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Panel: Don’t close elementary school

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
August 26, 2011
— Don’t close any school.

That’s the recommendation of a committee that has spent months considering the closing of a Janesville elementary school.


The district Boundary Lines Committee on Thursday night voted 5-0 with one abstention not to close any of the district’s 12 elementary schools.


“I don’t think the dollar amounts warrant the disruption of children and parents in our education system in Janesville,” said committee member Dave DiStefano.


Agreeing with him were Sheryl Green, Mary Spielman, Sue Kumlien and Sandy Hoeser. The only other member of the committee, Chairman Greg Ardrey, abstained.


Ardrey is the only school board member on the committee. He said he would make his preference known when the school board votes.


The board does not have to agree with the committee. The board’s buildings-and-grounds committee, also led by Ardrey, is expected to take up the question when it meets Sept. 6. The full board does not have a meeting scheduled until Sept. 13.


The school board had asked the committee to do an in-depth study of three schools that were considered the best choices for closing: Harrison, Jefferson and Kennedy elementary schools.


The committee got final data at Thursday’s meeting, including the potential savings:


-- Harrison—$1.01 million in savings, reduced by $92,694 if all the out-of-district students return to their home districts.


-- Jefferson—$715,862, reduced by $52,968 if all the out-of-district students leave.


-- Kennedy—$1.11 million, reduced by $158,904 if all the out-of-district students leave.


In addition, reduce the savings by $30,000 in estimated moving costs, and possibly add savings for relocating a charter school from rented space to the vacated school.


No firm number for potential rent savings was available, but all the charter schools’ total rent in 2009-10 was $255,149. One charter school has closed since then, and the district has negotiated lower rent for Rock River Charter School, officials said.


In addition, district administrators said their savings estimates for personnel might be high, because they might find later that they need additional staff such as teachers, aides, secretaries and custodians once the students from a closed school were dispersed around the district.


Cost estimates also did not include potential remodeling costs if special-education programs are moved out of a closed school.


“If anything, you’re going to find that these savings are going to decrease because of things you haven’t accounted for,” Green said.


Green said closing a school could also reduce future revenue growth from out-of-district families who would no longer choose Janesville.


“I also think it sends a terrible image of Janesville that we would close a school,” DiStefano said.


DiStefano, who made the motion, included all 12 elementary schools. He noted that the committee earlier had done an in-depth analysis of closing Wilson and Roosevelt schools with similar results, and he said it’s safe to assume similar results for any school.


Another reason for the vote was another bit of information revealed Thursday. Officials had analyzed where they would send each student if they closed each of the three schools to the nearest school within 2 miles.


Two miles is important because students living farther away must, by state law, be given bus transportation.


In each case, there were not enough classrooms at the remaining schools to accommodate all the students, officials said.


Committee members also seemed impressed by enrollment projections that showed little change over the next 10 years. One projection said enrollment would continue to decline through next year and then rebound slowly.


If the board decides to close a school, it should do so by Oct. 1, Ardrey said, so that officials have enough time to plan for the closing in the 2012-13 school year.



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