Ashland High Drug Use, District Wide Budget Woes, Missing Students – Ashland School Board’s “Painful” Meeting

Ashland High Drug Use, District Wide Budget Woes, Missing Students – 
School Board’s “Painful” Meeting
By David Runkel

It was a night of bad news at the Ashland School Board’s February meeting last night.

Ashland High School Principal Ben Bell told the board, “There is a drug problem at the high school that is beyond our scope to deal with.  This is a challenge that we are not facing alone, it’s across the state.”

His comments came in reply to a question from Board Vice Chair Jill Franko after a 30-minute presentation on behavioral and mental services that the high school is providing to students through two full time and a halftime counselor and the school nurse.  

A major part of the education and counseling program is providing students with information on the impact of drugs that are available today “so they can make informed decisions,”  Bell said.   “Kids need to get help” but some students “if using” have resisted the school staff efforts to intervene, the board was told.

The city police department has been called in to help.  

The high school, once ranked among the top five in Oregon, has slipped dramatically in ratings by a national school-assessment firm.  Last year, it was ranked the 16th best high school in Oregon;  this year it is 27th.

“The 2024 Best Public High Schools ranking is based on rigorous analysis of key statistics and millions of reviews from students and parents using data from the U.S. Department of Education. Ranking factors include state test scores, college readiness, graduation rates, teacher quality, and high school ratings,” the ratings organization known as Niche reported. 

On the school budget issues, characterized by teachers union president Tia McLean as a  “dire financial crisis,” the board authorized the initiation of a formal “reduction in force” process with bargaining units representing teachers and classified workers. This is going to be “hard all the way around,” Superintendent Sam Bogdanove said.  

He outlined an eight-step process, starting with reductions in temporary staff hiring for this year through notifying those who will need to be let go “as early as possible.”

Overspending by the district in the current year’s budget has reduced savings, known as end fund balances, from eight percent of the budget to about two percent.  As a result some cutting is essential in the remaining months of the budget year, the board was told by Scott Whitman, director of business services.  Otherwise the district will face a bigger budget problem next year. 

Bogdanove said the budget cutting process must “keep strong and healthy schools that work for the kids.”

He also reported that the number of students is down to 2,550 from 2,850 pre-covid, and he expects the number to drop another 50 next year.

The naming of a replacement for Bogdanove is expected in the next two weeks.  Franko said a selection has been made and negotiations on a contract are going on. 
She used the word “painful” to describe all of the issues before the board.


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