City gets update on school district issues, plans
The Medford City Council on Tuesday night got a briefing on what the Medford Area Public School District is doing including updates on school opening under COVID-19 restrictions and the future of the district’s high school.
District administrator Pat Sullivan told council members the district is awaiting a list of parameters from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) about what they must do to reopen this fall. He said they are expecting to receive that direction on Monday.
Until then, the district is working on plans for a variety of scenarios that would limit the number of students in the buildings or alter how meals or passing in the hallways is allowed.
Alderman Dave Roiger noted that even the DPI could change its plans. “You have to plan for everything,” Roiger said.
Sullivan also updated council members on the possibility of seeking a waiver to open earlier than the scheduled Sept. 1 start date. Sullivan said the school board will be taking up the possibility of applying for a waiver at their June 22 meeting.
“No decisions have been made,” he said. The idea of starting earlier would be if a second waive of the pandemic hit and schools were closed in the winter, they would have had additional educational time with the students. “There is some merit to that idea,” he said, noting that it is a gamble because they are not planning to increase instruction days.
Sullivan also updated council members on the results of a survey done this spring that was intended to determine public support or interest in potential projects at the district’s high school.
The clear takeaway from the data, Sullivan said, is that while there is signifi cant support for continuing to make improvements and renovations to the current high school, there is almost no support for building a new high school.
“That is dead on arrival,” Sullivan said, dispelling any suggestion that he or the district is pushing for a new high school to be built.
According to Sullivan, the survey shows that a majority of likely voters in the district would support a referendum in the $35 million to $40 million range and the school board will be looking at what can be done for that amount. Sullivan noted this could mean that instead of a three station gym they may look at a two station or one station gym and instead of a 700 seat auditorium go to a 500 seat auditorium. He said regardless it would be an improvement over what was currently in place.
Sullivan said it was also an option for the district to hold off on seeking a referendum at all while the COVID-19 situation is underway with its uncertainties.
“We have to take into consideration the pandemic and what it has done to our voters,” he said. “Maybe we decide to wait, maybe we don’t go at all.”
Alderman Mike Bub questioned the district on the land purchased by the elementary school. Sullivan said in the future he would see that developed for additional soccer and baseball fields, but noted those items are “long-term stuff.” For right now, he said the land is being used by the FFA program to produce hay that will be used to feed animals in the school barn.
Bub also questioned about the proposed new concession building at the high school football field. Sullivan said the plan had been to look at building the structure this summer, but that with uncertainty about future funding because of lost sales tax revenue at the state level due to COVID-19 closures, that they decided to pull back on it this year. He said the hope would be to have it done next spring and summer.
In other business, council members:
_ Approved a series of resolutions with the goal of issuing $4.49 million in bonds with $770,000 going to sewer projects and $3.72 million for refinancing existing bonds including the short-term borrowing for the third city water tower.
_ Approved the annual compliance maintenance report for the wastewater treatment plan. As in past years, the plan received a near-perfect score.
_ Approved the creation of a search committee to begin the process to replace city clerk Virginia Brost who is retiring at the end of the year. The committee is made up of mayor Mike Wellner, Bub, finance chairman Dave Brandner, city coordinator John Fales and Brost as an ex officio member. The committee will narrow the applicants with the finalists to be interviewed by the city council.
_ Approved a revised cooperation agreement for a planned resurfacing of Hwy 64 and Hwy 13 in 2024. The city would be responsible for any utility work, parking lanes and curb work with the state paying for the bulk of the project. The city’s portion will be about $144,000 for the Hwy 64 portion. The Hwy 13 portion is still being finalized.
_ Approved allowing Rumblefest to proceed on the last weekend in July. This is the first major public event scheduled in the park this summer. Organizers of the long-running annual car show said they have been in contact with the county health department to ensure safety is maintained.
_ Approved continuing to pay pool employees through June 22 when the council will decide on if the pool should be opened. “What is the criteria that makes you think we will open the pool? I don’t want to compensate them if I don’t think we will open the pool,” Bub said. Streets/Water superintendent Joe Harris said they would likely lose the employees if they were not paid leaving the city in a situation of having no workers if they decided to open the pool. Wellner said the pool opening discussion needed to wait until next week’s meeting because it was not on the agenda for this one, however, he noted that if the city voted to open the pool, staff would be put to work in selling passes and training for several days until the pool was ready to open.