All employee groups in the Ashland School District will be vulnerable to layoffs in 2009 in order for the district to make $2.5 million in reductions for next year's budget.

All employee groups in Ashland School District will be vulnerable to layoffs in 2009 in order for the district to make $2.5 million in reductions for next year's budget.

The school board unanimously passed an agreement giving broad authority to make cuts at Superintendent Juli Di Chiro's request during the board meeting Monday night.

"It really is with great reluctance that I have to ask the board to approve this, but it is necessary," she said. She saw no other way to reduce the budget by $2.5 million, she said. The cuts represent about 10 percent of the district's general fund.

The district is also still considering eliminating five school days from this year's calendar in response to a projected $380,000 shortfall. The district would save $80,000 per day because no staff member would be paid on those days.

Monday's motion will open a 30-day negotiation period with bargaining groups beginning in January, and the district will informally notify any affected employees by mid-February, Di Chiro said. A statewide job fair for teachers is held every March, and they will aim to notify teachers before that date.

Teachers who wish to retire must notify the district by Feb. 1, which could reduce the number of other staff members who must be laid off.

Board members expressed great regret at what they deemed an unavoidable motion.

"I just want the community to know that the board is acutely aware this is affecting people's livelihoods," Board Chair Mat Marr said.

The cycle of budget shortfalls and cuts will continue as long as education is funded by unstable state revenue, Marr said.

"What we can see clearly is we're failing our kids when we have to make decisions like this on an ongoing basis," he said.

Heidi Parker moved to accept the proposal "with great sadness," but said she is glad that the Ashland district seems to be ahead of the curve, as other school districts are just now starting to deal with this year's funding problems without looking ahead to next year yet.

Keith Massie said he was thankful for the Youth Activities and Academics Levy, approved by taxpayers in November 2007, because it will help mitigate the impact of reduced funding.

"If we didn't have the local option levy, we would have to make even bigger budget cuts, so we are very, very grateful for the taxpayers," he said.

Ruth Alexander worried that long-term funding problems will affect the nation's standing in the world.

"We really have to reexamine the way we run education in this country," she said.

Board member Amy Patton was absent from the meeting.

The board will hold a work session with state legislators Sen. Alan Bates and Rep. Peter Buckley to discuss the funding situation Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. in the district office.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.