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Too necessary to fail PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 23 April 2014 14:03

The Feith Family YMCA has become the vital heart of the Port-Saukville community; the Metropolitan YMCA’s financial troubles must not be allowed to threaten its future

Legally, the Feith Family YMCA in Saukville is owned by the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee.

    In virtually every other way, it is owned by the people of the community of Port Washington-Saukville and the surrounding area.

    The people of this community paid most of the cost of building the facility in 1999—$4.1 million of the $6.7-million price tag, which included large donations from John Feith and Charter Steel.

    The people of this community also invested in the institution by joining the YMCA in great numbers—memberships at the Saukville facility are now approaching 10,000—by making generous financial contributions and by volunteering in support of the many YMCA programs offered to the community.    

    This “ownership” is relevant in light of the revelation last week that the Metropolitan YMCA is facing a debt crisis, with $30 million owed to banks. An official of the organization called the amount “unsustainable.”

    The same spokesman, when asked if the Saukville YMCA could be closed as part of a restructuring to deal with the debt, said, “Everything is on the table.”

    That comment was worrisome enough, but it gained an extra measure of grimness when the official told Ozaukee Press that YMCA officials believe the Feith facility is responsible for about $5 million of the Metropolitan organization’s debt. That number is suspect considering that contributions covered about two-thirds of the construction cost, but it suggests nonetheless that the Saukville YMCA could be vulnerable.

    That seems wrong. It has been said about some banks that they are too big to fail. It can be said about the Feith Family YMCA that is too needed to fail.

    The Saukville YMCA has carried out the YMCA philosophy of inclusiveness and accessibility so effectively that it is not an exaggeration to say the institution exists for everyone in this community. Nor is it an overstatement to call it the heart of the community; more than any other building in the area, public or private, it is a community center.

    The thousands of Ozaukeeans who go to the Feith YMCA have in common that they are there for physical improvement and the overall sense of well being that can come with it. By other measures, they are as diverse as any group can be.

    It is not unusual to see an elite athlete running at a marathon pace on a treadmill beside a disabled person doing his or her best on an adjacent machine, or children being guided to their next activity through a hallway packed with senior citizens waiting for their Silver Sneakers exercise class to start.

    And those are just the extremes. In between are a multitude of area residents representing an eclectic mix of cultural, social and economic backgrounds. While most are there for exercise in independent workouts and classes or for training in groups for w and other athletic challenges, it’s clear that many are also attracted by the social rewards of sharing the benefits of the Y with friends and kindred spirits.

    The Feith Family YMCA is the quintessential example of everything the YMCA stands for; its parent, the Metropolitan YMCA, deserves credit for this. Its expertise and unflagging emphasis on letting no barrier deny access to its programs have much to do with the value of the Feith YMCA to the community.

    That said, the Metropolitan YMCA owes an explanation to the many members who are now left wondering about the future of the institution that has become so important in their lives.

    The Ozaukee County residents who fought hard to get a YMCA and then stepped up with financial contributions and generous support in other ways deserve to hear more than, “Everything is on the table.”

    The response that should be forthcoming is: “We will take the necessary steps to deal with our problem, and there may have to be cutbacks, but closing the Feith Family YMCA is not on the table.”

    Whatever the explanation for the financial troubles turns out to be, it should be safe to assume that the YMCA’s debt was earned in service of its mission to spread the organization’s benefits as widely as possible.

    That is a cause worth supporting generously, and we have no doubt that, given an assurance that their YMCA will endure, the people of the greater Port-Saukville community will do just that.


 
Common Core clarity PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 15:01

Grafton school officials gave critics clear, reasoned responses in defense of national academic standards (and so did a potential presidential candidate)

Grafton School District officials did a good job of defending Common Core academic standards at a meeting last week. They made it clear that the rigorous national standards are making Grafton schools better and are not interfering with local control of curriculums.

    The educators were responding to complaints about the Common Core standards from several residents at the April 7 School Board meeting. Their responses were effective, but it’s too bad Jeb Bush wasn’t there to drive home their points.

    There was no way Bush was going to attend a Grafton School Board meeting, of course, but he is worth mentioning because on the day before the meeting this former governor of Florida and son and brother of former U.S. presidents who may run for president himself spoke words of uncommon clarity on the subject of Common Core.

    Said Bush: “I understand there are those opposed to the standards. But what I want to hear from them is more than just opposition. I want to hear their solutions for the hodgepodge of dumbed-down state standards that have created group mediocrity in our schools.”

    The words had considerable heft because Bush was addressing them to his own Republican party, including the members of its archconservative wing who have turned a non-partisan educational initiative into a political issue, and because he aimed his comments at the fundamental flaw in the campaign against Common Core.

    The standards are vilified for being a one-size-fits-all remedy, yet that consistency is their strength, the reason they are the answer to the “hodgepodge” Bush was talking about.

    Common Core is a set of academic standards meant to serve as goals for students in all states to reach. They are more stringent than most state standards, some of which, as Bush said, are dumbed down.” And that’s the point: American academic achievement in grades K-12 is falling short; Common Core demands that schools, teachers and students improve.

