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Janesville charter school could move under plan

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
November 17, 2011
— School officials are looking at the possibility of saving money by moving the Rock River Charter School from rented space downtown to a wing of Franklin Middle School.

More investigation is needed before the administration would bring a proposal to the school board, said Lisa Peterson, who is principal of Rock River Charter School and assistant principal at Franklin.


The district this year got a break on the rent at 31 W. Milwaukee St., where the district renovated commercial space for charter-school use. Landlord Bob Kimball agreed to reduce the annual rent from $75,366 to $52,815. The lease continues through June 2013.


Every bit helps in a year when the school board will have to find ways to fill a multimillion-dollar budget gap, said school board member Lori Stottler, who has been pushing the administration to consider “repurposing” schools or portions of schools.


“I’m happy to hear it. I hope that’s not all we hear. I hope that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Stottler said Wednesday.


Peterson said the Rock River Charter School Board would prefer to not move the school.


“I think everyone is in agreement is that the best-case scenario for the kids is to have their own space” that is not part of another school, “so they have their own culture, their own identity,” Peterson said.


The facility on Milwaukee Street is “a wonderful space,” but everyone understands the economic pressures, Peterson said.


Rock River Charter School has about 155 students, but the school never has to house that number because programs are spread throughout the day and evening, Peterson said.


Among the three middle schools, Franklin has the fewest students, about 574 this year. It could accommodate about 300 more when configured as a middle school, Peterson said.


Franklin uses all its rooms, but not all of them are used every period of the day, Peterson said. If Rock River Charter School moved in, some teachers might not have their own rooms, and some would use the rooms of teachers who are on prep time.


The plan being considered would place a gate or a wall with a door in a Franklin hallway to isolated the charter school. Charter students would have their own entrance near the bus stop on Mineral Point Avenue.


Still to be explored is whether the plan could comply with building and fire codes, Peterson said.


The district is already saving $44,396 this year after moving the Janesville Academy for International Studies from rented space downtown to a rent-free space at UW-Rock County. Kimball agreed to release the district from its lease of that space, upstairs from Rock River Charter School.


The only other programs in rented space are TAGOS Leadership Academy and the Truancy Abatement and Transitional Education (TATE) Center, both at Arrow Park on North Parker Drive. Both those programs accept expelled students, so moving them into school buildings would be problematic.


The TAGOS/TATE rent is $131,941 a year. The lease ends in 2013. Officials have asked Hendricks Properties for a break on that cost.


“I’m sure there are all sorts of things, yet, that will be explored in terms of repurposing. We’re trying to make good use of the space we already own,” Peterson said.


THE BIGGER PICTURE

Janesville public schools will have to come up with much more in savings or revenue than the money saved by moving out of rented spaces.


The administration at one point estimated a jaw-dropping $9 million budget gap for 2012-13, but that will be revised, said district CFO Keith Pennington.


“I think everybody sees that we have the one year ahead of us that is going to be quite a difficult journey, and the more we can do to quiet it down, the better,” school board member Lori Stottler said.


The administration is considering options with potential for saving larger amounts of money, including bigger class sizes and limiting course options. Those changes would likely come with reductions in numbers of teaching and other positions, which could mean a second year in a row with layoffs.


“One way or another, we’re going to get there. I just hope it’s in the best interest of the students,” Stottler said.



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