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Hot debate: School cuts causing friction

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
July 24, 2011
— The Janesville public schools' budget crisis led to cuts and controversy this spring.

It's not over.


Weeks after the school board finalized its personnel cuts for the coming school year, the superintendent and the president of the teachers union disagree about what it all means. They don't even agree on the numbers.


Superintendent Karen Schulte said 132 teachers union members received layoff notices, but many were called back. In all, 74.5 teaching positions were eliminated. About 50 of those were enrollment-related, she said.


Janesville Education Association President Dave Parr said the 50 enrollment-related cuts should not be counted, because those cuts would have happened with or without the budget crisis.


Parr's list shows 124 full-time union members received layoff notices, and all but 10 of those were called back.


Schulte said more were called back, but into different positions.


Parr said the district didn't have to issue so many layoff notices. He accused the board and administration of trying to scare the teachers into reopening their contract to make concessions to save teachers' jobs.


"Our argument was that it wasn't true, and we have proven that our argument was correct; it wasn't true," Parr said.


Parr said 23 teachers had announced their retirements by the time layoff notices were issued in April, but the administration did not fill those retirees' positions before issuing the layoff notices.


The district could have issued fewer layoff notices but didn't, Parr said, because the intent was to scare teachers.


Looming in the background of the dispute is the future of the union and its relations with the school board after a new law goes into effect.


The law bans most topics from the bargaining table. It requires public employees to make pension payments and allows local governments to impose larger health-care contributions.


The Janesville teachers union had a contract in place before lawmakers changed the law this spring. The contract protects the union from those changes until the contract expires in 2013.


The union still could reopen its contract to make economic concessions but so far has not done so. Parr has said teachers would consider the issue when they return in August.


Schulte called Parr's assertions that so few teachers lost jobs irresponsible and unprofessional. She said nine of the district's 19 librarians are gone, for example. Go to those desks next fall, and you'll see that they're gone, Schulte said.


And that's just one job category.


When pressed, Parr acknowledged that "some" jobs were cut, "but that is what the board was aiming for when they refused to tax to at least the Consumer Price Index. By having a tax rate of zero, they were making certain that cuts would have to be made."


Parr said union members' biggest concern is whether the school board will again issue dozens of layoff notices next spring.


Parr doesn't believe any teacher cuts will be needed. He said the administration's estimate of about a $7 million budget hole for 2012-13 is misleading.


The estimate doesn't include any use of district reserves—which will increase because of conservative accounting assumptions—and assumes no tax increase, Parr contends.


"Ninety-eight percent of our revenue is taxes," Parr said. "If they don't think taxes should be used for public schooling, say that, and if you believe that, then figure out how you're going to pay for it."


New school year brings challenges, controversy

Teachers union President Dave Parr and Superintendent Karen Schulte take completely different tacks when asked whether job cuts will make a difference in Janesville public schools this fall.


Parr said he doesn't think teachers will face a more difficult situation in classrooms in the year ahead.


Teachers will be fewer than in the past year, but students will be fewer as well, Parr said.


Schulte said the loss of employees for the coming year presents "challenges," but staff members are meeting over the summer to plan for those.


Classrooms will be fuller, on average, especially at the high schools, Schulte said, and support staff will be fewer.


Parr acknowledged that the school board's vote to increase the minimum class size for high school electives will reduce students' choices, "but they're still going to get a good education from the teachers in front of them."


The board raised the minimum high school class size from 18 to 24.


Students looking for a librarian's help might have to wait in line now, Schulte said. Librarians have become the go-to people when it comes to computers, both for staff and students.


Schulte acknowledged that in past years, elementary schools sometimes ended up over-staffed, resulting in classes well below the minimum required by board policy. That won't be the case now.


"The difficulty with having more kids is sometimes the space—having kids right on top of each other—sometimes tempers flare—and it's just harder because you don't have the room," Schulte said. "That's a huge concern for teachers."


