side School is owned by the Medford School District taxpayers. As such, it's the fiduciary duty of the 549C School Board and administration to protect the district's assets, and to ensure the highest rate of return on leased or sold assets. Further, it is my understanding that there is a party other than Madrone interested in utilizing the West Side School. My personal belief is that the facility should go to the highest bidder.

The Mail Tribune attempts to liken Madrone's situation to that of Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools in arguing for free rent. In reality, there is no similarity between the schools. Jackson and Roosevelt are directly part of the Medford 549C school system. All Jackson and Roosevelt teachers and administrators are employees of 549C. Both Jackson and Roosevelt are directly under the leadership and control of the 549C School Board and administration, as are all schools in the 549C system. Medford voters also have a direct say in the operations for all 549C schools.

Madrone shares none of those characteristics with Jackson and Roosevelt. That's because Madrone is a private school, with private management, an employee group that is separate from 549C, and a 30 percent student population residing outside the 549C district boundaries.

I'm an ardent supporter of quality public education. It's my belief that if you don't like the current product at public schools, you have two choices. Either become involved to make public education better, or choose to enroll your child in a private school. The Madrone parents chose to leave the Medford 549C School District system in order to start their own separate school. While it's their right to choose something different, it's also their obligation to pay the full freight for their choice, and not expect Medford taxpayers to subsidize them for an entity that is separate from 549C. 549C already provided a public school choice. If a person doesn't wish to utilize the existing public option, then they need to pay for their alternative choice out of their own separate funds.

Medford School District does not subsidize St. Mary's, Sacred Heart, Cascade Christian or Grace Christian Schools, because they are private schools. To be consistent, 549C should not subsidize Madrone Trail Charter School with free rent, because it's a private school as well.

Curt Ankerberg is a CPA living and working in Medford. He is a former 549C School Board candidate, and currently volunteers as a math tutor at McLoughlin Middle School in Medford.

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