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Janesville School Board faces big budget choices

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
April 25, 2011
— A heap of decisions awaits the Janesville School Board on Tuesday. The board’s actions will have major impact on what school will look like next fall.

The district faces a $13.4 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1.


The board has yet to act on many of the budget cuts that Superintendent Karen Schulte has suggested, and the board hasn’t decided whether or not to spend down its reserves.


Schulte said Sunday she hopes the board will let her know Tuesday how much money she has to work with.


Once she has a dollar figure, she can plan for next school year, she said.


Schulte said she hopes the board will understand her urgency. She wants to present a plan for next year by May 10.


About $3.8 million is available from district reserves, if the board sticks to its policy. The policy is designed to conserve money in the so-called Fund 10 balance to take care of unexpected expenses and avoid short-term borrowing, among other uses.


Board member Kevin Murray has signaled that he’d like to change the policy and dip even deeper into the Fund 10 balance, while board member DuWayne Severson is likely to oppose using much or any of it.


Using the fund balance is a kick-the-can-down-the-road measure. It covers expenses for the coming year, but that money would not be available for the next year, even though expenses stay the same or increase. In fact, use of fund balance money last fall accounts for part of the current problem.


On the other hand, many have argued, the Fund 10 balance is for emergencies, and this budget crisis is nothing if not an emergency.


The community fundraiser dubbed Save Janesville Schools will bring in some money, but it’s too early to say how much.


Schulte said Sunday she can’t count on the fundraiser, but whatever money is raised will be more than welcome.


Schulte said she wants to make it clear that if the fundraiser does come up with money to save teachers’ jobs, it will only be for one year.


The other way the board could fill the budget hole is by approving some or all of the spending reductions the administration has prepared.


The board has already approved about $4.5 million in cuts in spending, fee increases and other revenue enhancements, according to Schulte’s tally, but the board has yet to act on about $4.7 million more.


Among the undecided cuts:


-- Custodians. The board will hear an analysis of how custodial time could be allotted—and what level of cleanliness would be maintained, with reductions between 10 and 21 custodians.


-- The buildings/grounds budget, which can include capital projects such as roof, floor and blacktop replacement and preventive maintenance to heating systems, doors and bleachers. The board will hear a presentation on this budget, which has taken hits in recent years and is in line to lose another $1 million.


-- School bus replacement costs. The board in 2009 began converting the bus fleet, owned and operated by VanGalder Bus Co., to seat-belted buses, which cost more than buses without belts. On the agenda is consideration of the “cost of upgrading VanGalder bus purchases to three-point seat belts.”



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