Janesville34.5°

Six seek spots on Milton School Board

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
March 29, 2012
— The candidates who win the three Milton School Board seats up for election April 3 will inherit the unenviable task of fixing a budget mess.

The district's $1.3 million budget gap reflects financial woes that some observers say will only be worsened by deep and ongoing state funding cuts, the expiration of one-time federal jobs funds, and trends in student enrollment that are predicted to decrease or stay flat in the foreseeable future.


It's left the board and district officials grappling over nearly $940,000 million in potential cuts, $325,000 of which are linked to a handful of potential staff layoffs at the K-6 level.


Amid the district's financial turmoil, two longtime board incumbents, Bob Cullen and Wilson Leong, are defending their seats against newcomers Jason Busch, John Fons, Janet Green and Joe Martin.


Veteran board member Mike Pierce is stepping down, leaving a third seat open.


In interviews with The Gazette, all of the board candidates seem to agree that in order to stabilize district finances in the coming months and over the long term, the district will have to look beyond cuts to staff and other areas.


Busch, a magazine editor whose spouse teaches in the Milton School District, said the district should try to retain teachers and find cuts elsewhere.


"If at all possible, our good teachers—often parents and community members themselves—shouldn't pay the price of declining enrollment and a beleaguered economy with their jobs," Busch said.


Busch, who made an unsuccessful bid for a school board seat last year, and Leong, an 18-year incumbent who is athletic director at UW-Rock County, both said the district should look at the budget line-by-line to find areas to cut that don't directly impact students.


Martin, a dairy farmer who lives in rural Janesville, said the district should consider dipping into the fund balance—its cash reserve—to cover part of the budget gap. Martin said that could "forestall" further cuts.


That's a potential solution that Superintendent Mike Garrow offered this month, and it's one that's being supported in varying degrees by 12-year incumbent Cullen, Busch, and Fons, a professor at UW-Rock County.


In the past, the board has had a history of being tight-fisted with reserve cash.


Busch pointed out the district added $1 million to its cash reserve last year despite budget difficulties. He said a "modest" drawdown of that money could help to maintain staffing levels.


Martin and Cullen said the board should not develop a habit of using reserve cash to cover operating costs.


The fund balance is supposed to be there to "fall back on to fund unanticipated expenses and/or one-time expenditures," said Cullen, who is vice president at the Bank of Milton.


Green, a Milton resident and a central office administrator in the Rockford School District, said she believes the district will have unspent operating cash at the end of this school year.


Green said she believes the leftover cash could be used to cover some costs for next year, which she said could minimize the amount of reserve cash the district would use to cover the budget gap.


More than one of the candidates, including Leong, said the district might have to go to taxpayers next school year with a long-range option to raise revenues—a referendum to exceed state-imposed levy limits.


"This (budget) process might lead to the conclusion that a referendum may be an appropriate way to address the deficit," Leong said.


Busch, Martin and Fons said they'd support discussing a referendum. Fons said that in order to float a referendum, public input would be vital.


"The board needs to review its approach to raising revenue and have an open and honest public discussion regarding a future referendum," Fons said.


MILTON SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES

Jason C. Busch


Age: 32


Address: 4574 Parkwood Drive, Milton.


Job: Associate editor, EMS World Magazine.


Education: Bachelor's degree in English, Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill., 2003.


Community service: Former member of Monroe Jaycees, Habitat for Humanity.


Elected posts: None


***


Bob Cullen


Age: 51


Address: 242 Hilltop Drive, Milton.


Job: Vice president, Bank of Milton.


Education: Graduate, Milton High School, 1979, bachelor's degree in agriculture economics, UW-Madison, 1983.


Community service: Milton FFA Alumni; Milton Fund board member; Harmony School Referendum Committee; Wisconsin Rural Leadership graduate; Elks Club.


Elected posts: Milton School Board, 12 years.


***


John Fons


Age: 43


Address: 669 Wildfire Lane, Milton.


Job: Associate professor of physics, UW-Rock County.


Education: Graduate, Greendale High School, 1986; bachelor's degree in physics, Michigan Technical University, Ann Arbor, Mich., 1990; master's degree in physics, UW-Madison, 1993; PhD in physics, UW-Madison, 1998.


Community service: Volunteer certified lifeguard, Milton aquatics program.


Elected posts: None


***


Janet K. Green


Age: 50


Address: 369 Lukas Lane, Milton


Job: Central office administrator, Rockford School District.


Education: Bachelor's degree in education, UW-Whitewater, 1986; master's degree in educational administration and supervision, 1992, education specialist equivalency, St. Mary's University, Winona, Minn., 2011.


Community service: Volunteer, various Milton School District events.


Elected posts: None


***


Wilson Y. Leong


Age: 61


Address: 5740 E. Eagle Drive, Milton.


Job: Athletic director, UW-Rock County, retired public relations and promotions manager, The Gazette.


Education: Bachelor of Science degree, UW-Madison, 1972; strategic newspaper marketing and research and case studies, Harvard Business School, 1990.


Community service: The Gathering Place Board of Directors; Milton Historical Society; Rotary Gardens Board of Directors; Janesville Foundation; United Way of Rock County allocations committee; Janesville Literacy Council; Milton Cub Scouts; coach, youth soccer, little league and pony league, Milton; Wisconsin Association of School Boards delegate.


Elected posts: Milton School Board, 18 years.


***


Joseph J. Martin


Age: 49


Address: 7021 Consolidated School Road, Janesville.


Job: Dairy farmer


Education: Milton High School graduate, bachelor's degree in agriculture, UW-Madison, 1985.


Community service: Milton FFA Alumni; youth coach for basketball, baseball, football, Rock County 4-H Fair director, 4-H leader.


Elected posts: None



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