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For Janesville School District, bigger classes would save cash, but how much is unknown

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 10, 2011
— Janesville School Board members who wanted to know how much they might save by increasing class sizes next year are going to be disappointed.

Officials say they just don’t know.


The board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a proposal to increase from 30 to 32 the maximum class size in grades 6-12.


The board postponed action at its Nov. 22 meeting, in part because the administration did not have an estimate, even though the change was presented as a cost-saving measure.


The administration has come up with a series of charts, showing what would happen if every class had a particular number of students.


The charts with the biggest class size, 32, shows a savings of more than $800,000 in middle school and almost $2 million at the high schools. But the charts don’t reflect reality, said Superintendent Karen Schulte, because they assume every class has 32 students.


Officials already know that they would not have 32 students in every class because that many students will not sign up for every class and because some classrooms aren’t large enough for 32 desks or, in the case of computer labs, don’t have enough computers.


The charts do the same for maximum class sizes of 28 and 30. Some of the scenarios actually show increases in numbers of teachers and costs in the lower grades.


If every high school class held 28 students, the estimated savings is $832,000, not the $2 million in savings if all classes were at the impossible level of 32.


The actual savings would fall somewhere between those extremes, Schulte said.


“I don’t really know how much it actually tells them. I guess it gives them some kind of a range,” Schulte said.


The estimates are further clouded because precise enrollments are not known and because students have not signed up for next year’s classes. They do that in January.


“Some board members want really definitive answers that we can’t give at this time,” Schulte said Friday. “I mean, we would if we could. We’d love to know. But we can’t.”


The administration is explaining its figures to board members individually, Schulte said. She said board President Bill Sodemann, who is known to have a good head for numbers, spent an hour Friday trying to understand the charts.


Board members might have to look at the charts and decide whether increasing class sizes is a good idea, given the fact that they don’t really know what the savings might be, “and I think we’ll get differing opinions from the board,” Schulte said


The issue of savings is important. Preliminary estimates show a deficit in the 2012-13 budget of $8 million to $10 million, Sodemann has said, and it appears that even the maximum tax increase allowed would not come close to filling the gap.


If you go

The Janesville School Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St. Agenda items include:


-- A presentation of the annual district audit by accountants from Smith & Gesteland.


-- Possible discussions about a district energy-savings plan and budget planning.


-- A vote on whether to cancel the board’s second meeting of the month, which normally would be Dec. 27.


The meeting will be carried live on Janesville cable channels 96 and 993. The meeting will be shown again at midnight, 3 a.m., 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 15 and Sunday, Dec. 18.



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