Janesville School Board OKs adding students despite budget concerns
The Janesville School Board on Tuesday voted 6-2 to support Superintendent Karen Schulte's plan to open a fourth-grade section of the Challenge Program at Madison Elementary School.
The vote came despite concerns about balancing the 2012-13 budget. The budget is expected to show a funding gap of up to $10 million.
The Challenge Program is currently in grades four and five at Roosevelt Elementary School and grades six through eight at Edison Middle School. It accepts only top-testing students.
The program has never been in more than one elementary and one middle school, but Schulte has signaled her intention to continue expanding it at Madison and then Franklin Middle School, one grade per year.
The board in April voted to expand the program to third grade, and Schulte later decided to place the third grade at Roosevelt.
Some believe that expanding the program will ultimately bring in new students and new revenue that will more than pay for the expansion, but no one could guarantee that it would pay for itself in the coming year.
Schulte reminded the board of the goal it set for her to increase enrollment. Offering more slots in the Challenge Program is expected to attract more students.
The first-year cost is about $72,000 for the salary and benefits of one teacher.
Board member Peter Severson said the expansion should wait.
"We're going to go there eventually, but right now we just don't have the money to do it," Severson said.
Schulte and other board members argued that they should expand now because 25 fourth-graders who tested into the Challenge Program are on a waiting list.
"I think it would be reprehensible not to serve these students when we know they qualify for this program," Schulte said.
The new teacher's position would be covered by a "contingency" position, which is funding set aside to pay for a teacher when an unanticipated need arises. The vote leaves only two contingencies in the budget with dozens of "hot spots" where officials are concerned that just a few more students could require extra teachers.
Schulte admitted there's a risk that she might have to come back to the board in the fall and ask for funding of more teaching positions.
But the board has told her they want a dynamic leader who works for positive change, and that's what she's doing, Schulte said.
Severson and Greg Ardrey voted against the expansion.
The board and Schulte discussed at length whether she or they had the ultimate authority to expand the Challenge Program to another school.
Schulte likened her move to many decisions made each year to close or open new sections of other courses in existing programs across the district based on student needs.
Both sides of the argument seemed to acknowledge, however, that board policies leave a gray area.
The board has yet to address the question of how to balance the budget. It has until the end of October to do so.
"The budget information is going to start pouring in in July," board member Kristin Hesselbacher said in an interview last week. "That's when it's going to get interesting. So stay tuned."
In other business
Also Tuesday, the Janesville School Board:
-- Approved a change in the charter-school contract for the Janesville Virtual Academy that will allow the online high school to offer middle school courses in the coming school year. Officials assured the board that although costs would increase to pay staff and buy a new curriculum, the expansion would more than pay for itself because of revenue from students who will switch districts to enroll in the school.
-- Heard from Superintendent Karen Schulte, who said that in the past there has been a decision not to market district programs outside the district. She said she would be "seeking direction" from the board concerning future marketing efforts.
-- Approved a one-year contract extension for Schulte, from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014. The vote included a provision that Schulte receive no raise in the coming school year due to economic conditions. Board President Bill Sodemann said the board is pleased with Schulte's performance, noting improvements in test performance and awards garnered by various schools.
"Thank you for all you have done," Sodemann said to Schulte.