Janesville School Board OK’s hiring 3 teachers but not without a fight

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009
— Four Janesville schools will get more teachers to eliminate crowded classrooms, but the Janesville School Board was sharply divided Tuesday about the way the positions are funded.

At the same time, the administration made a surprise announcement that it has $750,000 less in this year’s budget than previously believed.

District financial officer Keith Pennington said an “error in communications” resulted in a failure to account for the spending of about $750,000 of state grant money for a class-size reduction program known as SAGE.

The error was discovered in the past two days, Pennington said, and officials will come up with options to balance the budget.

The board can’t raise taxes to fill the budget hole. By law, it must stick with the tax levy it set Oct. 27.

Superintendent Karen Schulte asked for the authority to hire 3.13 teachers as limited-term employees, starting around Dec. 1. She cited classrooms that have more students than allowed in board policy or that are approaching the limit.

The board voted 7-2 to spend up to $132,000 for the teachers’ salaries and benefits.

The money will pay for one teacher for the Adams School’s fourth grade, one for Van Buren School’s fifth grade, a teacher to be split between Marshall and Edison middle schools’ eighth-grade academic classrooms and extra hours to cover middle school art, music and phy ed classes.

Board member Lori Stottler said she favors the hirings, but she had to vote against the proposal on principle.

Two weeks ago, Stottler and three other board members voted against a tax levy that was 1.47 percent greater than the year before. They wanted a slightly larger levy, and Stottler suggested the extra money be set aside to pay for teachers, if needed, this year.

But lower tax levy passed on a 5-4 vote.

The money for the extra teachers will come from the operations budget’s reserve fund, or fund balance.

The teacher positions may turn out to be recurring expenses if enrollments don’t drop, Stottler said, and the board’s policy says fund balance should be used for one-time expenses.

If the board can use fund balance for this, then they will find it hard to resist the argument from unions that the fund balance should be used to give them a raise, Stottler said.

“We can’t just keep spending. This isn’t a savings account we can keep going to,” Stottler said.

Board member Tim Cullen said it was clear the teachers would be limited-term employees whose jobs end at the end of the year.

Stottler said she felt “bamboozled” by the process. Cullen said he didn’t understand the objection, asking how anyone was deceived.

Board member Greg Ardrey voted with Stottler, saying the board’s process was “shameful.”

Board members Bill Sodemann and Peggy Sheridan expressed sympathy for Stottler’s position but voted for the measure anyway.

Sodemann also tried to convince the board to pay for classroom aides instead of teachers, at a much lower cost. He garnered no support.

Last updated: 11:58 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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