Janesville47.5°

Funding request raises tension at meeting

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 9, 2008
— Kevin Murray blew his top at the Janesville School Board meeting Tuesday night.

To understand why, you need to recall that the board is expecting to make painful cuts in next year’s budget.


You need to recall that the board is under pressure as it negotiates an overdue contract with the teachers union.


And you need to remember that the board split rather emotionally when it agreed to start a new program—called Preschool 4 Janesville—on Dec. 10.


That vote for P4J approved spending about $1.45 million a year to provide preschool for any 4-year-old whose parents want it, starting Sept. 1.


That amount included a new position, someone to oversee the new program that would serve an estimated 500 children.


That person—called a coordinator—was slated to begin work on July 1.


But at some point, the district administration decided that the massive effort of preparing the new program would require the coordinator to start right away, this month.


So the administration asked the school board Tuesday for permission to use $56,000 to pay for the coordinator’s salary and benefits from Jan. 28 through June 30.


The extra expense was not mentioned until after the board voted.


Had he known about this Dec. 10, he would have been up on the table “yelling and screaming,” Murray said.


Murray was particularly upset about the rate of pay for the new position. The administration estimated it would cost about $112,000 a year to pay salary and benefits. “That’s just ridiculous. I mean, that’s the rate we pay principals,” Murray said.


Lori Stottler had similar concerns. She said she was “sticker shocked.”


Superintendent Tom Evert reminded board members that a good portion of the $112,000 pays for benefits.


“The fringe benefits in this district are, of course, excellent, but it does add to the sticker shock,” Evert said.


Director of Instruction Donna Behn said the amount was average for curriculum coordinators in the district.


Murray was not mollified. The administration can find money for its “pet projects,” and yet it asks the board to cut teachers, Murray railed.


“I am angry at the direction we are heading,” Murray said. “I just don’t understand what’s going on with this.”


Bill Sodemann, who along with Murray and DuWayne Severson voted against the program Dec. 10, said it would be unfair to handicap the program at the start, so he abstained on Tuesday’s vote.


P4J supporter Tim Cullen said he understood Murray’s feelings, but the most crucial time to have someone coordinating the new program is in the first eight or nine months.


But after that, the position should be considered for budget cuts just like everything else, Cullen said.


Board member Amy Rashkin said she couldn’t believe the administration could not do a better job of anticipating the program’s needs.


Severson wanted to know when administrators decided they needed to hire the coordinator early.


Behn said she knew on the day of the vote that the administration had a lot of work ahead of it, but she didn’t know which way the vote would go.


Why didn’t the administration just say on Dec. 10 that it would need another $56,000? Sodemann asked.


“In hindsight, we should have done that,” Behn replied.


How they voted

-- In favor of funding the new coordinator of Preschool 4 Janesville starting for the next five months: Tim Cullen, Debra Kolste, Amy Rashkin, DuWayne Severson.


-- Opposed: Kevin Murray, Lori Stottler.


-- Abstaining: Bill Sodemann.


-- Absent: Todd Bailey, Dennis Vechinsky.


Where does the money come from?

The $56,000 to pay salary and benefits for the coordinator in the coming semester comes from a contingency fund set up specifically to pay for unexpected staff needs.


What's in a compensation package?

Human resources director Steve Johnson was asked to break down salary versus benefits in the $112,000 annual compensation package for the new coordinator. He estimated that about $38,000 would pay retirement, health insurance, social security and other benefits. That would leave around $74,000 for salary.


A coordinator works 12 months, making comparisons to nine-month teacher positions dicey, Johnson added.


How does that stack up?

The average salary of a Janesville principal is $92,431. The average salary of the district’s 5.5 curriculum coordinators is $83,265.


Watch the meeting

The meeting was recorded and will be shown on Janesville cable Channel 13 on Thursday and Sunday. Telecast times are midnight, 3, 6 and 9 a.m., noon, 3, 6 and 9 p.m.



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