Janesville school closure still big ‘if’

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Friday, July 1, 2011
— “It’s preliminary. It’s preliminary.”

Janesville School Board member Greg Ardrey repeated himself Thursday as he explained the work of the boundary lines committee that he leads.

The committee worked late Wednesday night to narrow a list of elementary schools for possible closing. The committee did not achieve its goal, which was to name about three schools for further study.

The committee did rank the 12 schools. The rankings show how strong the case is for closing each school, based on six criteria. Those rankings, Ardrey stressed, is—you guessed it—preliminary.

The committee also removed Jackson and Wilson schools from consideration.

So what’s next?

Ardrey said once the committee has its short list, it can look closely at the costs of closing those schools and the difficulties in dispersing students to other schools.

It could be that the savings from a school closing is not enough to outweigh the upheaval, Ardrey said.

The committee has not examined the costs versus benefits enough, yet, Ardrey said, “so it’s still a huge ‘if’ in my mind.”

Superintendent Karen Schulte agreed cost is a key factor. She noted that the school board has reduced the number of elementary principals from 12 to 10 for the coming school year and also cut support staff, so closing a school wouldn’t necessarily mean a reduction in salaries for a principal or other staff.

Another consideration is how soon enrollments might rebound and require the re-opening of a closed school, Ardrey noted.

Ardrey plans to request guidance from fellow school board members at the board’s finance/buildings and grounds committee on Tuesday. Ardrey also is chairman of that committee.

The next step is likely more boundary-line committee work. The committee probably would assign weights to the factors in its decision matrix.

The committee might also consider other factors before selecting a small number of schools for further study.

Those factors are likely to include a desire to keep schools open if they attract students from neighboring districts. Kennedy School, for example, is located close to a large number of homes in the adjoining Milton School District.

Drawing students across the school district border would help the Janesville district because state funding is based on enrollment.

Kennedy is a top candidate for closing, based on the preliminary ranking, but it could fall down the list if this factor is considered.

The same goes for the top school on the list—Harrison. Some committee members Wednesday said schools farthest from the center of the district should be preserved, in part because it would be easier to disperse students from a closed school if schools surrounded it on all sides.

Housing growth expected on the northeast side is another factor.

Then there’s the question of what happens to a closed school. If the city decides to buy the Educational Services Center, then the school administration could move to a closed school. Or a charter school such as TAGOS Leadership Academy could move out of rented space into a closed school.

Ardrey noted that the new use would mean costs for remodeling and moving at a time when saving money is paramount.

Ardrey said he hopes to have a preliminary recommendation for the school board by Sept. 1 and a final recommendation later that month. Ardrey said the recommendation could be to close one school but certainly no more than two.

Ardrey noted that teacher-staffing plans show 21 “hot spots” where additional teachers and classrooms might be needed if numbers of students exceed class-size limits this fall. If even a handful of additional classrooms is needed, then the district wouldn’t have space to handle the closing of two schools, he said.

The board could make its decision in October. That would give the administration time to plan for a school closing for the 2012-13 school year.

But the board could decide to keep all 12 elementary schools operating, Ardrey stressed. The board is divided on the issue, he said.

Ardrey said he’s heard a complaint that the boundary-lines committee members, who are community volunteers, might harbor preferences because of where their children attended school or where they live. He said members are focused on what’s best for the entire community.

Ardrey noted that the committee came out strongly for keeping Jackson and Wilson schools open, and none of the members has had children at those schools.

Last updated: 5:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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