Now is not the time

School has begun, classes are larger than last year, and parent groups are demanding that the Medford School District spend some of its reserves to hire more teachers.

No matter how attractive that might sound, it's a bad idea that could leave the district worse off than it is now.

The parents' concerns are understandable, especially in elementary schools, where some intermediate level classrooms had as many as 34 or 35 students during the first week of school. The district's targets are 28 students for grades 2-3 and 32 for grades 4-6.

About 25 parents showed up last week to urge the School Board to spend contingency funds to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes. District officials responded that some part-time, temporary hires could be made if classes continued to grow, but spending reserves now would be risky. The district already moved to add 12 teachers in response to class sizes as large as 38 at Hoover Elementary School.

The district's leadership is right on this one. As Superintendent Phil Long pointed out during the budget process this spring, the state has been notoriously bad at predicting future revenue levels, and state coffers continue to decline despite hopeful signs in the economy.

The Legislature will meet early next year for a brief session to adjust the state budget. Before that happens, it appears a referendum seeking to overturn the Legislature's $733 million tax increase package will appear on the ballot in January.

If the tax increase is repealed, which is a distinct possibility, lawmakers will have to make up that revenue in the only way they have left: more cuts.

Not all of that money is school money, but it would have an impact. If the Medford district starts spending its contingency money now, it will have less to fall back on next year to maintain present staffing levels, let alone add new teachers.

School advocates such as Stand for Children argue that Medford has more money in reserve than most districts in the state — too much, they suggest — and some of it should be spent to keep class sizes down.

Medford school leaders, however, have opted to be extremely conservative until they know how much money the district will actually get from the state for this school year. The memory of last winter's scramble to cut $1.4 million in the middle of the school year is still fresh in their minds, as well it should be.

Our advice to frustrated parents: Wait until the winter, when the district's outlook will be far more clear. Then make the case for reducing class sizes.


A federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers is set to expire at the end of November. The editorial in Tuesday's paper incorrectly said the credit would expire at the end of October.

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