Ashland School Board Reducing Classified Staff To Accommodate Budget Cuts of At Least $1.3 Million
ASHLAND, Ore. — At the end of the current school year in June, between 13 and 24 classified employees in the Ashland School District will be laid off, according to district Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove. It arises from a vote by the Ashland School Board on Thursday that took into account a shortfall of $1.3 million in the 2023-24 general fund total budget of around $40 million.
The cuts will mainly affect educational assistants hired during the COVID-19 pandemic with federal funding, and won’t affect teaching jobs. Patrick Grady, the Athletics Director hired in fall 2021, has also been given notice, and the position will be absorbed by the Assistant Principal, Francisco Lopez Atanes.
The position of the principal of TRAILS Outdoor School is also being reduced from full-time to just over half-time, despite that Ashland Connect- which provides K-12 online learning and is overseen by the principal, will likely also see an additional two students per class at TRAILS, adding to the overall class size. Bogdanove confirmed that the trajectory for the cuts was known in October, and the union reps were advised at the time.
Various factors led to the reductions, the biggest of which is the district’s loss of 300 students since open enrollment ended almost five years ago. The system allowed students to enter the district without obtaining permission provided there was adequate space. Bogdanove- who retires in June, said that this resulted in a loss of about $3 million.
He indicated that while declining enrollment is a general problem, Oregon experienced a reduction of about 11,000 students in public schools because of COVID-19. In the district, before COVID, in ’19-20 there were about 2,850 students, but this has since dropped to between 2,500 and 2,550 students- an 11 or 12% reduction. Bogdanove said that 100 students is more or less the equivalent of a million dollars, and the loss of 300 students equates to around $3 million, at $10,000 per student.
A second element that led to budget cuts is the loss of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding for the current year. These funds paid additional staff hired to navigate the requirements put in place during the pandemic. According to Bogdanove, realizing that they were in a declining enrolment phase, more staff was hired to make sure teachers and classrooms were resourced really, really well. ASD Board Vice-Chair Jill Franko offered condolences to district staff and those who will be affected by the cuts before the voting and confirmed that it was a hard decision.
Union Reps Respond To Budget Cuts, Highlighting Members Needs
The representative of Ashland School District faculty’s classified union, Ashland Education Association (AEA), Ashland Education Association (AEA), Tia McLean, was clear in her address to Ashland School Board members on Thursday. She told them about the impact that the planned staff reduction would have on teachers and classified staff. Addressing the school board, she shared gratitude for the financial updates given by the district, but also her frustration at the timing. She says that the district knew about this in October but waited until February to talk to staff, asking for ideas. McLean said, “This is the largest avoidable financial crisis the Ashland School District has experienced.”
She also stated that they were blindsided by Senate Bill 819, but believes that the current issues- declining enrollment, loss of ESSER funding, the nutrition services debt, overhiring, and increased insurance costs were predictable and budgetable. They are in a financial predicament when cut days, cut programs and staff layoffs are on the table. She is also a kindergarten teacher at Helman Elementary School and in 2019 was Southern Oregon’s Teacher of the Year.
The representative of the Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA), Steven Essig, also confirmed the negative impact of budget cuts on staff. Many classified employees, especially those most affected by the reduction, have suffered under the current economy and already struggle to make ends meet. Several of the members he has spoken with have received notices of increased rent, in line with the maximum allowable 14% for this year.
Essig said that at the last bargaining, they got a 3% raise, and the discrepancy between rent and pay alone has led to many employees having to moonlight with second or even third jobs. The whole situation has caused a huge amount of stress and anxiety, and affects classified staff the most, according to him.
Ashland School District is negotiating new contracts with AEA and OSEA this spring.
Budgeting Without ESSER Funding
District Director of Business Services, Scott Whitman confirmed that they would be spending, around $40 million this year, making overspending about $1.3 million. He said that they need to stabilize spending, the majority of which- 85%, is on staff. Bogdanove would like to see spending on staff reduced from 85% of the budget to 80%, with reserves being built up.
He indicated that it must be recognized that this is a district of 2,500 or 2,550 and resources must be appropriate at every level. He acknowledged that the staff reduction impacts all employee groups and said that the decision to reduce staffing was tough and was made thoughtfully. Those who will be laid off will learn about it by spring break in March, to allow them to plan accordingly. Employees who receive layoff notices will also be encouraged to apply for open positions that are not funded by ESSER dollars.
The board’s next regular meeting is on March 14.