Ashland could institute a four-day school week next year, but school board members took no action on the issue at their Wednesday night meeting, the board's most attended — and possibly most contentious — in at least four years.

Ashland could institute a four-day school week next year, but school board members took no action on the issue at their Wednesday night meeting, the board's most attended — and possibly most contentious — in at least four years.

About 150 students, parents and teachers packed the Ashland High School library to voice their concerns about or support for the shortened week, which would save the cash-strapped district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It's dire," Board Chair Mat Marr said, speaking about the budget crisis. "It's dire now and I just don't know what we're going to cut. It seems like there's nothing left."

Marr said Wednesday's meeting had the most attendance since he joined the board in 2005.

Since the recession took hold of the state and choked off a portion of funding for schools, Ashland School District has been looking for ways to keep its schools strong — while slowly scraping away at programs, positions and salaries to keep costs low.

In March the board approved $3.5 million in cuts.

At a meeting Monday at the Civic Center, the board will vote on another round of cuts totaling about $560,000. Those cuts would eliminate the equivalent of six and 1/2; teaching positions; the swimming, golf and dance programs at Ashland High School; and all club sports in the district.

However, if the board were to institute a four-day week at all Ashland public schools, the district might not have to make that second round of cuts, according to a report prepared by district administrators. Students would still receive the same — or possibly more — instruction time under a four-day week, because the schooldays would be longer.

Because the four-day week would mean a 10-percent pay cut for all district teachers, the matter would have to be worked out with the Ashland Education Association, a union that represents the teachers in the district.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro plans to hold a meeting in the next few days with the district's employee bargaining groups to discuss potential cuts, she said.

Four-day week discussed

Most speakers at Wednesday's meeting, including several teachers, said they were opposed to the proposed four-day week, but some parents and students encouraged the board to consider the shorter week and to think creatively about solving the budget crisis.

"I'm really interested in the four-day week as an entry point into the whole way we think about education," said Pete Cotton, a father of three Ashland High School graduates.

However, some parents said a shortened week could leave special needs kids or those from low-income families behind.

"I worry about a possible gentrification happening," said Nica Pap, a single mom with two kids at Walker Elementary School. "A lot of the low income people in our town may move to other ones that keep the five-day week."

While the school board members spent most of the three-hour meeting listening to remarks from community members, two members did present alternative proposals for budget cuts in order to preserve some programs that might otherwise be cut.

Board Member Amy Patton presented a four-day week that she created which would allow the high school to keep some semblance of its existing block scheduling. Her four-day plan would extend classroom time by about two hours each day at the high school, 45 minutes at the middle school and 30 minutes at the elementary schools.

If the board decides to make a second round of cuts to the district's budget, Board Member Keith Massie said he doesn't want to see some high school sports teams and all club teams eliminated. He presented a proposal that calls for eliminating many assistant coaching positions, funneling the savings into club sports and relying on volunteers to help staff sports programs.

Several board and community members expressed support for Massie's proposal and the board asked district administrators to investigate whether the plan might work. The board will take a closer look at the proposal at its Monday meeting.

Students speak out

Students also gave their thoughts on the proposed four-day week.

Molly Shove, a senior at Ashland High School, said she'd rather have a four-day week than loose many of the electives and special programs the school offers.

"I like the idea of having a four-day schedule in which there are still classes like Foods. I call it my sanity class because if I don't have that class, I go crazy," she said. "I would hate to be in a five-day schedule without art and without music."

However, Ryland Karlovich, also an Ashland High School senior, said he experienced four-day weeks at schools in Colorado and Florida, before moving to Ashland, and that the pace was grueling.

"If think if Ashland were to take on a four day week ... that we would loose that standard of excellence that we have," he said.

And in Karlovich's opinion, the fast-paced four-day week didn't address all of student's immediate needs, he said.

"You don't have time to go to the bathroom. This is seriously a problem because you're sitting in chemistry and you have to go," he said, as the crowd roared.

Contact Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.