Janesville71.8°

Enrollment questions: Close a school? Lay off teachers?

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
March 24, 2009
— Uncertainty over layoffs and enrollments continues to worry the Janesville School Board.

Steve Salerno, director of human services, told the board Monday he still is predicting a loss of 259 students come September.


“I’d be surprised if it isn’t double that,” said board member Tim Cullen, who said he heard last week that an additional 100 workers are transferring to the General Motors plant in Arlington, Texas.


Several board members have suggested the district might consider closing an elementary school if enrollments dip low enough.


“It’s not fun to talk about, but at some point we may have to … as painful as that might be,” board member Bill Sodemann said.


Also painful would be issuing layoff notices to teachers in anticipation that they might not be needed in the fall. The administration is not recommending sending the notices, but school board member Lori Stottler said it might be the right thing to do.


Notices must be issued by May 1 under terms of the teachers contract. Teachers can’t be laid off after that date.


Teachers could be issued notices now and then rehired in the fall if they are needed, and if they don’t find other jobs in the meantime. That’s what some other districts are doing.


Dave Parr, president of the teachers union, was invited to weigh in. He said teachers would find other jobs because other districts are hiring. He suggested a moratorium on hiring.


Whether enough of the right positions would open up because of retirements or resignations is still unknown, however. Teachers have until April 15 to declare their intention to retire if they want to receive retirement benefits.


If the board doesn’t issue layoff notices, it might find itself cutting things it doesn’t want to cut and raising fees it doesn’t want to raise in order to balance the budget, Stottler said.


Sodemann, however, said he didn’t think enrollments would go as low as some fear. Parents might be laid off, he said, but with jobs scarce everywhere, families might opt to stay where they have friends and family.


Salerno said layoffs could mean losing quality employees the district has trained.


On the other hand, Superintendent Karen Schulte said, the district could get stuck with too many teachers if enrollments drop by 500.


“There’s no crystal ball right now,” Salerno said. “That’s the hard part.”


The school board will discuss budget issues at a study session March 31. They have two regular meetings before the May 1 layoff deadline—April 14 and April 28.


OTHER BUSINESS

Also at Monday’s meeting, the Janesville School Board:


-- Discussed a proposed elementary charter school that would teach Chinese, starting in 2010. Board members expressed concern about the expense and asked for financial details as soon as possible. Those details might be ready when the board holds a budget study session March 31.


-- Approved a new policy that forbids coaches or others from impeding students from participating in as many sports as they want. The vote was 6-2, with Greg Ardrey absent and Lori Stottler and Peggy Sheridan voting no. Stottler and Sheridan wanted to see a plan to enforce the policy.


-- Accepted the retirements, all effective June 12, of Michael Wesling, math teacher at Craig High School, after 18 years in the school district; Nanette Rehling, special education teacher at Craig, 28 years; and Marcia Rudolph, fourth-grade teacher at Monroe Elementary School, 16 years.



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