Schulte said the tight staffing risks an unexpected surge in enrollment in September.


"That would be a good problem to have," Schulte said. "Then we'd need to hire teachers. It's such a gamble, because you just don't know how many kids are going to be coming in."


The district has identified 21 elementary "hot spots," where just a few more children could require hiring another teacher.


Schulte said one of her top concerns is keeping libraries open—which will be done in part by replacing licensed school librarians with aides, thanks to a donation from Save Janesville Schools.


"We'll squeeze out as many dollars as possible to keep those places open," she said.


Schulte noted that some counselors, librarians and learning support teachers have been converted to, respectively, student services specialists, innovation specialists and academic learning coaches.


The new positions emphasize 21st century learning skills, which stress the use of new technologies.


The counselors, librarians and learning support teachers in the past often stuck to the narrow confines of their jobs. The new positions release those constraints, which will help students and staff, Schulte said.


"It's really taking off the boundaries of those positions and having everybody jump in and pick up where they need to," Schulte said.


The former librarians, for example, while they won't be in the libraries as much, will be freed to travel between schools and work with students and staff to improve technical skills, Schulte said.


Parr and Schulte agreed that the district has quality staff members who will do their best.


"Your kids are going to get a great education," Parr said. "You have an excellent professional in the classroom. We're going to do our jobs no matter what the administration and school board decide to do."


LAYOFFS AND CUTS

This is a breakdown of recent layoffs and position cuts, according to the Janesville School District administration:


Teacher layoffs

Teachers union members who received layoff notices in April, although many were later called back:


-- Classroom teachers due to tighter staffing procedures: 54 full- and part-time teachers, equaling 49.97 full-time equivalents.


-- Learning support teachers: 17 (14 later restored or became "academic learning coaches").


-- Librarians: 19 (10 restored or became "innovation specialists").


-- Guidance counselors: 25 (7 restored plus 11.5 "student services specialists" positions created).


-- Title 1 teachers: 11 (all later restored).


-- Reading specialist: 1.


-- Literacy coach: 1.


-- Program support teachers: 4 (all later restored).


Total teacher layoff notices: 132


Total positions cut: 127.97


Total positions later restored: 57.5


Note: One student service specialist position was filled by a social worker. Social workers are not union members.


Non-teacher layoffs

-- Social workers: 2


-- School resource (police) officers, who were later reinstated: 3


-- Custodians: 10


-- Maintenance/custodian: 3


-- Nurse: 1.2


Total non-teacher layoffs: 19.2


Summary

-- Total initial layoffs/reductions: 151.2 (132 teachers plus 19.2 non-teachers).


-- Reinstated teaching positions (counselors, librarians, learning support, program support and Title 1): 57.5.


-- Reinstated school officers: 3.


-- Total brought back: 60.5.


-- Total positions cut: 90.7 (151.2 initially cut minus 60.5 restored equals 90.7)


-- Total teachers cut: 74.5 (132 initially laid off minus 57.5 positions restored)


-- Change: The teachers union accounted for 822 full-time equivalent positions last school year. Subtract the 74.5 to get 747.5 in the coming year. That's a 9 percent reduction.


More cuts

Not noted above:


-- Two assistant high school principals, one at each high school. One was laid off and the other resigned.


-- Two elementary principals: Five principals retired or resigned. A retired principal is coming back to run both Harrison and Kennedy schools with the help of "building coordinators" at each school. A building coordinator also will handle Van Buren school with the help of an existing administrator or administrators who have not been named. One former learning support teacher is Wilson school's new principal. The Adams school principal has not been selected. All the building coordinators, who are now part of the administration, are former teachers-union members.


-- Other cuts in various areas: four full-time equivalent secretaries at the central office; three full-time equivalent study hall supervisors at the high schools, or four people total; 2.25 full-time equivalent special-education aides; and 3.94 full-time equivalent aides. The school board recently restored an unknown number of aide hours, using a Save Janesville Schools donation, in order to keep elementary libraries open.



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