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Foundation hopes to undo Ashland's cuts

ASHLAND - To soften the blow of $1.9 million slashed from the school district's budget, a nonprofit group on Thursday announced ambitious plans to raise $750,000 to restore teachers' jobs.

The Ashland Schools Foundation hopes to raise the money by June through phone appeals to at least 3,000 households in Ashland.

"The focus of the campaign will be to raise money for use on education priorities set by Ashland school leaders," said foundation chairman Bob Kuenzel.

With cuts totaling about 10 percent of its $20.5 million budget, Ashland schools could lose 28 teachers, roughly 10 percent of its classroom staff.

Class sizes would increase, the high school schedule would be pared back from 176 days to 175, and the kindergarten program would no longer offer extended days.

Other positions either eliminated or reduced in hours include literacy coaches, media specialists, custodians, education assistants and special education assistants.

The foundation hopes the fund-raising effort will enable the district to restore a teacher in every school.

Kuenzel said the foundation typically raises about $100,000 a year to pay for extracurricular activities.

But with the funding crisis, donations mostly would target the core needs of schools, Kuenzel said.

The foundation still will continue to offer grants for such programs as math night, the ropes course and science lab assistants.

"We are absolutely going to continue to make the grants, but at smaller amounts than this year," he said.

While raising $750,000 in just over two months is admittedly daunting, foundation supporters feel it can be done.

"If the little town of Enterprise, with only 2,000 people, can set a goal of $300,000, then Ashland can raise $750,000," said Dan Thorndike, who co-chairs the foundation's so-called "SOS plan" to "save our schools" and to "support our students."

Kuenzel hopes many residents might donate $100, while others could contribute $1,000 or more.

Terry Littleton, Ashland School Board chairwoman, said the district has prepared a priority list of jobs and programs it would like to restore.

The first priority is to bring one teacher back at each of the seven schools, requiring $350,000.

Normally, schools don't like to use one-time funds to hire staff, Littleton said, but with the district's budget crisis, it has become necessary to consider other solutions.

Teachers would be hired on the assumption that they might be laid off the following year if the funding source dries up.

"Everyone would have to realize this is only a one-year fix," said Littleton.

Next on the priority list is rehiring support staff - clerical, custodial and classroom assistants - at a cost of $100,000, with the same caveat that their jobs wouldn't be secure from year to year.

The third priority would be replacement of lost programs.

These include the extended-day kindergarten classes; driver education; counseling, a nurse, a half-time media specialist and an alternative program at the middle school; a theater technician and a Japanese teacher at the high school; and literacy coaches at elementary schools.

Cost to reinstate these programs and positions would be $441,000.

Littleton said establishing how the money would be donated to the district from the foundation and how it would be applied are still being worked out. "It's a little ambiguous at this point," she said.

For more information, including donation forms, call 482-8197. The foundation also plans a Web site at www.sosashland.com.

Donations can be mailed to Ashland Schools Foundation, "Save Our Schools - Support Our Students," 100 Walker Ave., Ashland, OR 97520.

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