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Ashland school layoffs won't come easy

ASHLAND - The school district has found no magic bullet to avoid the prospect of layoffs.

The number of employees who might be affected by budget cuts won't be determined until the district gets a better idea from the state over the depth of cuts.

District officials are considering a number of options to solve the budget problem, including the blending of elementary classes, not hiring a new administrator and cutting back on the number of teachers.

"Laying off staff is part of the picture," said Ashland schools superintendent Juli Di Chiro.

At a minimum, the district needs to reduce $800,000 from its $20.5 million budget to offset increases in expenses such as salaries and reduced revenues from declining enrollment.

In addition, the state could cut at least $50 million out of Oregon's K-12 education system, amounting to roughly $75 a student. That would amount to about $260,000 for the 3,500-student district.

But the state cuts could be double that and the school district is planning for overall reductions of up to $2 million.

Di Chiro said she is waiting until March — to see how many people choose to retire this year, which could reduce the number of layoffs.

The district held a series of public meetings recently to solicit ideas from the community for solving the financial problems.

"Most of the suggestions that people made are undoable," said Di Chiro.

The meetings did convince the district not to close an elementary school this year and also to try to maintain course offerings at the high school.

But that doesn't mean the high school will not feel the pinch.

"We will be trimming around everyone's edges, rather than the core," said Di Chiro.

Depending on the degree of cuts from the state, the district might not be able to hire an administrator to replace Julie Reynolds, who has announced her retirement as high school principal.

Instead it might reshuffle administrators, possibly moving an elementary principal into the role or promoting an assistant principal at the high school.

"We are considering some of those options," said Di Chiro.

Last year, the district put off hiring a curriculum director because of an $840,000 shortfall that resulted in the loss of 14 positions. Di Chiro now performs the duties of curriculum director and personnel manager, in addition to her superintendent job.

The high school will use money from a citywide activities levy to find an after-school replacement for speech and debate team coach John Tredway, who is also retiring this year.

But Di Chiro said the district might not be able to afford a debate teacher during school. "That remains to be seen," she said.

All of this adds up to frustrating times in Ashland.

"We shouldn't have to be laying people off," said Di Chiro, who has spent hours poring over seniority lists in anticipation of possible layoffs.

School Board Chairwoman Terry Littleton said the district is exploring the possiblity of more blended classrooms at the elementary schools.

For example, grades — and 2 or — and 4 could be held in one class. Helman, Lincoln and Walker already have some blended classrooms.

"This could very well mean we have to lay off teachers," she said.

To reduce the need for layoffs, the district has offered early retirement incentives this year.

Littleton said the biggest message she received from recent public meetings is the value the community places on reasonable class sizes.

"It also increased public awareness of the situation," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com