Ashland makes deep cuts in teaching positions

Ashland is faced with the prospect of teaching cuts that will affect 44 positions, as the school district attempts to make up for a projected $3.5 million shortfall.

Six full-time teachers will be laid off, as will several contract teaching positions, while other instructors will have their hours reduced, school officials said Monday night at a district meeting. The teaching cuts, which approximate 20.5 full-time positions, will save the district $1.49 million, according to Superintendent Juli Di Chiro.

A full audience at the Helman School library also heard that 16 classified positions — from administrative and maintenance staff, to drivers and other workers — would see similar cuts. Six layoffs, and several reduced-time positions would save $543,463 in the 2009-2010 school year, Di Chiro said.

A full-time equivalent of 11.5 educational assistant positions would be eliminated, for a savings of $194,077. Cuts in athletic rentals, teams, travel, supplies, textbooks and technology would trim another $160,000.

"Every great staff member that we have to let go is a tragedy both to the district and in their lives, and unfortunately there are going to be more cuts based on this forecast," school district board Chairman Mat Marr said after the layoffs. "I don't think you can overstate how bad things are."

The district gave layoff notices to teachers Monday and a second group were told they will be laid off in the future.

Di Chiro stressed the shortfall numbers are "a moving target" and could continue to swing wildly, depending on the impact of federal stimulus money and pressure on Gov. Ted Kulongoski and legislative leaders to dip into the $370 million Educational Stability Fund, a call they thus far are resisting.

The district likely will learn by Friday how cuts at the state level will affect the district's budget for the current school year, Di Chiro said, with the last revenue forecast around May 1. Legislators write their final budget in June.

"This is a really frustrating process. We're constantly begging for government funding for education. It's demoralizing to find ourselves back in this position," board member Heidi Parker said. "This is the foundation of democracy and it's devastating to see this kind of cuts. It hurts students and the community."

The district earlier reduced teacher pay, a move not yet finalized, and cut five days off the current school year, extending spring break for an extra week.

Ashland Schools Foundation member Amy Amrhein told the board it might be time to look at raising money by selling Briscoe and Lincoln elementary school buildings, closed some years ago. Board member Amy Patton responded that the buildings bring in $220,000 a year in rent and this is not a good market for selling.

Audience members grilled school officials on what basis layoffs are made and questioned the expense of school buses and the wisdom of proposed cuts in auto repair, which B.J. Woodcock said would prepare graduates for real-world jobs in a bad economy, with high college costs.

Officials said layoffs are not apportioned to schools equally, but are made on the basis of seniority and if one school gets too many layoffs, teachers will be moved around. State law, they added, mandates school busing and reimburses the district.

Pressed by audience members about possible class sizes after the cuts, Di Chiro said classes would be larger, but the average size can't be known till after budget cuts are made.

Marr ended by telling the audience, "We're confident we can come through this strong."

Marr, in an interview, said the Educational Stability Fund has "just enough" money to get us through the 2008-09 school year and should be opened up in this emergency.

"Ee're losing some of our best and most talented staff and it's a great, sad loss," he said, "and a burden on them and their families."

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