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Expected deficit makes Janesville school referendum more likely


The Janesville School District likely faces a deficit heading into the 2021-22 school year, and any referendum it proposes will have to address both building and operational needs, school officials were told this week.

Chief Financial Officer Dan McCrea told the school board Tuesday that even before the coronavirus pandemic, the school district faced a $2.5 million deficit as early as 2021-22.

With state aid cuts expected because of lower state revenue, that deficit probably will be closer to $3.5 million. Unless addressed, it will grow every year.

As a result, Janesville soon will join school districts around the state that must ask local taxpayers for extra money just for operations. The district also must address the needs of its aging buildings that can’t be met in its $1.4 million annual capital improvement budget.

The school board has not decided if the district should float a referendum this fall, but McCrea’s presentation made it clear it will have to happen soon.

Money issues

The district faces what school officials call a “structural deficit.” Costs continue to rise. Revenue has increased, too, but not enough to meet costs.

Think of it this way: A family owns a home and runs it on an annual income of $50,000. Twenty years later, the family’s income has increased modestly, but not at the same rate as groceries, gas and utilities. The family also has a roof and furnace that need replacing.

In the same way, the school district’s state aid has increased, as have other sources of revenue, but not enough to cover the cost of educating students. The district also has to care for the 20 school buildings that make up its “home.”

Structural deficits are common, especially in school districts where enrollment is declining, McCrea said. The Janesville district recently saw its enrollment drop below 10,000 students for the first time in years.

The district has reduced its operating costs through staff reductions that matched the declining enrollment. In the 2020-21 school year alone, those savings will come to $350,000. In the 2018-19 school year, the district moved to a high-deductible health plan that significantly reduced its health care costs.

Building issues

The school district needs to address an estimated $111 million worth of electrical, plumbing and “building envelope” issues such as windows, insulation and roofs.

In the past, some work could be done under Act 32, which allowed the district to exceed state-imposed revenue limits and borrow for projects that improved energy efficiency. However, that funding tool is no longer available.

On Tuesday, McCrea suggested that the board consider dividing the work into phases. The first phase could include work on some “mechanicals” and creating “secure pathways” for visitors entering school buildings.

Numbers, please

How much will it all cost?

McCrea offered one model that called for borrowing an estimated $30.4 million over four years for improvements. In addition, the district would ask to exceed the revenue caps by $3.2 million in the first year, $7.7 million in the second year, $11.6 million in the third year and $14.75 million in the fourth year.

How would that model affect taxes, assuming the referendum passes?

For the 2020-21 school year, a nonreferendum year, taxes would be an estimated $847 per $100,000 in property value. In 2021-22, the first year of the referendum, taxes would jump to $885 per $100,000. In year two, they would rise to $891 per $100,000; year three, $893; and year four, $897.

McCrea stressed that the model was based on several assumptions about state budget cuts.

What’s next?

The school board plans to create a community financial advisory committee, a group of residents who will review the district’s financial position and make recommendations to the board.

A survey is in the works, and the board hopes to set up community meetings after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

The earliest the board could float a referendum would be November. To do that, the board would have to decide on the ballot question by August.

Making schools safer

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Chief Financial Officer Dan McCrea suggested dividing up the district’s building needs into phases.

The first phase would include work to create “secure pathways” for visitors entering school buildings.

The best method involves “direct contact,” McCrea said. School visitors ring a buzzer and are let into a locked vestibule. The person who buzzes them in can see them. Once inside the vestibule, visitors state the reason for their visit at a window or desk. Then they are buzzed through a second set of doors or asked to wait in the vestibule for the person they need to see.

In many schools, the office serves as that initial waiting area. Visitors are buzzed in to the school but can only enter the office.

“Our schools are safe,” McCrea told the board Tuesday.

“The perimeters and entryways to our schools are secure,” he clarified later. “The intent of the secure pathways is to create a personal interaction with a staff member prior to gaining further entrance to our schools.”

As part of planning for a potential referendum, representatives from JP Cullen and the architectural firm UEA toured the schools and presented findings to the board in a closed session.

