Cost-saving suggestions for district keep coming, but deadline is almost here
Janesville school officials are working to lower rental costs. Recently:
-- The Janesville Academy for International Studies moved from rented space downtown to a no-rent space at UW-Rock County, saving $44,396 a year.
-- The district negotiated lower rent with Kimball Properties for Rock River Charter School, lowering annual rent from $52,815 to $30,263 on a lease that ends in June 2013.
-- Officials have asked Hendricks Properties for a break on the $131,941 annual rent at Arrow Park, where TAGOS Leadership Academy and the district's Truancy Abatement and Transitional Education program are located. That lease ends in 2013.
JANESVILLE Get outside the box, literally and figuratively. That's what one taxpayer urged the Janesville School Board at a listening session Thursday.
Turns out officials and school board members have been thinking outside the box when it comes to the school district's 19 brick-and-mortar boxes.
The board Tuesday voted not to close an elementary school. That decision came after months of study, but officials have considered other ways to consolidate programs in fewer buildings.
Some of the ideas that surfaced at Thursday's session at Craig High School were new to the general public if not to district officials.
Rob Riley suggested that Franklin and Marshall middle schools be combined with their next-door elementary schools to make kindergarten-through-eighth-grade campuses.
And maybe Jackson Elementary School could move to open space at Edison Middle School, Riley suggested, as large numbers of Jackson students already ride the bus.
"I see a great way, right there, to reduce costs. We just have to change our way of thinking," said Riley, who is transportation director for the Stoughton schools.
School board President Bill Sodemann was intrigued. "I would like to have the administration look at it. I think it's a really neat idea," he said.
Superintendent Karen Schulte said the idea had come up in administrative discussions. Some smaller districts have various combinations of grade levels, she noted.
"Next round, however that comes around, that could be something we could look at," Schulte said.
When the next round might be is uncertain. Schulte said after the meeting that the deadline to make major building changes to help next year's budget is nearly here.
The administration told the board months ago that it needs a decision by Oct. 1 so the planning process for teacher staffing next year can begin as it normally does in October.
The date is actually Oct. 3 because of the weekend, officials have said.
Other ideas popped up as four board members engaged in a free-flowing, polite conversation with a handful of parents, teachers and others at Craig.
Board member Kevin Murray said one solution might be moving some "business" functions out of the Educational Services Center to make room for either the TAGOS or Rock River charter schools, which now pay rent in commercial buildings.
Board member Lori Stottler was not at Thursday's session, but at Tuesday's meeting she suggested the board tell the administration to come up with a "restructuring" of building uses, something she said they could likely do "in their sleep."
Stottler said Thursday that the district could look at changes in programs as well as building use as it peers into the future and tries to discover what a 21st century education should look like.
The board has an agenda-planning meeting this morning, and Stottler said she might attend to see if the idea has any traction. The board isn't scheduled to meet until Oct. 11, but it could call a special meeting at any time.
Administrators also have considered adding fifth grade to the current middle school grades of 6-8, said board member Peter D. Severson.
The 5-8 school idea apparently came up after school board member Karl Dommershausen some months ago suggested a different idea, moving the middle schools' sixth grade to the elementary schools.
"I believe we will eventually need to close a school, unless enrollment turns around," Dommershausen said Thursday.
Schulte repeated her hopes—based on recent increases in preschool, kindergarten and first-grade—that enrollment could be making a comeback.
That was a reason Severson said he voted not to close an elementary school.
Riley said he didn't think that comeback would happen in his lifetime.
Two parents at the meeting liked the K-6 elementary school idea, but Schulte said sixth-graders are closer to middle schoolers in terms of their physical and mental development.
"We'd want to dig into the research and make sure we're making the right decisions, but surely that could be looked at," Schulte said.
Sodemann said if past experience is a guide, he could probably find research to support opposing points of view.
Several speakers Thursday pleaded with the board not to do what it did last spring, when staff morale plummeted as the board considered job cuts, ultimately reducing district staff by 110.
"I try not to be a doom-and-gloomer, but I don't see any way we're going to get through next year without some cuts," Severson said.
"We're in survival mode right now," Severson said. "Next year is probably going to be the worst. … We've torn down this school district a little bit, and we're going to have to work to build it back up."