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Editorials
A state going backward on education PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 10 April 2013 18:00

The governor’s budget gives short shrift to public schools at a time when revenue is increasing; how can Wisconsin prosper when it shortchanges education?

“What’s happening to our children isn’t fair.”

    That comment happened to be made by a member of the Port Washington-Saukville School Board, Sara McCutcheon, but words like it are being spoken at school board
meetings around the state as public-school officials come to grips with the treatment of education by Gov. Scott Walker’s budget.

    What is being heard is not so much outrage, but expressions of frustration by disheartened and puzzled school board members and school administrators. They cannot
understand how the state, after cutting education funding deeply for years under the pressure of a faltering economy, now projects a budget surplus but provides no additional
aid to public schools.

    The proposed budget does not even maintain the status quo. Districts will get essentially the same amount of state aid as in the last two-year budget, but their education
programs will get less because operation expenses—for school-bus transportation, electricity and gas for school buildings and a long list of goods and services needed to
keep schools running—are rising.

    The Port Washington-Saukville School District faces a $600,000 deficit in the next school year if the governor’s budget is approved as proposed.

    The state budget proposes a $129 million increase, or 1%, in spending on education. Of that amount, only $39 million is designated for public schools. Even that number is illusory— most public schools won’t get any of it.

    Because the state revenue cap will not change, schools districts would be able to spend additional state money only by going through the costly and complex process of holding a referendum. As a result, most of the tiny state funding increase designated for public schools will end up as small increments of property tax relief.


     There is more bad news for public schools in the budget. More than $68 million in new spending is earmarked for private voucher schools in a number of school districts. Public schools are not only denied the education money going to charter schools, but stand to lose more funding as they lose students to those schools.

    Gov. Walker’s push to expand public funding for voucher schools is not unexpected—it’s on the to-do list of conservative Republican governors in a number of states. Perhaps it makes some sense as a political decision, but there is little if any reason to believe that diverting more tax dollars to charter schools is a good education decision in Wisconsin.

    Wisconsin has had a state-funded school voucher program for 20 years. Data collected during this long-running experiment do not show that children in voucher schools learn any better than those in traditional public schools.

    The budget’s approach to education should be puzzling not just to school officials, but to all state citizens. Gov. Walker has made the restoration of Wisconsin’s economic vigor, with accompanying growth in jobs and entrepreneurial initiatives, the primary goal of his administration. It is hard to imagine that goal being reached and sustained without adequate investment in public education.

    Investment in education started going the wrong way under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who cut school funding by $400 million. Gov. Walker followed with cuts of $750 million. Act 10, the legislation that ended collective bargaining by teachers and reduced their benefits, was oversold as a school funding panacea. The money subtracted from teacher compensation is simply not enough to balance the losses in state funding.

    McCutcheon, chairman of the Port-Saukville

School Board’s Finance Committee, wondered how people will understand that “we simply can’t afford the same education for our children.”

    That same thought is weighing on some legislators in the governor’s own party, which offers a glimmer of hope that the budget’s harsh treatment of public education could be softened. Senators Mike Ellis and Luther Olsen, who are among a number of Republicans expressing unease over the education budget, are proposing to increase the revenue cap by $150 per student.

    That would make what is happening to our children slightly less unfair.



 
One more reason to like public television PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 03 April 2013 15:03

Programs like the delightful ‘Around the Corner’ episode featuring Port Washington would not exist without PBS and its local stations

Do you think federal funding for Public Broadcasting Service television should be cut off as a deficit reduction measure?

    If that question had been asked of the taxpayers in the standing-room-only crowd at Memories Ballroom on March 25, the answer would have been a resounding and nearly unanimous “No!”

    Of course, that wouldn’t have been an example of scrupulously fair polling. The people in that group were hardly an unbiased sample. They had gathered to see the premier of  the “Around the Corner” television program that featured Port Washington, and they were clearly delighted with the production by MPTV, the Milwaukee PBS station.

    The crowd gave the preview showing of the program, and its producer and its star who were on hand to answer questions, a rousing ovation, and on the way out bought DVDs of the show by the score at $10 a copy.

