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Slow down on Belgium PD
Rushing to create a Belgium Police Department without better information on need and cost could lighten taxpayers’ wallets unnecessarily

9/9/09

Having its own police department is a milestone almost every growing community reaches eventually. Village President Kevin Kowalkowski thinks Belgium is there. Village taxpayers should hope Kowalkowski and other officials who see the milestone in Belgium’s near future also see the caution light blinking on its approach.

A police department is a bureaucracy, and like all of its kind will only get bigger and more expensive. Build it, and it will grow.
Creating a police department is a complex economic decision with a direct impact on village property taxes. It’s a decision that should not be made hastily or without the most thorough exercise of due diligence.

The village president’s declaration at a meeting of the General Government and Finance Committee last week that funding for a police department should be included in the 2010 budget manufactures a rushed, artificial deadline that is an invitation to a costly mistake.

The police push is based on sketchy information concerning the need and a proposal containing some cost projections put together by the village’s part-time marshal. The proposal, pegging the total first-year cost of a police department at $128,530, seems quite optimistic, but in any case falls far short of the searching financial analysis the village must have in hand before embarking on this course.

As for the need, recent arrests for drug offenses and some other law breaking in the village were mentioned. These are concerns, but it is safe to say that Belgium is hardly in the grip of a crime wave. Moreover, it would be unrealistic to think that a police department would be a panacea that would put an end to the occasional bad behavior that is endemic to any community.

The current marshal system, augmented by sheriff’s department patrolling, has so far kept order effectively in one of Ozaukee County’s fastest growing communities.

Would there be enough work for a regular police department without making work to keep it busy? The proposal suggests that the cost of the police department would be partially offset by revenue from fines. The idea of a police department motivated to issue citations to help fund its existence has the look of a red flag that is probably not a comforting image to residents.

Nonetheless, Kowalkowski is right when he says the village should be thinking about having a regular police force. What he’s wrong about is the rush. A Belgium Police Department is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable now. The village government’s mission should be to ascertain when the time is right.

A good way to start would be to get a detailed proposal from Ozaukee County Sheriff Mary Straub on contracting for police services beyond those now provided by sheriff’s deputies. The sheriff’s department has enormous resources compared to what the village could manage on its own, and paying the county for them may be a cost-effective way to obtain first rate police services.

The next step should be to include funding in connection with a police department in the 2010 village budget—not an appropriation to establish a police department, but to pay for a study by a credible outside source of the cost of doing that, including providing police department headquarters and offices. Like the mythical lunch, there is no free rent, whether or not a building is owned by the village.

In the meantime, village officials should watch developments in Pewaukee, a city of more than 12,000 that is considering abolishing its police department and contracting for police services with the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department.





Find a better place for Simplicity marker
Plan Commission support for putting a stone monument in the way of lake
views is not in keeping with its role
as protector of city aesthetics

9/2/09

It is no slight to Simplicity Manufacturing Co., its workers, founder, charitable foundation or the memory of their contributions to the City of Port Washington to say that the lakefront is not the right place for a monument to Simplicity.

On the contrary, the prominent spot at the harbor being considered for a large stone marker honoring the Simplicity Foundation is so illogical it is likely to detract from the intended tribute. We can imagine people, on first viewing, saying, “What is this doing here?”

The granite monument is now out of sight at the Simplicity Proving Grounds on Highway LL, where it was moved after Briggs & Stratton shut down Simplicity garden tractor and snow thrower manufacturing operations and sold the building on Spring Street. Members of the Simplicity Foundation would like to see the monument displayed in the city in a place readily accessible to the public.

As it should be. Although the monument itself doesn’t have a long history—it was made after the Simplicity Foundation was established in the 1990s—it is significant because it honors an organization that has supported good works throughout the community and because it is a reminder of Simplicity, the storied, now departed company that left a lasting impact on Port Washington. It should be displayed somewhere.

There is nothing to suggest that the lakefront location, in a small open space at the foot of Main Street in front of the harbor walk and north slip marina, is the right one. But once the idea got out there, it gained momentum in a downhill-snowball sort of way, and now the Plan Commission has a motion on the table (it was tabled Aug. 20) to approve the site.

Any connection between Simplicity and the proposed monument location is an improbable stretch. Simplicity founder William J. Niederkorn worked for a few years at the Turner Manufacturing Co. across the harbor from the foot of Main Street and eventually started a company there making engine refurbishing devices, but 99% of Simplicity’s history played out on the west side of the city.

It was the Wisconsin Chair Co., and not any ancestral enterprise of Simplicity, that was located on the site proposed for the monument. If the marker were to be placed where Niederkorn actually got his start, it would be in the middle of the parking lot in front of the launching ramps.

The tenuous connection with the lakefront, however, is a small matter compared to the overriding reason the monument does not belong where some Plan Commission members want it: The lakefront is not a place to clutter with man-made objects signifying one thing or another; its value is in its views, the spaces from which Lake Michigan and the gorgeous harbor the city has made, which brings the lake into its heart, can be seen.

The public owns the lakefront and, to the extent it’s possible, its views, but it has little control over these treasures. That belongs to the public’s representatives, elected and appointed.

The Plan Commission in particular has a responsibility for the appearance of the city. After all, most of its decisions, involving the likes of building setbacks, commercial signs, materials used for buildings or subdivision design, have to do with how things look. The Plan Commission should be a staunch protector of the city’s aesthetics, none of which is more important that its lake views.

So where should the monument go? Port Washington has hundreds of acres of public land and surely enough good minds to find an acceptable place on a few square feet of those acres for the Simplicity monument.

Simplicity has a prominent place in Port Washington’s history, owing to its spectacular success, the aura of its charismatic, over-achieving founder, the sixth grade drop-out Bill Niederkorn, and the gifts (predating the Simplicity Foundation) he bestowed on the city. But there were many other companies that contributed importantly to the city’s prosperity that might also be recognized. Of course, if monuments to all of the once thriving manufacturing companies that have left town were put in a single place, it would look like a graveyard.

Better a living memorial: Reminded by the Simplicity monument fuss of the days when good jobs were available for just about any resident who wanted one, city officials should redouble their efforts to attract manufacturing employers to move into the city’s stock of abandoned factory buildings.


A worthy public amenity
The plan to build stairs from Port’s Lake Park to the beach deserves a thumbs-up from the Council—and the addition of a plan to fix up the embarrassing beach entrance

8/26/09

Some of the most welcome news to come out of the Port Washington City Hall this summer was the report in the Press two weeks ago that the Board of Public Works had recommended that the city build a stairway between Upper Lake Park and the public beach.

