ASHLAND — Schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro will meet with parents to discuss potential cuts to elementary school programs Wednesday, as district officials work to close an expected $1.3 million budget gap for next academic year.

ASHLAND — Schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro will meet with parents to discuss potential cuts to elementary school programs Wednesday, as district officials work to close an expected $1.3 million budget gap for next academic year.

The 7 p.m. meeting, geared toward parents of elementary school students, will be held in the Bellview Elementary School library, 1070 Tolman Creek Road. Childcare will be provided for children in elementary school.

Di Chiro will present an overview of the budget process and then will ask parents to rate their priorities for elementary education using the district's interactive whiteboard technology. Parents will be given handheld clickers to answer multiple-choice questions such as, "In thinking about elementary schools, what would be your highest priority in the budgeting process?"

For that question, parents will be asked to choose "a well-rounded curriculum that includes music and physical education," "low-class sizes," "adequate services for special needs students" or "sufficient instructional materials, including technology."

"We'll be able to see immediately how everybody's voting and then we'll talk about what each one of those things means," Di Chiro said. "This gives parents another way to talk about what's most important to them."

District officials will use the feedback from the meeting as they draft the budget, she said.

The district will hold a similar meeting for middle school parents at 7 p.m. March 3 at Ashland Middle School, 100 Walker Ave., and one for high school parents at 7 p.m. March 10 at Ashland High School, 201 S. Mountain Ave.

The meetings will conclude with a question-and-answer session and a presentation from the Ashland Schools Foundation on coming fundraising efforts.

Di Chiro said she won't unveil specifics at the meetings about what cuts the district could see next academic year because district administrators are still working to craft the budget. She expects to release a preliminary budget at the end of March.

Last week the School Board voted to allow administrators to lay off workers this summer if the district can't find another way to close the expected budget gap for the next academic year. Di Chiro said she isn't sure whether she will need to lay off teachers, education assistants and others, but she wants to have the option as the district begins crafting the budget this month.

"We're trying to avoid layoffs at all costs," she said.

Legislators have indicated that funding for education might remain flat the next academic year, which would result in a $1.3 million shortfall for the district because staffing costs increase each year and because enrollment is expected to decrease by about 100 students, Di Chiro said. However, if the Legislature enacts Gov. John Kitzhaber's proposed budget, the district would face $1.7 million in cuts.

"We're hoping that the Legislature can do better than that because the governor's budget would be really hard for us and every other school district," Di Chiro said.

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com