Janesville75.2°

Milton School Board OKs $1.1 million in budget cuts

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Neil Johnson
April 10, 2012
— The Milton School Board unanimously approved a wave of budget cuts Monday that district officials say will help span most of a possible $1.3 million budget gap.

The bulk of the cuts, which total about $1.1 million, came via staff cuts through both attrition and the layoff of four K-6 teachers.

The teachers cut represent about $260,000 in savings. That total is based on an average dollar value of $65,000 per position, according to district estimates.

In all, staff reductions account for about $650,000 of the cuts, according to district records.

The district already had sent out preliminary pink slips to the four teachers, who were chosen from a pool of nine first-year teachers with identical seniority and professional qualifications.

The teachers last month competed to retain their positions through job-style interviews in front of a panel of district administrators.

Garrow said the district still could fill two of the laid-off positions if there is additional staff attrition.

The staffing cuts mean the district would see small increases in class size of "less than one student" in first- and second-grade classes and increases of one or two students in fourth- and fifth-grade classes, Garrow said.

Michael Dorn, president of the Milton Education Association, told the board Monday that Department of Public Instruction data shows the Milton district has the lowest per-pupil cost of any K-12 district in the state. He also noted it is among the schools with the highest ratios statewide for students per classroom teacher.

"I want us to remember that parents look at school districts as we compete in the open market for students," Dorn said. "One of the things they (parents) are going to look at is student-teacher ratio."

Dorn suggested that even if staff cuts mean just a few more students in classes, that alone could put the district at a disadvantage.

"Two more students in a sixth grade classroom is quite a bit," Dorn said.

He said the district needs to look at ways to stop increasing class sizes, even if it means increased costs.

School board members Jon Cruzan and Tom Westrick said the specter of class size increases worried them. Cruzan suggested the district might have to be more creative in years to come to forestall such increases.

"That (class sizes) can well be a rallying point to draw people into this district," Cruzan said.

Meanwhile, Mercy and Dean, the district's insurance carriers, have announced that cost increases in employee health insurance will be at least $325,000 less than earlier district projections, Garrow said. The district has listed the projected savings in district documents as a "reduction" in spending.

Monday's cuts don't paint the whole budget picture. The district still faces a lingering gap of $200,000.

Board and district administrators have discussed using the fund balance, the district's cash reserves, to bridge the gap. However, it would need a plan to apply the money to a one-time expense to avoid a hit to the district's bond rating, said Mary Ellen Van Valin, the district's business services director.

District officials could submit a tentative budget in June or July, and the board will decide on the final budget in the fall.


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