Janesville56.4°

School closing may only save Milton schools $181,000

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
April 7, 2010
— A debate continues on whether the Milton School District should close Consolidated School next year to bridge a projected $760,000 budget gap.

But savings the district could see through the school’s possible closure continues to be a moving target.


In recent weeks, school officials estimated the closure of Consolidated School, a four-classroom rural school located near Janesville’s northwest edge, could save $600,000.


But updated figures show the district may have overestimated those savings, district officials said at a budget and planning meeting Tuesday. Now, the district says closure of Consolidated school could ultimately save $181,000.


That’s not an accounting error.


District Business Manager Dianne Meyer said there’s a “significant difference” in projected savings from Consolidated’s possible closure because the first estimate was based on an earlier proposal to lay off four elementary teachers at the school.


That plan changed in late March, when district administrators proposed an updated list of top priority budget cuts that would leave two elementary teaching positions unfilled following a retirement and a leave of absence.


Currently, Consolidated School’s closure is listed as a second tier cut. But if the board can’t agree on some of the larger cuts in the administration’s $941,000 list of top priority cuts, Consolidated’s closure could get moved to the front burner, Superintendent Bernie Nikolay said.


“If the board takes anything off of Tier 1, they’d have to replace it with something else,” he said.


The board, which is not currently considering a referendum to exceed school revenue limits, likely will approve budget cuts Monday, April 12.


Board Member Al Roehl, who attended Tuesday’s meeting via telephone, said he’d rather see some of the administrator’s top priority cuts shelved in favor of Consolidated School’s closure.


One cut he criticized is a plan by administrators to save $110,000 by reducing the district’s custodial staff. District officials Tuesday would not comment on specifics of that plan.


“I don’t think we’re going to clean the schools the way we should,” Roehl said.


Roehl, who heads the board’s budget and planning committee, suggested other board members also oppose keeping Consolidated School open.


“I know about two people who’ll back me up, and all I need is one more, so you better have your ducks in a row,” he told officials Tuesday.


Consolidated School, located near Janesville’s northwest side, has four classrooms and serves about 90 students in the K-3 grade levels. Along with Harmony School, it is one of two rural, outlying schools in the Milton School District.


Some school board members argue it’s financially irresponsible to keep Consolidated School open because proposed staff cuts could leave an equivalent of four open classrooms throughout the district—the same amount of teaching space at Consolidated.


Parents of students at Consolidated School have publicly urged district officials to keep the school open. The parents have argued the school’s closure ultimately could mean decreased individual attention for students, and longer bus rides for students.


Nikolay said administrators are concerned the school’s closure could chase away families, resulting in a loss of enrollment and state aid.


“We have the unknown of how many families could leave with 10 grand (in state aid) tied to each student that does,” Nikolay said.


Roehl downplayed those concerns Tuesday, noting that under current budget proposals, administrators project the average class size would increase by only one or two students district wide.


“How does closing Consolidated affect kids when you’d have the same number of kids in the classes in town?” Roehl said.


Besides, Roehl said, students would adjust to the closure.


“The people that are always more upset are the parents,” he said. “Two weeks after the kids are in there, everything’s hunky dory.”



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