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Education
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Janesville School Board approves 2021-22 school year budget and tax levy

JANESVILLE

The Janesville School Board on unanimous 8-0 votes approved a $127.26 million budget and $46.99 million tax levy for the 2021-22 school year at its meeting Tuesday night.

Chief Financial Officer Dan McCrea presented the budget plan and discussed the many factors that influence the budget. He said district membership, which is made up of all school-age students who live in the district, including those who enroll and attend school in other districts, is key to school budgeting.

“Membership drives the district’s revenue limit,” McCrea said before Tuesday’s meeting. “Within a district revenue limit is local taxation, as well as equalization aid.”

Key variables the district considers when formulating the budget include enrollment, revenue limits, equalization aid, the tax levy, mill rate, equalized property value, staff salaries and benefits, debt services and the beginning fund balance.

The district spends its money on many things—support services, social workers, school psychologists, speech language therapists, physical therapists and library services—but the majority of the budget goes toward instruction.

“The good news is our open enrollment, which is where students come into the district as well as students who leave the district, is better than it was last year in the height of the pandemic,” McCrea said. “More students want to come to the school district of Janesville than students who want to leave the school district of Janesville.”

Enrollment includes all students while membership includes all Janesville School District members who attend or open enroll out. September 2021 total membership totaled 9,033; the enrollment figure was 9,468.

The revenue limit identifies how much revenue a district can generate through state equalization aid and the local tax levy.

The equalization aid changes for the Janesville School District was an increase of $1,836,722 from $64,744,038 in 2020-21 to $66,580,760 in 2021-22.

Federal funding also played a part in this year’s budget. The latest round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding was enacted Jan. 3 and included $16,665,748 for public school use.

The approved tax levy for 2021-22 was $46,994,704, a net increase of $4,621,409 from 2020-21. The tax rate is $8.75 per $1,000 in equalized value, up from last year’s rate of $8.48 per $1,000. At the new rate, the school district portion of the tax bill on a home valued at $200,000 would be $1,750 for the year.


Education
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Local schools find new ways to retain substitute teachers

JANESVILLE

Substitute teachers have consistently been in high demand over the last few years, and officials say the coronavirus pandemic, as it stretches into the start of another school year, is having an adverse effect on how many are willing to substitute teach. Leaders in the Janesville and Milton school districts have been looking for ways to attract enough substitute teachers.

Janesville School District

Assistant Superintendent Scott Garner said Janesville schools are always trying to find a way to retain more substitute teachers to help out full-time teachers when they need time off or when an emergency hits.

“We have a pool of about 125 subs,” Garner said. “We have a competition now in the market with all districts. Every year we make sure that we can meet the pay of our neighboring districts so that we can try to recruit and retain subs.”

Garner said the Janesville School District tries to get creative with ways to thank their substitute teachers.

“Money doesn’t always motivate people,” Garner said. “We’re looking at other creative ways to try and attract and get people into the buildings.”

Garner was hopeful the number of substitute teachers would be higher this year, but then another wave of COVID-19 cases started to rise in mid- to late summer thanks to the virus’s delta variant.

“I do believe the resurgence of COVID, in terms of the delta variant, certainly is on people’s minds and prohibits them from coming into the building to sub,” Garner said. “If you look around the job market itself, it’s not just in the school district, but you look everywhere and businesses are needing help. I think that’s a larger question in terms of society in general.”

Because of the substitute shortage, many teachers will help out their colleagues during the day, but that can often pull teachers away from their own duties. The Janesville School District has reached out to local colleges to see if interns are interested and available to help substitute teach. This practice could help student teachers create a pathway to a future full-time teaching job in the district.

One group Garner said the district relies on heavily as substitute teachers is retirees, though they haven’t been as eager to help out since the pandemic began.

“With the pandemic and the delta variant, it attacks those with compromised systems, and sometimes our retired population are more susceptible to these types of things,” Garner said.

It’s not just retired teachers who make up the substitute teaching pool. The pool also includes individuals looking to make career changes.

