Schools may cut five days

The school district may cut five days from the calendar this year to deal with state funding shortfalls, a temporary solution as officials look toward layoffs to meet next year's budget goals.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski released an economic forecast last week with cuts across the board for state agencies, which will result in a loss of about $380,000 for the Ashland School District for the current year, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro told a crowd of about 40 students, teachers and community members at Monday night's budget meeting.

The district is also looking at about $2.4 million in reductions for next year's budget, which they begin building in January. The exact target will be set after Kulongoski releases his budget on Dec. 1, Di Chiro said.

Eliminating five days of school this year would save about $80,000 per day, she said, proposing a two-week spring break as the least disruptive option.

The state allows school districts to miss instructional time standards for one year in tough economic situations and it will not affect the schools' accreditation, she said.

No decisions can be made without consulting employee bargaining groups, she said.

"I think we really do need to consider eliminating some school days," she said. "To me that's less disruptive than laying people off and reorganizing staff, particularly since we're doing that next year."

The district has used similar measures before, cutting 10 days from the calendar in the 2002-03 school year, she said, resulting in more homework for students.

The district has also closed two elementary schools and shortened the high school schedule from eight to seven class periods to deal with declining enrollment and budget shortfalls.

No layoffs were made in last year's budget, but nothing new was added, and the district is trying not to fill positions that become available during the year, Di Chiro said. Even minor changes, like turning the heat down a few degrees, have been made in efforts to save money.

The district is also considering using any leftover construction bond funds to install energy and water-saving technology to further reduce operating costs, Di Chiro said. The money is restricted for use in construction only and cannot be transferred to the general budget.

Demographer's report

Charles Rynerson, a demographer with the Population Research Center at Portland State University, also presented at Monday's meeting, predicting the district's enrollment would stabilize, staving off some future funding problems. Officials viewed the report with caution.

Rynerson said this year's kindergarten class of 117 students, down by 25 percent from last year, had an unusually low birth year, and he predicted kindergarten enrollment would jump to 152 students next year. He also estimated this year's class would gain 14 students in the transition to first grade.

Those predictions seemed too high to Di Chiro, who said she was also nervous about Rynerson's assumption of more workforce housing.

"We know the City Council approved the (60-unit affordable housing) Clay Street project, but with this economy and nothing selling, that's why we're questioning if that's a little optimistic."

Even if enrollment does stabilize, it won't help the district in the short term, school board chair Mat Marr said. Instead, they must look for ways they can cut costs.

"Everything is on the table, and anything that anyone wants to bring forward ... we'll consider," he said. "No matter how harebrained, (Juli) will look at them."

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

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