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Budget cuts hurt vulnerable students most, principals say

Ashland principals are concerned last spring's budget cuts have disproportionately impacted struggling students, potentially leaving them even further behind other students academically.

"The kids who are going to fall through the cracks are in the classes that I just highlighted for you, that have 34 or 35 students, and that's what we're really worried about," Ashland High School Principal Jeff Schlecht told the School Board last week. "We're really worried about those kids."

Because classes are more crowded, teachers have fewer opportunities to work one-on-one with students who need extra help, principals at all district schools told the board.

This academic year district schools also have fewer — and more crowded — intervention classes for students who need extra help in certain subjects, such as math or English.

"We are seeing these unintended or unanticipated consequences," Ashland Middle School Principal Steve Retzlaff said. "The intervention classes are larger."

Most district teachers are working overtime to try to help struggling students, but they can't fully compensate for the dozens of teachers and assistants laid off during the budget process, the principals said.

The district's $22 million budget for this school year is 15 percent lower than the previous year's.

"With the extensive loss of resources that we've gone through, it's definitely going to have an impact," Retzlaff said. "Everybody effectively feels like they're working for less."

"Well, they are they are working for less," Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said, referring to pay cuts all district employees took this year.

Di Chiro hopes to add a few intervention classes at the high school halfway through this academic year if funds allow, she said.

"We are definitely planning on trying to do a few strategic things at the semester," she said. "But we have a limited resource there."

Di Chiro said she understood the principals' concerns but that the district has no money to add extra classes or teachers at other schools.

"They're worried that the most vulnerable students will kind of be least able to withstand the impacts of the budget cuts," she said. "We are concerned and we're monitoring that very closely."

District test scores have been improving for a number of years, but it's possible they could fall this year as a result of the cuts, Di Chiro said.

"We want to make sure that we limit that kind of impact as much as we can, but we did have to cut pretty deeply, so it's possible we're going to see some impact on student achievement," she said.

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