Janesville schools budget looks to have smooth sailing
JANESVILLE It appears the Janesville School Board will not see the tensions and fireworks of past years when it gets down to deciding how to balance its budget.
The reason could be that options for balancing the budget are few, and no matter what the board does, property taxes will be reduced.
The board heard a presentation at its meeting Tuesday night. Board members asked a few questions but did not discuss how to fill a $3.56 million budget gap.
Discussions will probably come in September after the final numbers for last year's budget are known, board President Bill Sodemann said after the meeting.
The board is in an unusual situation when it comes this year's tax levy. The maximum tax levy is $1.8 million less than last year's. That's a 5.9 percent decrease.
If the board taxes to the max, the owner of a $112,000 house in Janesville would see a tax reduction of $34, officials estimate.
The board has not discussed whether it wants to decrease taxes even more, but that's probably not going to happen, Sodemann said. That is because the district would lose state aid if it does not tax to the maximum.
"Obviously the board will want to discuss that," Sodemann said of the tax situation.
Filling the budget gap probably will come down to using undesignated money in the fund balance. Sodemann and board Vice President Kevin Murray agreed about that.
Final budget numbers from 2011-12 will show the board how much of the fund balance it can use to fill the gap, Sodemann said.
Board policy reserves portions of the fund balance for a variety of purposes, so although the year-end fund balance is likely to be between $26 million and $28 million, as the board learned Tuesday, significant portions of it cannot be touched without altering board policy.
The board also learned Tuesday when Murray questioned Chief Financial Officer Keith Pennington that although the board voted to set aside $3.7 million of the fund balance to balance last year's budget, roughly $1.5 million was needed.
Pennington projects $109.6 million in revenues for this year, which is roughly the same as last year, but expenses will increase to about $113 million.
Salaries and expenses account for nearly 80 percent of the budget, and unionized employees—most of the district workforce—will see pay increases of more than 2 percent because of previously approved contracts.
Pennington cautioned that revenue figures will change up until the board finalizes the budget at the end of October.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
In other business Tuesday, the Janesville School Board:
-- Learned from Shari Faber of Save Janesville Schools that the organization formed in 2011 to raise money to help the district through its budget troubles will give its second donation to the district, $42,250, and disband. The first donation was $64,000.
-- Heard from Superintendent Karen Schulte that three district schools will receive state Schools of Recognition awards next month. The names of the schools were not mentioned, as they are to be announced next month. The awards go to schools with higher than average achievement on standardized tests and high poverty rates.
-- Heard a report on a decrease in use of energy and water in the district last school year. Schools spent about $288,000 less last year than the previous year. Factors include a mild winter, a lower rate negotiated for natural gas, adjustments to heating and ventilation systems and an energy-saving contest among schools.