Over the past two weeks more than 200 volunteers, including 60 AHS speech and debate team students, were working the phones to connect with Ashland School District parents and community members for Ashland Schools Foundation's annual fund drive.

Over the past two weeks more than 200 volunteers, including 60 Ashland High School speech and debate team students, were working the phones to connect with Ashland School District parents and community members for Ashland Schools Foundation's annual fund drive.

Marylee Oddo, ASF's Board Chair, says giving to this year's drive is critical given the district's budget difficulties.

"Now, more than ever, is the time to give," she said.

The district faces a $4.3 million shortfall (about a 20 percent loss) from current year funding. This is one of the greatest funding cuts the district has faced in its history.

In response to the school funding crisis, Ashland Schools Foundation is increasing this year's fundraising goal from $300,000 to $410,000 to support literacy and library programming for the 2009-10 school year. The first $275,000 of the total goal is dedicated to educational support grants. Educational support grants will provide funding for reading specialists at all elementary schools; library and literacy staffing at the elementary schools, the middle school, John Muir and Willow Wind; as well as literacy classes, academic advising and the student tutor center at the high school.

The Ashland School District has already included ASF's commitment for educational support into its 2009-10 budget as a necessary part of their business practices. If ASF is not able to fulfill their pledge to the district, then the district will have to find other means to cover these expenses or make cuts in these programs, according to ASF officials. If ASF is successful at raising funds beyond Education Support Grants, the money will help restore librarian staffing hours at all schools, and reinstate other ASF enrichment grant programs.

Three weeks into the annual campaign, ASF has received donations and pledges for more than $200,000.

"This is one of the best starts for the annual fund drive that ASF has experienced in recent years," said ASF Executive Director Susan Bacon. "But, we still have some distance to go. We need to maintain our momentum in order to reach our goal."

"We are so fortunate that the community of Ashland is incredibly supportive and generous. I remain optimistic that they will continue to come through for our schools," Oddo said.

Contributions from new donors or increases in contributions from last year's donors will be matched if received by May 4.

Community members have an opportunity to leverage their dollars through the generosity of several ASF supporters who have contributed to this matching fund. Donations received over the next several weeks will also help the district's planning effort.

People can contribute by sending a check to ASF, 100 Walker Ave. in Ashland or online at www.ashlandschoolsfoundation.org. Call the ASF office with questions at 482-8197.