School district to cut $600,000 from budget

The day before the district's Budget Committee was scheduled to vote on the final $26.2 million general-fund budget for next academic year, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro received word that, once again, state education funding would plummet due to tax-revenue shortfalls.

"I was obviously a little shocked and disappointed," she said Friday, three days after the state announced the shortfall. "That the state economist was this far off — that was a shock just not to me but to everyone."

The district had expected to scrape by this budget season unscathed, after slicing deep last year.

Tuesday's announcement means the state will send the district $1.1 million less than expected, Di Chiro said. As a result, she plans to trim the district's budget for next academic year by $600,000 and to draw $500,000 from the district's $1.5 million savings account.

Di Chiro hopes to avoid layoffs and plans to prune the budget by hiring fewer teachers and reducing funding for school supplies, including computers and textbooks, she said.

"For next year our goal is to keep people employed," she said. "We had to make such deep cuts going into this year, we don't want to have to do that again."

In a 9-1 vote, the Budget Committee approved the preliminary budget at its meeting Wednesday, knowing the final document will be $600,000 leaner, Di Chiro said. Committee member Rick Barth dissented from the vote because he was concerned the district wasn't making deep enough cuts, she said.

Di Chiro plans to pare down the budget in the coming weeks and to present the School Board with the updated version on June 14.

She had originally hoped to hire three kindergarten teachers, in order to reduce class sizes. That's now off the table, and kindergarten classes are expected to have about 25 or 26 students again next academic year.

School Board members were hopeful that the district would hire Spanish speaking kindergarten teachers who could help kick-start a language immersion program.

"I would say all those plans are on hold at this moment," Di Chiro said. "I'm sure (the board members) are not going to spend money we don't have."

She still hopes to extend kindergarten to five days per week, up from four days per week this year, and to extend each day by about five minutes.

Di Chiro had also planned to increase schools' discretionary spending — used for textbooks, computers and classroom supplies — but now she'll probably increase it only slightly, she said. Discretionary spending has been frozen for the past two academic years, and the schools have largely used up any extra money or supplies, she said.

"Doing it two years in a row means they've pretty much gone through any stored supplies they have," she said.

Dozens of teachers and other district workers were laid off in 2009 as administrators grappled with declining state funds for education due to the recession. The district's $22 million budget for this school year is 15 percent lower than the previous year's.

Di Chiro still hopes to add a few classes at Ashland middle and high school to reduce class sizes.

"Our goal is not have any classes of 35 plus kids," she said.

She doesn't expect the budget cuts to affect labor contracts just approved by teachers and classified staff members.

"We want to honor the contractual agreements we just made," Di Chiro said.

The contracts call for a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for classified staff members and a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for teachers for the next academic year, she said.

Di Chiro doesn't want to dip into the district's savings account further, because state economists are predicting a funding shortfall for the 2011-12 academic year, she said.

"We're just not through the woods yet," she said. "Unless something really changes and the economy recovers much faster, it's looking pretty dismal for the next biennium."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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