Creating secure pathways for all schools would cost an estimated $15.25 million. Hiring the companies to design the pathways was less than $24,000, McCrea said.

Rock Haven balancing safety, nursing shortage in pandemic

Rock County has to balance a nursing shortage at the county-run Rock Haven nursing home with concerns about contracted nurses who might work in multiple nursing homes over a short time span.

County Administrator Josh Smith said Tuesday that a contracted agency nurse was one of three Rock Haven employees who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

As of Wednesday, another staff member tested positive, but the number of ill residents remains at eight with about five test results pending, Smith said.

All staff members risk bringing the virus into the facility, not just agency nurses, Smith said. Anyone could contract the virus and bring it in while being asymptomatic, he said.

Agency nurses are expected to adhere to the same screenings and safety standards as county employees. But Smith said he and other county officials months ago recognized the danger of having agency nurses work in Rock Haven after they had worked in other facilities where they could become infected.

Smith had been under the impression that agency nurses at Rock Haven were working exclusively at Rock Haven, but he recently learned that was not the case.

Two agency nurses currently work at Rock Haven. The nurse who tested positive had been working exclusively at Rock Haven recently, but the other nurse had worked in other facilities, Smith said.

The other facilities that nurse had worked in had safety guidelines similar to the county’s, which made county staff feel comfortable keeping the nurse at Rock Haven, Smith said.

The county chose to limit its agency nurses to two as a way to prevent introducing nurses who had worked in other facilities, Smith said.

However, a shortage of nurses at Rock Haven has prompted the county to seek assistance. Smith said Rock Haven has 11 open nursing positions.

The pandemic has had an impact on staffing because some staff members who are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 might not be working or working limited hours, Smith said.

Smith said he has not tracked Rock Haven staffing over time, but 11 open positions are more than he wants to see.

Staffing shortages are not new at Rock Haven. Last fall, the nursing home had 18 certified nursing assistant positions open, Smith said.

Rock Haven’s administrator is working on a contract with a staffing agency to bring in more workers if too many staff members become sick, Smith said.

That contract would mandate that workers not work in other facilities, Smith said.

Rock County now has 588 confirmed cases of the virus and 18 deaths, up two from 16 deaths Tuesday.

The county saw five new reported cases Wednesday, the smallest day-to-day uptick in cases since May 18, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.

Rock Haven is one of five Rock County nursing homes under investigation for COVID-19 concerns by the state Department of Health Services, according to an online database.

One confirmed case of the disease can trigger an investigation.

The other nursing homes are Autumn Lake Healthcare at Beloit, Evansville Manor, Green Knolls at Beloit and St. Elizabeth Nursing Home in Janesville.

Three Janesville senior care centers—Oak Park Place, Mercy Manor Transition Center and St. Elizabeth—will receive shipments of personal protective equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a news release.

The facilities are three of more than 15,000 nursing homes across the country to receive 14-day supplies of equipment in May and June, according to the release.

Obituaries and death notices for May 28, 2020

Jack L. Graves Sr.

Rolland “Rollie” Larson

Janalee S. Olsen

Lillian R. Rudolph

Sarah A. Salinas

Eileen Mae Stalsberg

US death toll from coronavirus surpasses 100,000 people


The U.S. surpassed a jarring milestone Wednesday in the coronavirus pandemic: 100,000 deaths.

That number is the best estimate and most assuredly an undercount. But it represents the stark reality that more Americans have died from the virus than from the Vietnam and Korean wars combined.

“It’s a striking reminder of how dangerous this virus can be,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.

The once-unthinkable toll appears to be just the beginning of untold misery in the months ahead as Las Vegas casinos and Walt Disney World make plans to reopen, crowds of unmasked Americans swarm beaches, and public health officials predict a resurgence by fall.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, issued a stern warning after watching video of Memorial Day crowds gathered at a pool party in Missouri.

“We have a situation in which you see that type of crowding with no mask and people interacting. That’s not prudent, and that’s inviting a situation that could get out of control,” he said during an interview Wednesday on CNN. “Don’t start leapfrogging some of the recommendations in the guidelines because that’s really tempting fate and asking for trouble.”

