Challenge Program expansion faces hurdle
If you go
The Janesville School Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St. Agenda items include:
-- Presentation and possible discussion of a preliminary map of new middle school boundaries that would move students living west of Ringold Street and south of Memorial Drive from Marshall Middle School to Franklin Middle School.
An accompanying preliminary map of new elementary-school boundaries also will be presented. The maps are part of a proposal to assign four elementary schools to each middle school and six elementary schools to each high school. Parents would still be able to request transfer to a different school.
-- A change in the charter school contract with the Janesville Virtual Academy, which serves high school students with online courses.
The change would allow online middle school classes. Superintendent Karen Schulte said the move would pay for itself because enough out-of-district middle school students have already applied to attend through the open-enrollment law.
-- After a closed session on this topic, to consider extending Schulte's contract. Her current contract runs through June 2013.
The contract allows for an extension, by board vote, through June 2014. Schulte said she would consider an extension an endorsement of the direction she is leading the district.
-- Presentation and possible approval of a committee to review the curriculum for "human growth and development," which includes sex education.
The law requires a periodic review with a committee that includes community members.
JANESVILLE An expansion of the Challenge Program for gifted students is in the works, but at least one Janesville School Board member doesn't think the timing is wise.
Superintendent Karen Schulte said a recent policy change by the board gives her the authority to establish a fourth-grade Challenge Program at Madison Elementary School in September.
Board member Peter D. Severson agrees the policy gives Schulte the authority, but he doesn't think the board intended to give her that authority.
Severson said he likes the Challenge Program but doesn't think the board should expand programs in a year when balancing the budget will be extremely difficult.
"You just don't expand when you're in the hole we are in," Severson said.
The board has been told it faces a budget gap in 2012-13 of $8 million to $10 million if it doesn't raise taxes and doesn't draw down district reserves.
The administration has not publicly revised that estimate since last fall.
The board has set aside contingency money for three teachers in case enrollments next fall are larger than expected. One of those "contingencies" would be used to cover the new fourth-grade class at Madison School.
Severson noted the administration has identified numerous "hot spots" where an extra teacher might be needed, and he worries the budget would have only two contingencies to cover unforeseen needs.
"I don't know how the rest of board feels about it. That's why I want to discuss it," Severson said.
The fourth- and fifth-grade Challenge Program is now only at Roosevelt Elementary School. The program continues in grades 6-8 at Edison Middle School.
The board on April 10 voted to expand the program to third grade. Schulte said Friday that the new third grade will be at Roosevelt.
Schulte said April 10 that she intended to return with a proposal for expanding the fourth grade, and now she has.
Schulte said 25 students who qualified for the fourth-grade Challenge Program next fall were turned away.
"I assess student needs, and I see there are needs," Schulte said. "I have to respond to that."
Severson said the expansion to third grade violated the board's policy on the Challenge program, so he saw the policy change as a way of making the board's vote valid.
Schulte said board member Kristen Hesselbacher, an ardent backer of the expansion, worked to change the board policy to clarify that the superintendent has the authority to add to the Challenge Program.
The superintendent's authority wasn't discussed when the board approved the change.
"I just assumed everybody knew what it meant," Hesselbacher said.
Hesselbacher said the board doesn't vote every time Schulte needs to add an algebra class, for example, so the same should be true here. The board does vote to set teacher-staffing levels each spring when it approves the staffing plan.
"These kinds of crucial decisions should lie with the superintendent," Hesselbacher said.
Board President Bill Sodemann said Schulte informed the board of her plan in a memo on May 12, and that's when Severson raised his objection.
So Sodemann decided to add to the agenda a "possible motion to direct administration to alter plan for fourth-grade Challenge classroom."
Sodemann said he did it "just to be careful, to make sure everybody has a chance to voice their opinions."
Hesselbacher understands the budget concern, but "I'd be more worried about the 25 kids who needed the Challenge Program and didn't get it."
Asked why, Hesselbacher said: "Challenge Program kids are at the intellectual extreme. They need that programming. … They need to be with kids who are their own age and also have that level of ability in all subjects. This is the appropriate programming for them. Every child should have a year of academic growth in every year, and that's what this program does (for those students)."
Schulte said she intends to add a fifth-grade Challenge Program class at Madison School in 2013 and to continue adding classes at Franklin Middle School so both sides of town eventually will have the full program.
"I suspect we'll re-look at third-grade numbers for next year," Schulte said when asked whether Madison could eventually get a third-grade Challenge Program, as well.
Sodemann said he hopes an expanded program will lead to more families from outside the district opting to send their children here, which would increase revenue.
"The Challenge Program is one of the stars of our district. So yes, we want to expand it, and yes, we want to do that within the confines of our budget, which is always a challenge," Sodemann said.