Ashland's mayoral candidates backed vastly different solutions for how to heal Ashland School District's funding woes at a town hall meeting about the topic Wednesday.
About 100 community members attended the meeting organized by newly-founded Educate Ashland and Ashland Schools Foundation to address what the groups define as a "public school funding crisis in our community."
Current Mayor John Stromberg proposed that new revenue streams could be opened between the city and the school district by adding the district into the city's economic development plan, which would make it eligible to receive direct funding from the city.
Stromberg said he would need the City Council's blessing to do that, but it's something he would pursue.
Former Ashland Mayor Alan DeBoer said, there are "little things," the city can do to alleviate some of the school district's day-to-day expenses, but pointed mostly to the state legislature for any serious solutions.
"I don't think you can tax your way out of this," DeBoer said, "We need to fix the educational funding as a state, Ashland has far more money than other districts."
City of Ashland currently has a Youth Activities and Academics levy, which requires residential property owners within the district's boundaries to pay $1.29 for every $1,000 of the assessed value of their home annually. Ashland voters renewed the levy in 2010.
"Biome," Michael Erickson pointed to revolutionary social transformation for solving the school district's financial setbacks, which were mostly beyond the scope of the current legal avenues established at the local, state, and federal levels of government.
Addressing what each candidate would do to ensure more affordable housing for families in Ashland, Erickson said, "If families are moving out they are moving out, if families are moving in they're moving in"… that's just the natural flow of things."
"We (society) have reached the end of unbounded economic growth," he said. "This is going to take plenty of town hall forums and meetings."
Erickson said he would like to combine the city's and school district's budgets, and instead of looking to the state for more funding, local entities should look at reallocating what funds are currently available.
Stromberg proposed earmarking revenue generated by Ashland Fiber Network that's above 40 percent market penetration, meaning, if 100 percent of Ashlanders used AFN, 60 percent of that money would go to the school district.
Currently, AFN's market penetration in Ashland is about 40 percent, Stromberg said.
DeBoer said reestablishing a former arrangement between the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department and the school district, which turned over all of the schools' landscaping responsibilities to the city, is one of many small things the city can do to help.
All of the candidates were interested in the city forming a closer relationship with the school district.
Rick Barth, of Ashland, whose two children graduated from Ashland High School, said he thought Stromberg and DeBoer proposed ideas worth pursing.
"I'm a little skeptical about Biome, though," he said.
Ashland Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said most of the ideas proposed were not legal, but "the idea of working outside of the box could be very helpful."
"I'm glad the conversation is being had, and happy with the turnout," said Gretski Lieberman, co-founder of Educate Ashland.
Educate Ashland is a less-than-a-year-old think tank started by parents whose children attend public school in Ashland. The group was created to help solve the school district's "funding crisis," said co-founder Jim Williams of Ashland.
School board member John Williams said the forum served its purpose.
"I was impressed by the ability of all the candidates to propose interesting, creative strategies to work on the public school funding crisis," he said. "These are the kinds of things that we need."
The district is expecting a budget gap of more than $1 million heading into the 2013-15 biennium, said Di Chiro. About $700,000 of that will go toward Public Employee Retirement System pensions, after an increase in employer contribution rates was approved by the PERS board Sept. 28.
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.