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Republicans mount opposition to Medford school bond

The Medford School District’s CTE bond campaign is facing official opposition.

The Jackson County Republican Party is backing a “no” vote on Measure 15-175, which asks Medford taxpayers to approve a $25 million bond to fund two new career and technical education buildings at North and South Medford high schools. So far, the party has geared its efforts toward social media posts and yard signs.

Kevin Husted, a Republican precinct chairman and chairman of the school district’s budget committee, helped kickstart the organized public opposition last week. Husted submitted a guest opinion published in the Mail Tribune May 3 outlining reasons why he thinks the bond proposal should not pass.

“I decided I was going to be a no and was going to be a firm no,” Husted said.

The bond proposes a new building each at North and South Medford high schools, with one structure being demolished at North before the new one could be built. The buildings are designated for CTE facilities expanding plumbing and electrical classes, and launch new carpentry and HVAC programs. Plans at this point have included wood shops, computer-assisted design labs and electrical shops, among other work spaces.

In his guest opinion and a later interview, Husted said crowded Medford elementary schools, the possibility of building a single central facility (referencing Central Point School District’s approach) and increased payments to the Public Employee Retirement System were reasons to defeat a new bond.

Husted echoed statements made by Jim Horner, the only Medford School Board member to vote against going out for the bond in February. Both have said they support funding for CTE, but not through the current $25 million bond.

“I was a little bit disheartened when it became a $25 million bond for new buildings, new equipment, without much thought,” Husted said.

Board members doubled down on statements refuting the suggestion that they didn’t think the proposal through.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” said board Vice-Chair Michael Campbell. “Not necessarily building buildings, but discussion about continuing to expand CTE programs for kids is something that’s been discussed for years.”

Campbell addressed other issues Husted raised. He said the district feels it “can weather the storm” with regard to increasing PERS payments, and that Medford class sizes are generally aligned with state averages (26 students per class in Medford to the state’s average 25).

“I would not use overcrowding to describe what’s happening in our elementary schools,” Campbell said, citing increases to teaching staff and modular classrooms as partial fixes. An enrollment forecast from January 2017 has predicted a 2,579-student growth from 2015 to 2035.

Husted said that he had decided to push an opposition campaign after conversations with board members such as Jeff Kinsella, who supports the bond, and Horner, who has voiced concerns about it even after it passed the board. Husted said the conversations gave him the impression that “there was one board member that really wanted to make it happen sooner rather than later.”

He later said he was referring to board Chair Karen Starchvick.

Starchvick and other board members pointed to their vote on whether to go out for the bond in response.

“This was the entire board’s decision to go forward or we wouldn’t have voted the way we did,” said board member Suzanne Messer in a text. “Would I do it again — absolutely!!”

Kinsella said he felt “blindsided” by Husted’s opinion piece following their conversation after a May 1 budget committee meeting.

“We’re putting in countless hours (campaigning),” Kinsella said. “We wouldn’t be doing that if we didn’t believe in it.”

Both campaigns said they plan on focusing their efforts leading up to the election more on getting out the vote than persuading people to vote one way or another.

Vote by mail ballots are due by May 15, when results will be tallied.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.