Custodian issue splits Janesville School board

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009
— The Janesville School Board was divided as it faced tough questions at its meeting Tuesday night.

The most difficult conversation came after a 20-minute recess the board spent in the basement of the Educational Services Center when a tornado was reported near Milton.

The question was how the newly expanded high schools would be cleaned. The administration recommended hiring enough help to fill six eight-hour shifts per day. Two of those hires would be full-time, the rest part-timers.

Council member Bill Sodemann suggested the district break from longtime practice and ask private contractors to bid on the janitorial services. Sodemann said he had heard from local businesses that would like to bid, and at least one that indicated the district could save money.

Absolutely not, said Kevin Murray, adding this would open the door to more privatizing of district services.

An island of non-union workers among the unionized teachers and other employees is "just asking for trouble," he said.

Tim Cullen said he could never support having employees that were not under the direct control of the superintendent and, by extension, the board. He warned of having private employees in contact with children.

Diedre Richard said she could not believe there would ever be a safety issue.

The private contracting plan failed on a 5-2 vote, with Sodemann and Richard voting "yes."

Cullen said it's a bad deal for taxpayers to hire part-timers, which would save money because the district wouldn't pay their benefits. But the state would end up paying their health care through Badger Care, still costing taxpayers money, he said.

Cullen proposed hiring only four full-time custodians, which would mean 16 hours less of cleaning time per day than the administration recommended.

The district could use a prioritized cleaning system in which some areas would not be cleaned as often as others, as officials have recently researched, Cullen said, and see if it would be possible to do the job with four.

Asked whether four could do the job, Steve Eichman, manager of purchasing and transportation, said: "I think it would be greatly stretched to provide the same level of service that we currently do."

Cullen's motion failed.

The board eventually voted 4-3 to hire all part-timers to cover six eight-hour shifts, the same amount of time but without the two full-timers the administration had requested.

The "no" votes were Cullen, Dwayne Severson and Murray. Voting "yes" were Richard, Peggy Sheridan, Sodemann and Greg Ardrey.

Board members Lori Stottler and Peter D. Severson were not present at the meeting.

The board also split on the question of funding a new trust fund with $500,000 from the 2008-09 budget. The fund would pay future early-retirement benefits.

Tim Cullen wanted to delay the funding to the 2009-10 budget, and not vote on it until the total budget picture was clear.

Cullen pointed out the district is facing a cut in state funding for the first time, an unknown impact from a loss of students in the fall, uncertainty about how much federal stimulus funding the district would receive, and contract negotiations with the teachers union.

Cullen warned the board could be facing a tax increase in the fall, and committing the $500,000 now would mean that much less money available to hold down taxes.

The board voted in 2008 to create the fund, Sheridan noted.

But the board policy says the board doesn't have to contribute to the fund if financial conditions warrant, Cullen noted.

Richard and Sodemann argued for paying the $500,000, saying the financial situation could be just as tight next year, and the move would look good when the district's bond rating is reviewed.

The board voted 4-3 to delay the payment. Voting "no" were Richard, Sheridan and Sodemann.

Last updated: 10:36 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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