Fundraiser meeting draws 70 people
A Facebook page, Save Janesville Schools, has been started for those who want to network about this fundraising effort. More than 400 people had registered to be members on the site as of Wednesday afternoon.
JANESVILLE A fundraising effort to help the Janesville School District through its budget troubles is on its way to becoming a reality.
Jim Reif, one of the teachers who came up with the idea, had said the effort would end if no one showed up at the first organizational meeting Tuesday.
About 70 people attended the meeting at Craig High School. Most of them were district employees, and most raised their hands when asked if they would be willing to help.
A smaller group met later Tuesday night and set an organizational meeting for Monday.
"I would say there was enough enthusiasm to carry it through," said Mike Rundle, a retired firefighter and former school board member who was designated as the person to contact the news media.
The goal is to start the fundraiser within two to three weeks, Rundle said.
Reif suggested Tuesday that fundraising be wrapped up by June 1, but he also said the group should think of committing to helping the district through two years in hopes that the economy and school-funding climate would improve after that.
Rundle said the group looks to form a steering committee with representation from schools, businesses, parents and other sectors of the community to reflect a broad-based effort.
Another enthusiastic backer is Amy McQuillan, a parent and business owner. She said she wants this to be a nonpolitical effort that is community-based because what's at stake is not just the schools but also the community's economic health.
A successful effort could bring positive attention to Janesville, McQuillan said.
Reif suggested the effort could raise millions of dollars if enough people can be convinced to contribute. He noted that the school board has refrained from taxing to the maximum allowed by law in recent years, saving homeowners hundreds of dollars, and he suggested they give some of that back.
If 20,000 people contribute $300 each, Reif said, that would amount to $6 million, which would go a long way toward keeping district staff that might otherwise be laid off.
The school board and administration should be trusted to use the money to save jobs and programs, Reif said.
Several school board members and Superintendent Karen Schulte attended the meeting.
The school board is considering cutting more than 100 teachers plus a variety of other staff. Schulte has said that she fears the cuts could go too deep, and education would suffer.
"I really believe we have to do something serious, or we're going to see Janesville turn into Rust Town," teacher Wendy Haag said.
McQuillan said the district's $13.4 million budget deficit seems daunting, but she came away from the meeting impressed and hopeful.
"I really believe everybody cares about it, everybody is distressed by it, and everybody wishes they could help, but it's such a huge number that people think, 'What is it that I can do about it?'" McQuillan said.
Sue Conley of the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin told the group that her foundation could collect the pledges and make the contributions tax deductible for a fee of 2 percent of collections.
All involved said it was important that the effort be broad based. They got a boost Monday when the business association Forward Janesville urged its members to support the effort.