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Ashland learns extent of school cutbacks

Ashland middle and high school students will have fewer classes to choose from and more students in each class in the fall, Ashland School Board members learned Wednesday during the third of four district budget committee meetings.

Ashland Middle School Principal Steve Retzlaff and outgoing Ashland High School Assistant Principal Ken Kigel presented the schools' respective enrollment and class structure proposals, both of which included curriculum reductions and across-the-board increases in class size.

The average class size at AHS for the 2008-09 school year is about 24 students. That number will be closer to 28 in 2009-10, Kigel said, stressing the difficulty of allocating students to fewer classes without overcrowding them.

"We are losing about 47 classes. In that seven-period structure, that's about seven each period that we're losing," he said.

In addition to class reductions, AHS is eliminating its dance and junior varsity tennis programs, as well as part of junior varsity soccer.

"What's so hard about the high school schedule is trying to meet students' needs," Kigel said. "Just looking at some of those offerings and figuring out how to staff is a challenge."

Retzlaff said class sizes at the middle school would also increase in 2009-10. The average sixth-grade class will have 27 students, while combined seventh- and eighth-grade classes could have as many as 33 students.

Spanish language classes will be cut out of the core curriculum.

Instead they will be offered as an elective, similar to band and orchestra. Students who want to take Spanish as well as play an instrument may have to do the latter on their own time.

"We're trying to see if we can't configure it in such a way that a student could take Spanish and band," Retzlaff said. "It might be possible to do for a few students, but definitely not for as many as may want it."

Some committee members wanted to know if changing the middle school's "team structure" — where four teachers in the core curriculum classes teach the same group of students — could save the district money.

"I would like to see some evaluation of (the team structure) here in Ashland," member Larry Cooper said.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro countered by praising the team structure as a valuable asset, because of its ability to improve communication among teachers. Any cost the district could save by changing the structure, she said, would not be worth the decreased quality of education as a result.

"The research on effective middle schools is clear," she said, "and dropout rates are higher elsewhere than in schools where there is the team structure."

The committee also discussed available sources of revenue for the upcoming school year. Business Manager Jill Turner said the district is expecting a 10 percent increase in money for its special revenue fund, which includes Title 1 and grant money, as well as federal stimulus funds.

Overall, however, next year's projected budget is nearly 25 percent smaller than this year, largely because of decreases in the district's general and capital projects funds.

All of the projections are tentative. The budget committee will continue its discussion at 7 p.m. June 3 at the AHS District Office.