Janesville School Board candidates weigh in on issues
JANESVILLE Voters will choose at least two new members for the Janesville School Board in the April 3 elections.
Four candidates are vying for three seats. Only one candidate—Greg Ardrey—is running for re-election.
Incumbents DuWayne Severson and Lori Stottler are not running again.
The newcomers are Jack Champeau, David DiStefano and Deborah Schilling.
The board comprises nine members. Three are elected each year for three-year terms.
All the candidates bring new ideas.
Ardrey advocates creating an individualized learning plan for each student that takes into account the student's needs and interests.
Champeau thinks charter schools could be expanded and used to better advantage.
DiStefano said the district should find ways to stand out from other districts without increasing spending.
Schilling suggests savings and efficiencies by having the district go paperless.
The candidates responded to the following questions:
Q: The district likely will face another multi-million dollar deficit for budget year 2012-13. How would you fill the gap?
Ardrey: "I would not be in favor of increasing class sizes any more or asking voters to increase the tax levy to a level higher than the maximum."
The district's taxing authority is limited by state law. The maximum tax can be exceeded if voters approve it in a referendum, which Ardrey opposes.
Ardrey said a mix of other options might be needed, including cutting staff or other expenses and dipping into the fund balance.
"It will depend on the actual deficit to best determine what combination of options are sensible," he said.
Champeau: He would consider taxing to the maximum allowed. He believes computer technologies can lead to long-term savings. He would not change teacher staffing without a recommendation from the administration.
Champeau would consider larger class sizes for grades 8-12 but not earlier grades, because younger children need more individualized attention.
Champeau suggests saving money by combining Craig and Parker high school classes, which some students would "attend" over the Internet. Or, similar arrangements could be made with other districts or Janesville charter schools.
He would consider dipping into the fund balance "in proportion to the other cost savings measures noted."
DiStefano: "The school board and district administration need to formulate a long-term plan so they aren't returning to the same deficit situation year after year. Getting closer to a balanced budget will require schools to operate more efficiently, teachers to compromise on their benefits, taxpayers to contribute the amount necessary to keep our schools competitive and an administration that is proactive and transparent."
Schilling: She would consider cutting positions not directly involved with students, if an evaluation shows they can be cut or combined with other positions.
Schilling said the district should look for savings from supply vendors, service contracts that are up for renewal and revenue from donations.
She suggests "looking into more financially responsible benefit packages for the non-union employees to see if we can provide similar packages to what they are getting for a lower cost."
If more money is needed, the board should consider using fund balance "but as minimally as possible to create the least negative effect on the bond rating."
Q: Under Wisconsin Act 10, union members begin paying their pension contribution starting in July 2013 when their contracts run out. What other benefits changes should the board consider?
Ardrey: The district must be positioned "to retain, attract and hire the best teachers, not just available teachers. Therefore, we have to structure a benefit package that is competitive.
"I believe more favorable costs for health care, with no reduction in benefits, need to be negotiated with suppliers and then have employees pay a higher share, if necessary.
"I believe that there is a need to cost out ALL items related to employees and determine with the employees what makes the most sense, to provide them the most while reducing costs."
Champeau: "Health care costs are rising, and employees may need to pay more in premiums. As a state employee paying more for my own coverage, I appreciate knowing how my paying more helps the state budget."
Champeau would seek collaboration between district officials and employee groups to determine fair concessions from all parties. He would consider savings by compensating staff that opt out of district health insurance.
DiStefano: "Barring earlier concessions from the teachers union, the increase in employee contributions is spelled out in Act 10. The board should look at offering employees additional insurance plans that are less expensive and provide options, both on what they want to contribute and what benefits would suit their needs. These options would provide savings to both the district and employees."
Schilling: She is willing to charge more for health insurance.
"Different benefit providers need to be explored, and based on what each individual employee is willing to contribute, they can choose the level of coverage they would like."
Q: Also starting in July 2013, the board may change rules governing working conditions. What changes would you propose?
Ardrey: "I would support changing working conditions within a collaborative effort for all groups. The employee handbook needs to be developed to promote the School District of Janesville positioning itself in retaining, attracting and hiring the best staff."
Champeau: "This, as with all issues, calls for a collaborative discussion between board members, administration and the affected employee group.
He proposes more flexible work-hour scheduling. "For example, perhaps creatively using non-classroom teacher work hours would support, financially and through manpower, initiatives such as before- or after-school programming."
DiStefano: "In my experience, working with employee groups that operate under the guidance of an employee handbook, the majority of the employees don't have issues. It is important that a representative group formulates the handbook and the high standards that are set are maintained districtwide."
Schilling: She would give teachers more input on the rules governing student behavior and their ability to remove disruptive students from classrooms.
Q: What do you think about merit pay for teachers?
Ardrey: "I believe all staff need to be recognized and rewarded for exceptional performance. Therefore, I do support merit pay for teachers and other staff, as long as it is structured to recognize outstanding performance and that it is fair and equitable."
Champeau: "Instead, I would favor teachers developing individualized goals and expectations with their supervisors that provide for accountability and the basis for merit.
"I want to recognize talented educators in their compensation, provided they perform according to understood expectations. I feel there are ways to creatively reward leadership, initiative, and innovation in efforts such as grant writing, national board certification, curriculum development, mentoring and building staff leadership. I think offering enticing work conditions, consistent development opportunities, solid benefits and attainable raises helps retain good employees."
DiStefano: "I support merit pay for teachers, however, I would like to review documentation of how other districts have implemented it successfully and ensure a well-thought-out plan was in place before we moved to that model."
Schilling: "I feel that this will improve the education provided. It will have a positive effect on the district."
JANESVILLE SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES
Greg Ardrey (I)
Address: 25 Sauk Court, Janesville.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology, Six Sigma Black Belt.
Job: Manager for Alliant Energy
Community service: Served on Stateline United Way Board of Directors, 2005-12. Coach/official/umpire in Girl Scouts softball, YMCA T-ball and basketball, Rock Summer Baseball, Janesville Youth Baseball, from 1991-present. Active with Monroe Elementary School PTA, coached various youth sports with YMCA and Rock Summer Baseball.
Elected posts: Appointed to the school board in July 2008. Elected in April 2009.
Address: 4522 Southwyck Drive, Janesville.
Job: Engineering program manager at UW-Rock County
Education: Bachelor’s degree in communication from Bradley University, master’s degree in management with concentrations in online learning and student support program management, 11 credits toward a master’s in higher education administration from North Carolina State University, graduate of Forward Janesville’s Rock County Leadership Development Academy.
Community service: President of the governing board for the Janesville School District’s Janesville Virtual Academy. Volunteered as Big Brothers-Big Sisters lunch buddy and Junior Achievement presenter.
Elected posts: None
On Facebook: Jack for Janesville Schools
Address: 1614 Heather Court, Janesville.
Job: Vice president for employee benefits with TRICOR Insurance & Financial Services.
Education: Craig High School, 1992; bachelor’s degree in business administration, Methodist University, 1995.
Community service: Serves on the Janesville School Board Boundary Lines Committee. Founding/current board member of the Rock Valley Golf Classic benefiting Ronald McDonald House Charities for 15 years, including five as chairman. Former Janesville Morning Rotarian, coached YMCA youth baseball and football, volunteer for Janesville Youth Hockey. Volunteer for high school Reality Check program.
Elected posts: None
Address: 4208 Valencia Drive, Janesville.
Job: Sales manager for Ojibway Enclosure Systems
Education: Bachelor’s degree in natural science from St. Norbert College.
Community service: Volunteer at Harrison Elementary for special programs
Elected posts: None