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Schools plan for cuts, layoffs

The Ashland School Board is expected to approve a five-day pay cut for teachers at its regular meeting Monday night to make up for a $380,000 budget shortfall this year, but officials worry the news could get worse before it gets better.

Any additional cuts and the number of staff layoffs for the upcoming year won't be determined until a state economic revenue forecast is released on Feb. 20, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said.

"We're going to wait until we hear directly from the Legislature what out budget is going to be for this year," she said. "Every indication is that those numbers are going to be down. How far down is what we need to find out."

Di Chiro said she would like to see elected officials release the education stability fund, a reserve of about $400 million created during the last economic recession to help schools get through tough times. Legislators seem cautious to do so, however, because of the uncertainty of the next few years, she said.

The district is planning a community meeting on Feb. 23 to announce the number of staff positions cut for next year. Affected employees will be notified prior to the meeting, but their names will not be released, Di Chiro said.

By that time, the district will also have a better idea if more cuts will be needed this year.

"The two options are laying people off or cutting days, and either one would be extremely detrimental to kids," she said. "If we had to cut a month out of school, I don't think our high school kids could get their credits, and we can't let that happen."

School Board Chair Mat Marr said he believes the educational stability fund could prevent that scenario.

"We know (the fund) won't be there as much in the future, but that's better than ending school in May," he said. "We're not the federal government; we can't spend into a deficit."

Marr said he felt state legislators were pinning their hopes on the federal stimulus package working its way through Congress.

"I think everyone's holding their breath because they've got the ability to do something," he said. "It's unfortunate that Bush didn't leave us with a surplus like he had when he took office so we could respond more fully to this."

District officials have already taken smaller steps to curb spending. They enacted a spending and hiring freeze, ended contracts with consultants for public relations and the high school redesign, canceled out of state travel and limited attendance to conferences, Di Chiro said.

"Anything I would say that is discretionary spending has been curtailed," she said.

Di Chiro said she was grateful for the strong relationship between the district and its employees during the tight economy.

"Everyone's going to have to make sacrifices until we get through this time," she said. "It's going to be a tough couple of years to get through it, and we're going to get through it to serve kids. That's our job."

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.