Posted on

School board should refine and revisit failed referendum

Medford School Board members should look to the three “Rs” as they move forward following a narrow loss for a proposed $39.9 million referendum to renovate and expand Medford Area Senior High School.

School board members need to research, regroup and revisit the school district’s needs as they move forward. A record number of local voters came out to last week’s election with the school referendum just one item among many on the ballot. The referendum failed by a vote of 3,383 in favor and 3,532 opposed, a difference of 149 votes.

The reality is that the problems the district wanted to address with the referendum are not going to go away on their own. Security remains a concern with the layout of the entranceways, and there is a lack of space for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics classes. The technology and plumbing infrastructure remains woefully inadequate for the current and future needs of the district.

The narrow rejection of the referendum proposal demonstrates that people recognize the need for something to be done, but that a slight majority didn’t agree with what was proposed.

Before they can move forward, the board needs to invest some time and resources in determining why the referendum failed. Was it a matter of poor timing with the unknown of what COVID-19’s impacts will be? Is it that people did not agree with the need for a new gym and theater or perhaps they felt the proposed second gym was too small? Were people concerned about the longterm debt impact? There are plenty of guesses, but in order to move forward, the district needs hard data.

Once the board has done its homework in researching why the referendum failed, they need to regroup and address those concerns to develop a proposal that will meet the needs of the district and be palatable to voters.

It is only after the completion of these other steps that the district should revisit the idea of bringing a referendum to voters. While the middle school is bursting at the seams and the need for new and better-utilized spaces will be keenly felt in coming years, the school board must not rush to bring this back to voters and instead utilize a fourth “R” and refine a plan that balances voter concerns with the longterm needs of the district.

The driving forces of the referendum are not going away simply because 2.1% of voters didn’t like the plan the district presented. The district’s high school is not getting any younger and demands of educational spaces and building infrastructure are likewise not going away.

In order for Medford Area Senior High to serve students for decades to come, district taxpayers will need to make a sizable investment in updating the building. As school and community leaders look to the future and the educational needs of future workers, the board must take the lessons learned from this referendum and bring back a plan that addresses these concerns and meets the educational needs of the community.