It was welcome not just because better beach access is long overdue, but also because it is refreshing to see a municipality interrupt the litany of gloom over hard times and stressed budgets and the increasing difficulty of providing basic services and proceed with a worthy public amenity—an improvement that is not strictly essential but is a valuable addition to a community’s quality of life.

The stairs will be an alternative to the awkward and sometimes unpleasant beach access routes on either side of the wastewater treatment plant.

The connection with Upper Lake Park is natural. That’s where the great views of the lake and the beach are and where there is ample parking. The stairway will likely increase the use of both the park and the beach, and be easy to use with the landings and benches that are planned to offer rest stops for beach visitors ascending the bluff.

There’s a lot to like about the project besides its utility. Its cost, at about $100,000, is modest, a result of the efficient way public resources are going to be used to construct it. The stairs will be built by the Ozaukee County Highway Department. Anyone who has seen the stairs and boardwalks in the Lions Den Gorge, which are the work of the county crew, will have high expectations that the beach stairway will be equally well designed and built.

The Common Council should give its quick and enthusiastic approval to the works board’s recommendation.

While they’re at it, the aldermen should consider adding a small side project to the stairway: Making the entrance to the beach from the existing access routes more civilized.

It is hard to believe that the same city that is planning the progressive initiative of building the beach stairway would tolerate a gateway to one of its prime recreational resources that is as unwelcoming, unsightly, difficult to use and, at times, downright dangerous as the 10-foot wide path to the beach.

It consists of broken pavement, crushed stone and concrete rubble, lubricated by a constant seepage of mud, framed by noxious weeds.

We have to wonder whether members of the Park and Recreation Board have ever seen this civic embarrassment. Certainly they would never tolerate something this off-putting as an entrance to one of the city’s parks. Yet the beach is more heavily used than many of the parks.

The beach, a splendid natural asset the city is lucky to have, is a popular place. Residents often go to the beach as families—kids, sand toys, umbrellas, picnics. Visitors seek it out; among the most frequently asked questions by tourists at the Pebble House Visitor Center are: Where is the beach and how do we get to it?

Beach visitors navigate the routes around the wastewater plant and then have to face the slippery, messy, rough roadway that passes as the beach portal.

Even after the stairs have been built, this entry and the walkways leading to it around the wastewater plant will continue to be well used. Many people will still find it logical to approach the beach from beach level, rather than going to the Lake Park bluff and then down to the beach. People in wheel chairs and families bringing the strollers and coaster wagons frequently seen on the beach will not be able to use the stairway.

Improving the entranceway would not be a major project: build a low wall to hold back the mud seeping from the bluff; remove the pavement, rock and concrete, resurface the walkway with something foot-friendly; remove the brush. The city public works department could handle it.

There are four signs at the beach entrance, and every one of them is a warning of one kind or another. There is no sign identifying the Port Washington public beach and inviting people to use it. With an improved entryway, the city would have no reason not to be proud of its beach and take credit for it with a proper sign.




Hit the health care
restart button
Disagreement and rancor have
hijacked the health care reform
initiation; can’t Americans at least
agree that change is needed?

8/19/09

So much to disagree about. So much time spent disagreeing. The story of America’s attempt to reform health care has been all about disagreement, disagreement to the point of rancor so profound it threatens to destroy this historic initiative.

Can’t all Americans agree on something about their health care system? How about two things: that the status quo is not acceptable and if it is to change there must be better regulation of health insurance companies.

The status quo is not acceptable because one in six Americans—nearly 50 million people—do not have health insurance. Even people who have health insurance and are satisfied with it cannot be satisfied about that dismal fact of life in the United States.

The status quo is not acceptable because it’s not economically sustainable. It costs Americans $2.2 trillion a year and that amount is increasing by more than twice the rate of inflation every year. Households, businesses and government will not be able to bear it much longer.

America spends twice as much per person on health care as Germany. The German health care system is a useful comparison because it is paid for mostly by individuals and employers rather than government and is popular with the German people. It is not ranked among the very best health care systems in the world, but it is better than America’s according to a number of measures.

The World Health Organization ranks Germany health care 25th best, compared to 37th for the U.S. In infant mortality, Germany is ranked 8th, while the U.S. is 19th. Life expectancy at birth in Germany is 70.2 years; in the U.S. it’s 67.6.

The one ranking in which the U.S. indisputably leads the world is in spending on health care. In 2007 we spent $6,002 per man, woman and child for health care, more than any country. Germany spent $3,025 per person.

German health care covers almost everyone. One of the reasons that isn’t true in the United States is that insurance companies refuse to cover people with pre-existing conditions. In other words, sick people, the people who need health insurance most, can’t get it. It will take government regulation to change that.

The need is so obvious that even insurance companies are sending signals that they expect it. Yet just the linking of the word “government” with health care has fueled fears that Americans will lose the ability to choose the health care they want.

The irony in this is that free choice is more myth than reality in the American health care system as it stands now. Doctors who cannot prescribe the medicine they believe is right for a patient, or order the procedures they think are needed, because health insurance rules won’t allow it, can attest to this. Patients who are restricted by cost from seeing physicians outside of their insurance company’s network can attest to it.

An example of the paranoid level fear of government involvement in health care has reached was documented in news stories about one of those infamously acrimonious town hall meetings: An enraged attendee shouted a warning that government had better “keep its hands off my Medicare.”

The government’s hands, of course, have been all over his Medicare and everyone else’s since it was started in 1965. It’s a government program through and through, wholly controlled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is also, particularly when combined with the inexpensive supplementary policies approved by the government for use with Medicare, probably the best health insurance available in the U.S. with virtually unfettered choice of providers and treatments.

Where health care reform goes from here is impossible to say, such is the state of chaos that surrounds it now. What we need is a restart button that can be pushed to purge the paranoia, the denial and the demonizing of government and to start over by accepting the plain truths that the status quo is unacceptable and better government regulation of health insurance companies is needed to change it.

It would just be a start, but a little agreement can go a long way.

Save the dam
Using federal stimulus money to remove Grafton’s Bridge Street dam would
destroy the millpond that is a valuable economic and lifestyle asset

8/12/09

Grafton without the river would be like Port Washington without the lake.

