Schools cut budget by $600K

Ashland school board members slashed $600,000 from the district's budget for next year but voted to preserve popular sports programs and an auto shop class at their Monday night meeting.

The board also decided not to outsource all cafeteria operations next year, and instead chose to keep the existing structure, which uses outside managers and district workers. Board members hope that by the fall of 2010, the district can completely run its own food service program.

By approving another round of cuts Monday, the board eliminated the equivalent of about six full-time teaching positions. In March the board approved $3.5 million in cuts, which equated to a loss of about 22 full-time teaching positions and about 29 other positions.

"This is never an easy decision," School Board Chair Mat Marr said after the 5-0 vote to approve the cuts Monday. "We know people's lives are deeply impacted."

Stress was painted on the faces of the 50 people who came to the Civic Center to see how the board would decide what — or who — goes. As the recession rages havoc on state resources, the cash-strapped district is trying to temper spending, because funding will probably take a several-million-dollar hit next year.

Club sports, auto program

A week after Board Member Keith Massie presented a proposal that would allow the district to keep club sports programs scheduled to be cut, the board voted to approve Massie's basic plan Monday.

Instead of eliminating club sports, the district will cut funding for them in half, from $240 per student to $120. That means students who participate in alpine skiing, water polo, crew and other club sports at Ashland High School will need to do more fundraising next year.

The board also chose to preserve the high school's golf and swimming teams as well as sports programs at Ashland Middle School, all of which were originally scheduled to be cut.

In order to keep the sports programs, the board had to eliminate several coaching positions. The district will also schedule fewer games next year so that it doesn't have to hire as many officials.

The auto shop program at Ashland High School also could have been cut last night, but board members decided to keep at least one section of the program, even though it left the budget in the red Monday.

"I'm adamantly opposed to cutting that program," Board Member Amy Patton said. "I want to preserve this one last little piece of technical education that we have for our students."

Cafeteria workers

Four district cafeteria workers asked the board not to outsource all food service operations to Sodexo Inc. next year, but to instead allow the workers to come up with a plan for the following year to run the program themselves — without Sodexo.

Since the district entered into a contract with Sodexo four years ago, the district has increasingly lost money on food service operations — about $150,000 this year alone.

The cafeteria workers, whose jobs would have been eliminated if the district chose to outsource completely, said they think they can run a program that will break even financially.

The board voted 5-0 to stay with the district's current food service program next year, in the hopes of forming a committee next year to study the possibility of switching to a completely district-run program in the fall of 2010.

"What I would like to do is stick with the plan that we already have this year, even though it costs us $150,000, to buy us this year to perfect the program," said Board Member Ruth Alexander.

If the district were to run its own food service program, it would likely be able to make better use of Ashland's Farm to School Program, she said. The state-sponsored program allows students to eat locally grown food in district cafeterias.

District looking for a loan

Also at the meeting, Jill Turner, the district's business manager, appealed to wealthy locals who might want to loan the district $1.8 million.

The district needs to borrow the cash to meet its payroll demands at the start of the next school year, because it will not receive the necessary funding from the state in time, she said.

Turner plans to meet with banks soon, but she is unsure if the district will be able to secure a loan. If it can't arrange an agreement with a bank or a local investor, the district will be forced to borrow money through a higher-interest group loan, she said.

"I hope the bankers are listening," Turner said. "So if there's anyone in our community who has $1.8 million they could lend us...."

More cuts possible

Because the district voted to preserve the current food service program, which will cost the district about $150,000 next year, the budget is not balanced and the board might have to make more cuts soon, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said.

"Already I know that I need to find another $150,000 worth of reductions," she said. "We are not to the level of reductions that we need."

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