Senator proposes more aid for Janesville schools

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
— Sen. Tim Cullen is proposing that Janesville and a handful of similar school districts get an added boost in state aid next year, but the proposal is unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Cullen's bill would give Janesville an extra $3 million in state aid next year to make up for the loss of aid under Gov. Scott Walker's budget.

Walker and fellow Republicans had given school districts "tools" to make up for the aid loss, but Janesville and a few other districts could not use those tools.

The tools require employees to pay 5.8 percent of their salaries toward their pensions and could also include higher premiums for health insurance, easing budget pressures.

But union workers in Janesville and some other districts have contracts that protect them from the effects of the legislation until the contracts run out June 30, 2013.

Cullen, D-Janesville, said the Clintonville, Jefferson, Southwestern and Milwaukee school districts also would benefit. Cullen's bill would give those districts half of the aid they would otherwise lose. In Janesville's case, that's $3 million, Cullen said.

Cullen's bill would give those districts "a first draw" from the general school-aid appropriation. That draw would reduce the amount available to all districts, but Cullen said the relatively few districts that would qualify means the overall reduction would be relatively small. He did not have specific numbers, and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has not yet completed its fiscal note on the bill.

Cullen did not hold out great hope for passage.

"Everything's tough up there. It's going to be difficult. But you've got to try, even if it's uphill," Cullen said.

Cullen, a former member of the Janesville School Board, said he came up with the idea on his own, without input from the board.

"The bill does not increase state spending. It creates a potential very minor shift in school aid between districts," Cullen said.

Local Assembly members Joe Knilans, R-Janesville, and Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, declined to co-sponsor the bill.

Knilans said he and Loudenbeck believe the fiscal impact on other districts would be too great, especially with Milwaukee in the mix.

Most school districts and their unions, including those surrounding Janesville, have already made the tough decisions and come to agreements on concessions, and those teachers and other employees are paying their share of their pensions, Knilans said.

"What we would do (under Cullen's proposal) is to ask those surrounding districts to take money out of their budgets to give to Janesville and Milwaukee," Knilans said.

He said that wouldn't be fair.

Cullen said it's not fair that the law treats all districts the same, even though some are penalized under the law because of pre-existing contracts.

"The facts are, this is money on a one-year-only basis being allocated out of a multibillion dollar pot of school aid," Cullen said.

Even including Milwaukee, the impact would not be great, Cullen said.

Cullen said he has one co-sponsor in the Assembly, Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson.

Cullen said he waited until now to make his proposal. He was waiting to see whether a different attempt to help those districts would work.

That plan, which originated with Knilans, would have allowed unionized employees to reopen their contracts to make concessions without risking losing their collective bargaining rights.

Janesville teachers, who represent the lion's share of the district's payroll, declined on several occasions to reopen their contract, even with Knilans' measure, which expired in September.

Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, has a similar proposal now before the Assembly, Knilans said.

Asked if he favored the unions agreeing to concessions, Cullen said it was up to the unions, not him, to decide.

Without the concessions from the unions, the Janesville School Board has three basic options for balancing its budgets this year and next: cuts, higher taxes or dipping into its reserves.

Last updated: 6:39 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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