Budget problems tend to roll downhill.
Budget shortfalls at the state level mean local budgets will take a hit.
That’s why the Janesville School District is looking at all possible cost-cutting options for the 2020-21 school year.
Assistant Superintendent Scott Garner told the school board Tuesday that if state budget cuts are as significant as expected, “we could have a pretty big situation on our hands.”
In a May 7 memo to Superintendent Steve Pophal, Garner noted that the COVID-19 shutdown has cause a “major disruption” to the state’s revenue stream.
Because education takes the biggest chunk of the state budget, there’s a good possibility that funding for schools will be affected, Garner wrote in the memo, which was included in the board’s informational packet.
“Given this uncertainty, the district is exploring various options, including reducing staffing costs, to balance our commitment to support employees for the work that they do while remaining fiscally responsible to our local taxpayers,” Garner wrote.
He elaborated in an email to The Gazette, saying, “The state has already indicated that they expect a drop in revenue, leaving in question their ability to honor their budget. Their actions to address that will have a cascading effect on all school districts and local government agencies.”
He said it was too early to identify “specifics” of any of the options under consideration.
Board member Cathy Myers said the situation concerns her.
“There’s an incredible amount of uncertainty,” Myers said.
If students cannot return to school this fall, the district will need more teachers, not fewer. Myers, who teaches high school English in Rockton, Illinois, said virtual schooling requires more one-on-one work and follow-up.
“These are the kinds of things that keep me up at night,” Myers said.
Staff salaries and benefits make up about 78% of the district’s expenses, according to budget documents.
The board also heard from Robert Smiley, who oversees the district’s international education program. He said the 28 Chinese students who had planned to attend school here won’t get visas in time for the start of school in fall.
Smiley said he was working on various options, including offering virtual education for the fall semester and then allowing students to attend school locally in the spring. However, virtual schooling might not be a cultural match for Chinese students and their families, he said.
Because no Chinese students are coming, staff members who usually work with them have been moved to other open positions in the district.
Board member Kevin Murray pressed Smiley for more financial details. Murray also wanted to know if international program staffers were given preference over teachers whose contracts were not renewed due to declining enrollment. Those teachers have “call-back” rights when positions open up.
Garner told Murray the district followed board policy on call-back rights.
In the 2018-19 school year, the international program generated $239,000 after expenses. On Tuesday, Smiley said the revenue for 2019-20 now stood at $387,000. However, not all expenses are in, so that amount is expected to decrease.
Smiley previously told The Gazette the school district won’t know this year’s total revenue until July, after all expenses have been calculated.