Janesville64.3°

Milton district debates how to spend $117,000

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
September 14, 2010
— The Milton School District is grappling with a dilemma many school districts would envy: What do you do with a non-budgeted surplus of money?

Milton was one of several districts statewide that last month was awarded money through the Federal Jobs Funds Allocation, a program designed to create and retain jobs. The money must be spent in the next two years.


The district received $727,000 through the award. Superintendent Bernie Nikolay on Monday called the award “unexpected money.”


“We are able to create some jobs areas where we have been on a wish list for a long time,” he said.


On Monday, the school board approved dedicating $610,000 of the award funding for several full- and part-time teaching positions, including $76,000 annually for a full-time “Instructional Coach” to improve teaching practices and $70,000 annually for a science teacher and math teacher at the high school.


That leaves the district with $117,000. Officials say they plan to discuss whether to spend the surplus on two key areas:


-- Startup costs for a possible 4-year-old kindergarten program as early as 2011.


-- Hiring a social worker, which the school district is currently without.


“Our district doesn’t have somebody who goes out and checks on kids,” board member Al Roehl said Monday. “I think the economy right now especially dictates that we need one.”


Nikolay acknowledged Monday the district has seen a rapid increase in students eligible for free-reduced lunch, a touchstone administrators use to gauge overall poverty in a district.


Nikolay said the surplus would only fund a social worker for one school year and part of another, and another official said it would pay for only part of the cost of starting a 4K program.


In a separate interview, Director of Special Education Krista Jones said it would cost the district $600,000 to $800,000 to start a 4K program. She said most 4K programs in the state cost school districts money in their first and second years, but they make money in future years partly because districts begin to see bigger payouts in state aid that comes with increased student enrollments.


Jones said the demand for a 4K program could total 120 students.


The school district has proposed a 4K program before, most recently in 2009. But the board voted that proposal down on a 3-3 tie, with some board members citing a lack of funding and need for the program.


Parents and some private daycare providers opposed the program because of concerns the public 4K housed at local daycares would force parents to choose between religious instruction and free preschool.


It’s not clear how many jobs a 4K program would retain or create in the district, officials said.


Under the 4K plan the district is working on, instruction would still take place at off-site daycares, some of which are privately owned. This is how the Edgerton School District runs its 4K program, Jones said.


Jones said there is now some open space at schools in the district. She added that officials also are considering the option of running the program in-house.



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