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Janesville School District survey to gauge residents' comfort with referendums


A survey distributed Friday by the Janesville School District asks residents how they feel about the possibility of spending up to $59 million on referendum projects.

The survey asks residents about their comfort level with a $37 million operational referendum and a $22.5 million capital referendum. The totals are based on an estimated student population of 9,231.

The referendum projects are necessary, according to the survey, because the district has a lower revenue limit than many area school districts based on its declining enrollment.

Each school district in Wisconsin has a revenue limit determined by the state budget. This number caps the amount of money a district can receive through state aid and local property taxes.

The survey asks residents to rank several priorities, including safety/security, performing arts, comparable athletic facilities, controlling tax impact, controlling spending, Advanced Placement course opportunities and career exploration for students.

The survey process is part of the district’s $30,000 contract with the Donovan Group, a Milwaukee-based school communications company. The district spent $8,300 to print and mail the survey.

The survey was sent to more than 32,000 households using the U.S. Postal Service’s every day direct-mail method, which is cost-effective but inexact, said Dan McCrea, the district’s chief financial officer.

“EDDM is a cost-effective service offered by the USPS, albeit there are challenges with overcast using a ZIP code distribution,” McCrea said in a statement to The Gazette. “In other words, there might be some households receiving the survey who do not reside in the School District of Janesville.”

Patrick Gasper, the district’s public information officer, said officials don’t know how many families outside the district received the survey because it is distributed by mail carriers, who deliver it to every household on their routes.

Each Janesville School District student brings $9,700 into the district, which is lower than most area districts and the state and county average, both of which are more than $10,000 per student.

“Based on new forecasting, the district will see a significant budget deficit starting next year, despite work to trim costs, if efforts are not made to address it,” the survey reads. “In short, the district’s revenue limit is falling faster and more significantly than its ability to realize cost savings as a result of having fewer students.”

An approved operational referendum would allow the district to exceed its revenue limits.

If the operational referendum fails, cuts will be made to programs and student services, according to the survey.

The district’s tax rate was $8.48 per $1,000 of property value for the 2019-20 school year. That number is lower than other area districts, including Clinton, Milton, Edgerton, Beloit, Evansville and Parkview.

The $37 million operational referendum would cost taxpayers $40 more in school-related taxes per $100,000 of equalized property value every year for four years. A family with a $100,000 house would pay $160 total by the end of the 2024-25 school year.

That referendum would address “urgent issues” such as maintaining programs and services, staff salaries and other costs associated with daily operations. The budget would be balanced; “limited” cuts would be made, and school-related taxes would stay below the state average, according to the survey.

The survey also indicates that the school board is considering a $22.5 million capital referendum to replace outdated mechanical equipment and boilers and add security features. If voters approve it, the measure would result in a $5 increase per $100,000 of equalized property value every year for four years.

The survey will close July 31.

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Local employers want to see kids back in classrooms this fall


It’s a little more than a month before the coming school year starts, and already Mary Gut’s day care center, Cradles to Crayons Early Learning Center, has reached its 50-child capacity.

This year, a growing number of parents sweating the COVID-19 pandemic are requesting Gut’s Janesville day care center provide full-day service for their school-age children—with virtual learning rolled in.

It’s a setup Gut said some working parents view as preferable to sending their kids to local schools poised to fully reopen this fall, even amid the pandemic.

It has prompted Gut to hire additional staff who would split school-aged students into small groups and shepherd them through a day that would include virtual learning programs set up by local school districts.

Cradles to Crayons is one of dozens of local day cares suddenly in demand in new and different ways as working parents and their employers deal with a lingering conundrum: how to return to work during a pandemic that continues to present no safe bets for how classroom-based schooling might roll out.

On Monday, Forward Janesville, the city’s chamber of commerce, released results of a child care survey that shows most local businesses polled share the same sentiment: They want to see five-day-a-week, in-classroom schooling resume this fall.

According to the survey, 93% of 15 or so businesses responding say their business would be impacted if schools didn’t return to an “in-person, five-day-per-week instructional model” in the fall.

And nearly half the employers surveyed said the businesses would be affected “a lot” or “a great deal” if schools don’t return to normal.

One unidentified business gave this response to the survey:

“If school does not reopen as usual, we will need to look at alternative work schedules to include the weekend just to keep everyone working. More likely though is that we will lose a lot of employees during our day shifts.”

That sentiment jibes with local school districts’ recent surveys, which have indicated most parents would be comfortable returning students to classrooms amid the pandemic.

Both the Janesville and Milton school districts already have committed to full reopening of schools, although both have offered options including virtual learning and other hybrid setups that involve some classroom learning and some at-home learning.

Janesville schools predict at least 1,000 students could register for virtual learning this year rather than in-class schooling.

In Milton’s case, parents have until the end of this week to decide whether to register their children for classroom learning or opt for virtual learning that would allow students to take in a school day at home or with a day care provider.