Both communities are defined by their nearness to the water and their easy access to its aesthetic and recreational gifts.

No one is talking about taking Lake Michigan away from Port Washington. But there is plenty of talk about, in effect, taking the Milwaukee River away from Grafton by removing the Bridge Street dam and thus draining the millpond that has graced the village for almost a century.

Worse than the talk, there is a recommendation by the Grafton Public Works Board that the dam be taken out. The probable effect would be to substantially reduce the width of the river in downtown Grafton.

The recommendation is based solely on money and therefore serves as further evidence that what is financially attractive is not always in the best interest of a community.

Federal economic stimulus money is the catalyst for the recommendation—a $4.7 million grant earmarked for work on the Milwaukee River in Ozaukee County that can be used to remove the Bridge Street structure.

The works board acted after learning that if the dam is not removed, the Wisconsin DNR will likely force the village to repair it at a cost that could exceed $1.5 million. Stimulus money is not available for the repairs.

There are some good reasons to remove dams that no longer serve their intended purposes. Most have to do with letting rivers flow vigorously and allowing fish free passage up and downstream.

Some of this is addressed by Ozaukee County planners in a project that would use the stimulus money to modify the Bridge Street Dam and one in Thiensville by creating passages that allow fish to swim over the dams. The plan also calls for removing the dam in Grafton’s Lime Kiln Park.

Using the stimulus money to remove the Bridge Street dam, instead of adding the fish passages, makes economic sense only when viewed out of context—without factoring in the consequences.

The consequences are changes that could have a profound negative economic and aesthetic impact on the village.

The river on the upstream side of the Bridge Street dam is in fact a lake in the heart of a village that offers fishing, ice skating, boating, bird watching, pretty vistas and the compelling ambience that has been associated with river towns with millponds for time immemorial. Without the dam, this would not exist. The millpond is, as Ralph Zaun, village benefactor and minder of its rich history, points out, one of the central features of the village’s heritage, the result of a dam that was built to harness the river’s power for a mill but had the side benefit of creating a feature of beauty and enjoyment in the village’s very heart.

The appeal of this feature has only grown over the years. As was pointed out by a number of speakers among the throng of taxpayers who attended an informational meeting about the dam last week, the commercial and residential developers who have powered the revitalization of Grafton’s downtown were attracted by the river.

By the river, they meant the river as it now, wide, lapping at the very edge of the downtown, not the narrower waterway it would shrink to if the dam were removed.

Using free federal money to remove the dam might sound like a good deal, but it isn’t. It would amount to selling a part of the village’s past and future tied to a river that is a valuable public asset precisely because it is slowed and widened by a dam.

The prospect of having to pay for dam repairs in the future is no justification to squander this asset. The dam should be considered as much a part of the village infrastructure as streets, bridges and sewers; when repairs are needed they should be included in the village budget and dealt with. Having the wherewithal to do that is the whole point of the economic development Grafton has pursued so avidly and effectively.


A tribute to the
immigrant spirit
The opening of the cultural center in Belgium is a signal achievement emblematic of the bond between Ozaukee County and the nation of Luxembourg

8/5/09

They say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Well, this weekend will be a time for everyone in the Ozaukee County area to be Luxembourger—a time to share in the pride and the joy people of that national origin will feel when an extraordinary event takes place in the Village of Belgium.

The event is the dedication and opening of the Luxembourg American Cultural Center. It is extraordinary because of all the center represents: the enduring bond between a small European country and the descendants of the immigrants who left there generations ago to start new lives in what is now Ozaukee County; the tribute it pays so handsomely to the immigrant spirit that has nourished America from its very beginning; and the accomplishment of the center’s completion by all who dreamed of its creation and made it happen through remarkable generosity.

If the momentousness of this event needs further validation, consider this: Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, the constitutional monarch of the last grand duchy in the world, will be in Belgium for the dedication with his five children; and so will Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.

Doyle is no Luxembourger—he’s Irish every day, not just on St. Paddy’s Day—but he understands the importance to Wisconsin of the cultural center, which stands to be one of the Midwest’s premier ethnic attractions, and its importance to the families of the Luxembourger immigrants who made a lasting contribution to the structure and prosperity of the communities of Ozaukee County.

Many ethnic groups were instrumental in the march of progress in Ozaukee County—Germans, Slovenians, Italians, Irish and others. But the Luxembourgers, who by dint of their concentrated numbers in the countryside and hamlets of the northern half of the county (for years it seemed that Luxembourgish was the official language there) and their success in not just the farming that many took up, but also in business, law, the clergy and other pursuits, made an outsized impact on Ozaukee County.

Luxembourgers around here are still kidded about being excessively frugal (not a surprising trait considering that most of their ancestors arrived here dirt poor), so it is a sweet bit of irony that it was the opening of Luxembourger wallets that made the cultural center possible, from grand gifts by successful businesses and their owners with Luxembourger roots to more modest donations from individuals, including those who sponsored “leaves” on the tree in the center’s atrium—a graceful metallic sculpture created in Luxembourg—honoring family members.

The generosity extended also from across the Atlantic Ocean in the more than half a million dollars worth of services and exquisitely crafted displays given to the center by the country of Luxembourg in a marvelous show of affinity for emigrant families and support of an ongoing cultural exchange.

The Luxembourg center includes an education center and research facilities the public can use to trace genealogy, but its most distinctive feature is the historic stone barn, moved from the site between Port Washington and Belgium where it was built 137 years ago, that was made part of the center structure in a surprisingly seamless connection to the otherwise modern design. The barn, appropriately, houses the center’s museum.

The dedication on Saturday morning will be part of what is being called Luxembourg Heritage Week, which will include the annual Luxembourger Fest in Belgium on Saturday and Sunday.

You don’t have to be a Luxembourger to attend, but if you want to be just for the weekend, that’s fine.


A rite of summer
for 150 years
The Ozaukee County Fair is a thoroughly modern package of family fun, but it is also a bracing reminder of our agricultural roots and the values they nourish

7/29/09

What do the first issue of Ozaukee Press and the latest one have in common? They both feature a cover photograph devoted to the Ozaukee County Fair, but there’s more to it than that: Both cover photographs are of the same person, the winner of the silver cup emblematic of the grand champion of the junior and senior calf division in the 1940 County Fair.

Robert Ahlers was a kid of 15 when he was photographed with his prize calf. In the photo on the front of this issue of the Press, he is 85 years old.

