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Ashland principals lament budget cuts

The recession has dealt a double-blow to Ashland School District, leaving fewer resources and more students who need them, principals told the School Board Monday night.

In the wake of last spring's budget cuts, which created more crowded classrooms, schools are seeing more families struggling to make ends meet, principals of all seven district schools said.

"I feel the poverty that exists in our world today so strongly at Walker, in a way that I've never felt before," said Walker Elementary School Principal Patty Michiels. "Families are coming in to ask for money to pay their electric bills. We have families that don't have gas to get to work."

The principals gathered at the Helman Elementary School Library to brief the board on the effects of the sweeping cuts.

Dozens of teachers and other district workers were laid off earlier this year as administrators grappled with declining state funds for education due to the recession. The district's $22 million budget for this school year is 15 percent lower than the previous year's.

"Everybody's fear is that all of these things are going to impact student performance," said Ashland Middle School Principal Steve Retzlaff.

Although the board asked the principals several times what they would do if they had more money, those questions were largely theoretical — because the district has no extra cash to spend at this point, Board Chairman Keith Massie said.

"It's not financially prudent to add back anything at this point," he said.

It's possible that the district could add a few extra classes at Ashland High School during the second semester of this year, solely because enrollment has increased there, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said.

"The only thing I can perhaps see is being able to add a couple of sections at the high school to alleviate the high class sizes," she said.

Before trying to develop its budget for next year, the district is waiting to see if Measures 66 and 67 pass during a Jan. 26 statewide special election. The measures would increase taxes by $733 million, raising money for education, health care, public safety and other services.

Di Chiro said she's uncertain whether the district will need to make more cuts this spring.

"Our hope is that we've cut so deeply this year that we do not have to do much staff adjustment going into next year," she said. "That's our hope."

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