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Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford robotics teacher Wade Kadrmas helps sophomore Alex Vargas with his robot construction. Robotics, carpentry and other professions would have been aided by passage of a $25 million bond.

Story not over for Medford CTE efforts

It became clear in the earliest morning hours Wednesday that the Medford School District’s $25 million bond had failed — though few were still awake then to see it.

Board member Suzanne Messer was, however. She sent other board members a text while they slept. Although the first round of election results seemed to leave some room for hope, the needle was not moving in their favor. As they awoke, bond supporters checking the latest numbers on Measure 15-175 got the news. No votes: 52.11 percent. Yes votes: 47.9 percent.

“It feels like a punch in the stomach,” said Jeff Kinsella, another board member.

Board Chair Karen Starchvick, who headed the bond campaign to raise two new buildings for career and technical education programs at North and South Medford high schools, seemed to see the outcome a bit differently.

“It would’ve been wonderful to get this the first time out,” she said. “But that is also a pretty unrealistic expectation in terms of money measures in Medford.”

With the defeat, Medford will have to re-evaluate the growth of its course offerings and make use of existing spaces. But voters on both sides of the bond have expressed a desire to keep working out the best way to bolster CTE classes in the school district.

“Personally, I think the 10,000-foot view of what this bond was doing is exactly what we need,” said Nick Card, chair of Jackson County Republicans, which launched an opposition campaign at the start of May. “One of the things that we’re always looking at when it comes to governance is making sure it’s responsible governance — using money in a way that gets the most value for the voters. Our evaluation of the measure was that it did not.”

Medford Superintendent Brian Shumate, who was out of town on personal business and not available for comment, released a statement through district spokeswoman Natalie Hurd at the news of the defeat.

“While we will not have facilities to expand career and technical education, we will continue to try to expand our pathways program to the best of our abilities using the resources we have,” the statement said. “I would like to thank the community for their consideration in this effort.”

The bond, had it passed, would have funded new spaces for existing plumbing and electrical programs, as well as new carpentry, heating, and ventilation and air conditioning programs.

A March 2018 report from the Oregon Employment Department showed that carpenters, electricians and cooks rank among the top 20 jobs, according to vacancy rates in the Rogue Valley.

Drew Waits, an organizer with local plumbing union UA 290, said at a Jan. 22 board meeting that trained plumbers were “a dying breed” in the valley.

Shortages of skilled laborers are why both opponents and supporters of the bond say the conversation isn’t over yet.

“We’re going to move forward,” Kinsella said. “The need hasn’t been diminished.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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