Janesville60.5°

Janesville elementary schools to remain open

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
September 28, 2011
— Now that the Janesville School Board voted not to close an elementary school next year, what’s next? How about bigger classes at all the elementary schools?

The board voted 6-3 Tuesday not to close an elementary school.


The vote came after the board listened to another round of passionate pleas from parents and grandparents who argued that closing a school would harm children, neighborhoods, property values and economic development.


But board members warned they’ll have to cut next year’s budget somewhere else.


Cuts could come in the form of larger class sizes districtwide, said board member Peter D. Severson.


Board policy now calls for classes no bigger than 25 in kindergarten through third grade and 30 from fourth grade and up.


Board member DuWayne Severson noted the projected $9 million deficit next year. He said the board would have no choice but to cut the equivalent of a school, if not two schools, to balance the budget.


“We’re going to have to find (savings) somewhere,” DuWayne Severson said. “Some of the teachers in all the schools will be affected. We’re going to lose some of those teachers.”


“It’s going to affect families no matter what we do,” board member Lori Stottler said. “It’s going to be tough.”


Stottler called for a “restructuring” of school buildings’ uses so the district could stop paying rent for its charter schools.


She said the administration should be tasked with coming up with a plan.


Stottler noted the district has lost about 700 students in elementary enrollment over the past 12 years.


Board member Scott Feldt said 40 percent of elementary students don’t attend their neighborhood’s school, adding: “If we do not tackle the issue of enrollment, then the issue of closing a school almost becomes inevitable.”


Peter Severson said he hopes the new hospital and clinics being built in town will boost enrollment. He noted, however, that the fastest-growing part of Janesville is in the Milton School District. He urged parents to contact the city council and ask them to spur growth in parts of town that are inside the school district.


Board member Greg Ardrey, who led the committee that studied the school-closing issue, said the study should have looked at all the district’s schools.


Ardrey said one of the three middle schools is half full, for example. He was obviously referring to the middle school with the smallest enrollment, Franklin. The board should discuss whether that enrollment is acceptable, Ardrey said.


Board President Bill Sodemann said the decision to close a school was made last year at this time, when the board approved a teachers contract, and when it approved contracts for the district’s two other unions early this year.


Those contracts provide raises for hundreds of employees and also protect them from paying into their pension funds or paying more for health insurance.


No decision on raises

In a related move, the board voted 7-2 to postpone action on a proposal to increase pay for 113 non-union workers, a group that includes food service workers, principals and a variety of others.


“Here again, we have the opportunity to save money,” DuWayne Severson said. “I don’t know what the delay is. We don’t have the money.”


But a majority of the board voted to wait to get data on the pay of comparable positions in other school districts that Superintendent Karen Schulte is still gathering.


Board member Kevin Murray joined DuWayne Severson in wanting to freeze salaries right away.


Murray pointed to a 7.4 percent raise these workers got in fall 2008—higher than what the unionized employees got that year. He said the freeze would be only fair.


But Sodemann said the non-union workers are taking what amounts to a 5.8 percent cut in pay starting this fall because they are the only group paying for their pensions.


Nevertheless, Sodemann said, he couldn’t vote for raises because of the budget deficit.


Sodemann did advocate for a “very, very small” increase for administrators who met performance goals.


Stottler said she was for the freeze except for the computer-service workers, who she said have more than once had to carry the load while the district tried to fill the position of information-technology manager.


Schulte has proposed increasing the computer workers’ pay because they have taken on duties that exceed their current job descriptions and pay range.


The decision was postponed until the board’s meeting Tuesday, Oct. 11.


No referendum

The board also took up DuWayne Severson’s idea of an advisory referendum to gauge public sentiment on taxes. Severson said he would not push the issue and bow to board members who suggested a survey.


Sodemann said the survey idea could be revisited at the board’s next meeting.


HOW THEY VOTED

Here’s how the Janesville School Board voted Tuesday on the closing of an elementary school. Those voting “yes” agreed with a committee recommendation not to close a school.


Yes—Greg Ardrey, Karl Dommershausen, Scott Feldt, Kristin Hesselbacher, Kevin Murray, Peter D. Severson.


No—DuWayne Severson, Bill Sodemann, Lori Stottler.



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