Janesville60.1°

Janesville superintendent’s list of cutbacks could help save jobs

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
March 6, 2011
— More than 200 jobs would be lost if the Janesville School District balanced next year’s budget solely with job cuts.

Superintendent Karen Schulte has developed a plan she said could save dozens of those jobs, but not all.


The goal, Schulte said, is saving $11.5 million through budget reductions next school year. That’s a huge chunk from an operational budget that is about $115 million this year.


Schulte estimates that $11.5 million equates to a reduction of 217 positions.


Layoffs are inevitable, Schulte said, but she has come up with other budget cuts that could save some of those jobs. The list of other cuts will raise eyebrows and blood pressure. For example:


-- The middle school pools could be closed.


-- The fourth-grade program at the Janesville Schools Outdoor Lab would end.


-- Textbooks would be cut for the second year in a row.


-- Challenge Program students would no longer be bused.


Schulte found nearly $2 million in possible cuts, which would save about 36 jobs.


“I’m trying to show that if we want to look at saving positions and not laying people off, then maybe we need to tap into some of these things that we want and are near and dear to our hearts,” Schulte said.


Schulte said community members or parent groups might want to sponsor a pool or a program that is important to them.


Another 109 jobs could be saved, Schulte estimated, if all employees began paying half their pension contributions and 12.6 percent of their health care premiums, as Gov. Scott Walker has suggested.


If employees began taking those deductions from their paychecks, the district would save $5.8 million a year.


The district’s largest employee group, the teachers, is scheduled to meet Monday to consider re-opening its contract. If they agree to give up salary consistent with the Walker plan, each teacher, depending on pay grade, would sacrifice from $4,200 to more than $6,100 a year, according to district estimates.


Another union, representing custodians and maintenance and food service workers, has rejected the idea of concessions.


The third union, representing aides, clerks and secretaries, is currently renegotiating its contract. If the governor’s budget repair bill passes before a new contract is in place, the workers automatically would pay the retirement and health care contributions.


Also in line to have their paychecks dinged are the non-represented workers who have individual contracts, such as administrators, coordinators, social workers and therapists. They, too, would fall under the requirements of the budget repair bill.


A smaller number of non-represented workers with no contracts would be required to start paying more for their benefits as soon as Walker’s budget-repair bill becomes law.


Schulte, in a memo to the school board in advance of Tuesday’s board meeting, laid out a dismal budget scenario for 2011-12, in light of Walker’s recent budget proposals.


Schulte called the numbers a best guess, but she said she didn’t expect the numbers to change much. The main points:


-- Revised estimates show a $15.6 million funding shortfall for 2011-12. That includes an estimated cut of $5 million in state aid.


-- The board already has told Schulte to find $6.5 million in budget reductions. She has added the aid cut to that amount, for a daunting $11.5 million.


-- That still leaves $3.9 million. The school board had originally planned to handle that gap with a property tax increase and/or a use of district reserves.


-- Officials aren’t sure of the impact of Walker’s proposed lowering of school revenue caps, but some believe his intent is to freeze property taxes. If that’s so, then increasing taxes is no longer an option to help close the gap. Schulte said the board could fund the $3.9 million entirely out of district reserves.


-- Or the board could tell Schulte to find even more cuts.


The board’s policy allows it to use about $1.1 million of its reserves. Some board members have suggested changing the policy to allow more.


Because district reserves are used through the year to pay bills, they fluctuate from a few million dollars to more than $20 million. In January, for example, reserves totaled $24 million.


Others point out that any use of reserves simply creates a budget hole that would have to be filled in the following year.


And the board risks downgrading in its bond rating if it spends down its reserves. A lower bond rating means higher interest costs when the district issues bonds to borrow money.


Schulte’s memo also outlines job cuts resulting from Walker’s proposed cuts in education grants called categorical aids, which wipe out a number of programs.


These cuts include the district coordinator of anti-drug and alcohol programs, Carrie Kulinski.


Other part-time position cuts would be social worker Dani Robb, youth advocates Jose Carrillo and Sonja Robinson, TATE Center aides Bethany Long and Shylow Prewitt.


“These people are valuable, absolutely,” Schulte said. “I’d love to keep all of them. But can we? I don’t know. I don’t know what the board will do.”


Other cuts Schulte is suggesting to the board:


-- Not replacing some of the five principals and one assistant principal who are retiring or resigning.


-- At the central office, a freeze on locally funded travel and reductions in consultants, lawyer fees and supplies, all by 10 percent.


-- A $60,000 cut to athletics.


-- A cut of $20,000 to the district’s $135,000 budget for paper.


Schulte said the board could decide to preserve particular jobs or programs, but offsetting cuts would have to be found elsewhere.


“Regardless of the fiscal outcome, I want to assure you my first priority is continuing our Journey to Excellence and providing a quality education to the children of Janesville while working within the budget constraints given to us by the state,” Schulte wrote to the board.


Not mentioned in the Schulte memo: The board could raise taxes if it got permission from voters in a referendum. The board has not had any discussion of that option.


LAYOFFS INEVITABLE

Even if some positions can be saved, Janesville schools Superintendent Karen Schulte said there will be layoffs.


The school board makes the final decision, but Schulte lists these possible cuts:


-- 40 to 60 classroom teachers cut through the staffing plan, based on teacher-student ratios and declining enrollment, saving $2.12 million to $3.18 million.


-- 45.5 support staff such as nurses and social workers and teaching-certified staff who are not classroom teachers, such as librarians and learning-support teachers, $2.41 million.


-- 36 secretaries, clerks and aides, $756,000.


-- 11 percent of central-office staff, $379,000.


-- Five custodians, $250,000.



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