Ashland district may cut five school days

ASHLAND — The school district may cut five days from the calendar this year to deal with state funding shortfalls, and officials are looking toward layoffs to meet next year's budget goals. Gov. Ted Kulongoski released an economic forecast last week that included spending cuts across the board for state agencies.

The revised spending figures are likely to reduce funds for Ashland schools by about $380,000 for the current year, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro told a crowd of about 40 students, teachers and community members at Monday night's budget meeting.

The district also is looking at about $2.4 million in reductions for next year's budget, which they begin to prepare in January. The exact target will be set after Kulongoski releases his budget on Dec. 1, Di Chiro said.

She said eliminating five days of school this year would save about $80,000 per day, and she proposed a two-week spring break as the least-disruptive option.

The state allows school districts to miss instructional time standards for one year in tough economic situations and it will not affect the schools' accreditation, she said.

No decisions can be made without consulting employee bargaining groups, she said.

"I think we really do need to consider eliminating some school days," she said. "To me that's less disruptive than laying people off and reorganizing staff, particularly since we're doing that next year."

She said the district has used similar measures before, cutting 10 days from the calendar in the 2002-03 school year, which resulted in more homework for students.

The district also has closed two elementary schools and shortened the high school schedule from eight to seven class periods to deal with declining enrollment and budget shortfalls.

No layoffs were made in last year's budget, but nothing new was added, and the district is trying not to fill positions that become available during the year, Di Chiro said. Even minor changes, like turning the heat down a few degrees, have been made to save money.

The district also is considering using any leftover construction bond funds to install energy and water-saving technology to reduce operating costs, Di Chiro said. The money is restricted for use in construction only and cannot be transferred to the general budget.

A presentation from Charles Rynerson, a demographer with the Population Research Center at Portland State University, predicted the district's enrollment would stabilize, which could help stave off some future funding problems,

Rynerson said this year's kindergarten class of 117 students, down by 25 percent from last year, had an unusually low-birth year, and he predicted kindergarten enrollment would jump to 152 students next year. He also estimated this year's class would gain 14 students in the transition to first grade.

School district officials viewed the report with caution. Rynerson's predictions seemed too high to Di Chiro, who said she also was nervous about his assumption that more work-force housing would be available in Ashland.

"We know the City Council approved the (60-unit affordable housing) Clay Street project, but with this economy and nothing selling, that's why we're questioning if that's a little optimistic," she said.

Even if enrollment does stabilize, it won't help the district in the short term, said Mat Marr, school board chairman. Instead, the board must look for ways to cut costs now.

"Everything is on the table, and anything that anyone wants to bring forward ... we'll consider," Marr said. "No matter how harebrained, (Juli) will look at them."

Julie French is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456 ext. 227 or

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