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Tough choices ahead for Medford area schools

Tough choices ahead for Medford area schools Tough choices ahead for Medford area schools

The Medford School Board last week made the right call in adding an English teacher at the high school.

English is a fundamental core subject of education at all levels. Reading and writing are two of the classic “Three Rs” of education. The addition allows the district to continue to offer college credit classes for advanced students as well as spreading out the load for the other teachers.

Unlike other subjects, high schoolers must take four years of English in order to graduate.

The school board made the right call in adding the position, placing the education of students at the forefront, where it belongs. It is now up to the administration to figure out how to put the cost of an additional teacher into the already unbalanced budget without pushing the district closer to the edge of the impending fiscal cliff.

Board member Brian Hallgren’s concerns about the district’s finances are well-founded. The state legislature chose to play political games and force local districts to use one-time federal grant money to pay for teacher salaries and other operational expenses. At the same time, the legislature is calling for a token tax reduction in the state budget.

While it is always nice to have a little bit of extra cash in the pockets of taxpayers, the better option for the legislature would have been to be more aggressive in paying down the state’s longterm debts. This would in turn free up additional funds in the future — money that could provide inflationary increases to school districts for years to come.

School districts will have to make tough choices when it comes to balancing their wants and needs. Prioritizing will be key to this task. One metric is looking at the direct contact between staff members and students. This would largely shield educators at the lower grades while potentially putting targets on higher grades and more specialized subject areas.

The challenge of judging the value of classes based on the number of students in the classroom seats tends to do a disservice to high achieving students. This can have consequences by serving as a deterrent for families of high achievers from attending Medford schools. They might decide to go elsewhere and take classes that will allow them to advance toward their educational and career goals. The handful of students who head off on career paths to become doctors and lawyers deserve as much of a quality and challenging public education as those who will go directly into the workforce following graduation.

That said, the process to determine where to make cuts needs to happen somewhere. The cliff edge is in sight, but Medford still has time to adjust its course and make the necessary cuts to avoid going over. Administration and school board members must look closely at where savings can be achieved while maintaining the highest standards for educating students. It is a challenging task and one that won’t be easy, requiring the deft hand of a surgeon with a scalpel rather than a logger with a chainsaw.

School board members made the right call in placing the educational needs of students the paramount concern. They sent the clear message that while cuts will be coming in the future, the district won’t compromise on educational quality.

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