Ashland School District could go to a four-day school week or make other drastic structural changes if economic conditions continue to worsen, officials warned a crowded room of community members Monday night.

Ashland School District could go to a four-day school week or make other drastic structural changes if economic conditions continue to worsen, officials warned a crowded room of community members Monday night.

The district announced $3.5 million in cuts in February to meet a funding gap for next year, eliminating the equivalent of 44 full-time positions, and schools will begin a two-week spring break next week to meet this year's shortfall. But additional cuts up to $1.7 million may be needed depending on how the Legislature decides to fund education in the upcoming biennium, Business Manager Jill Turner said.

Turner presented several scenarios based on the most recent economic forecast, ranging from an additional $104,000 in cuts if the Legislature uses nearly all available rainy day funds on education to $1.7 million if even the educational stability fund is not used next year.

That worst-case scenario is not likely, but the district commissioned middle school principal Steve Retzlaff and director of educational services Michelle Zundel to research the possibility of a four-day week as a precaution.

"This is not a recommendation," Retzlaff said. "This would be the type of thing we would be considering if we get to that $1.7 million reduction. At this point, this is just there for us to be thinking about, and I also think it's important for our Legislature to understand that if they get to a certain level of funding, every school district is going to be forced to look at something different in the way we educate kids."

The sample schedule they presented eliminated Mondays and provided 36 standard four-day weeks rather than the 24 five-day weeks and 13 non-standard weeks on the calendar this year. The proposed calendar would still meet the state's minimum instructional minutes requirement for all levels.

The switch would save on transportation, food and utility costs, and could save up to $1.75 million if teachers worked 36 hours per week instead of 40, Retzlaff said.

Several small rural districts in Oregon and a few other states have already made the switch without reporting negative impacts on student achievement, and students could use Mondays for internships, remedial classes or other enrichment opportunities, he said.

"The thought that I would come to the school board and say we might have to think about this in the future is very troubling," Zundel said. She believes more time in school is better for students, but the small impact on districts that have already made the switch was heartening, she said.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said the Ashland Education Association, the teacher's union, has already voiced opposition to the idea. Parents and budget committee members at the meeting had split opinions.

"I think we have to be very careful," said budget committee member Bill Anderson, noting that Ashland is very different from the rural districts that have already made the switch.

Parent Jennifer Crane said she warmed to the idea as she heard the advantages a four-day week might have.

"I came ready to oppose it, but what I liked about it is a standard week," she said. "There are many times I feel like my kids are out of school more than they are in school."

A dozen other parents and community members spoke to the board as well, asking them to rethink some of the cuts made already, such as reducing the library staff by half, eliminating the elementary strings program and trimming the athletics budget more than 20 percent.

But those cuts will most likely not be restored. The budget committee advised administrators to look for ways to whittle an additional $855,000 in next year's budget, the midpoint of the district's projections for the remaining shortfall.

"Almost every aspect of our school district has been touched ... every school, every program, and still we have to come up with another $800,000," Di Chiro said. "We cannot restore anything at this point without cutting something somewhere else."

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