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Janesville School Board panel cuts Wilson, Jackson schools from consideration for closure

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
June 30, 2011
— Twelve public elementary schools in Janesville: Which one would you close?

A committee is considering that question had a hard time narrowing its list Wednesday night.


The committee agreed to make one firm recommendation to the Janesville School Board: Don’t close Wilson or Jackson schools.


Committee chairman and school board member Greg Ardrey told the committee that its goal Wednesday was to narrow its list of possibilities to three or four schools at the most.


After more than four hours, the committee could not reach consensus on a recommendation, Ardrey said.


Ardrey said he’s still confident that the committee can come up with a preliminary recommendation to the school board by Sept. 1. That recommendation would be contingent on new enrollment numbers, which will be known by the end of September.


The school board earlier had set a timeline that called for it to make a final decision in October, and a school—or maybe two schools—would be closed starting in September 2012.


The committee on Wednesday did come up with a preliminary list, Ardrey said. “But that really doesn’t mean much at all at the moment.”


He would not reveal the list before informing fellow school board members, he said.


Declining enrollments and tight budgets led to talk last year about the possibility of closing a school.


The school board has discussed closing at least one elementary school starting in fall 2012.


A closed school could be used to house a charter school that now pays rent or as the district’s administrative center. The city is considering whether it wants to buy the Educational Services Center for a new fire station.


The committee considered a mountain of data on all 12 schools. Among the factors are costs of utilities and cleaning, numbers of students living in poverty and numbers of students whose parents drive them to school, are bused or who walk or bike.


Wilson and Jackson schools have the highest percentages of students living in poverty, and committee members said they didn’t want to add more instability to the lives of those children.


Committee member Dave DiStefano said closing Wilson or Jackson would harm the city, an opinion he shares with members of the police department he said he has talked to.


“It’s the right thing to do to exclude these two schools, at least in my gut,” DiStefano said.


Several committee members argued strongly not to close any schools located on the outer edges of the district. They said it would be easier to disperse students from an internal school to its surrounding schools than to do the same from a peripheral school.


In a related issue, some members said they didn’t want to close schools on the northeast side that might attract students from the neighboring Milton School District.



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