Janesville schools superintendent considering options after board vote

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Frank Schultz
September 1, 2015

JANESVILLE—Janesville School Board politics have led to Karen Schulte questioning whether she wants to continue as superintendent.

The school board Tuesday voted 7-2 to extend the superintendent's contract.

But criticisms by two board members were bad enough that Schulte said afterward she will think before deciding whether to accept the contract offer.

Cathy Myers and Carla Quirk were the “no” votes. Both criticized Schulte before the vote, which came after a closed meeting lasting about 45 minutes.

Tuesday's vote was to extend Schulte's contract for one year starting July 1, 2016. Schulte remains under contract for the current school year, so if she steps down, she would do so next summer.

Asked about her feelings on staying or leaving, Schulte said she would discuss that with her husband before deciding.

Her husband, Steven, retired from the Beloit Turner School District in June.

Myers said Schulte is “a very capable administrator,” but Myers found fault with decisions and policies Schulte has backed, including the recent board decision to charge employees' spouses to receive district health insurance if they could get insurance from their own jobs.

The board reversed that decision after the April elections.

Myers said she is “very disturbed” that Schulte has tried to balance the budget on the backs of employees.

Schulte said later that she was following the goals the board set for her, which she said included “cost shifting” as a way to balance the budget.

Myers said the idea to charge spouses might have come from a board member or committee, but she said not much gets done in the district without Schulte's backing.

Employees have been told their seniority is meaningless in the wake of the 2011 law that took away much of the public-employee unions' bargaining power, Myers said.

“We have alienated much of the staff with that stance,” Myers said, leading to low morale.

Schulte should look at alternative ways to balance the budget, including generating energy through solar and wind power, Myers said.

Staff surveys continue to show a majority supports Schulte, but Myers said dissatisfied employees doubt their responses are truly anonymous, and some have told of pressure to increase the satisfaction ratings at some schools.

Myers said Schulte refuses to release documents related to the controversy over the April school board elections, going against the principle of openness and costing the district thousands of dollars in lawyer fees.

Schulte said the district calculated that releasing all the emails requested would take a full-time staff member six weeks to review and redact, and the board's attorney recommended that labor lawyer Dennis Hughes make his request more specific.

Hughes refused and sued, Schulte said, and the board—not Schulte—decided to fight the lawsuit.

Schulte noted that Roger Merry, Myers' partner, is Hughes' attorney in the lawsuit. Merry was there for Tuesday's vote and said he had left the building and found the doors locked when he tried to re-enter.

A locked building would violate the state open-meetings law, and therefore the vote was not valid, said Merry, who left the meeting vowing a lawsuit on the issue.

Several board members defended Schulte. Bill Sodemann noted the district's awards since she became superintendent six years ago, accomplishments of students in the performing arts and in sports, and he called her a person of integrity.

“It seems the biggest consensus we have as a board is Dr. Schulte working too hard and not taking time off,” Sodemann said.

Kristen Hesselbacher said she doesn't always agree with Schulte, but that's not a problem for her. She said she hears from staff members who are “thrilled to be here.”

Greg Ardrey said student achievement is trending up while district poverty also increases.

“I can say it's been an outstanding job, and I expect it to continue,” Ardrey said.

Kevin Murray, who has opposed Schulte on a number of issues, said he chooses to make changes through changing policies and talking to other board members.

Schulte said she believes the rancor reflects a political battle among board members, fueled in part by ideology on both sides.

Schulte said all nine board members are her bosses, and she continues to listen for the majority voice.

During the 2013-2014 school year, Schulte earned $155,193, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Tuesday's vote included a 2 percent pay raise for the current school year, the same percentage the board approved for other employees.


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