Janesville School Board again rejects challenge program

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, April 10, 2013

— The Janesville School Board has again rejected, on a close vote, expansion of a program for academically talented students.

The proposal was to expand the Challenge Program at Madison Elementary School by hiring two teachers and adding teaching hours for music, art and physical education.

It appears the result of the vote is that Madison Elementary School is left with a fifth-grade Challenge class for the coming year but not third- or fourth-grade classes. Those classes exist at Roosevelt Elementary School.

The administration had proposed the expansion in order to serve students on a waiting list who otherwise would not have gotten the specialized instruction and accelerated classes in math, science, English and social studies.

The expansion was expected to draw students from outside the district through open enrollment, but officials could not promise that the revenue that followed those students would pay all the added costs.

The proposal was voted down on a 4-4 tie on March 19, but board member Scott Feldt was not there because he was stranded at an airport.

The plan was offered again Tuesday and lost on a 5-4 vote. Feldt voted for it, but Kevin Murray switched his vote.

Murray apologized to Superintendent Karen Schulte, saying he told her he would vote for the plan, but he said he had changed his mind on Tuesday.

Murray pointed to proposed spending in excess of $500,000 next year for new positions or replacing positions cut in 2011. The administration had introduced the five-year hiring “forecast,” which officials said was not set in stone, because some board members had asked for it.

Murray said the Challenge Program expansion does not fit his budget priorities for next year. He did not elaborate. He could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

Board president Bill Sodemann argued hard for the program, noting the board set one of Schulte’s top goals as bringing in new students to the district.

“I really think this is a way to make Janesville a shining star. … I think it’s a real draw,” Sodemann said.

Board member Greg Ardrey continued to vote “no,” which he has vowed to do until the administration comes up with a comprehensive plan to provide services to all the district’s talented students, not just those in the Challenge Program.

The district provides some services at all the schools, but officials acknowledge they are not as good as they were before positions were cut. A new plan is in the works, and the board will find out about it in May. Officials hinted it would include new spending.

Board member Kristin Hesselbacher, whose family settled in Janesville because of the Challenge Program, said she is concerned about the students on the waiting list who wouldn’t get the services they need.

“If we don’t pass this, they’re not going to be served, and that’s the bottom line,” Hesselbacher said.

“This is leaving children behind. We’re not letting them realize their full abilities,” added board member Karl Dommershausen.

Last updated: 10:27 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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