     At the core of the opposition to Common Core is the notion that the sensible idea of nationwide academic standards is really an attempt by the federal government to take over local education. It was one of the criticisms voiced at last week’s Grafton School Board meeting.

    There is no evidence the claim is true. The standards were developed in 2010 by academics not associated with the federal government. They were approved by 45 state governments.

    Not surprising in a time when publication on the Internet lends some sort of credibility to all manner of assertions regardless of their intrinsic worth, a number of other arguments against the standards are rooted in myth.

    For example: Common Core usurps the power of local school boards to set curriculum; it gives the federal government power to tell school districts what to teach about sex; it will require schools to take retinal scans of students; it was bought and paid for by Microsoft magnate Bill Gates.

    In spite of the patent absurdity of such claims (including, perhaps, a plot by Gates to indoctrinate potential software engineers with love of the Windows operating system and contempt for Apple), the enemies of Common Core carry on their mission to insinuate politics into education. A bill was introduced in the last session of the Wisconsin Legislature to create a committee dominated by political appointees to rewrite standards for public schools. It died without a vote, but look for it to come back as a zombie in the next session

    At the Grafton School Board meeting, criticisms of the school district’s adoption of the national educational standards in language and math were answered articulately and persuasively. School staff members, School Board members and the school superintendent made it clear:

    Common Core does not dictate what is taught in Grafton schools.

    The school district has “absolute control over curriculum standards.”

    Common Core is increasing the rigor of school standards and as a result Grafton schools are improving.

    Jeb Bush could not have said it much better.


 
The fine print of government spending PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 April 2014 14:31

A student’s now famous science project and the success of a county shared-ride program suggest that government waste won’t be found in type fonts or taxis

A 14-year-old boy has found a way to save taxpayers nearly half a billion dollars a year by simply changing a typeface used in government documents.

    Or so it has been reported on the Internet and elsewhere. It sounds too good to be true, and it definitely is, but the fact that the story has generated attention measured in incalculable numbers of words, hits, posts and comments across the media sphere is a reminder that the term “government spending” is synonymous with waste and excess in the minds of many.

    For a science project at his Pittsburgh area middle school, Suvir Mirchandani posited that if the federal and state governments changed the type font used in their documents, substituting Garamond for Times New Roman, they could save $467 million a year. Unfortunately, his eureka! discovery turned out to be more wishful thinking than fact.

    The student based his calculations on the amount of printer ink needed to reproduce documents using the Times New Roman font versus the lighter, finer Garamond font. The flaw here, as was widely pointed out, is that most government documents are printed on offset printing presses, a far more economical process than computer printers for large quantities and, for smaller quantities, with copiers that use toner, which is much cheaper than printer ink.

    Type experts cited a bigger problem. The Garamond typeface is not as legible as Times New Roman. To make the documents easily readable in Garamond, a larger type size would have to be used, requiring about the same amount of ink as the Times New Roman font.

    Suvir probably won’t achieve lasting fame as the poster boy for cutting government waste, but let’s give him an A-plus for producing a thought-provoking proposal that captured the attention of vast numbers of Americans to the point of, as they say, going viral. That alone is an accomplishment that suggests the boy will go far.

    Besides, everyone who has choked on the outrageous prices charged for tiny amounts of ink for their computer printers owes a debt of gratitude to Suvir for including in his paper a suspicion-confirming statement that printer ink is priced so high it costs twice as much as expensive perfume. The claim has been checked and it’s true: An ounce of Chanel No. 5 costs $38; the same amount of Hewlett-Packard printer ink costs $75.

    You can’t blame people for wanting to believe a bright teenager figured out something government bureaucrats were too dull to get. The $700 toilet seats once bought in large numbers by the Pentagon and the $320 million “bridge to nowhere” Congress almost approved have achieved icon status in the annals of government waste.

    Yet for every one of those egregious squanderings of taxpayer money there are many other examples of government expenditures that deliver solid value in making people’s lives better.

    Here is an obvious one: the Ozaukee County shared-ride taxi service.

    In February, the service set a record by providing 9,224 rides in a single month. As readers will learn from a story in this week’s Ozaukee Press Good Living section (typeset in a member of the Times New Roman type family), this growing demand is driven in large part by the need of workers to get to their jobs, giving the shared-ride service a role in supporting the county’s economy. Other Ozaukee County residents need the rides in the cars, minivans and buses operated by the county to get to doctor appointments, the grocery store, church and other destinations that would otherwise be out of reach for people without access to personal vehicles.

    This is not a traditional taxi service; the shared-ride feature makes it more like riding a bus. The people who benefit from this service pay for it, but not the full cost, because that would be beyond the means of many of them. The rest is paid for by county, state and federal taxpayers.

    Yes, this is our tax dollars at work, not in the cynical, joking sense we often hear, but seriously at work to meet genuine need that is otherwise not be filled. (See what the driver interviewed for the Good Living story says about the people, ages 6 to 90, she has transported.) By all means, let the fight against government waste go on. But now we know that two places we’re not likely to find it are in the type fonts used in government printing and shared-ride taxi services like Ozaukee County’s.



 
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