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School Board sets town hall meeting

A series of Medford School Board town hall meetings in December 2007 was pivotal in the board's decision to rebuild the century-old Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools and marked the beginning of a biannual practice.

Now on the cusp of reopening the renovated elementary schools, the school board wants to hear from the public once again at a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Oak Grove Elementary School, 2838 W. Main St., Medford.

Unlike the meetings in December 2007, there will be no agenda. Speakers may address any issue related to the school district, past, present or future, according to the school board.

"We see that there are so many things going on in the district," said board Vice Chairwoman Tricia Prendergast. "Depending on who you are and where you live, different issues have shifting importance. It feels like a healthy time in the district, and we are interested in what people bring to the table."

Issues that could come up include the opening of Jackson and Roosevelt in January and what to do with the old South Medford High School building on South Oakdale Avenue after a new high school opens at Columbus and Cunningham avenues.

Two years ago, the school board held town hall meetings on the future of Jackson and Roosevelt. At the time, the school board was considering whether to close the two schools, which both had structural problems, and use money from a November 2006 bond package to create a third middle school that would expand the middle school grades from seventh and eighth to sixth through eighth. The proposal spurred outcry from parents of Jackson and Roosevelt pupils as well as alumni, employees and environmentalists who approved of the two schools because the majority of students could walk to classes rather than take the bus. Meanwhile, some critics accused the district of mismanaging bond funds and earmarking a disproportional amount of money toward the construction of a new high school.

Steve Plunk, then a North Medford High School parent, suggested that the board hold town hall meetings to address the public's mounting frustration over escalating bond project costs and proposals to permanently mothball Jackson and Roosevelt.

About 75 people turned out for the board's inaugural town hall meeting Dec. 18, 2007, a good showing for a district in which it's ordinary to see very few members of the public present at bimonthly school board meetings.

Board member Larry Nicholson said that town hall meeting helped to convince the board of the importance of Jackson and Roosevelt and is an example of the power of the public's voice.

"Jackson and Roosevelt are a good example of a town hall meeting where we listened and reacted to their concerns," Nicholson said. "This is another opportunity for folks to come and voice their thoughts about what's happening in the district."

The district's town hall meetings include only three school board members to avoid a quorum. Prendergast, Nicholson and new member Jeff Thomas will reside over Wednesday's town hall.

"One of the big things people wanted was more transparency," Thomas said. "I would hope people would show up with questions, comments and concerns, things we could address that night or take back for discussion at a board study session and make sure that we are doing the public's work."

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