Medford School District officials say pulling out of the Southern Oregon Education Service District will save the district money because it can provide in-house the services it now pays the ESD to provide. ESD officials say severing the relationship will wind up costing Medford more.

They can’t both be right. But it’s impossible to know, looking in from the outside, whether Medford students will be better off with or without ESD services. District officials need to show their work as they calculate the answer.

The Southern Oregon ESD is one of 20 statewide, each serving multiple school districts. Headquartered in Medford, 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 for small districts that don’t have the resources to provide specialized services on their own. Larger districts like Medford may be able to provide those services themselves, but it’s hard to say which way is more cost-effective.

The SOESD receives $5.5 million in state funding to serve the Medford district. Medford would receive 90 percent of that amount directly if it pulled out of the ESD. Last year, Medford proposed a pullout but wanted the ESD to allow it to buy back services it still needed with a surcharge; the ESD refused.

This year, Medford officials are floating the idea again, looking toward next school year for the separation to allow for months of planning. Medford has until Nov. 1 to notify the ESD of its intent. The deadline for official notification of withdrawal would be March 1.

Medford Superintendent Brian Shumate says the 90 percent state allocation would help the district break even financially the first year. If that means all the ESD services would still be provided, that’s one thing. But as School Board Chairwoman Karen Starchvick warned, students would suffer if there were “any hiccups during the transition phase.”

More than hiccups are at stake. SOESD Superintendent Scott Beveridge says Medford would spend several times more to provide some of the ESD services in-house, including data handling and services to some disabled students.

School district officials are still working out the details. Shumate has promised to be “forthright” about that work. District parents and patrons should expect no less.

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