Janesville66.8°

School closings list narrowed to Harrison, Jefferson and Kennedy

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
July 13, 2011
— Three east-side elementary schools are now the focus as the Janesville School Board considers whether to close one or more a year from now.

The board on Tuesday chose Harrison, Jefferson and Kennedy schools for more study by the boundary lines committee, a group of mostly community volunteers.


The plan is to narrow the list even more by Aug. 15 and to make a preliminary recommendation by Sept. 1.


The board briefly discussed the district budget. It did not take up a recent memo that suggests the board could increase the coming year's tax levy by as much as 7.5 percent to make up for a loss of state aid.


Scott Feldt asked for a tax-and-budget discussion to be held on July 26. He also suggested the board discuss making offers to employee unions, apparently to help with the budget.


The boundary lines committee and district staff are tasked with looking at three different closing scenarios, one for each school. They will figure out where each student from the closed school would be placed and how staffing and bus schedules would change, among other factors. The result should be the costs and savings from each scenario.


Not yet known is whether a closed school would be used to house other district functions, such as a charter school that now pays rent.


The board has already approved saving money by appointing one principal to oversee Harrison and Kennedy in the coming school year with the help of two lower-paid "building coordinators," so savings might not be as much as an estimate of about $600,000 floated earlier this year.


Saving money is a high priority for the 2012-13 school year, as the board is contemplating even more staff cuts that year to balance its budget.


The final 5-4 vote to choose the three schools came after extensive discussion and votes on proposals to consider just two schools—Harrison and Jefferson—or four schools—Harrison, Jefferson, Kennedy and Lincoln.


Discussion focused on criteria that the boundary lines committee used to come up with a ranked list. All four schools were at the top of the list as the most preferred for closing.


The top criteria were:


-- Enrollment. The fewer the students, the higher the school rose on the list because fewer students' lives would be disrupted.


-- Poverty indicators. The committee didn't want to introduce more stresses into poorer students' lives.


-- Planned capital improvements needed over the next four years. The more costs, the higher on the list.


-- Annual operating costs.


Two criteria deemed to be less important were percentages of students who rode private vehicles to school and number of classrooms.


The committee figured students who rode to school would more easily adapt to traveling farther. Schools with more classrooms were deemed more desirable to keep open because those rooms would be needed to absorb students from the closed school or schools.


Board member Lori Stottler suggested the district approach neighboring districts about adjusting district boundaries. The city's biggest housing-growth area is expected to be the portion of the north side that is in the Milton School District. No one responded to that idea.


Data considered by the boundary lines committee are posted on the district's website.


Board member Greg Ardrey, who is chairman of the boundary lines committee, has said in the past that the board could ultimately decide not to close a school.


If a school is closed, the decision must be made in October so the administration has time to prepare, officials have said.


Plans call for public input in September.


IN OTHER BUSINESS

In other business Tuesday, the Janesville School Board:


-- Voted 5-3 to use a $60,900 contribution from Save Janesville Schools to increase the hours of library aides so that elementary schools would have libraries open even though the board cut librarians for the coming school year. The money also would pay for a 0.7 full-time-equivalent "innovation specialist" for the high schools. Some members wanted to wait several weeks to get more information about how the changes would be paid for in succeeding years. Voting "no" were Scott Feldt, Kevin Murray and DuWayne Severson.


-- Voted to raise school lunch prices by 10 cents per meal, largely because of a change in federal lunch program rules. The new prices will be $2 for elementary schools, $2.25 at middle schools and $2.35 for high schools. The more than 47 percent of Janesville students who receive free or reduced-price lunches would not be affected.


-- Agreed to hire Shawn Kane as assistant principal for Craig High School.


-- Decided not to cancel its July 26 meeting.


-- Delayed to August a decision on hiring a new district insurance consultant.



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