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Janesville school cuts raise temperature for upcoming meeting

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August 6, 2011
— Further cuts would harm education in Janesville.

That’s the gist of a memo from Superintendent Karen Schulte to the Janesville School Board, but one board member is upset that Schulte did not come up with a list of what could be cut next if the need arises.


The board learned in July that it has a budget hole of $2.1 million because the state cut aid more than previously estimated. The board also learned that it could increase taxes by up to 7.6 percent, which would more than cover the deficit.


As the board discussed what to do at its July 26 meeting, Lori Stottler asked that the administration develop a list of budget cuts equaling the $2.1 million. The rest of the board seemed to agree.


Schulte responded in a memo to the board that will be taken up at Tuesday’s board meeting. She said she had asked her directors to make recommendations for cuts but did not list any.


Stottler said Friday, soon after the memo was delivered, that she is frustrated because she doesn’t believe her request was taken seriously.


“As an elected member of the school board, I can’t defend raising taxes unless you can give me something to take to my community and say, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen,’” Stottler said.


“I guess I’m anxious to see what the rest of the board thinks of that as a reasonable response to my request. I’m one of nine (board members),” Stottler said.


Schulte noted in her memo that the board has already approved more than $9 million in cuts for the coming school year.


“As a result of these reductions, we revamped how we deliver support services to students and have conducted two workshops for staff so they begin to understand their new roles,” Schulte wrote.


The superintendent went on to note that the cuts included custodians, resulting in lower school-cleanliness standards; the use of one principal to cover two elementary schools, and eliminating one assistant principal at each high school.


“One of these changes would be a massive change to a district, and we are implementing three major changes along with the reduction in staff. I don’t believe we can make any further reductions without tearing at the fabric of the fine educational system we have in place.”


When informed of Stottler’s comments Friday, Schulte said it’s not in the best interest of employees to restart discussions of budget cuts, which would mean dropping more employees from the payroll.


“They’re going to be fearful. … And how many board meetings are they going to have to wait—until October—to find out if they’re going to lose their jobs?” Schulte said.


Schulte noted that administrators, teachers and some others under contract can’t be cut at this time of year because of contractual or legal restrictions, but some employee groups still could be cut.


“I would hate to have to put employees through that again. They’ve had a very hard year. … If the board decides we have no choice, you have to do it, then we’ll do it. But I haven’t heard that yet,” Schulte said.


Board President Bill Sodemann said he thinks the situation is the result of a misunderstanding.


Sodemann said he understands Schulte’s position that any cuts “would be very, very challenging if not impossible to do at this stage in the ballgame.”


Sodemann said he also understands Stottler’s desire to show her constituents the severe consequences of cuts so they could understand the board’s choices.


“I don’t think anybody’s at fault here,” Sodemann said.


On the agenda

The Janesville School Board meets for a study session on administrators’ benefits at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St. The regular meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. The agenda includes:


-- Continued budget discussions. Board President Bill Sodemann had hoped to report on a meeting with teachers union President Dave Parr regarding the possibility that teachers might agree to make concessions on their benefits package, but Sodemann said Friday that Parr is on vacation, and it’s unlikely he will meet with Parr before Tuesday’s meeting.


-- Possible approval of a series of energy-saving measures for Kennedy Elementary School.


-- Possible appointment of Amy Sheridan, an Edison Middle School teacher, to the position of interim district assessment coordinator, replacing Ruth Robinson, who retired. Robinson’s salary and benefits cost $127,436. Sheridan’s appointment would save the district about $27,500, according to a memo from human resources director Steve Sperry. Sheridan’s duties would include programs for talented and gifted students.


-- Acceptance of a report on students at risk of not graduating high school, whose numbers increased last school year from 810 to 960. These last two items are on the consent agenda and therefore might not be discussed.



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