When he first appeared in the Press, this newspaper was just a baby. That August 15, 1940 issue was our very first as a paid-circulation newspaper. We’re proud that that upstart little paper is now 69 years old and one of Wisconsin’s largest circulation weeklies.

Compared to the Ozaukee County Fair, though, the newspaper is a youngster. The fair turns 150 years old this year.

The fair has been a rite of summer since 1859, six years after the county was founded. This year’s, which is underway now in a five-day run that will end Sunday, is, of course, a far different event than that first fair, and yet in one way it is the same: Like the inaugural fair, it celebrates Ozaukee County agriculture.

That tells us that this prosperous suburban county, in spite of turning thousands of acres of farmland into subdivisions, shopping centers and industrial parks over the past century and a half, not only remembers its agricultural roots, but continues to support farming as a productive component of its economy.

The 150th anniversary County Fair is a bountiful package of family entertainment, everything from tractor pulls and demolition derbies to concerts by professional music groups and the Ozaukee Idol contest, but at its heart it is still about recognizing young people who demonstrate the effort and responsibility to master agricultural skills.

Just as young Robert Ahlers spent months raising his calf and then grooming it and showing it before the judges of the 1940 County Fair, so too do the 4H Club members of today prepare their livestock for that most important day of the year, the day they will be judged at the County Fair. Like Ahlers, some will receive trophies and medals, and maybe even get their picture in the Press.

The County Fair is pure fun—enjoyable entertainment and a lot of good food at the best time of the year—but it is also a bracing statement that amid the distractions and anxieties of a complex modern world, basic achievements still matter.

It is satisfying too to know that there will be more Ozaukee County Fairs to follow the 150th, thanks to a wise County Board that has seen to the fair’s future by securing land on the fairgrounds site in Cedarburg for a new building for the County Fair.

That’s all good, but this is a time to think of the fair’s present, not its future. The Ozaukee County Fair is on now—don’t miss it.


Railroad rigmarole
Port Washington citizens shouldn’t have to go to a hearing to beg for relief from the obviously unacceptable Grand Avenue railroad crossing

7/22/09

One of the stranger exercises in public affairs played out in Port Washington’s City Hall last week when citizens were invited to give testimony to point out a problem so obvious even the most obtuse bureaucrat could recognize it.

The hearing was about the deplorable condition of the Grand Avenue railroad crossing. It was strange—perhaps silly would be a better word—because no witnesses are needed to attest to the fact that the crossing is in deplorable condition. Drive over it once and you know. Just watch cars drive over it for a few minutes and you know.

The hearing was part of the rigmarole that must be observed in dealing with railroads that operate on sacrosanct rights of way through communities.

It was arranged by the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Railroads because the Union Pacific Railroad refused to fix a crossing that is so rough it has evolved from tooth-rattling to downright dangerous.

In April, the Common Council passed a resolution asking the railroad to fix the crossing within 30 days. The railroad ignored it.

Dealing with a federally regulated transportation system requires an elaborate ballet. The first act of the performance is a resolution like the Port council passed. Then if there’s no action, the state railroad commissioner can order a public hearing. And then he might order the railroad to do what everyone knows has to be done and repair the crossing. It all takes time, lots of time. Vehicles have been bouncing over this rugged crossing for years.

Asking residents to appear at City Hall to attest to the awful condition of the crossing is like summoning people to come in from a snowstorm to testify that it’s nasty outside. Some things are obvious.

The crossing is so uneven that westbound traffic must slow to a crawl to pass over the tracks and adjacent pavement. Photos published in Ozaukee Press have shown cars whose drivers were unaware of the menace bottoming out on the tracks. Numerous accidents have occurred when one vehicle slows to make a safe crossing of the tracks and then is struck from behind by another piloted by an inattentive driver.

We learned in a news story in this newspaper that police have ticketed a number of drivers who veered over the centerline of the street to cross the tracks on the more even south side of the crossing. That’s a good indicator of the problem, but it also seems a little hard-nosed. If no other drivers are endangered by these maneuvers, it wouldn’t hurt to cut a little slack. Creative strategies to deal with a crossing this bad deserve a bit of tolerance.

In any case, citizens shouldn’t have to take time out of their lives to attend a hearing to beg for street repairs that are obviously needed, overdue and the responsibility of a private company.

So obvious are the problems at the crossing that at the public hearing a representative of the railroad — the one that has ignored the problems for years — promised to make repairs before Labor Day.

That promise came just days before the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads issued an order requiring the railroad fix its crossing now and improve safety by installing new flashing lights with gates by the end of 2012.

This is good news for Port, but the fact that an order requiring the long-need repairs required such rigmarole shows the laws regarding railroads and the municipalities through which their tracks pass are archaic and need to be brought in line with the times and common sense.



The town’s problem.
Of course septic discharge into Sucker Brook is a Town of Belgium problem; so is the town chairman’s refusal to let the county put a stop to the pollution

7/15/09

Illegal pollution of a stream that meanders through the Town of Belgium to Lake Michigan is not any business of the town government?

Is someone kidding?

Apparently not. Town Chairman Francis Kleckner seemed quite serious when he said, in response to a request from Ozaukee County for permission to stanch the flow of effluent from a resident’s septic system into Sucker Brook, “I will not get involved in enforcing this. This is not the town’s problem.”

By not getting involved in that, the town is now involved in protecting a polluter. The county isn’t asking the township to take any action against the owner of the septic system. It merely wants the Town Board’s OK to put a stop to the discharge into the waterway.

Ozaukee County became involved through its Land and Water Management Department after receiving notice of the polluting drain tile from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The DNR was alerted by a citizen’s complaint.

The tile drains into the brook along Lake Church Road just north of County Highway D. Andy Holschbach, director of the land and water department, sent letters to five nearby property owners, but got nowhere. Now he wants to remedy the problem by plugging the pipe.

It is surprising that, rather than blocking action to protect water quality, Kleckner isn’t enthusiastically supporting all such efforts. The Town Board should be pleased that an alert citizen, the DNR and the county’s environmental office are watching out for a waterway that touches many Town of Belgium properties.

Sucker Brook can use all of the help it can get. It is one of the most polluted streams in county. Runoff laden with animal waste and chemical fertilizers has been the main culprit. Now it seems human waste is to blame too.

Holschbach has been working with farmers to control their contribution to the problem, using buffers to absorb runoff and other means, with some success. Still, the waterway carries a disgusting freight of animal, chemical and human contaminants—through some of Ozaukee County’s prettiest countryside and into Lake Michigan, where its presence is announced by a plume of thick algae in a wide semi-circle around the mouth of the brook.