“We certainly would encourage those who have interest either in being a paraprofessional sub or a teacher sub, please contact our office,” Garner said. “We need people. As long as they love kids, we want people who like kids. I would encourage them to call us.”

Anthony Wahl 

Carleen Courtney checks in with student on a reading assignment while working at Northside Intermediate School in Milton on Tuesday. Courtney is one of four permanent substitute teachers the Milton School District has hired to fill day-to-day vacancies through the schools.

Milton School District

In November 2020, the Milton School District started to employ permanent substitute teachers at Milton Middle School, Milton High School and Northside Intermediate School through the organization Teachers On Call.

According to Christopher Tukiendorf, the district’s director of human resources, permanent substitute teachers are assigned the morning of and the night before any absence. The permanent substitute teachers help build consistency in schools and with unfilled absences. It also frees staff members from having to substitute teach at the last minute.

“I believe that permanent substitutes help the District fill our substitute needs, but the District continues to rely on our day-to-day substitutes to fulfill the majority of absences,” Tukiendorf wrote in an email. “We would like to continue utilizing permanent substitute special education aides, but we have not had applicants apply for the vacant positions.”

The district now has four permanent substitute teachers who are shared among all buildings. Permanent substitute teachers work every day that students are attending school and are compensated $200 a day once 20 days of work have been completed.

Carleen Courtney is one of the Milton School District’s permanent substitute teachers. She does not have a teaching degree after a career in business administration. In 2006, she left that career path to be a stay-at-home mom to her three children. In February 2020, Courtney thought she should look for a job because all her kids would be gone during the school day.

Anthony Wahl 

Carleen Courtney leads a fifth-grade classroom through a reading assignment at Northside Intermediate School in Milton. Courtney is one of four permanent substitute teachers the Milton School District has hired to fill day-to-day vacancies through the schools.

“I thought I’d like to be doing something during the day when they’re gone,” Courtney said. “So I got my substitute teaching license. I had not been a teacher by trade, but I thought that would be a really good daytime position.”’

The fit was perfect for Courtney—she was valedictorian of her senior high school class and always felt comfortable in the classroom.

She started subbing daily through Teachers on Call and subbed only in the Milton School District. Courtney thought the permanent sub position would be great for her family because she would be working during school hours. After school, her kids need her to drive them to activities, and the Teachers on Call job lets her be available to do so.

“I thought it would be really interesting to be able to get a feel for what my kids experience and the atmosphere they were in all day, every day,” Courtney said. “That has been really fun. They have different ways that teachers interact with the kids and having not been a teacher, my last experience with it was from volunteering in classrooms as a parent.”


One half of the Evansville boys soccer team huddles together during a practice outdoors after school on Tuesday, Oct. 26. Top-seeded Evansville is two wins away from the program’s first WIAA Division 3 state tournament berth.


Local
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City of Janesville pursues deal for option to buy 129 acres of farmland south of city

JANESVILLE

The city of Janesville is laying the groundwork for a potential $4.5 million industrial land expansion along its south-side business corridor.

If a deal comes to full fruition, the city would secure 129 acres of farmland off County G that the city’s top economic development official said is ready to develop for future industrial use. The site is just south of the Dollar General distribution facility.

The possibility for the acquisition came after the Janesville City Council’s Monday meeting, where the council gave its blessing to City Manager Mark Freitag hammering out an option to buy the land for the purpose of beefing up the city’s holdings of developmental property.

Under the structure of the deal, the city would pay the owner, the Art T. Donaldson family trust, $50,000 in annual fees over a three-year period on an option to buy the land.

That arrangement would guarantee that the city would, for three years, retain the option to buy portions of the 129 acres at a rate of $35,000 an acre.

“It allows us to manage risk because we can delay when we take title until it’s closer to when we may have a project ready to go,” City Economic Development Manager Gale Price said of the arrangement.

A deal with the Donaldson trust has been in the works for several months, and the city council debated it in a closed session earlier this month, Price said.

The council’s decision comes as the city’s inventory of industrial land has dwindled to nearly none, yet the city continues to see a high volume of interest in industrial development.

