We must face crisis together

Our world is facing unprecedented economic disruption and we in Ashland are not immune to its impact. Based on the governor's November budget, the Ashland School District is planning a $3.5 million budget reduction for the 2009-'10 school year. We are also implementing pay cuts to make up for the shortfall in this year's state School Fund.

Personnel expenses constitute 85 percent of the district budget. We have already reduced other operational costs considerably. Therefore, further reductions must come from cuts to staff.

The School Board and the Budget Committee will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in the Helman Elementary School library to review our plan for the $3.5 million reduction to next year's budget, in addition to measures we are taking to address the current year shortfall. We welcome members of the public to attend, ask questions and give input.

Thanks to the generous support of the Ashland community in passing the local Youth Academics and Activities Levy, we have been able to maintain strong academic programs and extracurricular offerings compared with other districts in Oregon. While the levy is not sufficient to shield us from cuts, we are committed to reduction decisions that maintain diverse activities and strong academics whenever possible.

Our community also generously passed a facilities bond that is proceeding well in upgrading our school buildings. State law does not allow us to use any money from a capital construction bond for our operations or even for maintenance. These investments in more efficient buildings will reduce utility expenses in the long term, but the bond cannot be used to pay teachers or support staff.

In addition to severe cuts in state funding next year, the governor announced that the state could not provide the funds it promised for the current school year. Our employees have agreed to a pay cut for this year to help make up for the $380,000 that the state is not sending. Our collaborative relationship with our staff and unions allow us to work through these difficult issues together.

The pay cut will result in the district adding a week to spring break. We reduced conference days to minimize the instructional impact of these changes. In total, K-8 students will have one less day of instruction and high school students will have one less day of each of their classes.

The Southern Oregon Bargaining Council has delayed final approval of this pay cut until March. The calendar changes have been implemented now to keep impact on student learning to a minimum.

In addition, the district has implemented many austerity measures. We have frozen new hiring, halted discretionary spending and discontinued non-classroom projects. These reductions still add up to only a drop in the bucket compared with the size of the loss in state funding.

New revenue forecasts will be released in coming weeks that will likely show a further shortfall in state revenue for this year and next. The state Legislature must use the Educational Stability Fund or federal stimulus money to avoid further cuts to this school year in school districts across the state. We are planning for a variety of scenarios but will implement reductions only as necessary based on changes in state education funding.

We have exceptional schools in Ashland because of dedicated staff, caring parents, inquisitive students and a supportive community. We all need to work closely with one another as the Ashland community responds to this crisis. We take the trust that the community places in us very seriously, and we are committed to working together to find the best outcome for our students and community in the challenges ahead.

Mat Marr is chairman of the Ashland School District Board of Directors. School Board members Heidi Parker, Rucht Alexander, Keith Massie and Amy Patton also signed this opinion.

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