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ASD announces staff reduction

Layoff notices for the upcoming school year went out to Ashland teachers Friday as the state released its latest economic forecast of an $850 million shortfall for this fiscal year and a deficit that will top $2.5 billion for the 2009-11 biennium.

The school board will release specific numbers of teachers and other staff who are losing their jobs at a community meeting scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. in the Helman Elementary library, said Board Chair Mat Marr.

A second group of staff members received notices that they may be laid off in the future, depending on the severity of Friday's announcement.

"Every great staff member that we have to let go is a tragedy both to the district and in their lives, and unfortunately there are going to be more cuts based on this forecast," he said. "I don't think you can overstate how bad things are."

The district won't know exactly how many more positions to cut until the Legislature develops the budget for the next biennium, due out in June, he said. An additional revenue forecast is expected in May.

"There's a somber feeling on this campus right now," AHS Assistant Principal Don Valentini said. "Everybody knew it was coming and a lot of the younger staff I'm sure were on pins and needles to see if they would lose their jobs in the phase one cuts."

Cutting days

The district finalized a five-day cut for this year that extended spring break for an extra week with a letter to parents last week, although the pay cut for teachers has not been approved by the Southern Oregon Bargaining Council, which oversees most teachers' associations in the valley, including the Ashland Education Association. The association approved the cuts but its decision was overturned by the bargaining council, which wanted to see the outcome of Friday's forecast before making a decision.

"Obviously it's gone quite the other direction," Marr said. "I appreciate their optimism and I know this is difficult. I do not fault them in any way for taking their time, but things are getting worse by the day and we can't wait to respond."

AEA President Leeanne Wallace, who serves as a representative to the bargaining council, said she was confident the agreement would pass with amended language when the council reconvenes on March 2. She voted for the agreement and was surprised that it didn't pass the first time.

District officials were within their rights when they changed the calendar before the cuts were officially approved, she said.

"I think that was a correct decision because parents have to plan ahead," she said. "We're hoping we can work with the district in these very difficult times."

If Governor Kulongoski reduces the budget by more than $50 million, the district will have no way to avoid cutting even more days, Marr said, based on the formula that each day of school costs the state an average of $17 million.

"The governor has promised he will veto any use of any of the reserve funds to fill this year's gap, which means it's almost certain we'll have a further reduction in educational funding this year," he said.

School districts were hoping to use some of those reserves, the Educational Stability Fund, to fill gaps this year.

"When there are cuts for next year at least we have time to respond and try to be systematic," he said. "We would rather have more cuts next year than not get the money we were promised this year."

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