The town chairman says that sort of thing is not his problem. He’s wrong about that, but it can be said it’s not his problem alone—like degradation of the environment wherever it occurs, it’s everyone’s problem.

To his credit, Town Board member Bill Janeshek thinks it is indeed the town’s problem, saying, “I don’t see any way we cannot cooperate” with the county’s request concerning the septic effluent. Unfortunately, he and Kleckner were the only board members present at the July 6 Town Board meeting. Supr. Tom Winker was absent, so a decision on the issue was tabled until the Aug. 3 meeting.

Let’s hope that Winker will side with Janeshek and everyone else who thinks the Town of Belgium should not be facilitating the further fouling of Sucker Brook and votes to let the county do its job.

Meanwhile the polluting continues.


Real ID R.I.P.
It’s a good thing Wisconsin didn’t hurry to comply with the new, flawed federally mandated drivers license rules; with a little luck, they’ll be consigned to the trash

7/8/09

The imminent demise of the execrable Real ID law is giving procrastination a good name.

States such as Wisconsin that put off complying with federal Real ID requirements will now likely be rewarded with a new law that will make drivers licenses more secure documents without subjecting their holders to the expense and aggravation that would have been inflicted by Real ID.

And the dozen or so states that were proactive in their opposition to Real ID, and didn’t just drag their heels on implementing this flawed mandate but passed legislation rejecting it, deserve the nation’s gratitude for lending force to the movement to send the law to a deserved burial.

Real ID has proved the maxim that laws that don’t have substantial public support cannot stand in a democracy. It was hard to find anyone who liked it. Sure, U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls), whose district includes Ozaukee County, is big fan, but he has to be—he introduced it.

A good many of the members of Congress who voted for it nearly five years ago didn’t like it. Sensenbrenner attached it to a must-pass appropriations bill, so they pretty much had to lump it.

The Bush administration treated it like a toxic substance it didn’t want to touch for fear of contracting whatever it was that caused Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures to denounce it and members of Congress of both political parties to introduce bills to repeal it.

There is a great deal to dislike about Real ID, but the feature that unites so many in opposition is that it would create what is anathema in a free society: a national ID card. Under Real ID, state drivers licenses would be tied to national data base including personal information on all drivers and their photos. It would function like a passport required to travel in one’s own country.

Civil liberties groups and libertarians are not totally satisfied with Pass ID, the bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate that would replace Real ID, but it certainly is an improvement. There is no requirement for new databases in which states would store and cross-check personal information, which would have made drivers licenses the equivalents of a national ID card.

Safeguards against identity theft in the new bill are also an improvement. Licenses containing as much information as those mandated by Real ID would have left holders especially vulnerable. Under Pass ID, drivers licenses would have barcodes for electronic access to information, but Social Security numbers would not come up.

While the national ID card aspect may be the most serious flaw of Real ID, the most obnoxious one is the commandment that all 245 million drivers in the country apply in person for new licenses and present birth certificates, Social Security cards and other certified documents. It is hard to believe that a law is actually on the books that empowers the government to summon Americans who hold valid drivers licenses to appear with personal documents or be refused a permit to drive a motor vehicle or be approved to travel on a airplane, among other “privileges” that would be tied to a Real ID license.

The cost to the nation of complying with Real ID is put at more than $22 billion. Officials of the Motor Vehicle Department of Wisconsin, where an estimated 779,000 residents would have to renew their licenses early even if they have held them for years, called the process a “logistical nightmare.”

No one disagrees that one of the lessons of 9/11 was that improved standards of identification are needed. An effort by Congress and the Bush administration to work with the states to adopt ID standards that balance security with privacy and civil liberties was well along before it was sidetracked by the Sensenbrenner legislation.

Pass ID returns to that approach and puts a stake in the heart of Real ID. Congress must make it happen.



Accept U.S. policing aid
Should Port Washington apply for federal stimulus money to hire a police officer? The Common Council’s spirited discussion of the issue indicates the answer is yes

7/2/09

Should the City of Port Washington apply for federal stimulus funding to hire an additional police officer?

Even if the federal money would pay the officer’s salary for only three years, leaving city taxpayers to pick up the cost after that?

Yes and yes.

The Common Council isn’t quite ready to agree that those are the answers, but an unusually informative public discussion at a recent meeting should lead there.

The discussion was a model of the sort of discourse that is expected but rarely provided by deliberative bodies of elected government representatives these days (we’re referring mainly to the Wisconsin Legislature and U.S. Congress)—untainted by political grandstanding, replete with point and counterpoint debate, nourished by a wealth of information.

That the discussion was held at such length and with such intensity was a positive sign. There was a time when public safety spending had sacred-cow status and proposals for adding police personnel, if blessed by the Police and Fire Commission, were routinely granted. As aldermen made clear last week, that has changed.

The argument against getting federal funding to add an officer rests mainly on cost to city taxpayers, which would amount to about $100,000 a year in salary and benefits, after the federal grant expired. The city is already strapped, state revenue sharing will decline for sure this year and next and the future after that is uncertain and no one can accurately forecast the growth of the local tax base.

Unspoken but surely on the minds of every party to the discussion was the fact that the status quo is working. Police work is getting done, serious crime is rare, and the department has had some notable successes dealing with so-called quality-of-life issues, including downtown vandalism. Moreover, it’s hard to think of a police department with 13 officers, four lieutenants, a captain and a chief, with an annual budget of $2.9 million, as being understaffed in a small town of about 11,000 people.

And yet: It has been an astonishing 13 years since an officer has been added to the police force, a period during which the city’s population has grown by nearly 10%, 16 new subdivisions have been built and, perhaps most important from the standpoint of patrolling the city, the size of Port Washington has more than doubled in area.

The growing demands on the department are reflected in overtime costs, which have increased more than 150% in the last four years.

What’s more, the police department is being asked to do more than ever before in support of downtown revitalization, including the new foot and bicycle patrols in the newly streetscaped downtown and service at the proliferating number of city festivals, concerts and events that bring multitudes of visitors to town.

Besides facts and numbers, Police Chief Richard Thomas added a compelling emotional argument when he told the council, “The need is now. Our staff deficit has created the potential for public and officer safety issues.”

