Janesville School Board endorses China initiative

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

JANESVILLE—The Janesville School Board gave a resounding stamp of approval for the superintendent's China initiative after some drama at the board table Tuesday night.

The board voted 8-1 to endorse what Superintendent Karen Schulte calls the Janesville International Education Program, which she envisions as involving more countries than just China.

Board member Kevin Murray was the lone “no” vote.

“I don't even know what I'm being asked to approve, because I don't see any plan, any budget,” Murray said.

Board members don't know when Chinese high school students will start studying here, what they will be charged in tuition and what revenue the district can expect, Murray said.

The state has restrictions on what tuition can be charged, Murray said.

Schulte agreed, saying the district is getting conflicting information about tuition, and “we've been working through that.”

Schulte reminded Murray that the board discussed tuition in closed session, and the board gave her a range for tuition.

Murray agreed and added that the board had told Schulte to establish tuition that would produce $5,000 revenue per student, apparently meaning tuition for a year of high school.

Schulte last week released an accounting of the trips she and her staff have made to China since last November. Murray said he took that information and estimated $30,000 worth of administrators' time on the China trips.

“That's what people I talk to in the community are concerned about,” Murray said, adding that that time spent away from the district is time not spent on getting the district's business done.

Schulte responded that Murray was missing the work done on the plane, just as work is done during other conferences to which staff members travel.

Murray said he has “a hard time with that,” adding that he is “a bit of a dinosaur” when it comes to computer technology, but he said he votes for budgets to pay for people to work “here in the School District of Janesville.”

Murray pulled out a cardboard box full of what he said were 10,000 golf tees. The tan-colored tees represented the district's students. He took 20 green tees and placed them on a blanket. Those tees represented Chinese students.

He poured the box of tees on top of the green tees.

Murray was addressing one of Schulte's oft-repeated arguments, that the international program would enhance the learning of all the district's students.

“How is that possible?” Murray asked.

Schulte also had a dramatic presentation, including a video about the rapidly increasing pace of change and the globalization of communications for which she said students must be prepared.

The other board members took turns opposing Murray's presentation.

Deborah Schilling said the golf tees should have been 10,000 milliliters of water into which 20 drops of dye were dropped.

Schilling said she knows that influence of the foreign students will spread because of her experience as a parent and as a host parent for one of the 33 Chinese students who came to Janesville this summer for an educational program.

Research and development always costs a lot up front, Schilling said, but the board needs to trust the superintendent.

“We need to give it time,” Schilling said.

Board member Cathy Myers, who teaches in Illinois, said she is sent to conferences, does her work while she is there, and brings back things that will improve her work and her district.

“You might not see the benefit immediately, and there might be an investment, but what comes will be beneficial to us in the long run,” Myers said.

“Global awareness, global literacy, language study early—very early—improves cognitive abilities. It improves test scores,” Myers added. “… I really believe the gain we will get will be tremendous.”

Board member Bill Sodemann said he has concerns that China can be “a dishonest player in industry” and that the district could be “helping a possible enemy gain more knowledge.”

But students returning to China will be importing ideas about freedom in America, Sodemann said.

“That can be very, very powerful,” Sodemann said. “One person can change the world, as we've seen throughout history.”

David DiStefano, who also hosted a Chinese student, said the district needs to change because General Motors is no longer here to offer good jobs to students who didn't do well in school.

“That doesn't exist anymore. We have to be different,” DiStefano said.

Kristin Hesselbacher said Janesville needs Schulte's program to make it stand out, so that the community becomes a destination for families, and people she talks to agree.

Hesselbacher said if people are asking Murray questions, then many more likely have similar questions, but, “All I've heard is just off-the-chart support for this.”

Murray responded before the vote, saying, “I hope there's a big payoff from it, I really do. …

“I had my say and I appreciate that, and so be it,” he added.

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