School board still wants to see list of cuts

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011
— The Janesville School Board wants to see what kinds of budget cuts are possible.

Eight of nine board members voted Tuesday to require the administration to come up with a list of cuts, even though Superintendent Karen Schulte told them she couldn't run the district with any more reductions.

That's the reason Schulte didn't produce a list of cuts for Tuesday's meeting. Board members had asked for the list two weeks ago. This time, the board made its request more official with a vote.

Kevin Murray was the "no" vote.

The vote came after a lengthy debate over whether to fill a $2.1 million budget gap with property taxes or to wait. The vote was 7-2 to wait.

Murray said that if the vote was to wait on taxes, then the board should wait on all budget matters.

Lori Stottler said she didn't want the list because she wanted to cut, but she needs it to show her constituents what would happen if more cuts were made.

The board has already voted to cut around $9 million from this year's budget and to increase athletics, registration and other fees.

"We've reached as far as I think the district should go" without causing damage, Murray said.

Peter D. Severson proposed filling the budget gap entirely with taxes.

Severson noted that the state is allowing the board to raise taxes to balance its budget, so, he said, the board should use that authority.

State lawmakers also have called for public employees to pay into their pension funds, but the district's three employee unions are protected until their current contracts run out, and they have so far declined to make concessions voluntarily.

"They're not going to open up their contracts," Severson said, so the fair thing is to tell taxpayers what they're facing, now.

Others suggested the board could also use undesignated money that helps keep the district from using short-term borrowing, but they acknowledged that using that "Fund 10 balance" money would make balancing the following year's budget that much harder.

The vote would not be a final one, Severson said, and the final tax levy could be altered if more were known before the board is required to set the tax levy at the end of October.

Scott Feldt argued that waiting would give the board more information for a decision: "Maybe we get more students. Maybe the teachers do reopen their contract. Maybe there are costs we still aren't sure of yet."

Stottler said $54—the estimated amount of the tax increase on the average home—is too much for her and for her neighbors.

District Chief Financial Officer Keith Pennington told the board he sees no downside to waiting.

DuWayne Severson argued that if the board votes its intention to raise taxes now, that takes away any motivation for the unions to make concessions.

The public already has signaled its thoughts on paying more for schools through the meager donations collected by the Save Janesville Schools effort, which recently turned over $60,900 to the district, DuWayne Severson said.

DuWayne Severson said he won't vote for any tax increase. He said he has heard from the administration for years that further cuts were not possible, and yet the administration came up with $9 million in cuts this year.

"I know it's going to be tough," DuWayne Severson said. "I think we should look for additional cuts."

After lengthy debate, only Peter D. Severson and Kristin Hesselbacher voted to raise taxes now.

The board is still waiting to hear the result of a meeting that board President Bill Sodemann is trying to arrange with teachers-union President Dave Parr. Sodemann's task is to get a clear answer about whether the union might consider making concessions.

Parr previously told the Gazette that teachers would decide as a group when they return to work later this month.

The board heard from two district residents opposed to higher taxes.

Resident John Lader criticized Parr for not helping out and said the private sector has been bearing the burden for years.

Lader said he sympathizes with the board and understands that further cuts will be detrimental, "but in these tough economic times, you will have no choice."

Last updated: 6:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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