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The school district botched Wisely's retirement, but vote for bonds anyway

Some Medford School District patrons were understandably taken aback by the news that Superintendent Steve Wisely quietly retired July — but continues to work for his annual salary while collecting full retirement benefits. We were surprised, too, but we still support the district's much-needed bond measure and we hope voters won't use the retirement episode as an excuse to vote against it.

It is important to note that what the school district did is not illegal. Nor is it rare ' in all, 15 district employees are working under similar arrangements, and the practice is common across the state among school and other government employees.

It's also true that these arrangements save the district money ' a total of &

36;162,000, which is not chump change in a time of tight budgets.

What bothers us and many others is the appearance of the deal, the timing, and the Medford School Board's decision not to announce it publicly until well after the Nov. 5 election.

The appearance issue is one of fairness. Wisely, dedicated public servant though he may be, is availing himself of a deal that is not available to most of the patrons of his district who work for a living.

He's being paid at nearly twice the normal rate for his final six months of work. Nice work if you can get it, but most of us can't.

The timing is beyond unfortunate. In a year when the Legislature had to hold five special sessions to balance the state budget, and obligations to retirees in the Public Employee Retirement System threaten to bankrupt local governments, a high-profile public employee drawing PERS benefits on top of his six-figure salary just looks bad.

The decision to keep quiet about the deal is even more troubling. The board approved the arrangement in a public meeting, as it should have, but revealed no details of the arrangement and agreed not to discuss the matter publicly until January, when Wisely actually leaves his job.

The intent may have been honorable ' let's not distract people from the task at hand, which is meeting the district's current and future space needs ' but the move now may have backfired. The attempt to avoid distraction has itself become the distraction.

That's a shame. We still believe the bond measure on the Nov. 5 ballot is a necessary step to continue Medford's tradition of providing quality schools for its children. The danger now is that voters' response to what they perceive as a sweetheart deal will torpedo any chance the measure had of passage.

Check those cams

Come January, it's going to be tougher to get from one end of town to the other if you're used to using the Interstate 5 viaduct.

On Jan. 2 the Oregon Department of Transportation will begin an &

36;18 million, around-the-clock, five-month project to refurbish the viaduct that bisects Medford.

There are few direct routes from the south end of town to the north ' or vice-versa ' so many motorists use the freeway. When the viaduct project begins, traffic lanes over the structure will be cut in half, from four to two.

So what are you going to do? On Tuesday, ODOT installed some devices that might help. The agency put in four Web cameras, two at the north interchange and two at the south, which will allow motorists with Internet access to check on freeway traffic conditions before venturing out.

More than 45,000 vehicles cross the viaduct daily. That figure grows to 50,000 during the summer. Some 40 percent of that is local traffic.

ODOT is urging motorists to use alternate routes during construction, for obvious reasons. So, if you have Internet access, check the Web cams before you head into town.The addresses are or . The time you save may be your own.