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Janesville School Board candidates differ on referendum

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
March 22, 2011
— The six candidates for Janesville School Board differ on an issue that they could be voting on soon: a referendum.

There’s good reason why the “R” word has come up in recent school board discussions: The district faces a $13.4 million budget shortfall for 2011-12.


Millions of dollars in cuts are on the table, but the question is how deep cuts could go before doing serious damage to the quality of education.


Another way to fill at least part of the budget gap would be to raise property taxes.


Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget proposal would hold the local tax levy to a miniscule increase, but the district could ask voters in a referendum to increase the tax levy.


Candidate John Burt opposes a referendum, saying that increasing taxes one year just pushes the problem to the next year.


“The expenses are ongoing. I don’t think that’s going to solve anything,” Burt said.


Candidate Scott Feldt said he would consider a referendum.


“The options that the school board has are limited, and therefore giving the taxpayers the choice of raising their own taxes, I’m open to that,” Feldt said.


Candidate Kirk Henry said yes.


“It’s the only way the district is going to sustain itself and keep education at an acceptable level. They’re going to have to do it,” Henry said.


Candidate Kevin Murray, an incumbent, said no.


“We’ve got enough issues going on right now to turn around and ask the public for some money,” Murray said.


“Let’s just deal with this (current situation) and make the best of it,” Murray said.


Candidate Fred Shahlapour said he doesn’t want to increase the tax burden on those with fixed incomes, but he would not mind increasing taxes—perhaps by $120 or $130 a year—on those who could pay.


Candidate Bill Sodemann, the current board president, said any referendum would come after May 1, the deadline for laying off teachers. So if voters say “no” to the referendum, the board could not use layoffs to balance the budget.


The only other revenue source would be district budget reserves, Sodemann said, so voters would have to understand that reserves be used if a referendum failed.



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