In the end, the aldermen did not endorse the grant application, but tabled it for consideration later. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time to get more information, specifically reliable estimates on how much overtime expense might be saved by hiring a new officer. But if the final result of the council’s seemingly constructive airing of the issue is not applying for the grant and hiring the officer, it will be the wrong result.

It boils down to this: The city would be better off with an additional police officer. Turning down an opportunity to have the federal government pay the officer’s salary for three years would be a disservice to Port Washington taxpayers.


Armed 10-year-olds?
The Assembly should reject a bill that aims to let children as young as 10 hunt with rifles and shotguns to bolster the ranks of hunters

6/17/09

Wisconsin could use more hunters, especially in this part of the state, where the ever multiplying deer herd is destroying trees, laying waste to gardens and adding extra menace to driving.

Elsewhere in the state—mainly “up north”—a slowing or reversal of the decline in the number of hunters would buoy local economies that depend on the surge of business that hunting seasons can provide.

The DNR’s game management programs would benefit too from the increase in hunting license revenue that would accompany growth in the number of hunters afield in Wisconsin.

Yes, encouraging hunting is a good thing, but isn’t it just a bit cynical to put the responsibility for doing that on the undeveloped shoulders of 10-year-old children?

Here’s the rationale of a bill already passed by the State Senate that would make it legal for children as young as 10 to hunt with guns and bows in Wisconsin, as explained by its main sponsor, State Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover):

“I think the sports community is fearful that if there isn’t enough interest in the next generation in these (hunting) issues that our whole outdoor heritage slips slowly away. This is all about educating and immersing the next generation in the sport.”

Wisconsin’s outdoor heritage is doing fine, perhaps better than ever considering the thousands of acres of natural areas being preserved for the public to use in perpetuity. Participation in hunting, on the other hand, is declining, which is a concern for the businesses that the senator was probably referring when he used the term “sports community.” That’s a weak justification, however, for compromising the safety of hunters and others enjoying Wisconsin’s outdoor heritage.

There is nothing wrong with the current law regulating youthful hunters. It requires that hunters to be at least 12 years old, have passed a hunting safety course and that, until they’re 14, they are supervised by a parent or guardian.

Society sets age limits for a lot of things based on the maturity to make good judgments. Fourteen-year-olds are perfectly capable of mastering the physical skills of driving a car, but states don’t let them, even with a mentor in the passenger seat, because they don’t think they possess the ability to consistently make the judgments needed to safely operate a machine as deadly as a motor vehicle.

And now the State Senate is telling us that 10-year-olds have the judgment to safely use firearms that can kill at great distance.

The bill attempts to address safety by requiring that an adult with a hunting license always be within “arm’s reach” of the child hunter and that there is only one gun between the two of them. There is no mention of a hunter safety course. Perhaps no one has yet designed one that is elementary enough for fourth graders.

Though it is not enough to overcome the imprudence of allowing hunting by children too young to deal with all of the sport’s ramifications, the bill’s emphasis on mentoring is laudable. Indeed, if hunting is to keep its following, it will be because mentors have passed on not only knowledge of the sport’s skills and responsibilities, but the love of hunting and respect for the splendid venue nature provides for its pursuit.

Nothing in the current law stands in the way of that mentoring. Parents can teach their children of any age how to use and care for firearms. They can take them on hunts unarmed. They can enroll them in gun and hunting safety classes and add their own experience-based instruction. And, yes, they can instill a love for Wisconsin’s truly great outdoors. And when the aspiring hunters turn 12, they will certainly be more ready to be safe hunters than they were two years earlier.

The Assembly should reject this bill that would have the effect of arming children to benefit interests that profit from hunting.


A decent budget out of an awful process
The good news is that the proposed state budget gets rid of a monster deficit. The bad news is the mischief that came with it.

6/10/09

If you judged the Wisconsin state budget by the ends-don’t-justify-the-means aphorism, you’d have to say the end isn’t too bad, but the means were atrocious—as usual.

The budget, being debated by the Legislature this week, is a messy affair freighted with numerous questionable items, but it gets the job done.

The job is to get rid of a $6.6 billion deficit. The budget does this by cobbling together spending cuts with new or increased taxes and fees on business, but without raising the sales tax or the income tax, except on the richest 1% of state residents.

Among the spending cuts, a 3.1% reduction in aid to schools and reduced aid to local government will hurt taxpayers most. Critics are complaining that new taxes on industry will also hurt, either by being passed on to the public or by discouraging business development in the state.

Perhaps, but it would be unrealistic to expect that a $6.6 billion gap could be closed without some pain.

The fact that a more or less acceptable budget emerged from the Joint Finance Committee’s budget-writing process should not be construed as evidence that the exercise was a model of responsible representative government in action.

How could it be? Most of it was carried out in late-night, closed-door meetings, with the public and press excluded. The committee thus operated in a way that would be unlawful for any local governmental body in Wisconsin. It is an insult to democratic government that the elected officials who spend more of the public’s money than any other in Wisconsin are not bound by the state’s open meetings law.

The appeal of closed meetings to the budget makers is understandable—a lot of the stuff in the budget looks terrible in the light of day. The earmarks, for example.

That legislators’ pet spending items—$50,000 for a shooting range at Eau Claire, for example—were inserted in the same budget that cuts school funding reveals an insensitivity that borders on contempt for the public.

Closed meetings fit right in with the Wisconsin way of using the budget as a means to effect policy changes by stealth. Slipping items unrelated to finances into a budget that has to be passed if the state is to stay in business has long been a backdoor route to enacting laws that might not have made it a stand-alone bills.

State Rep. Mark Gottlieb of Port Washington, a persistent critic of the budget process, has counted 40 such non-fiscal items in the current budget.

In one egregious example, a budget amendment makes a fundamental change in the way land preserved through the Wisconsin Stewardship Fund is used by eliminating the requirement that such land be open for hunting, fishing and other recreational uses.

This budget item, with no debate to enlighten the public as to its impact or justification, has the potential to undermine future land preservation efforts. The Stewardship Fund was reauthorized in the past legislative session only with the support of sportsmen’s groups in a compromise that promised access to the lands. Conservation groups have joined hunters’ organizations in condemning this end run around the legislative process.

The full Legislature should purge the budget of the Stewardship Fund meddling, and while it’s at it, get rid of the earmarks and the budget provision that repeals the qualified economic offer (QEO) requirement that has limited teacher pay increases to 3.8%. If the repeal provision stays, the same budget that cuts aid to school districts will set the stage for higher personnel costs for school district taxpayers. Try to make sense of that.

