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Medford School District announces $15 million budget shortfall over next two years

A Medford School District office in downtown Medford, Oregon on March 1, 2024.
Erik Neumann
A Medford School District office in downtown Medford, Oregon on March 1, 2024.

The Rogue Valley's largest school district is planning $7.5 million in cuts this year.

The proposed budget for the next school year includes cutting at least 32 staff positions across the district.

The majority of those will be teacher positions, most of which will be cut through regular attrition, like retirements. But, around 5-10 staff could be laid off as soon as this summer, according to Assistant Superintendent of Operations Brad Earl.

Additional staff will be cut from district and school administration, and school support staff like custodians.

“School districts across the state and the nation are facing major budget shortfalls due to rising costs and declining enrollment,” said Superintendent Bret Champion on Friday. “And the Medford School District is not immune from this.”

In total, the district is facing a $15 million shortfall over the next two school years. A combination of decreased enrollment, a loss of state funding and inflation have contributed to the deficit.

Earl said there will have to be another $8 million in cuts next year to fill that financial gap. That will most likely mean more staffing cuts, he said, because personnel costs make up around 80% of the district’s budget.

“This year they are fairly manageable in size. It’s not a large cut in the first year,” Earl said. “But the second year will be much worse if we don’t get any specific funding from the state.”

Earl said the district will be using $1.9 million in reserve funding to help minimize the impacts of the budget cuts.

He said the district is asking the state to allocate a higher percentage of its budget to public schools. According to the Oregon Department of Education’s Quality Education Commission, the state has consistently failed to provide enough funding for schools since at least 1999. For 2023-25, there is an at least $1.5 billion gap between public school funding provided and what’s recommended by the commission.

Champion also said the district is reducing funding to preschool partners, cutting some summer programming and halting planned construction at its new specialty high school, Innovation Academy.

The district's libraries will also see some staffing reductions. All certified teacher librarians in the district’s middle and high schools will be cut. One teacher librarian will be hired to oversee all K-12 libraries. And classified media technicians will instead manage the libraries.

The district is also looking at combining some of its elementary schools that are underfilled. There’s been a 24% drop in elementary school enrollment since 2019. A decision on consolidations is expected early next year.

The superintendent will be presenting this proposed budget to the district’s budget committee on May 2. And approval by the school board is expected in June, before the budget takes effect on July 1 along with the staffing cuts.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.