School district bond measure feels rushed

Career and technical education is the newest must-have for schools, and we're all for it. Asking voters to contribute $25 million for two new buildings in the May election inspires a little less enthusiasm.

From a purely educational standpoint, offering more occupational skill training that provides an alternative to college for high school students is long overdue. The plan is to add carpentry, plumbing and electrical classes along with a course in heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Those skills are in demand now as the construction industry rebounds from the recession.

That explains the sense of urgency on the part of the Medford School Board, but it's not necessarily a good idea to leap forward with a bond measure three months from today.

For starters, the district isn't ready to tell voters how much the bond issue would cost them. Spokeswoman Natalie Hurd said district officials want to be sure of the specifics first. That means even less time to persuade voters they should approve the request.

Additionally, there is the problem of the existing $189 million construction bond district patrons are still paying off, and will be until 2033. Last month, Chief Operations Officer Brad Earl described a possible financing method called "wrapping around" that would have district property owners pay only the interest on the new bonds until the old bonds are retired, then switch to paying the principal of the new bonds. That would keep taxpayers' payments close to level because the district refinanced the existing bonds in 2015, reducing taxpayers' cost per $1,000 of assessed value.

But officials have said the district is likely to need a new middle school soon. If the $25 million request passes, that would make a much larger request for one or two new middle schools harder to pass down the road. District officials said a year ago that a project to build one new middle school and repurpose Central Medford High School into Central Middle could be three to five years off. That would be before the 2033 retirement of the $189 million bond, and the new $25 million request would extend beyond that.

School Board Chairwoman Karen Starchvick said some of the $25 million, earmarked for improvements to existing facilities, could be used at Central Medford High School to relieve pressure on the district's two middle schools. If that would delay the need to ask voters to build a new middle school, that needs to be clearly explained to voters.

In any case, the district has its work cut out to persuade voters to back a new tax request in the May 15 election.




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