Republicans, who are not in control of the Legislature, are in state of high dudgeon over the budget process as managed by the Democrats, who are in control. They’re condemning the secrecy, the earmarks, the backdoor legislating. In other words, they’re saying the same thing Democrats said when the Republicans were in control.

Legislating by budget is a Wisconsin tradition honored by both political parties. One way to start a movement to change it would be for legislative leaders of the party out of power to pledge to keep non-fiscal measures out of the budget when they get back into the majority.

The pledge would need to be in writing, of course. Calls for reform have a way of fading quickly from memory when the Joint Finance Committee gavel is passed.




The Belgium school
problem
Acting as though ignoring Belgium’s yearning for a school will make
the problem go away, the CG-B
School Board stokes resentment
and threatens building plans


6/4/09

The Cedar Grove-Belgium School Board’s proposal to build a new middle school in Cedar Grove would be fine if there were no Belgium problem.

But there is.

The board’s approach to the process of meeting the district’s school space needs amounted to pretending the Belgium problem doesn’t exist.

But it does.

The board may have hoped that by ignoring the problem and building a strong case for investing in more classrooms in Cedar Grove, the Belgium problem would go away or diminish.

But it got worse.

This is the Belgium problem: Though the Village of Belgium is a partner in the school district with the Village of Cedar Grove and though its taxpayers have supported the district for some 45 years, there is no public school in the Belgium.

Belgium residents want a school. They think a municipality of Belgium’s size and economic substance is incomplete without a school. They think that for at least a few years of their academic lives, the children of Belgium ought to be able to go to school without having to ride a bus.

When space needs in Cedar Grove schools developed, many in Belgium saw it as an opportunity to at last satisfy residents’ yearning for a Belgium school. But that hope was dashed when the steering committee formed to advise the board on building needs was instructed to ignore “political” considerations—meaning the Belgium problem—in forming its recommendations.

We have no doubt that the plan approved by the School Board on May 20 to build a middle school on land in Cedar Grove near the high school is sound from a perfectly pure educational perspective.

The trouble is, there is no such thing as a perfectly pure educational world. A school building project costing millions of dollars and requiring voter approval can no more be adopted free of emotional concerns than health care reform could be passed in Congress or new taxes levied in the state Legislature free of politics.

So the Belgium problem is bigger than ever.

It could have been solved by now, relegated to history, if the board had simply declared, when space needs became evident, that a school would be built in Belgium, and then worked around that premise. An elementary building in Belgium might not have been the perfect answer, but it would have been a satisfactory one, relieving the space crunch and getting a jump on dealing with elementary school crowding the district is already facing, while not being so expensive as to rule out a new middle school in Cedar Grove in a few years.

The importance of the location and type of school building the district builds might not deserve the importance the board is giving it. Buildings are only one part, and not the most important part, of the equation of providing high quality education.

Now re-energized, the Belgium problem has some Belgium officials threatening a move to secede from the school district and talking about campaigning against a referendum on the middle school proposal. That is unfortunate.

Talk of abandoning the Cedar Grove-Belgium School District and starting a new one from scratch is reckless. The district is providing a first-rate education for children living everywhere in the district; they would be the first victims of such a destructive move.

Nor is it the Belgium Village Board’s place to be leading a campaign against a school referendum. The people of the village are perfectly capable of making up their own minds about a referendum.

No date has been set for a referendum, but one thing is certain: As long as the Belgium problem exists, school building referendums will start with one strike against them. It’s something to keep in mind if the district ever wants to take a real-world approach to dealing with school space needs.



The ups and downs
of Lake Michigan
Man’s fingerprints may be on the
last decade’s decrease in lake levels,
but nature remains in charge;
watch out for higher water

5/27/09

While a debate rages about whether human interference has caused a drop in the Lake Michigan-Huron water level, the lakes have been steadily rising. At the end of May 2009 water in the two lakes is nearly a foot higher than it was a year ago. It’s a reminder that Mother Nature remains the ultimate authority over the Great Lakes.

The debate is stoked by the fact that the lakes have been unusually low for more than a decade. There are suspicions, supported by a study commissioned a group of Lake Huron landowners, that a botched dredging job by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had the effect of opening a valve at the foot of Lake Huron, allowing too much water to drain out of the lakes through the St. Clair River.

A new study by the International Joint Commission agrees that too much water is leaving through the river, but blames it on erosion, not improper dredging.

The study seems to have only succeeded in adding fuel to the fire in the lake level controversy. Critics charge that the study was not subjected to scientific peer review and that a conflicting study was quashed.

The Joint Commission study concludes that four inches of lake level were lost due to the eroded outlet, but recommends that nothing be done to correct it. The landowners group wants a damlike structure built to restrict the flow and restore not only the four inches, but another 16 inches of lake level it claims has disappeared because of the enlarged river outlet.

The adage, “Be careful what you wish for,” comes to mind. While low water is worth worrying about—no one wants to see this precious freshwater resource diminished—high water brings its own set of problems that can be at least as costly in terms of dollars and enjoyment of the lakes as low water.

A 20-inch lake level rise would destroy beaches, threaten some public waterfront installations and subject property, private and public, to erosion that would exact a high cost in prevention and restoration.

Substantially higher lake levels would require revetments to project lakeshore development and would expose the notoriously unstable clay bluffs of the western shore of Lake Michigan to accelerated erosion. As little as another foot of lake-level increase would all but obliterate the Port Washington public beach.

Even with the natural lake level rise over the past few months, the beach has lost a third of its width. The low-water years added value to this splendid recreational resource by allowing sand to accumulate and the beach to widen.

But during those years, with much of the beach unreachable by wave action, vegetation, including some fairly noxious brush, flourished and it now usurps the narrowed littoral to within a few feet of the water.

Considering the value of the beach to the public and its popularity, some maintenance work is justified—using public works equipment and personnel to root out the vegetation and restore the remaining sand beach to something fit for walking, sunbathing and sand castle building. Volunteers could be enlisted for some of the manual labor.

The ups and downs of the lake have been a source of amazement and consternation since long before the Lake Huron outlet was enlarged. The changes have been so bewildering and unpredictable that various conspiracy theories have flourished. Chicago’s diversion of lake water for sewage treatment that takes it down the Illinois River and out of the lakes’ drainage basin has long been blamed for low water. Mysterious cycles have been blamed for high water.

