School board meeting strained

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011
— Raw nerves over events in Madison were rubbed a little rawer at the Janesville School Board meeting Tuesday night.

The tense meeting included an accusation, an apology and at least one board member brought close to tears.

The meeting also included talk of reopening the teachers contract to exact financial concessions that would help balance the district's budget and avoid layoffs.

The board directed the administration to look into re-opening the contract.

Board member Kristin Hesselbacher said she believes all the district's unions will agree to financial solutions to save jobs and for the good of the students.

The evening's main event was approval of a contract with custodians and maintenance and food-service workers, which the board approved 5-4. But that discussion was a starting point for a problem that hangs over the board: next year's budget shortfall and the likelihood of layoffs.

That problem is likely to get worse when Gov. Scott Walker's 2011-13 budget is released next week. It is widely assumed that Walker wants to cut school aid.

The district's projected shortfall plus Walker's aid cut could create a budget hole of about $15 million.

The board had given bargaining goals to its negotiations committee, and all agreed the committee followed those instructions in reaching an agreement. But then Walker proposed that all public employees begin paying half their pension payments and a larger share of their health-care premiums.

Contracts that are in force when the Walker bill becomes law would protect those workers, however.

Some in the community suspected this contract was rushed through in order to protect employees. But the two sides reached tentative agreement well before Walker's announcement.

"Nobody rushed this to the table," said Lori Stottler, one of two board members on the negotiating committee.

Board members DuWayne Severson and Karl Dommershausen wanted to delay a vote on the contract to wait for issues to be resolved in Madison.

Board member Kevin Murray said the contract should be approved and accused those who wanted to vote against it with siding with Walker.

Severson responded that he would accept an apology. The governor and legislators were elected to pass bills and "show up" in the Legislature, Severson said, apparently referring to the Democratic Senators who are stalling the bill by staying away from Madison.

"Let's keep what's up in Madison, in Madison. Let's keep what's here, here," Severson said.

Murray responded: "I apologize for that. Obviously, it's been very stressful for all of us."

Board member Greg Ardrey, close to tears of apparent frustration, said the contract had been bargained in good faith, and he had given his word, so he would vote for it.

The other four voting to approve it were Hesselbacher, Murray, Peter D. Severson and Stottler.

Nine people addressed the board about aspects of expected budget cuts. One, a retired woman whose name was not made clear at the meeting, spoke for people like herself who are on fixed incomes.

"If we have to sacrifice, then other people have to sacrifice," the woman said. "We're all in this together."

"I want you to know that in these difficult times, none of us relish the things we are forced to do," board President Bill Sodemann responded.

Last updated: 4:14 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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