On the district's first furlough day during this school year, several teachers are bent over their desks grading assignments — essentially donating their time.

On the district's first furlough day during this school year, several teachers are bent over their desks grading assignments — essentially donating their time.

Meanwhile, according to the superintendent, the district's saving about $75,000 with the furlough day, which applies to all employees. The day is a state in-service day, which usually means teachers get paid to go to trainings and students get the day off.

This year, it's the same for students — but not for teachers, who, in some cases, are so swamped with work due to larger class sizes that they're spending the day working anyway.

Jim Lebo, a biology and chemistry teacher at Ashland High School, sat down at his desk in his classroom at 5 a.m. today.

"I'm grading papers," he said. "It has a lot to do with the class sizes. I'm behind and I thought I'd put a few hours in."

Four hours later, Lebo said he still had more than an hour of work left to do in his classroom. "And then I'll take everything else home," he said. "I won't be finished."

This year, as administrators grappled with declining state funds for education due to the recession, the district cut about five work days for teachers — three before school started and the last on Jan. 18, a day students also have off.

As state funds for education plummeted due to the recession, the district also laid off dozens of teachers last spring, resulting in larger class sizes. The district's $22 million budget for this school year is 14.8 percent lower than the previous year's.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro sent out a letter to teachers encouraging them to take today off, but she later said she knew many of them would be working — and that she would be too.

Di Chiro is in Salem today attending a statewide funding collation meeting that she "wouldn't want to miss," she said.

Still, she hoped the teachers wouldn't follow suit and "sneak in to work in their classrooms," she said.

"Everybody's working really hard and so I'm encouraging them to take a day off, but I know, having said that, that not all of them will," she said.

Rick Cornelius, an English and social studies teacher at the high school, was in his classroom at 8:30 a.m. this morning, grading papers and writing letters of recommendation for his college-bound students.

"See all this stuff here?" he said, pointing to an inch-thick stack of papers. "It's all got to be graded. I use every minute I can to keep up."

Cornelius said he would be working through the weekend to finish writing the recommendation letters, which are due in the next few days.

"I'm not going to say, 'You know, I didn't get paid Friday, so you don't get your letter of recommendation,'" he said. "I can't let these kids down."

Cornelius, who has been teaching for 30 years, said he didn't blame district administrators for creating the furlough day.

"I'm not whining," he said. "I'm not singing the blues. I'm telling you straight, this is the way it is."

The Shakespeare teacher said he didn't go into teaching because of the pay.

"So much of what we do as teachers is unpaid anyways," he said. "You do it because you do it out of passion. You put in those extra hours because that's your job."

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