Janesville schools face a very different future
JANESVILLE Janesville public school buildings won't be cleaned as well as in the past, and students who need individualized help won't get it under cuts that will likely be finalized next month.
Superintendent Karen Schulte is spending most of her time these days working on ways to cut the budget while saving as many jobs as she can.
She's facing a $13.4 million budget deficit in the fiscal year that starts July 1. The school budget's major expense is people: about 85 percent of it goes to salaries and benefits.
So far, Schulte has a list of cuts that add up to about 12 percent of the district's workforce of 1,368.
So far, Schulte's list of cutbacks includes:
-- About 12 percent of the 822 teachers.
-- About 6 percent of the 178-member custodian/maintenance/food service union, including 10 percent of custodians.
-- About 10 percent, or 36, of the secretaries, clerks and aides.
-- About 11 percent, or 10, central-office staff.
-- A freeze on administrative hires.
Schulte noted there are six school principal openings from retirements or resignation. She could have one principal handle two schools, have someone from the central office take over one of the principalships and/or hire an a retired principal on an interim basis, which would cost less because there would be no benefits cost.
Schulte's list of these and other budget savings adds up to $8.4 million. Her impression after hearing hours of school board discussion last Tuesday was that she would have to find at least $2 million more. She has instructed her department heads to wring their budgets, again.
Schulte said she has received cost-savings ideas from staff and is getting those evaluated as quickly as she can.
A teacher on Tuesday suggested the district doesn't need the computer-based MAP testing system for the lower elementary grades.
"I'm on it," Schulte said of that idea.
She needs more input from staff to make sure the cut would work and to find out how much it might save.
The school board on Tuesday approved cutting 50.9 teaching positions for enrollment reasons. Another 40 or so teachers could be cut to help the district balance its budget.
Schulte is looking to cut teachers who fill support roles, such as librarians, counselors and learning-support teachers, for many of those cuts.
That protects classroom teachers, but those support staff members are the ones who provide a lot of the one-on-one and small-group support that could make the difference between a low performer and one who makes the grade, Schulte said.
The district in an effort to boost test scores has been identifying specific weakness in specific students and focusing teaching efforts on those deficiencies. Support teachers are a big part of that effort.
Schulte expects to see marked improvements in tests scores when they are announced next month.
"I don't want to tear apart the structure that is working, but I know we need to have cuts," she said.
Principals are not pleased, either, she said.
"They do not want to lose any of those people, and I understand that," Schulte said. "But give me something else (to cut, or new sources of revenue)."
Schulte said it's too soon to describe exactly how the schools will be different next September, but that picture is starting to come into focus.
For instance, elementary keyboarding will disappear. Two teachers now circulate among the elementary schools, teaching what used to be called typing. Schulte said children are coming to school with keyboard skills learned at home, and classroom teachers will be asked to incorporate proper technique into other lessons.
Also on the list are 10 custodial positions. Schulte said that if the board approves that cut, it would mean reducing the level of cleaning, on a scale of 1 to 5, from the current 2 to 3.
Schulte said she would not cut all the custodians at once. She would gradually phase them out to make sure that she wasn't cutting too deeply and that buildings remained acceptably clean.
School board President Bill Sodemann likes to point out that while the schools will have less to offer, they'll still have programs, such as orchestra, that most neighboring districts don't have.
Board member Kristin Hesselbacher has similar thoughts: "I do believe the (distinct) has been able to offer a breadth and depth of programs, services and classes unmatched by any district in the area for a long time, and we will continue to offer a range of courses and services even with the reductions.
"We may end up with fewer sports teams, teachers, custodians, elective courses, support services, etc., but we will focus on learning and achievement with the available resources and people," Hesselbacher added.
Many positions could have been saved if the district's three unions would have reopened their contracts and accepted concessions on their benefits costs, Schulte said, but she agrees that they did the right thing.
She was disappointed, she said, that the unions were not given a way to safely re-open their contracts.
Schulte is trying to keep the computer technology and maintenance budgets intact. Both took big hits in the current year's budget, about $1.7 million combined. But she said she can't promise that a maintenance project or technological improvement might not get cut.
Schulte also wants to correct the impression some got from a recent news article in which she was trying to say that donations probably wouldn't solve the district's huge budget deficit.
Schulte said she is thrilled to receive donations big and small, and she is hoping that businesses or individuals will step forward to sponsor programs that might otherwise be lost.
Parents could band together to pay the costs of busing students in the Challenge Program, for example. Or the district could look at naming rights for the Janesville School Outdoor Lab.
Schulte noted the school board has refrained from taxing to the maximum allowed by law in recent years—something that is standard procedure in many districts—so perhaps local taxpayers could see that as a reason to give back.
"I am committed to our Journey to Excellence and raising student achievement," Schulte wrote in recent memo to the board. "We will get through these difficult times, learn from them and build a better, stronger model of education."
Referendum, anyone? School board mulls possibility
Should the school board consider a referendum to help the Janesville School District out of its budget crisis?
A referendum could allow the board to raise the tax levy beyond the legal limit, which would be close to a zero levy increase if Gov. Scott Walker's biennial budget bill passes without changes.
Board member DuWayne Severson, who has become the Doctor No of tax hikes, said there is no way he would support a referendum.
But another fiscal conservative on the board said there is a scenario that would lead to his support.
"I think it is going to be difficult to sell the public on a referendum without concessions from the unions," board President Bill Sodemann said in an e-mail. "How do you market, 'Vote to raise my taxes so that we can continue to give increases to all employees,' when most other public employees will have their compensation reduced due to the budget repair bill and when many in the private sector have lost their jobs, had their benefits reduced, pay reduced, etc."
The only other significant source of money is district reserves, Sodemann notes, and that money would have to cover two years, because district union contracts lock in costs through 2013, and the 2012-12 state aid package is not likely to help.
Using too much of the reserves—known as the Fund 10 balance—would lead to short-term borrowing and possibly a downgraded bond rating.
"If the unions refuse to open their contract, then I would be backed into the corner where 'standing on principle' will mean the loss of 100 or so more people," Sodemann wrote. "Faced with that choice, I would agree to a referendum that asks for about $2.5 million each for the next two years with the understanding that we will have to take it from fund balance if the voters say 'no.'"
A referendum would come after the deadline for teacher layoff notices, so if voters said "no," then the only choice would be using the Fund 10 balance.
If the fund balance was $5 million lower two years from now, "we would have to make sure that the new contracts starting in 2013 would make up the losses to avoid further deterioration of the fund balance," Sodemann said.
Board member Kristin Hesselbacher notes that any scenario is based on the state budget bill, which could be altered from is present form, and it's possible that the unions may yet be able to re-open their contracts.
As more local and state budget information becomes available, Hesselbacher said, she, too, might consider a referendum
"If the additional cuts are even more severe than the current list, the public may indeed support the idea of a referendum to bring in enough funds to avoid additional (or current) cuts," Hesselbacher wrote.
To learn more
Lists of teacher position cuts based on projected enrollments, projected class sizes at various schools and high school courses that have been canceled for next school year can be found in the district staffing plan, available on the district website at gazettextra.com/staffing.
These cuts represent 50.9 full-time-equivalent jobs.
Another round of job cuts is expected to help balance the budget.