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 5.6 million people and killed more than 350,000, with the U.S. having the most confirmed cases and deaths by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Europe has recorded about 170,000 deaths, while the U.S. reached more than 100,000 in less than four months.

The true death toll from the virus, which emerged in China late last year and was first reported in the U.S. in January, is widely believed to be significantly higher, with experts saying many victims likely dying of COVID-19 without ever having been tested for the virus.

Early on, President Donald Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, likening it to the flu, and predicted the U.S. wouldn’t reach 100,000 deaths.

“I think we’ll be substantially under that number,” Trump said April 10. Ten days later, he said, “We’re going toward 50- or 60,000 people.” Ten days after that: “We’re probably heading to 60,000, 70,000.”

Critics have said deaths spiked because Trump was slow to respond, but he has contended on Twitter that it could have been 20 times higher without his actions. He has urged states to reopen their economies after months of stay-at-home restrictions.

Las Vegas casinos can welcome tourists again June 4. SeaWorld and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, plan to reopen to limited numbers of tourists in June and July. And people who have been cooped up indoors began venturing outside in droves, often without practicing social distancing or wearing masks.

Kelly Hove, 79, of Twin Falls, Idaho, an internationally known pianist, died at a nursing home April 12 of complications from COVID-19 after a long battle with dementia. Her sister-in-law Jan Hove fears that more will die as states start lifting restrictions.

”I think going back too soon is going to cause more deaths, so I’m incredibly concerned,” she said. “And I don’t think we have adequate leadership. ... It’s an absolute joke, from the White House down.”

The virus exacted an especially vicious toll on Trump’s hometown of New York City and its surrounding suburbs, killing more than 21,000. At the peak, hundreds of people were dying per day in New York City, and hospitals, ambulances and first responders were inundated with patients.

There is no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, though several emergency treatments are being used after showing some promise in preliminary testing.

Worldwide, about a dozen vaccine candidates are starting to be tested or getting close to it. Health officials have said studies of a potential vaccine might be done by late this year or early next year.

Only half of Americans said they would be willing to get vaccinated if scientists are successful in developing a vaccine, according to a poll released Wednesday from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Among the 100,000 fatalities was Michael Ganci, 74, of Newington, Connecticut, who died March 21. He was a public school teacher, a grandfather and father of four, and a fourth-degree belt Sensei in Kyokushin karate.

Ganci, who had a compromised immune system, died at a hospital in Hartford three days after showing symptoms. His family was not allowed to be with him and tried to text and talk with him on his cellphone during his final days. His wife of 48 years also tested positive for the virus and had to grieve alone.

For their daughter, Joanna Ganci, 45, of Beverly, Massachusetts, the milestone is important to understand the scope of the virus.

“But at the same time, I think the danger of counting, the danger of statistics, is that it just minimizes the human element,” she said. “It’s like, what number is going to make an impact for people who haven’t been touched by it?”

It’s not even clear when the coronavirus turned deadly in the United States. Initially, it was believed the first U.S. deaths from the virus were in late February in a Seattle suburb. But by mid-April, it was determined that two people with the coronavirus died in California as many as three weeks earlier.

Comparing countries is tricky, given varying levels of testing and that some coronavirus deaths can be missed. According to figures tracked by Johns Hopkins University, the death rate per 100,000 people is lower in the U.S. than in Italy, France and Spain but higher than in Germany, China, South Korea, Singapore, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

“The experience of other countries shows that death at that scale was preventable,” said Michaud of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “To some extent, the United States suffers from having a slow start and inconsistent approach. We might have seen a different trajectory if different policies were put into place earlier and more forcefully.”

Countries with low death rates suppressed the virus “through lots of testing, contact tracing and policies to support isolation and quarantine of people at risk,” Michaud said.

Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of ICAP, a global health center at Columbia University, called the U.S. death rate shocking.

“It reflects the fact that we have neglected basic fundamentals for health,” El-Sadr said. “So now we are in this shameful situation. It is the most vulnerable people in our midst—the elderly, the poor, members of racial/ethnic minority groups—who are the ones disproportionately getting sick and dying.”