Janesville school budget hole grows wider

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Sunday, February 20, 2011
— Things were bad enough when the Janesville School Board was looking a $10 million budget hole for 2011-12.

Try $15 million.

Gov. Scott Walker has not yet revealed his biennial budget, but news has leaked that he will propose a cut in school aid of $500 per student next year.

Multiply that by about 10,000 students, and you get $5 million fewer dollars for Janesville schools next year. Add that to the nearly $10 million gap the district was already projecting, and you have a $15 million hole.

“I think we’ll have to dig deeper, quite honestly. It’s going to be ugly, to say the least,” said school board member Greg Ardrey.

“Truly, the school district my daughter graduated from in 2005, that is not the school district we’re going to have next year,” Ardrey added.

The aid cut is not a sure thing, district officials said, but in a year when teacher layoffs are probable, this is the last thing they needed.

Walker’s budget repair bill was supposed to give school districts the tools to handle the cut by requiring all public employees to pay more for their benefits.

But Janesville schools don’t have those options for most employees. It settled the teachers’ contract last year. That contract will protect teachers from the effects of the Walker bill until it lapses in 2013.

A contract for a smaller union, representing custodians and maintenance and food service workers, is scheduled to be approved Tuesday.

So the district won’t have the flexibility to handle the $5 million, said district chief financial officer Keith Pennington.

Pennington said he and other officials are working long hours to come up with enough budget cuts, but it’s too early to say how this additional burden might be handled.

School board member DuWayne Severson had these suggestions:

“Are we going to raise taxes even more, or are we going to cut more teachers, or do we go back to reopen the teachers’ contract? Something’s got to give. Those are the options,” Severson said.

The district could also draw down its reserves, but the debate will be by how much. Some want to stick with current policy, which says they could take only $1.1 million.

Of course, the extent of Walker’s budget plan is not known, and the Legislature could change it.

“We really don’t have any specific answers yet, and we’re waiting for more clarity, but everything we’ve heard—we haven’t had any good news yet,” Pennington said.

The school board could raise taxes, but state revenue limits would hold the increase to $4.4 million—hardly enough.

The board could hold a referendum to raise the revenue limit.

Ardrey wasn’t calling for a referendum, but he noted that it would allow every voter to have a say in the matter.

Severson doesn’t think that’s the way to go: “I don’t think people want to have their taxes raised 15 percent. I don’t even think they’d want an 8 percent (tax hike).”

Last updated: 4:16 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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