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School, city working together helps achieve more for community

The city of Medford and the Medford Area Public School District will be working together to try to bring federal grant dollars to the community to add onto the high school and provide emergency storm shelter space for area residents.

The grant program is through the federal FEMA program and, if successful, would bring $5 million for the proposed project. While being primarily a shelter space, the project would also add technology education classrooms and include a gym space for physical education classes and community use.

As with any grant application, there is no guarantee the Medford community will receive the money and without the grant the work will not be done. The school district was unsuccessful in getting the grant last year and the hope is that with the city of Medford signing on, it will give the Medford area a competitive edge over other communities.

What makes this cooperation notable is that it is unusual.

Wisconsin is made up of overlapping government jurisdictions. School boards handle education. Cities/towns and villages take care of the local roads, parks, police and other basic services. Counties run the jail, courts, human services, maintain highways and a range of other services.

While there is regular interaction between the different levels of government, there is also a tendency for everyone to operate in their own “silos.” In the corporate world, silo mentality occurs within large companies where each division or work group focuses on their own area and doesn’t share information or volunteer cooperation with other divisions or work groups.

When it comes to serving taxpayers and the community as a whole, silo mentality is especially troublesome in government, leading to duplication of efforts rather than sharing resources. In recent years, leaders in the county, city and schools have made efforts internally to break down the silo mentality and get everyone to recognize they are on the same team. It is common to see the county buildings and grounds, forestry and highway departments sharing equipment or working jointly on a project.

However, that process has been falteringly slow when dealing with intergovernmental interactions.

Even those areas, such as law enforcement, where there has traditionally been strong interaction and cooperation between the city and county there have been some bumpy stretches in recent years.

One of the biggest challenges toward cooperation is the need for building trust, not only at the worker level, but at the leadership level. Trust that the people in the building on the hill or down by the river are competent and are looking out for the best interests of all taxpayers is a necessary part of any cooperative venture. Trust is hard to build when you see the other governments as competitors vying for the same limited local tax resources.

This is fundamentally why cooperation is needed. When governments share resources and work together, they are able to achieve more than working independently. Just as many hands make for light work, many voices are more likely to be heard when calling for action on the state or federal level.

The agreement between the school and city protects the interests of both governments, while working to the greater good of the Medford community. Hopefully things can get to the point where such levels of cooperation are routine and don’t involve rounds with attorneys and multiple meetings to accomplish. The city and school district’s efforts to work together to apply for a FEMA grant are a step in the right direction for that to happen.

Members of The Star News editorial board include Publisher Carol O’Leary, General Manager Kris O’Leary and News Editor Brian Wilson.