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Janesville school cuts on the way

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 15, 2010
— The Great Budget Battles of 2010-2011 have begun.

The first skirmish came at Tuesday's Janesville School Board meeting, when 12 constituents pleaded with the board not to cut high school teaching staffs.


The board listened but later voted 9-0 to increase the minimum high school class size from 18 to 24 students.


That move is expected to reduce the number of teachers needed, but no one has said how many.


The district is looking at a projected $10 million budget shortfall for 2011-2012, and teacher cuts are expected to account for part of solution to that problem.


The high schools are being addressed now because the district needs to publish its course-selection handbooks for next year so students can sign up for high school courses. Those signups will determine which courses meet the minimum and which do not.


The middle and elementary school teaching staffs will be addressed later, Director of Instruction Kim Ehrhardt said Monday.


Board member DuWayne Severson predicted Tuesday the board would eliminate 50 to 70 teaching positions, but board member Kevin Murray said it's much too early to be making such predictions.


The change in the minimum high school class size will not apply to all classes, Ehrhardt said.


Advanced-placement physics, for example, which has had consistent low numbers, has been an exception in the past and could continue to be exempted, Ehrhardt said.


Also as in the past, officials will continue to combine some Craig and Parker classes where possible.


The board's vote leaves decisions about course cuttings up to the principals, who will consider numbers of students who sign up for high school courses in January as they decide which classes will be cut.


In the absence of any clue as to which classes might be cut, a teacher, parents and students addressed the board, mostly to defend high school German, which apparently has low enrollments and could be on the chopping block.


Some colleges require four years of a foreign language or require honors courses, and upper-level German fulfills both those requirements, several people argued.


Students taking these courses are among the best in the district, said parent Robert Cooney.


"We want to make sure we don't shortchange our best and brightest just for budget constraints," Cooney said.


Parent Jaleh Dabiri said she came to Janesville because of the quality of the schools.


"By cutting budgets and cutting programs, you're telling people, 'Consider moving from this city,'" Dabiri said.


Craig High junior Wyatt Tinder argued for the preservation of art courses. For someone like him who wants to pursue art as a career, those courses are just as important as math or science, he said.


Jack Hoag argued against cuts to extracurriculars and increases in the athletics fee when that money does not go back to athletics.


Hoag noted the board has not taxed to the maximum allowed under the state revenue cap for several years. He urged the board to do so now.


District CFO Keith Pennington said later in the meeting that the estimated maximum tax next year would bring in $4.4 million.


It would amount to a 12.6 percent tax levy increase and still leave more than $5 million to be made up in cost reductions or new revenue.


Some have suggested the board has undesignated money it could tap, which resides in the Fund 10 balance.


But under board guidelines, there will probably be only about $1.1 million available from that source, Pennington told the board.


Much could change in the months ahead, including legislative action on school funding.


"This is the starting point," Pennington said. "We are four to six weeks into a process that may take nine to 10 months."


Board rearranges administrative positions

The Janesville School Board spent considerable time Tuesday deciding the fate of two of its top administrators: Director of Special Education Barb Hilliker and Director of At-risk and Multicultural Programs Yolanda Cargile.


Those two positions several years ago were lower-level "coordinators" under the direction of a director of student services.


Karen Schulte, now superintendent, was the student services director and retained some of those duties and the title when she became superintendent more than 18 months ago.


At the same time, the board elevated the coordinators to the status of directors.


The board Tuesday eliminated the student services director position and created two positions starting July 1: assistant director of special ed and assistant director of at-risk and multicultural programs.


Hilliker and Cargile will be offered the assistant-director jobs at their current salaries and will have additional duties now, taking those over from Schulte. Hilliker makes $112,770 and Cargile $111,066.


The annual combined cost of Hilliker's and Cargile's salaries and benefits will be around $304,000.


If the board had gone with a director-plus-two-coordinators arrangement, the cost would have been about $115,000 higher.


Board member Lori Stottler came up with the assistant-director idea. She said that if the positions were full directors, then there would be a pay-equity issue, because the three other directors make more money.


Another option would have been to return the two positions to the coordinator level, perhaps without a director of student services over them.


Board member DuWayne Severson argued passionately that the board should do more in this case to make a dent in the budget shortfall.


The board will be asking students to go to schools with fewer course options, and it will be laying off teachers, Severson argued, so similar tough decisions must be made at the top.


Board member Lori Stottler hinted that a revamping of the district administration is in the works. She said she expected more savings to come from that.


Severson was easily outvoted.


In a series of motions, Severson was sometimes joined by board President Bill Sodemann but no one else.



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