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School officials meet with students at shortfall Q&A

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ANN MARIE AMES
February 17, 2011
— They weren't elected to be teachers.

But five members of the Janesville School Board and several administrators spent more than an hour after school Wednesday giving a combination civics, accounting and debate lesson to about 50 Janesville high school students during one of several scheduled budget listening sessions.


The students were student council representatives from Craig and Parker high schools.


Here are some of the questions and answers as well as some budget-related comments directed specifically at high school students.


Q: What events led up to the $10 million budget shortfall?


A: A lot of things, including rising health care costs and declining student enrollment, Janesville School District Superintendent Karen Schulte said.


Previous boards have staved off the problem by plugging holes with one-time payments such as the $1.8 million the district got last year in federal stimulus funds, board member Lori Stottler said.


That practice makes things worse in the long run, she said.


"Now it's really affecting you," Stottler said. "If you were to turn to your teachers, they've felt it all along.


Q: If 91 classes are cut, how many teachers will lose their jobs, and how much money will be saved?


A: Hold the phone, Nora! The district has a working list of 91 classes that would be the first to be considered for cuts, said Steve Sperry, director of administrative and human services. But no one should assume that 91 classes are getting cut.


High school students shouldn't feel like they're going to bear the brunt, Stottler said. Cuts to high school programs are "just the tip of the iceberg," she said.


Cuts would be distributed through the district's elementary, middle and charter schools and the district office as well, administrators said.


From the audience, Craig Principal Alison Spiegel and Parker Principal Steve Schroeder assured students that if the district cut classes, the classes wouldn't disappear permanently.


The classes that are scheduled each year depend on student interest and staff availability. All classes are offered every year. They only materialize if enough students are interested, Schroeder said.


The case would be the same after the district's expected cuts, Spiegel said.


Q: How would Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill affect the district's budget?


A: After a few moments of awkward silence and playful attempts to pass the microphone, board members said: "It's too soon to say."


It's not clear how the three bargaining units in the district would be affected, and the district could eventually have to decide how much teachers pay for health insurance.


"It might take away some of that local control," Schulte said.


Q: If the district offered site-specific classes—those offered only at Craig or Parker—wouldn't it negatively affect students who couldn't afford transportation across town?


A: The district will address that issue when it becomes necessary, officials said.


Stottler said she thinks dedicated students and their families will make it work.


"You work towards what you want to happen in the world," she said.


Q: What can we do to help?


A: Share the facts with other students and community members. Stay positive. Turn out the lights when you leave an empty classroom.


"And pick up your own garbage up once in a while," Stottler said, smiling.



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