Milton moves forward with back-to-school plan

After a two-hour discussion Monday, the Milton School Board approved the school district's reopening proposal, “Milton Forward: Instructional and Building Reopening Plan for 2020-2021," on a 5-2 vote.

Gut said when Janesville schools announced plans to fully reopen, her day care had a flurry of inquiries from parents of elementary school-aged children.

She said the day care center has a “ton” of incoming kindergarten-age students enrolled in Janesville school, and she predicts a fair number of those students could be with her all day as they take in virtual learning that is run through the district.

She’s working with the Janesville School District to iron out how her center might help students work through the district’s virtual schoolwork.

She said some parents are torn over the prospect of sending their children back to the classroom during a pandemic, but keeping their kids home from school indefinitely isn’t workable, either.

Parents served by Cradles to Crayons include people with jobs in nursing, manufacturing and retail, while others are convenience store clerks and warehousing and distribution workers.

“These are parents that need to go to work. They don’t really have an option to just work at home,” Gut said.

She said some parents think it might be easier for students to do virtual learning from the start of the year.

”They’re worried about having a possible (COVID-19) shutdown or quarantine interruption at school, and then going back to school and then having another interruption. They say they want to try to keep everything as steady as possible for their child,” she said.

Space at day cares—whether for part of the day or all day—is at a premium.

According to the Forward Janesville survey, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted 40% of Rock County day cares to shut down.

Capacity is ramping back up at some day cares, according to the chamber’s survey of child care centers that operate under the United Way Blackhawk Region’s umbrella. About a dozen day cares have received state emergency funds that helped them continue operating.

But overall, about 10% of local day cares have licenses that lapsed during the COVID-19 shutdown and might never reopen, the survey found.

In the survey report, Forward Janesville recommends employers who can allow flexible schedules or work-from-home continue to do so.

The chamber also is lobbying the state to continue the Child Care Counts COVID-19 emergency payment program for day cares and bolster funding for the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program, a day care program for lower-income families that under the current model doesn’t always fully cover parents’ costs.

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Walworth County sheriff’s deputies shoot armed man who ran from them


Walworth County sheriff’s deputies shot an armed Whitewater man who was running from authorities early Monday morning in Whitewater, but a news release says the man is expected to survive.

The release shared Monday from the sheriff’s office said the 32-year-old man “at one point pointed a handgun” at officers who were searching for him because they suspected he had made threats to and broken into the home of his ex-wife.

No one else was injured from the shooting, according to the release.

Police at about 5:36 a.m. Monday were searching for the man and saw him in the area of the home on Fraternity Lane where his ex-wife lives, according to the release.

“Police attempted to speak with the suspect, however he began to run away on foot and at one point pointed a handgun at law enforcement officers,” the release states. “Deputies shot the suspect in an attempt to stop the imminent deadly threat.”

On the night before the shooting, at about 8:20 p.m. Sunday, Whitewater police were investigating a claim that the man had threatened to kill his ex-wife and himself with a gun, according to the release. Sheriff’s deputies and officers from the UW-Whitewater Police Department searched for the man overnight.

At about 3:52 a.m., the man’s ex-wife said a man had broken into her apartment, where she hid until the man left, the release states. Whitewater police reported finding a live round of ammunition at the scene.

The news release shared Monday afternoon did not name the man or the deputies who shot him, but the sheriff’s office said more information will be released “later this week.”

A Gazette reporter left a voicemail on the phone number listed on the release asking if the deputies had body cameras on and activated during the shooting.

The sheriff’s office in the release says it would not give more information Monday.

The deputies involved in the shooting are on administrative duty, the release states. The state Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating the shooting.

Before Monday, the most recent police shooting in Walworth County came on the night of Oct. 18, 2018, when Deputy Peter Wisnefsky shot and killed Sean A. Dutcher, 38, in Elkhorn.

Authorities tried to stop Dutcher’s vehicle, which came to a stop but then drove a short distance toward Wisnefsky, according to body camera footage. The deputy then fired into the car, which then drove into a building.

District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld said that shooting was justified.

Walworth County law enforcement and sheriff’s office officials also were sued after a different shooting from then-deputy Juan Ortiz, who fired into a moving car and killed the car’s passenger, Christopher J. Davis, 21, in February 2016 in East Troy.

Davis’ mother filed the lawsuit, saying officers were negligent and indifferent leading up to the shooting and that some officers destroyed squad-car camera video recordings.

From 2010 through 2018, Walworth County law enforcement have been responsible for eight fatal police shootings, which is more frequent than what national figures suggest for a county of its size.

Obituaries and death notices for July 21, 2020

Keith M. Adkins

James “Jimbo” Condon

Jean Elizabeth Gallagher

Suzanne L. Hansen

Jamie Lee Kirchner

Marita Gwendolyn Leeder

Eloisa Lopez-Torres

Robert W. Mansur

Nancy Louise Miller

Valerie L. Robinson

Debra Lynn Ruud

Thomas James Schlueter

Zachary John Spangler

Gerald M. “Jerry” Turner

Leroy C. Walter