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Ashland keeps full school year ' for now

ASHLAND ' Despite objections from two board members, Ashland schools will open on time this Sept. 4.

At a special meeting held Wednesday night before 60 faculty and community members, board chairman John Maurer and board member Chuck Keil thought the district should immediately eliminate school calendar days.

Each day would save about &

36;80,000, giving the district a financial buffer against more budget woes as legislators debate education funding.

We're waiting for an outbreak of sanity in Salem, said Keil.

With little confidence in the Legislature to solve his district's problems, Keil said, We would be better served if we started talking about a larger shortfall.

But superintendent Juli Di Chiro, faculty and other board members said it would be better to wait until Sept. 17, when voters decide the fate of Measure 19, which would take &

36;150 million out of a school endowment fund to partially make up an education shortfall.

The district, which has slashed almost &

36;3 million and 10 percent of its teaching staff in the past two years, would lose &

36;857,000 if Measure 19 fails.

Maurer said the district should try to try get a head start on some of the upcoming funding issues including a &

36;10 million indebtedness to PERS.

Board member Terry Littleton agreed that a shortened school year is inevitable, but said it would be too disruptive at the beginning of the year for students who are setting up their class schedules

Di Chiro said it is possible that classrooms might have to be torn apart in the middle of the school year, particularly if Measure 19 fails.

We're talking about the disruptions in the lives of the students and the teachers, she said.

Leeanne Wallace, president of the Ashland teachers' union, objected to the notion of teachers easily consenting to having their pay cut through a shortened school year.

To say you're not going to pay us boggles my mind, she said. We have a contract.

For the time being, Di Chiro suggested the board hold off making any decisions about shortening the school year or layoffs, until after Sept. 17.

We cannot look at the what ifs, she said. We need to look at the what ares.

The immediate problem for Di Chiro was a way to deal with Gov. John Kitzhaber's veto of a &

36;50 million cigarette revenue bill, translating into a &

36;280,000 shortfall for the Ashland district.

Di Chiro suggested the district transfer the salaries of five teachers under a school improvement fund and an elementary class size reduction fund. This would free up &

36;280,000 from the district's general fund to temporarily resolve the problem.

The district will also continue to analyze what to do about a controversial payment shift scheme passed by the Legislature that allows schools to borrow &

36;267 million from one year to pay another.

Di Chiro proposed delaying the payment of employee wages for a few weeks next June, which would temporarily cover the &

36;1.6 million shortfall.

However, as a long-term solution, Di Chiro suggested the possibility of reducing overall expenditures by &

36;500,000 in each of the next three years to bring the budget back in line.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail