Janesville13.5°

Janesville School Board will have to swallow more cuts or raise taxes

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
August 23, 2011
— What's your poison?

The Janesville School Board contemplated that question Monday night as it looked for $2.1 million to balance this year's budget.


The board took no action, but it discussed its options for a budget cure—or a poison, depending on your point of view:


-- Raise taxes? Unpopular and coming at a time when taxpayers' budgets are strained. On the other hand, the higher the taxes, the more state aid the district gets in the following year.


-- Spend down district reserves? That only creates a deficit in the following year's budget, and it could force the district into short-term cash-flow borrowing.


-- Cut more spending? The superintendent says that after cutting the full-time equivalent of 110 employees and $9 million, any more cuts would do unacceptable harm to education.


Some members told their preferences:


-- DuWayne Severson—No more taxes. Balance the budget with cuts.


-- Kevin Murray—No more cuts. Balance the budget using some combination of taxes and district reserves.


-- Karl Dommershausen—No more cuts, but he won't vote for any solution that doesn't take into account the effects of the 2012-12 and 2013-14 budgets.


-- Lori Stottler—A combination of cuts and a tax increase, but she's not ready to give up on the possibility that the district's unions might still agree to concessions.


"Tell me no, or let's talk," Stottler said of the union option.


The teachers union, which could boost the budget by $2.3 million if it agreed to start paying the employee portion of the pension payments, has indicated it might have an answer by next week.


-- Kristin Hesselbacher—No more cuts. Raise taxes, which is a tool the state gives districts to balance their budgets.


"We want people to move here, and people are not going to move here if the school district does not have a product people want," Hesselbacher said.


However, Hesselbacher wants to wait on a decision until after the district's fall enrollment is known at the end of September.


Bill Sodemann did not commit to a plan, but he said that raising taxes or using district reserves both mean taking money from taxpayers.


"It's pay me now or pay me later," Sodemann said.


No one seemed to believe that cutting sports programs—one of the items on a list of potential cuts—was feasible.


"We're not doing that," Severson said. "Let's get away from scare tactics and let's see if there's something here that we can still find (to cut). I think we can find at least $1 million."


Stottler agreed about sports and added elementary art and music to her list of items not to be touched.


Severson and Stottler both called for more details on Superintendent Karen Schulte's cuts list so they could make a better decision.


Stottler said employees might be uncomfortable as the board debated whether to lay them off, but it has to be done.


Peter D. Severson did not speak Monday, but he proposed an all-tax solution at the board's last meeting.


It appears the board has a majority for some kind of tax increase, although Dommershausen did not seem unalterably committed to that position.


Parents make plea to save schools

Parents made a concerted plea for their schools at Monday's meeting of the Janesville School Board, some saying they would move out of the district if their children's school was shut down.


The board is considering the closing of a school starting one year from now. A decision is expected next month.


Most of the speakers were parents of Harrison Elementary School students, although a few defended the other two schools on the short list: Kennedy and Jefferson.


A ommittee is expected to come up with a recommendation by Sept. 1, followed by a public-comment period and a school board decision by the end of September.


Don Vesely lives on the south side of town but chose the north-side Harrison for his child after careful research, he said.


If Harrison is closed, "we will look to move out of this community, because the reason we're here is Harrison," said Vesely, who works in Madison.


Heather DiStefano, president of the Harrison parent organization, said there must be other options, including higher taxes and enrollment fees.


Liz McLevige said she would pay several hundred dollars more in taxes if it would keep Kennedy the way it is. McLevige said she and her husband work in Illinois and it would be easy for them to move there.


Cecilia Helou said she and her husband could have settled in a different community and did extensive research before they chose Harrison.


Helou's husband, Pablo Gallo Llorente, said the loss of the school would depress neighborhood property values, leading to a decline in school tax revenues.


Several speakers noted that Harrison students have the highest test performance in the district, and they questioned why the district would want to mess with success.


Valerie Troxel, who lives in the Milton School District but sends her daughter to Kennedy, noted Kennedy's academic success even with a substantial proportion of disadvantaged students. She asked why students' test performance is not one of the factors being considered by the school-closing committee.


Traci Kaas noted that all elementary schools would be affected by the closing of one of them because students would be distributed in the remaining schools.


Parents should stand together, Kaas said, adding: "We've been known for our good schools. Let's not change that now."



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