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Janesville School Board starts chewing on 2012-13 budget

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
November 9, 2011
— The Janesville School Board gave a nod to the administration Tuesday to get creative about solving next year’s budget crunch.

The board is facing a multimillion-dollar budget hole for the second year in a row.


Board member Lori Stottler said she wanted to send a message to the administration that it should not shy away from creative solutions.


Specifically, Stottler wanted the board to come to a consensus that “repurposing” a school building would be possible, even though the board voted in September not to close any elementary schools in 2012.


Stottler noted that the budget gap is daunting, and with 85 percent of district expenses going to pay and benefits, layoffs are on the table. Other board members previously have suggested layoffs of 100 people or more.


“We know we’re going to make a lot of cuts,” Stottler said.


The administration should also consider consolidating functions in buildings where space is available, Stottler said. Franklin Middle School was mentioned as one place that has room to spare.


The board did not vote, but board members did not dispute Stottler. Stottler took that as a sign of consensus.


Superintendent Karen Schulte said the administration has not dropped the idea of repurposing school buildings. She said officials are working with landlords of buildings that house charter schools to map out what is possible.


Board member Karl Dommershausen suggested a spe2cial meeting to discuss ways to save on staff, curriculum and class sizes.


“I think they (the administration) need direction as to how we’re going to approach all this,” Dommershausen said.


Schulte said her staff is already working on plans to address the budget gap.


District Chief Financial Officer Keith Pennington said after the meeting that his estimate from several months back of a $9 million budget gap for 2012-13 might be either high or low. He is working on a new estimate.


Stottler said after the meeting that the board has “hammered” the administration in recent years, to the point where the administration is reluctant to perform to its abilities, so she wanted to “empower” the administration.


“They need to be reassured that we believe in the people we hired to bring creative solutions to continue to provide for our priorities,” within budget constraints, Stottler said.


Every family is likely to feel effects of those constraints next year, Stottler said. Stottler blamed the situation on “devastating” cuts in state aid.


If the administration proposes it, the board should entertain a plan that would disperse elementary school students to other buildings and move a charter school—now in rented space—into the open building, Stottler said.


But Schulte said after the meeting that she thought she made it clear that the board was to decide by Oct. 1 on any school closings to give the administration enough time to plan. That deadline has passed, so there will be no school closings in 2012, Schulte said.


The main hindrance to closing a school 10 months from now is the school-staffing plan, which is already being worked on, Schulte said.


While adjusting the staffing plan now to accommodate a school closing would not work, Schulte said, the plan could be adjusted to accommodate larger class sizes.


Larger class sizes would require a change in board policy, noted Steve Sperry, the director in charge of the staffing plan.


WHAT’S NEXT

It’s not clear what the next steps will be in solving the district’s 2012-13 budget problems, but if layoffs of administrators, social workers or physical/occupational therapists are in the cards, the board will have to decide soon.


State law requires that workers in those positions must be notified of layoffs in the January before the following school year. Last year, the board decided in December to cut an assistant principal.


Superintendent Karen Schulte said Monday that cuts to those positions have already been discussed at her cabinet meetings. She said the cuts to those jobs this year were “thorough,” so she’s not sure there will be more next year.


“I am certainly looking at things again and looking at our enrollments,” Schulte said.



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