$25.8 million schools budget approved

The Ashland School District Budget Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a $25.8 million general fund budget for next academic year, adding back some funding for club sports at Ashland High School.

"I think it was the right thing to do," said School Board Chairwoman Carol Davis, who is also a member of the Budget Committee. "We care about kids, their experience and the whole child. It's not just about academics, it's about extracurriculars too."

The committee voted to allocate $33,000 to high school club sports, or $120 per student per sport, Davis said. The funding will cover between 10 and 15 percent of the actual cost of the sports, so students will still need to raise money to play, she said.

"This will help, but it won't cover anywhere near all of the costs," she said.

District Superintendent Juli Di Chiro had recommended cutting all funding for the school's club sports: water polo, bowling, snowboarding, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, crew and equestrian.

The committee passed a balanced budget by using savings from this year to pay for the $33,000 club sports funding, Davis said.

However, Di Chiro said she hopes to find a way to fund club sports by making other cuts in the athletic department, such as possibly reducing the hours a physical therapist is contracted to work. That way, she may be able to use the savings from this year in the 2012-13 school year, when the district is expected to face at least another $1 million shortfall, she said.

The district's budget for 2011-12 is $1 million higher than this academic year's. But officials still had to cut more than $1 million in programs and positions for next academic year because of declining enrollment and an increase in Public Employee Retirement System costs.

The district won't fill six positions that will open up this summer because of teachers retiring, resigning or taking leaves of absence. The teacher cuts will save the district $516,000, Di Chiro said.

The budget also calls for eliminating $218,000 of discretionary spending on supplies in classrooms, as well as custodial, maintenance and administrative departments.

Discretionary spending cuts along with an additional $16,000 sports staffing reduction, will also eliminate the school's golf program, a swimming coach and a cheerleading coach. Student athletes will be required to pay for their own lodging when they attend overnight tournaments.

The School Board already has agreed to cut one instructional day and one teacher preparation day from next academic year's calendar, saving $160,000.

In addition, the district will eliminate all after-school sports at Ashland Middle School, yielding $110,000 in savings. The board is considering adding back some of that funding but it wants to see whether community members can help organize and run the programs first, Davis said.

"We want to see what the middle school community does before we make any decisions on funding that," she said.

The School Board will vote on the final budget at its June 13 meeting.

This fall the committee will meet again to try to plan for future budget shortfalls, Di Chiro said.

"I think it's really important to note that we've balanced the budget for a year, but our projection for next year is not good," she said.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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