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Reward pay proposed in Janesville school budget

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Frank Schultz
October 9, 2013

JANESVILLE—The biggest fight over this year's school budget could be about a relatively small spending item.

Superintendent Karen Schulte is proposing to distribute $600,000 to district employees as a reward for the district's performance on the recently released state report cards.

The report cards gave Janesville the top score among the state's 10 biggest school districts and among Rock County districts.

“I was so incredibly and unbelievably delighted when we got our accountability score,” Schulte said Wednesday. “I immediately thought, 'Let's do something for all our employees.'” 

Schulte noted the board has been talking about rewarding superior performance for years as part of its Journey to Excellence process.

School board members seemed to like the idea when they heard about it at Tuesday's board meeting, until they learned that the money also would go to administrators, who already can qualify for incentive pay.

The board last spring approved a plan that would give administrators a 1.5 percent raise this year and also give some of them incentive pay, based on performance, of up to 4.5 percent.

How much incentive pay anyone might get won't be determined until next summer, when test scores and other annual measures will be known.

Board members Bill Sodemann and Scott Feldt both said Tuesday they couldn't vote to give an administrator another bump on top of the incentive pay.

Schulte countered that administrators are as responsible for the report card results as anyone.

Furthermore, the reward pay she is proposing is based on tests students took in fall 2012, while the incentive pay would be based on this year's performance, Schulte said.

The board will have to decide the matter when it meets Tuesday, Oct. 29. That's the night of the annual public hearing on the budget and the night the board must approve the tax levy.

Schulte said she has not decided how she would distribute the reward money, but if each of the district's approximately 1,400 employees got an equal share of $600,000, that would be about $428 each.

The board heard other details of a draft budget Tuesday. Final numbers won't be known until the state releases final aid figures Tuesday.

The preliminary numbers show an increase in the tax levy—the total amount of school property taxes—of only 0.16 percent. The tax rate, however, will increase by 3.47 percent because the combined value of property in the district went down.

If the value of all properties in the school district had stayed the same, the tax rate would not have changed, said Keith Pennington, district chief financial officer. But the value dropped 3.1 percent, to about 3.56 billion. That left less property value over which to spread the tax burden.

School taxes are just one part of the property tax bill. Still to be determined are tax rates for the municipalities, county, state and technical school district.

Individual property owners' tax rates won't be known until later this fall when municipalities apply the levies from various taxing entities to the assessed value of each property.

The school district budget as presented is balanced. It assumes the school board will tax to the maximum allowed by the state's revenue-cap formula. If the board taxes to the max, members won't have to argue about whether to use reserve money—the so-called operational fund balance—to balance the budget, as they have in recent years.

Operational spending is projected to be $110.9 million, down $3.2 million from last year. Overall spending is $124.88 million, a 0.96 percent decrease.

District revenues, which include state and federal aid, grants and local property taxes, will be nearly $111 million, down $200,000, or 0.18 percent, from last year.

As usual, state aids account for most of the district's revenue. The state will supply more than $72 million, or 65 percent of the operational budget. The second biggest revenue source is the tax levy and other local income, 25 percent. The federal government supplies 6.7 percent.

Salaries and benefits are the district's biggest expenditure, accounting for 80 percent of operational spending.

The board already has approved spending $565,155 to add eight positions lost when the state cut back on school funding in 2011. Schulte is proposing spending another $250,000 to restore an undetermined number of positions.

Schulte said she hasn't decided how she might use the money, but she sees needs in areas that drive student achievement, including academic learning coaches and innovation specialists, as well as student services positions.

Another hangover from 2011 is the textbook replacement budget. The board cut $500,000 from the annual amount that year, and it stayed at that level. Now the plan is to add it back.

The capital improvements budget and information technology budgets would each see increases of $500,000 over last year's levels for improvements and upgrades that officials say are needed or overdue.

The district's ability to increase spending is due in part to changes in state law related to Wisconsin Act 10.

The budget shows savings on health insurance--$5.3 million less than last year--because employees are paying more for their health plan this year.

The district also is saving $2.9 million because union employees began paying half their pension contributions this year.

TEACHER PAY RAISE STILL IN DOUBT

JANESVILLE—Whether Janesville public school teachers get a pay raise this year is still an open question, but details have emerged about the board-union mediation session that shed light on the topic.

School board member Bill Sodemann let slip at Tuesday's school board meeting that the board's last offer was a 0.75 percent increase.

Chief Financial Officer Keith Pennington confirmed to Sodemann that the dollar amount for that level of raise is included as an estimate in the district's draft budget.

Union President Dave Parr said the 0.75 percent is based on a formula that used the lowest teacher pay level—about $36,000—as the multiplier. District officials confirmed this.

That formula would mean an increase of about $265 per teacher, Parr said.

The union's last offer was a 1 percent increase but based on each teacher's pay level last year, Parr said.

Parr said district officials have not explained why their offer was not based on the previous year's pay, as was done with every other employee group.

That discussion might be moot, however. Both sides are waiting for the state mediator to clarify the process going forward, and both expect that the board will eventually impose a contract settlement, as it is allowed to do under Wisconsin Act 10.

The board will discuss teacher pay at an upcoming meeting, board President Greg Ardrey has said.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Karen Schulte has added a new element to the discussion. She proposed Tuesday that every employee be given a reward for the district's performance on the recently issued state report cards.

How the reward money would be distributed has not been determined, Schulte said.



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