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Budget will test schools

This year's budget cuts — the deepest in at least a decade — have bled Ashland schools of resources and forced teachers and administrators to do more with less as they try to bandage up the district for the sake of students.

"In my 35 years in public education, this budget represents the deepest levels of reductions I have ever had to implement," Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said at a Budget Committee meeting in May. Di Chiro assumed her position with the district in 2000.

The $22 million budget is 14.8 percent lower than the 2008 school year's, according to Jill Turner, the district's business manager. In total, 56 positions were cut as the district grappled with declining state funds for education due to the recession, she said.

Late last month, the School Board unanimously approved the budget for the next school year.

"I don't think anyone's happy with the result but I would commend everyone who came and gave input to the board and budget committee," said Mat Marr, who served as the board chairman until this month when his four-year term ended.

"I think that these reductions were necessary and we're going to end up with a strong district afterwards," he said.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said in May that 141 employees — out of a total of about 370 in the district — have been affected by the cuts, either through job losses, shortened hours or transfers within the district.

All district employees that weren't laid off will also face pay cuts in the fall, the school board decided at its June 29 meeting.

Teachers' salaries will be slashed 2.5 percent. Teachers will also work five fewer days — four of them in-service days when students don't come to school anyway — resulting in a net pay cut of 5.1 percent. As a result, the school year will be shortened from 190 days to 185.

Although cuts to classified workers are still being adjusted due to complaints from the workers' union, union voters did approve a pay reduction. Classified employees will not receive the normally scheduled raises that account for cost-of-living increases, among other things, and will work at least two fewer days, forfeiting pay on those days.

District administrators will also not receive a cost-of-living increase in the coming school year, board members decided

Cuts will be felt in the classroom too, as the district reduces its spending on supplies — such as books and photocopies — by 20 percent. Due to the elimination of many teaching positions, class sizes are bound to be larger next year.

Some classes or school programs won't even be offered anymore, such as advanced auto shop.

Students who play club sports will have to raise more money to do the same things, as the district has halved its funding for club sports. Those in regular sports programs will likely work with fewer coaches and play in fewer games.

Marr cautioned that more cuts will probably be made next year.

"People need to be prepared that this is not a one year issue," he said. "There's no sign that the recession is over in Oregon or elsewhere."

Still, Marr said he thinks the district will remain strong.

"This is the best place for kids to learn and that's going be true next year too," he said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.