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Janesville teachers pledge support for community fund drive to help schools

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
April 2, 2011
— Janesville public school teachers are spearheading a fundraiser to save jobs and, they would argue, preserve the quality of education.

The fundraiser, still in the planning stages, is designed to come to the rescue of the school district. The district faces massive budget cuts and layoffs if it can’t otherwise plug a $13.4 million budget hole.


Teachers will contribute, but they are inviting the entire community to join in, said Dave Parr, president of the Janesville Education Association, the teachers union.


Members are reaching out to community leaders, including Forward Janesville, the local business-promotion association, Parr said.


The hope is to get pledge cards out within a short time, count the pledges and present a dollar figure to the school district, he said.


The school board could then use that amount to help fill the budget hole and avoid at least some layoffs, Parr said.


Superintendent Karen Schulte has suggested that the school board could cut up to 105 of the district’s 822 teachers next fall. At the same time, Schulte said she is worried about what could happen to educational quality if so many are cut.


Teachers and administrators told the school board Thursday that academics, discipline and students’ futures could be in danger if the cuts go through.


Parr said the idea is for JEA members to contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries during the fiscal year that starts July 1, but it’s up to each teacher to decide what to contribute.


If all of this year’s teachers were employed next year and that percentage was applied to their salaries, it would yield $684,510, said Steve Sperry, district human resources director.


Parr said the 1.5 percent figure is the amount of the teachers’ raise during the coming year.


Teachers are in the middle of a four-year contract that included a wage freeze in 2009-10, a 2 percent increase last fall, another 0.5 percent increase in January, 1.5 percent in 2011-2012 and 2 percent in 2012-13.


Teacher Jim Reif, who originated the idea with teacher Wendy Haag, said it’s possible to raise several million dollars.


Reif noted that the school board has not taxed to the maximum allowable over the past several years. He said that saved the average homeowner hundreds of dollars. If just a third of the population donated $300, that would raise $6 million, he wrote in a draft of a fundraising document.


“Even saving one teacher’s job is going to help the students of Janesville,” Reif said. “If we save 20, it’s going to have 20 times the impact. If we save 100, were going to save everybody.”


School board member DuWayne Severson, who first heard the idea from Haag on Thursday night, supports it.


“If we can save 10 or 20 or 30 jobs, let’s do it,” Severson said.


Reif said he’s reaching out to parent groups, businesses, the school board and others to come to a meeting Tuesday to set up “a grassroots, community-led organization.”


“Hopefully, we’ll have lots of people there with lots of experience, and hopefully we can go forward and raise some money,” Reif said. “We want to hear from everybody.”


If the money is raised and jobs are saved, that solves the district’s budget problems for one year. If the district’s financial picture does not change, the schools will be in the same boat next year at this time.


Reif agreed, but he pointed out that the school-funding situation has changed since January, suggesting that things could change by next year.


“My intent is to solve the problem we have right now and give the board as much time as we can,” Reif said.


If you go

What: Organizing meeting for a fundraising effort to help Janesville public schools.


When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 5.


Where: Small auditorium at Craig High School, 401 S. Randall Ave.


Who: Anyone interested in raising money to support the schools.



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