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A top Medford School District official resigns

The Medford School District's chief financial officer, who instituted a variety of new financial practices expected to save the district millions of dollars over the next two decades, has resigned after a three-year tenure.

Kent Stephens is bound for a new position as vice president of operations at Hartnell Community College in Salinas, Calif. His last day at the Medford district is Jan. 8.

Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long said the district would hire Tom Gaulke as an interim CFO to allow time to find a permanent replacement. Stephens' position is expected to be posted in February. Gaulke helped the district during the transition between the last CFO, Galen Anderson, and the arrival of Stephens.

Stephens left a CFO position at the Salt Lake City School District to join the Medford district in July 2006.

Stephens overhauled the way the school system of about 12,000 pupils sells construction bonds, which is expected to save the district about $50 million in debt over 25 years that taxpayers would have had to pay back. His system strategically sold the $189 million in bonds in four separate sales between 2007 and 2009 instead of selling them as one package. The money went toward renovating and building schools across the district.

He also increased the district's carryover/contingency fund from $4 million to $7 million, helping enhance the district's bond rating and yielding more savings in interest rates.

Some also credit Stephens with turning around a $20 million deficit in Medford's $189 million bond package, approved in 2006.

His shrewd management of the district's money spared Medford from having to make as many cuts as some neighboring districts when the state announced dramatically reduced educational funding, said Katie Tso, a Hoover Elementary parent. The school district was able to keep a five-day week and restored most of the employees it laid off at the end of last school year. In contrast, the Central Point School District was forced to adopt a four-day week in order to have enough money to maintain its staff, while the Ashland School District has had to take out a loan this fall to pay its employees.

"Kent is the best CFO I've ever seen, period," said Karen Starchvick, a Jacksonville Elementary parent and member of nonprofit advocacy group Stand for Children.

"I think we owe a huge debt to him, and his replacement has very big shoes to fill."

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

A top Medford School District official resigns