It’s simpler than that. According to scientists, the lakes go up or down in concert with the amount of water nature puts in through precipitation and takes out through evaporation. Whatever the cause of the increased exhaust of water from the lakes through the St. Clair River, it should be monitored and, if feasible, regulated to prevent catastrophically low water.

But let’s not be deluded. Nature is still in charge, and by increasing precipitation over the thousands of square miles of the Lake Michigan-Huron watershed can render man’s efforts puny. It’s OK to be concerned about low water, but be careful about wishing for high water. Nature might just grant your wish.


No way to run a festival
The Village Board’s attempt to micromanage Celebrate Fredonia backfired; the lesson is
—let volunteers do their job

5/20/09

The one thing the many diverse community celebrations in Ozaukee County have in common is that they’re driven by citizen volunteers.

These are civic events, approved by local government and in most cases supported by municipal services, but public officials don’t call the shots. There are good reasons for this. Elected officials have their hands full providing taxpayer services and dealing with stressed budgets. They aren’t expected to organize entertainment events as part of their job description. What’s more, volunteers are better at this sort of thing, bringing with their enthusiasm a broad variety of skills and talents to community events.

Which begs the question: What was the Fredonia Village Board thinking when it meddled in the community’s signature celebration so bluntly that most of the volunteers working on the event quit in disgust?

Members of the citizens committee appointed to organize the annual fall festival called Celebrate Fredonia had been working on the 2009 event for months under the reasonable assumption that they were in charge of planning. Then, two weeks ago, without consulting the committee, the Village Board passed a resolution dictating the route of the parade that is the highlight of the event.

Four members of the committee, including the co-chairmen, long-time village volunteers and former trustees Sue Siesco and Larry Palm, took the action for as an affront and promptly resigned. That left the committee with only one member, Village President Larry Short (who had abstained from the parade route vote).

The fallout here is not just a few highly irritated former volunteers. It’s the possibility that Celebrate Fredonia won’t be held this year.

That would be a pity. In spite of some growing pains over the past eight years, Celebrate Fredonia has developed into a popular end-of-summer event that epitomizes the delights of small-town life. It has been successful not only in providing fun for residents, but in making a contribution to the quality of life in Fredonia by giving organizations an opportunity to raise funds, which are then put to good use around the community.

Rewards like these are enough to justify the prodigious efforts put into community celebrations by cities and villages throughout the county. These are tremendously demanding projects, and communities have learned that the only way to ensure their survival is by building strong volunteer networks.

The granddaddy of community festivals around here, Port Washington’s Fish Day, which is approaching its 50th anniversary, is a case in point. A huge operation, involving tens of thousands of visitors, literally tons of food, an enormous budget and enough logistical problems to challenge a company of army engineers, it is pulled off smoothly year after year, thanks to a highly structured volunteer organization.

Ironically, Celebrate Fredonia seemed to be going that route when a special committee was formed to run the event that had been started by the Lions Club and was handled for a while by the village parks committee.

But then came that parade mandate from the Village Board. You can’t blame Celebrate Fredonia committee members for taking it as a statement to volunteers that they are welcome to work hard but shouldn’t expect to make any significant decisions.

Here’s a scenario to get past this: The board rescinds the parade mandate. The committee members agree to put the future of the celebration ahead of their resentment and come back to work. They listen to whatever input trustees want to give about the parade route, then forge ahead and make the decisions needed for next fall’s event. Village Board members return to what they were elected to do, which is not to micromanage the community festival.


Educational journeys
Two area school districts take different approaches to student trips; the one that requires them to have an educational purpose has it right

5/13/09

The much anticipated trip by the Port Washington-Saukville School District’s Thomas Jefferson Middle School show choir to Ohio for a singing competition was saved in the nick of time last week by alert administrators who picked up quickly on indications that the swine flu threat had been highly exaggerated.

The trip had been cancelled amid fears about flu based on worrisome information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But when the CDC did an about-face and advised that this variant of swine flu wasn’t likely to be any more dangerous than garden variety versions of flu, school administrators quickly reinstated the trip and worked fast to renew travel arrangements.

The middle school singers made their trip.

Many school administrators across the country took more drastic action than cancelling trips, of course: They cancelled school. How this was supposed to stop the spread of flu was not clear, since students then congregated in malls, movie theaters and playgrounds, rather than in classrooms.

Hindsight perhaps makes those decisions look worse than they were at the time, when the flu scare was verging on panic. But needless to say, school officials in Ozaukee County are relieved they didn’t take teaching time away from students during the critical last days of the semester.

Taking away that choir trip would have been a loss too because, thanks to a policy adopted by the district several years ago, every student trip sponsored by PW-S district has educational value. Trips just for the fun of it aren’t allowed anymore, which is as it should be. The trips that remain—and there are quite a few—give students a lot more than a good time with their classmates (though they certainly do that too); they are, as School Supt. Mike Weber said, “extensions of the curriculum.”

Some of these trips, organized by the school district but paid for by parents, not only help educate, but give students experiences they will remember, and value, for a long time. We are thinking in particular of the annual eighth graders’ trip to Washington, D.C. What a wonderful opportunity to behold the icons of this great democracy!

We don’t doubt that many of the parents of the students who take these trips never had the opportunity to tour the White House, or see Congress in session, or visit the Lincoln or Jefferson memorials, or climb the stairs of the Washington monument. For their children to have that experience, at modest cost and with carefully organized supervision, must surely be highly valued by many families.

Student trips were on the minds recently of members of the school board of the Northern Ozaukee School District. The board, in fact, vetoed a student trip to the Six Flags Great America amusement park in Gurnee, Ill. The four members who opposed the outing did so on the basis that it had no educational value.

They were right. This trip was just for fun, a reward for band members and seniors for, apparently, being band members and seniors.

A majority of the board reversed the decision after it was arranged that band members would perform in a parade at the amusement park, the idea being that this added an educational component to the trip. Let’s just say that’s a stretch.

School Supt. Bill Harbron made an articulate defense of the trip, saying, “Sometimes we need to think about the soft side of curriculum. It is these experiences that create bonds and create memories that they will take with them long after school.”

That would have been a good rationale for a trip to Washington or Madison, or the Museum of Science and Industry or the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, or Discovery World in Milwaukee.

Certainly a trip to these destinations would provide more enduring memories. And if students need a reward, these would outshine Great America any day.

The NOSD board members who think all student trips should have an educational purpose should press their case.


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