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$68 million decision

Kindergartners at Orchard Hill Elementary go to lunch at 10:45 a.m. daily. They are followed by four more shifts in the school’s cafeteria, which can hold only about 100 students in a school of 430.

Passage of a $68 million bond levy for Phoenix-Talent School District upgrades, maintenance and safety in the Nov. 7 election would bring a new cafeteria to Orchard Hill to alleviate the current spread-out schedule and accommodate expected growth. The bond is the only item in the special election, ballots for which went out Oct. 19.

The bond also would add a new wing beyond the gym, said Principal Shawna Schleif. Due to space restrictions in the current cafeteria, the salad bar is set up in the school gymnasium and used at the same time PE classes are conducted. Students now must be shoehorned in on benches that hold 10 apiece, she said.

“Side by side for a kindergartner compared to a fifth-grader is totally different. It really kind of resembles a little can of sardines,” said Schleif. “The arrangement has an impact on our ability to schedule kids and provide interventions. We have to be creative in terms of our use of time.”

Lunchtime would be shortened with a new facility, and there would be greater flexibility to schedule education options, said Schleif.

District elementary schools and Talent Middle School would get a combined $22.9 million to deal with seismic upgrades, facilities security and other issues (corrected from previous version). Phoenix High School would get $48.3 million for work that would see about two-thirds of the current building demolished and replaced under the levy proposal.

HVAC systems would be replaced at all schools. All three elementary schools would have their roofs replaced. Lighting would be improved and areas that don’t conform would be brought up to ADA standards. Cafeteria work is scheduled at Talent Middle School.

Taxpayers in the Phoenix-Talent School District currently pay 95 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for a 2000 bond that sunsets in 2020. If approved Nov. 7, the new bond would add 54 cents for the first two years, for a total of $1.49 per $1,000 of assessed value. A person with a house assessed at $200,000 would pay $298 per year. After the current bond sunsets, taxpayers would continue paying the $1.49 rate for the remainder of the new bond. (Corrected from a previous version.)

School Board member Dawn Watson, who is part of a Back the Bond group promoting the measure, said she hasn’t seen any organized opposition to it.

“I’ve heard a few people say, ‘I can’t afford for my taxes to go up,’ but that’s not even the majority,” said Watson. Most of the people her group has talked with are in favor of the measure, she said.

Back the Bond hired JWA Consulting to help promote the issue, said Watson. The group didn’t do any formal polling, but informal polling done before the district went out for the bond measure found support, she said.

Former Phoenix City Councilor Carolyn Bartell, co-owner of an auto repair shop, said she hasn’t heard of any opposition to the measure. She said she hears much more about the traffic situation on Main Street, which has been reduced from two lanes to one downtown.

“Most of the people we have talked to know the district buildings are really overdue on the maintenance, and they are in dire need of the infrastructure,” said Bartell. “Most people realize if we delay, it’s going to actually cost more.”

Back the Bond didn’t do any fundraising for its effort after district residents came forward with donations, said Watson. Community members signed on as supporters of a pro-bond argument in the Voters' Pamphlet. No opposing arguments were filed in the pamphlet. A search of Facebook sites and the internet did not find opponents.

Supporters canvassed neighborhoods the last two weekends and are doing phone banks. There are yard signs in Talent, Phoenix and part of Medford, said Watson. Paid ads have been placed on Facebook and in the monthly Talent News and Review.

The Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter in support of the bond vote, said Watson. The district begins south of Barnett Road but the area was annexed in Medford as it grew.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Second-grader Marcus Cordova, 7, goofs around during lunchtime Wednesday at Orchard Hill Elementary School. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]