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Vote yes on investing in future of high school

Star News


Voters in the Medford school district should vote yes on a $39.9 million referendum for educational, security and infrastructure upgrades at Medford Area Senior High School.

The referendum is the culmination of more than two years of work identifying the needs of the district and coming up with an affordable plan to address those needs. As part of the process, the district hired a firm to conduct an independent needs assessment of the high school and evaluate the condition of the overall building. That study showed that while the high school structure is solid, in the more than five decades since it was built educational needs have changed, particularly in science and technology areas. The study also identified significant safety and security concerns.

Public participation and taxpayer input has been a high priority throughout the process. More than 200 residents attended listening sessions and toured the school building with more sessions planned for the coming weeks. About 1,600 residents responded to surveys last March and April providing feedback that helped board members and administration focus the scope to address the community’s priorities.

Taking this input, board members focused the plans on what was needed to keep the high school a viable educational facility for decades to come while being cognizant of the bottom line impact to taxpayers.

The result is a proposal that addresses a broad range of educational and community needs with an emphasis on functionality and practicality.

The project includes important safety and security upgrades, expansion or retooling of classroom spaces, especially within the science, technology, engineering art/agriculture and math areas.

At $39.9 million, the project is less than half of what a new building would cost. According to projections from the district’s financial consultants, the tax impact would average about $53 a year on a $100,000 home. These projections are based on an interest rate of 3.5% to 3.75%, which is very conservative when looking at government borrowing in the region. This summer the city of Medford secured financing at under 1% for a new water tower and Forest County issued bonds with a 1.3% total aggregate interest rate. In addition, with the retirement of previous debt and improved operational efficiencies, the actual impact of the new debt on the school property tax rate will be reduced. These factors make it a near perfect time to move forward with this project to take advantage of the window these historically low rates offer.

While COVID-19 has had an impact on the state and national economy, in some pockets of the economy this impact has been significant, however taken as a whole, Taylor County’s economy is thriving. The area is in the midst of an employment boom and ranks among the top in the state as far as employment rates. Demand for workers is driving up wages and the sales tax figures are showing that local consumers are spending more than ever indicating consumer confidence in long-term economic health.

The Medford school board, its administrative team and their consultants have done their homework and put together a viable plan that will meet community needs for decades to come. It is time for voters to do their part and vote yes for the future of Medford Area Senior High School.