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Janesville School Board defeats academic proposal on tie vote

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Frank Schultz
March 20, 2013

— A 4-4 vote of the Janesville School Board defeated a proposal to expand the Challenge Program for academically talented third- and fourth-graders Tuesday.

Motions fail on tie votes. A potentially tie-breaking vote rested with Scott Feldt, who was stuck at an airport in Washington, D.C., it was announced at the meeting.

Board President Bill Sodemann asked the board’s attorney whether the vote could be revisited. Attorney Dave Moore said the same motion could be brought up, but only by a member who prevailed in the preceding vote.

Sodemann asked whether a different motion that accomplishes the same thing could be brought up, and Moore said he would have to research that question.

Officials admitted that for 30 years, the district has not served all the students who qualified for the magnet program because of space limitations. The expansion would change that, said Kim Ehrhardt, the director of instruction.

The program for many years served grades 4-8 at Roosevelt Elementary and Edison Middle schools.

Last year, the board agreed to start a fourth-grade Challenge Program class at Madison Elementary School and a third-grade Challenge Program at Roosevelt.

The fourth-grade program at Madison School will be a fifth-grade class next year, so the administration asked to hire two teachers to handle grades 3 and 4 at Madison.

Ehrhardt said the expansion has the potential to attract families and open-enrollment students to the district.

Expanding enrollment is a goal the board has set, and more students means more revenue for the district, Ehrhardt noted.

A coalition of four school board members came together to defeat the expansion:

-- Greg Ardrey said he does not oppose the program, but he noted that he had said last year he would not vote to expand it until the administration came up with a comprehensive plan for serving talented students.

The plan is in process and will be presented to the board in May, said Amy Sheridan, the district’s coordinator for talented and gifted education.

-- David DiStefano said the argument that a program at Madison School on the west side of the city would create geographic equity is “ridiculous” because Roosevelt is in the center of the city.

“I look at this more as a want than a need,” DiStefano said.

-- Deborah Schilling wondered whether the district should expand services to talented students at all 12 elementary schools who are not in the Challenge Program. She suggested a special program for children talented in the arts but not academics.

Those children do get services, but not at the level the district provided before budget constraints led to cutting teachers dedicated to talented education, officials said.

DiStefano also suggested expanding programming at all 12 elementary schools, saying, “I want to be able to impact more kids.”

Superintendent Karen Schulte said she would love to enhance services to talented students at every school, but it would take more than two teachers to do it.

Ehrhardt said it would take three to four teachers.

Schilling noted that the Madison Elementary students would eventually go to middle school, and the district would then be faced with expanding the middle school Challenge Program in years ahead.

-- Peter Severson said the issue is budgetary and should be voted on in budget deliberations, not on a vote about enrollment-based staffing.

Kristin Hesselbacher rejected Severson’s thinking, saying the expansion was most definitely an instructional issue.

Severson said board members should remember they have a $4 million budget hole to fill before voting to create new positions.

The administration believes the expansion would have brought in more students from outside the district, which could offset costs, but they could not guarantee it.

The board approved the rest of the 2013-14 staffing plan, which includes expansions of the Rock River Charter School and Janesville Virtual Academy.

The Rock River Charter expansion, with up to two teachers, would happen only if enough students materialize this summer.

The virtual school gets an increase of 1.6 teachers and also plans on increased enrollment to offset costs.



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