Ashland schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro is trying to decide this week whether the district still has time to recruit 25 Chinese students for a boarding school program next academic year, after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security approved the program Friday.

Ashland schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro is trying to decide this week whether the district still has time to recruit 25 Chinese students for a boarding school program next academic year, after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security approved the program Friday.

"We're right down to the wire," she said Monday. "So I have to decide this week."

A recruiting firm previously told Di Chiro that the district's program needed to receive government clearance by the end of February in order to have enough time to enroll Chinese students in Ashland High School for the 2011-12 school year.

Di Chiro spoke with the company, the Cambridge Institute of Chinese Business Research, Saturday and she expects to receive a response today about whether there is enough time to recruit students, she said.

"We're going to depend on what the recruiter tells us," she said. "I anticipate hearing back from them soon."

Chinese students are typically recruited between January and April for study abroad programs, Di Chiro has said.

District officials hope to enroll 25 Chinese students, paying $25,000 each, in the high school next academic year, enabling it to become the first public school in the state to charge tuition to international students.

Homeland Security approved the district's application to issue paperwork to the Chinese students that will enable them to receive visas.

The School Board unanimously approved the program in December in the hopes it will begin next school year.

The district is modeling the Chinese program after one at St. Mary's School in Medford implemented last fall.

St. Mary's used the Cambridge Institute of Chinese Business Research to successfully recruit students, Di Chiro said. The recruitment fees will be paid by the participating families, not the district, she said.

The students, who would be high school juniors and approximately 16 years old, would live in Southern Oregon University dorms and enroll in regular Ashland High School classes as well as in specialized English classes.

The program could bring in about $178,750 in the first year, said Jill Turner, the district's business manager.

The district would receive about $625,000 in tuition, but would need to spend about $446,000 to run the program, she said.

Some of the proceeds from the program would go toward implementing the high school's redesign, Di Chiro said. The remaining amount would go into the district's general fund balance and could help minimize budget cuts. The district expects to have a $1.3 million budget gap for next academic year.

"There needs to be a direct benefit to the high school, because the high school's going to provide the program to the kids," Di Chiro said. "But if this works out, we might revisit what we would do with any funds we made, because now we know more clearly what our problem is for next year."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.