School Board hears, responds

The Medford School Board has heard the message — over and over and over again: Rebuild Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools. Now it appears they will do just that.

Board member Larry Nicholson, who has stepped to the fore on a contentious school bond issue, led the way on the change of heart. Or maybe it's more accurate to say the community led him. Everywhere he went — chamber of commerce meetings, Boy Scout meetings, the store, he would hear from people that the elementary schools should be rebuilt.

That message was driven home in a town hall meeting Tuesday night. Nicholson said he awoke Thursday morning and knew which way the board should go. It apparently didn't take a lot of arm-twisting, because by later that afternoon, the board and school administration were discussing plans to reopen the schools.

The brief recap on this story: Medford School District voters approved a $189 million bond in November of 2006, but within six months it appeared there would not be enough money to do all they were promised. Two elementary schools — Jackson and Roosevelt — were deemed unsafe due to earthquake hazards and school officials seemed prepared to find the savings they needed by closing those schools permanently.

That caused an uproar among a variety of people, in particular the parents of kids in those two schools. How, they asked, could the board pass a bond promising to enhance every school in the district and then decide to close two of them?

The protests hit home, and on Thursday the board signaled that it was ready to do the right thing, and the wise thing, by rebuilding the schools.

It has been a long and often unpleasant six or seven months for the board and administration. That was at least partially self-inflicted, as the board went down a path that many in the community found hard to support.

But in the end, they made the right call. The district will still get a new high school and the two elementary schools will be rebuilt, all of which was spelled out in the bond measure. A late-hatched plan to create a third middle school — not included in the bond measure — was scrapped.

The district also has reworked the cost figures in its current planning to get a better grip on the coming expenses. The original plan did not account for inflation; this plan does. The original plan did not build in an adequate contingency fund; this plan does. The original plan sent the district into an enormous construction project with a blindfold on; this plan does not.

Yes, school officials and board members deserved criticism for the way the project was handled. There were a lot of mistakes made along the way. But they also deserve praise now for listening to the public and trying to do the right thing. Their hearts have always been in the right place; now their priorities are there as well.

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