Taxes, class sizes on school agenda

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Saturday, February 5, 2011
— The Janesville School Board will consider bigger classes in the elementary schools and might set a tentative 2012 tax increase when it meets Tuesday.

Steve Sperry, district personnel director, said he hopes the board will vote for one of eight class-size scenarios he has laid out.

Some of the scenarios increase class sizes just in grades 4 and 5. One increases the sizes in grades 2 through 5, and another would mean bigger classes for all the elementary grades.

Principals are waiting for a decision so they can begin planning for next year's staffing, Sperry said.

The administration also is looking for the board's guidance on how to build the 2011-12 budget.

The board faces no pleasant choices as it considers a projected budget shortfall of nearly $10 million. Some board members have estimated they'll have to cut between 50 and 120 of the district's approximately 840 teachers.

State law limits how much the district can raise in taxes. The estimated maximum tax increase is 12.8 percent, which would bring in about $4.4 million more than in the current year.

Board members have talked about setting a tentative tax increase now so that administrators will know how to proceed with budget planning.

Knowing how much revenue will come from taxes would tell budget planners how much more savings or revenue they'll have to come up with to balance the budget.

Likely ways to make the budget balance include reducing employees, programs or services and/or raising fees.

The board's vote on taxes, if it comes Tuesday, would be tentative. The board always finalizes the tax levy in October.

Salaries and benefits account for more than 80 percent of the district's budget. The largest employee group by far is the teachers. Officials have steered away from cuts that affect the classroom in recent years, but now, board members have said, they might have no choice.

One way to cut teachers is to increase class sizes. Board policy now sets a limit of 25 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade. The limit is 30 in grades 4 and 5.

Some board members appear ready to raise the limit. On Tuesday, the board will review eight scenarios for increasing class sizes.

The scenario with the biggest class-size increase prepared by Sperry calls for maximums of 28 students K-3 and 32 students in grades 4-5. That would mean 23 fewer teachers needed in those grades.

The district estimates the average cost of a teacher's pay and benefits at $60,000, so cutting 23 teaching positions would save $1.38 million.

Another scenario calls for keeping the K-3 maximum at 25 students but raising it to 32 in grades 4-5. That would mean cutting 14 teaching positions.

All the scenarios are based on estimates of next fall's enrollments in the various grades at different schools.

The board already has increased the minimum number of students needed to justify a high school course section. That change is expected to lead to the loss of high school teaching positions. The middle schools also will be examined for possible cuts.

Sperry said in a memo to the board that he's not yet ready to talk about the middle and high schools because students still are signing up for courses.

On the agenda

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

-- A vote on sending final notices of non-renewal to four social workers.

-- A review of fees charged to families for enrollment, specific high school courses and athletics.

-- Discussion of how spending reserves would affect the district's bond rating.

-- Discussion of a proposal to form a district transportation committee to discuss solutions for students who have difficulties getting to school because of distance, safety or weather.

Last updated: 4:24 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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