Janesville School Board faces stark choices
In other business
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the Janesville School Board:
-- Discussed but took no action on a proposal to cut four of the district's 13 social workers. That decision will come in February. Officials said grant money left over because of those cuts might be enough to hire back one social worker. The board also heard heartfelt pleas from two parents and a teacher about the importance of social workers.
-- Accepted the retirement, effective June 24, of Mary "Kathy" Boguszewski, district instructional technology coordinator, after eight years in the district.
-- Accepted the resignation, effective June 10, of Jennifer Bock, Parker High School math teacher, after eight years in the district.
JANESVILLE The Janesville School Board could not agree Tuesday on what will be one of the hottest topics in town this year: How much to tax and how many teachers to cut.
Everyone at the board table seemed to agree that teaching positions will have to be cut. The questions were, how many, and how many students will the remaining teachers have in their classrooms next fall?
Everyone at the board table was clearly thinking about how high a tax increase they'd be willing to vote for, but few committed to a number.
Board member Kevin Murray pushed for a decision Tuesday on giving the administration a direction on taxes so officials can start deciding how to cut.
"My intent is to at least give our employees the earliest possible notification that they may not have a job," Murray said.
But fellow board members seemed to agree that the decision could wait two weeks.
The numbers boil down to this:
-- The board needs to find about $9.8 million in added revenue or reduced spending to balance next year's budget.
-- Raising the tax levy to the maximum allowed by law—a 12.8 percent increase—would bring in $4.4 million.
-- About $1 million is available in undesignated funds, and several board members appeared ready to use that money.
-- Most of the remaining $4.4 million in savings would have to come from staff cuts, it appears.
-- The average teacher costs $60,000 in salary and benefits, so cutting 73 teachers would make up the difference.
-- The more the board backs away from taxing to the maximum, the more staff cuts would be needed to balance the budget.
Three board members—Murray, Bill Sodemann and DuWayne Severson—indicated they would not vote to tax to the max.
Severson said at least 50 to 60 of the 800-plus teaching positions will have to be cut.
"I don't know how else we'd do it, short of reopening the contract," Severson said of the teachers' contract, which provides pay hikes next year.
Some positions will be eliminated through teachers retiring this spring.
Board President Bill Sodemann estimated that 60 to 120 teaching jobs would have to be eliminated, depending on how much the board is willing to tax.
Cutting 120 teachers would save $7.2 million.
Board member Lori Stottler said she didn't think the community would support cutting that deep.
Personnel director Steve Sperry said he already has planned eight scenarios for increasing class sizes at the elementary school. The board asked him not to reveal those scenarios Tuesday.
The board did ask for that information in advance of its Feb. 8 board meeting. It's at that meeting that the board wants to vote on setting financial goals for the 2011-2012 budget.
Board members Stottler and Kristin Hesselbacher suggested a tax hike of 10 percent.
Hesselbacher said the people she talks to are telling her that they want the board to tax to the max because they don't want to see massive teacher layoffs.
The board has given taxpayers a break in recent years by not taxing to the max, Hesselbacher said.
Hesselbacher said she fears that massive layoffs would mean students would leave the district "in droves," because parents have local alternatives—private schools that cover kindergarten through eighth grade.
"What I'm hearing is, 'Please keep my house worth something in Janesville. My house is not going to be worth anything if the school district goes down the toilet,' " Hesselbacher said.