$25M in education funding approved

The Ashland School District budget committee approved a $25 million general fund budget Tuesday night &

at its final meeting of the fiscal year &

with an ending fund balance $1.3 million lower than the 8 percent reserve required by board policy. The bulk of the meeting, however, was spent discussing an $8,000 adjustment in Youth Activities and Academics Levy funding.

a vote of 5 to 3, the committee approved raising the collection estimate of the levy &

more than $2.9 million in expected revenues &

up by $8,000 to limit the cuts to club sports and a middle school marimba group, which saw bigger percentage losses than Oregon School Activities Association sports.

The district previously proposed cuts in levy-funded activities by $118,820, including lowering funding for club sports from $250 to $200 per student.

Committee member Curt Bacon proposed restoring next fiscal year's funding to current levels &

$250 per student athlete &

to keep continuity between the Youth Activities Levy, which was restricted to extra activities, and the new Youth Activities and Academics Levy, which goes straight into the general fund.

When the levy was presented to voters last November, school board members committed to continuing to provide as many options and programs as possible in both academics and extracurricular activities.

"I think it's a pretty costly cut in public relations," Bacon said about the original proposal to lower the funding to $200 per athlete.

He proposed the $8,000 come from a contingency fund. Other members suggested reallocating funds slated for technology or textbook replacement, but the board ultimately decided to refigure the YAAL collection estimate, requiring no cuts to other areas of the budget.

"We did a conservative estimate here, and we are likely to bring in more," said Superintendent Juli Di Chiro, who first proposed changing the estimated revenues and said it was a negligible amount of money in the long run. Di Chiro is not a voting member of the committee.

Board Chair Mat Marr and committee members Bill Anderson and Mike Zodrow voted against the proposal. Marr said limiting cuts this year would result in tougher decisions next year.

"If we're going to restore a cut, we have to find some place else in the budget to take money from," Marr said.

Marr supported reducing cuts to club sports, but felt it should be made by reducing spending in other areas, such as technology or textbooks.

"The federal government can print money, we can't," he said.

Marr left the meeting before the final vote due to back pain, but the remaining committee members unanimously approved the overall budget without resolving the dearth of reserves. The projected ending fund balance of $700,000 is $1.3 million short of the 8 percent required by board policy.

"I feel like we would not be doing our duty if we did not discuss what looks to me like a giant hole in our budget," said budget committee chair Rick Barth, after members spent an hour debating the $8,000 change to the levy fund &

what Barth called a "politically sensitive" issue.

The board has three years to prove to voters they can manage the funds from the Youth Activities and Academics Levy before they must put the levy back on the ballot.

"In a private company, if we were looking at a hole like this, there would be no hiring," Barth said. "Are we going to freeze hiring to get decent financial reserves, or are we going to live with $700,000 and hope everything is going to be OK?"

The original general fund budget projections failed to include $750,000 in staffing costs. Three instructional positions were cut this year, but more cuts may have been made if true costs were included in the original budget. The problem was not noticed until it was too late to make additional staff reductions, Di Chiro said. With declining enrollment, it is likely more cuts will be made next year.

The budget must now be approved by the school board, which will consider it at a special session on June 16 at 5 p.m. in the district board room. The board may make changes of no more than 10 percent in any single fund according to state law.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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