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Group wants $20 million cut from South Medford project

A grass-roots group concerned with the direction of the Medford School District's $189 million bond program has called on the School Board to slash $20 million from a project to build a new high school.

Members of Save Medford Schools, which formed to push for the reopening of two elementary schools closed because of structural weaknesses, said the cost of building a new South Medford High School has put other projects in jeopardy.

The high school's price tag was originally set at $63 million, but has since climbed to $83 million, a 32 percent increase.

"Our belief is building South will bankrupt the other projects down the road," said Katie Tso, of Save Medford Schools. "We are not saying, 'Don't build South.' If there is money left over, that can go toward South."

The group of about 20 members celebrated on Dec. 20 when School Board members indicated they would push for a vote on Jan. 8 to renovate and rebuild Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools.

Board members said they would propose trimming about $1 million from the $83 million price to build a new South Medford at the intersection of Columbus and Cunningham avenues. That would help the district reach the $24 million needed for the Jackson and Roosevelt renovations.

Save Medford Schools members argued that all of the other projects, including Jackson and Roosevelt, should be completed before South Medford is allocated more than the $63 million originally approved in a November 2006 bond measure. Any remaining funds could then be used for the South Medford project, their proposal stated.

"At that point, we would be honoring the language of the bond, which barely passed," said Roosevelt parent Jennifer Deltour.

Three School Board members reached late Monday said they intended to move forward with the $82 million budget for new construction of South Medford.

"The board has determined we can't afford further delay on South (because of inflation)," said board Chairman Mike Moran. "Their plan would kill the South project."

The board previously considered leaving Jackson and Roosevelt closed and realigning attendance boundaries to absorb the two schools' students. Doing so would have freed up funds from renovations at the two schools to be used for other bond projects, which were all escalating in cost.

The district has a glut of vacant elementary seats and could have managed without Jackson and Roosevelt by sending sixth-graders to the district's middle schools. The existing South Medford building would have served as an additional middle school to Hedrick and McLoughlin under that proposal.

But an outcry from the community prompted the board to back away from that plan.

Jackson and Roosevelt are both neighborhood schools to which many students walk from their homes, and both provide social services to indigent pupils.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.