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District should do its homework

Medford needs a third middle school; but high school options deserve study

Now they're talking.

Listen to Medford school board members in a discussion this month about whether to again ask voters to pay for new buildings:

Seeking money for a third middle school, one said, is a no-brainer. What should be done at the high school level is less clear.

That's it exactly.

The district is regrouping after last year's failure of a &

36;79 million bond measure that would have paid for a middle school, a skills center high school and limited remodeling at North and South high schools.

— The board decided Oct. — to put the middle school question on the November 2004 ballot. It seemed to acknowledge that although crowding is a problem at both the middle and high school levels, the community has yet to buy into a single high school plan.

Superintendent Steve Wisely, who retired in June, was the architect of the proposed skills center, a vocational training school that would have housed everything from computer repair to cooking classes. It would have been unique in Southern Oregon.

But despite a hard push from the district, many voters remained ambivalent about whether it was what this community needed.

We don't think there's any reason to believe the picture is clearer today.

The case is easily made for a third middle school. Even though Hedrick and McLoughlin are the state's largest, many sixth-graders remain stuck in elementary schools.

Meanwhile, the district failed in its 2002 campaign to adequately answer a number of community questions about the high school-level plans, chief among them why a third high school wasn't a serious consideration.

New issues exist now that Wisely's time has passed. Does the district remain as sold on the skills center now that its biggest fan has retired? Does it know whether such nontraditional schools remain popular elsewhere? Has it investigated whether remodeling could improve vocational space more cheaply?

The community needs to hear answers to these questions and others before it votes again on the high school proposal.

New Supt. Dick Gregory has urged the board to put more discussion about the bond measure on hold for a few months.

A series of district buildings and boundaries studies will be complete in December, and the district is attempting to organize a group of community members to help spread its bond measure message.

It has more to do as well, starting with careful consideration of what that message is. As the board member said, most folks are ' or should be ' clear that Medford needs a new middle school.

Its high school needs are another question entirely.