“As we’ve consumed land for our projects, we’re in a position where we’re in need for additional land,” Price said this week. “When we think about our relationships with developer and site selectors, we have to have (shovel-ready) property ready to go in order to get real looks for these development entities. If we don’t have available land, those site selectors will fly right over us.”

As the city deals with this land shortage, the private owner of the 250-acre former General Motors property continues to work with the state of Wisconsin on a cleanup of the vacant, post-industrial land. Local brokers for the property earlier this year said they have fielded serious inquiries for some portions of the GM site, but so far no prospects for that parcel’s redevelopment have come to the public forefront.

Price said the city turned to land near the Dollar General warehouse because it is adjacent to other chunks of farmland the city has purchased from the Donaldson trust since the 1990s. Those parcels have made for readily available “shovel-ready” development parcels in the past.

In addition to being next to the 1-million-square-foot Dollar General warehouse, the parcel is also adjacent to the SHINE Technologies campus. Both of those properties have city utility infrastructure running to them that the 129 acres might link into.

If the city doesn’t buy the full 129 acres within three years, Price said, it would not recover the $150,000 in option fees. If the city does buy all the land, the option fees would be applied to the purchase.

One regional developer, Zilber Property Group, recently went on a buying spree in Janesville, buying up hundreds of thousands of square feet of warehousing space along the city’s south and east sides near the Highway 11 and Interstate 90/39 corridor.

That was one sign that real estate action could be poised to pick up in Janesville as the yearslong Interstate 90/39 lane expansion through Rock County finally wraps up this fall.

Price didn’t give any hints about new potential development interest, but he said he sees little risk that the city would not ultimately buy the 129 acres on the south side.

“We continue to have a lot of interest in the community,” Price said. “I’m not worried about this land being absorbed. There is still a lot of demand as we’re getting a lot of interest still from site selectors.”


Coronavirus
Beloit still lagging behind other communities for getting vaccinations

Beloit is still lagging behind most other communities in Rock County when it comes to vaccination rates.

As of Tuesday, 41.2% of Beloit residents, or 15,171 people, had received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Janesville, that rate was at 56.4%, or 36,260 people. In Clinton, 46.4% of all residents, 947 of them, have gotten both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine series. Orfordville has a rate of 55.9%, or 719 people, and just 27.9% of Footville residents, or 241 people, have finished a vaccine course.

Rock County reported 25 new COVID-19 cases and one death Tuesday. The number of cases per day had been going down since Oct. 7 when it reached 67 new cases that day, and has been relatively steady the past few days.

To date, a total 19,697 cases and 217 deaths have been recorded in Rock County since the pandemic began. There were 18,790 people in Rock County who recovered from COVID-19 and 720 active cases. There were 12 people hospitalized in the county as of Tuesday. The case rate is 138 cases per 100,000 people in Rock County.

In Rock County, 64.8% of eligible people received both doses of the vaccine. Eligible people are those age 12 and older.

UW System President Tommy Thompson will visit UW-Whitewater on Wednesday and join students, faculty and staff in a campuswide celebration to mark the success of the university’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

As of Oct. 18, UW-Whitewater students have reported a 74% COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Vaccinated students are eligible for a UW System drawing of 70 scholarships valued at $7,000 each that will take place later in the fall. UW-Whitewater students who have not yet been vaccinated or reported their vaccination are still eligible for the scholarship drawing as long as they complete the vaccination series and report their record by Oct. 31.

As of Monday, the latest state data available by press time, the average new cases per day in Wisconsin for the past seven days has been 1,865. The seven-day average of deaths per day in the state has been 17 and the seven day average state positivity rate was 7.4% which is going down.

As of Oct. 19, the latest data available, there were 1,084 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Wisconsin, with 13.3% of them on ventilators which is starting to go down. In Wisconsin, 91% of the hospital beds are in use, and 91.4% of ICU beds are in use.

Data shows 54.9% of Wisconsin residents, or 3,198,475 people, have completed the vaccine series as of Monday.


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