Janesville School District to take second look at gifted program

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Saturday, April 7, 2012
— Janesville School Board members Tuesday are expected to decide whether to expand the district’s gifted and talented program, but the board’s president said budget constraints could doom the proposal.

President Bill Sodemann said the Challenge Program is a good one and could bring revenue into the district.

“The Challenge Program has a lot of good things, but to do it this year, no way,” Sodemann said. “We are so far in debt.”

Sodemann said the vote could be close but probably would fall short.

Staff recommends expanding the program to include third grades at both Roosevelt and Madison elementary schools. Third grade seems a logical time to start the program because that’s when curriculum shifts to learning how to apply fundamentals, officials said.

About 5 percent of the student population is in gifted programming. The program begins with fourth grade at Roosevelt.

Under the proposal, the program would continue to expand at Madison each year with the addition of fourth and fifth grade. Under the current and proposed program, students continue in the program in middle school.

Sodemann said he is willing to commit to the program the following year and market it to bring families into the district.

Estimated costs to expand the program this year would be about $168,000, staff estimated. At a previous meeting, a board member predicted the revenue would not cover the cost.

But officials in a more recent memo estimated 2011-12 revenue from students coming into the district from open enrollment and transfers is about $243,000.

Of the fourth- through eighth-grade students who open-enrolled in Janesville this year, 26 percent are in the Challenge Program, according to a memo by Amy Sheridan, talented and gifted coordinator. Seven transferred from private schools specifically for the program.

The district has a waiting list for its Challenge Program, with 20 students on a waiting list for fourth grade in 2012-13. Another 30 have been accepted into the program.

“Adding a second fourth-grade Challenge classroom would serve our students best, and administration is considering the costs,” Sheridan wrote in the memo.

On the agenda

The Janesville School Board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St. A reception for outgoing board members Lori Stottler and DuWayne Severson will be at 6:10 p.m.

Items on the agenda include:

-- Swearing in of new board members, although they won’t be seated Tuesday.

-- Approval of the 2012-13 staffing plan.

Karen Schulte, district administrator, recommends reducing teachers by five, mostly from special education classes, and increasing classroom aide hours slightly for an overall savings of $292,141. Her recommendation is based on board-approved pupil-teacher ratios.

Officials predict a budget deficit of $8 million to $10 million, a gap that will need to be filled with taxes, other revenue, budget cuts or a transfer from the fund balance.

Teachers represent about 60 percent of the budget, while the cost of all personnel being about 85 percent, Bill Sodemann, board president, said.

Sodemann said the board has little choice but to approve the suggested staffing plan because of past decisions. Besides approving pupil-teacher ratios, the board opted not to close a school.

The board must notify teachers by May 1 if they are to be layed off.

“There’s not a whole lot left outside of cutting course offerings,” Sodemann said. “We’re pretty much kind of stuck. In 2013, will have more flexibility.”

That flexibility will come because the board will not need to negotiate working conditions and health insurance with the union to find savings, the result of legislation passed this year by the state.

In addition, teachers will be required to pay about half of the money the district contributes to their pensions. The current contract does not require teachers to do so, and the board has been unable to use that money to make up for cuts in state education funding.

Last updated: 8:11 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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