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Ashland schools look at pay freeze

But unions representing teachers and other employees resist the idea and consider alternatives

ASHLAND ' A salary freeze for teachers and other workers is the top strategy of Ashland School District's superintendent to meet the latest budget shortfall. The saving's target is &

36;1.5 million.

A freeze may be a hard sell.

Oregon School Employees Association Chapter 42 members Thursday voted down a wage freeze as part of budget reduction measures. And teachers may not be receptive to the idea.

OSEA members voted 71 to 51 against freezing compensation.

Obviously the wage freeze concept doesn't fly. Wages are pretty low, said Richard Ramirez, OSEA field representative. The OSEA represents school employees who are not teachers. There's going to be tough choices for everyone ahead.

We as a teaching staff took a freeze about six years ago and have never recouped financially from that, said Leeanne Wallace, president of the Ashland Education Association. She said many Ashland teachers make less than others in Jackson County.

I don't want to cut people. I want to start with salary issues. We'll ask for freezes from both unions, but it's a negotiation issue, said Superintendent Juli Di Chiro. Just because I ask for that doesn't mean that will be the outcome.

All administrators will have their salaries frozen, Di Chiro said.

Besides salary freezes, district officials will look at reducing days worked and at layoffs, the budget committee decided Wednesday. The cuts are required by the failure of state Measure 13 on Tuesday.

The district already had reduced next year's &

36;20.5 millionbudget by &

36;1.9 million because state tax revenues, the primary source of school funds, have declined.

The equivalent of 27 teaching positions, about 10 percent of Ashland's teaching staff, and five classified spots already have been cut. Class sizes at the high school will range from 30 to 35 students. The district also is considering closing one of its five elementary schools, although savings from that wouldn't help the coming year's budget.

A reduction in the six personal development days teachers get each year will be considered, said Di Chiro. She does not favor a cut in the number of class days for students.

My preference is that we look for a one-year-only elimination of personal development days as opposed to school days, said Di Chiro.

Additional layoffs are Di Chiro's least favorite strategy.

Looking at the latest projected state revenue shortfalls, the district will require another &

36;1.2 million in reductions. But because the district self-insures for unemployment benefits, another &

36;200,000 will be needed. With the reduction of positions next year, district officials figure the fund needs to be boosted to cover liabilities.

Teachers aren't getting jobs elsewhere, said Di Chiro.

Teachers will discuss all three strategies ' salary freezes, layoffs and reduction in days worked 'before the group presents its alternatives to the district, Wallace said.

Teachers are willing to have a few more students in the classroom. We have already done that, said Wallace. But community expectations of excellence can't remain the same if class sizes increase, said Wallace.

OSEA employees believe layoffs are the way to achieve savings, said Ramirez. Under the contract, least senior employees are laid off first. Members would also be receptive to reducing days worked if that strategy was applied equally to everybody, Ramirez said.

District and union officials will be on a tight timeline to come to agreements for a budget that needs to be in place by June 30. Meetings are scheduled for next week. The budget committee will meet again June 10, prior to the regularly scheduled school board meeting.

Reach Ashland bureau reporter Tony Boom at 482-4651, or e-mail