    The DVD sales, though just a tiny drop in the bucket of support needed to keep PBS stations such as Milwaukee’s Channel 10/36 going, illustrate the dependence of PBS on diverse and often small sources of funding. Those sources include grants from foundations and corporations, the proceeds of fundraising events, private donations and money from the federal government.    

    Federal funding pays only 15% of the cost of operating PBS. Though the $445 million subsidy represents barely 0.014% of the federal budget and has an infinitesimal effect on the national deficit, it’s a frequent target of politicians intent on making a show of cutting federal spending.


    Viewers of last fall’s presidential debates will recall Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s pledge that he would eliminate PBS funding even though “I like Big Bird.” The mention of the popular character from the beloved PBS children’s program “Sesame Street” may have reminded voters of how much they too like Big Bird. Polling found that a majority of Americans approve of federal funding of PBS—not as overwhelming an endorsement as a poll of that enthusiastic group at the “Around the Corner” premier would surely have shown, but a solid majority nonetheless.

    The public gets it—public television elevates the nation’s culture by providing high-quality programs that commercial networks have no financial incentive to produce. In programs for children, no network or cable television effort has ever come close to the quality of the PBS children’s education shows “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” Programs that educate adults, the likes of “Nova” and “Frontline,” would not exist without PBS.

     In some instances, PBS shows have acquired such huge audiences that commercial networks would wish they had invested in the programs. The audience at Memories was told that on the night of the Super Bowl, “Downton Abbey” on PBS was the second most watched television show in the world.

    “Around the Corner” is a purely local effort by the Milwaukee PBS outlet that this year will profile 13 Wisconsin communities. That might not sound like a compelling concept for a TV show, but as viewers who have seen it can attest, the Port Washington episode is a cheerfully enlightening look, guided by amusing host John McGivern (his sausage-making adventure at Bernie’s Fine Meats is classic), at the people, places and businesses of this friendly small town by the lake, all wrapped in a slick, entertaining package by producer Lois Maurer and her editing staff.

    “Around the Corner” is popular throughout Wisconsin, but if it weren’t for PBS, it’s a safe bet a program like this would never be made. All the more reason to like Big Bird.





 
Some roads were meant to be slow PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 27 March 2013 17:04

The Port Washington Town Board asked for input on Green Bay Road, and got an earful about a curvy rural road made dangerous by a ridiculous 55 mph speed limit

There are no speed limit signs along most of Green Bay Road between Hillcrest Road and Highway 33, but if there were, they would say 55 mph.

    Which is ridiculous.

    Nothing about this Town of Port Washington road suggests it was meant to be a thoroughfare.

It traverses a countryside that, while surrounded by development, remains rural in character. It turns and undulates through rolling terrain, past roadside trees, pretty views, a farm or two and scattered houses and driveways before ending in residential neighborhood (where the speed limit is 35 mph).    

    It’s not a road to use to get anywhere fast. That was the point who live along Green Bay Road tried to make at a meeting held by the Town Board in early March.

    A number of them told of high-speed drivers making the road dangerous for pedestrians. “They just come flying through,” one said. A woman who walks the road with her dogs recounted having to seek refuge from fast traffic in driveways. Another resident said he wouldn’t allow his children to ride bikes along the road out of fear for their safety. It was good for Town Board members to hear this because they will be making some important decisions soon about the character of Green Bay Road. The road surface is in bad shape and will have to be rebuilt in the next several years.

    It would be a mistake to do anything in “improving” the road that would encourage faster driving. The emphasis in a rebuilding plan should be on making it safer for pedestrians and bicycle riders and residents turning in and out of their driveways.

    A number of once-rural roads in Ozaukee County are under the same pressure that is affecting Green Bay Road. These roads exist basically to serve people who live along them and are ill suited for fast travel. Unfortunately, as population and traffic grow, they are increasingly used as thoroughfares.


    In the case of Green Bay Road, it seems a number of drivers take it as a short cut from the north side of Port Washington to Saukville. This is a rather perverse use in that the new four-lane Highway 33, built at great taxpayer expense to provide a fast, safe trip to Saukville, is accessible through a roundabout only half a mile from the Green Bay Road access point.

    The problems of Green Bay Road will only be exacerbated if driving lanes are widened in the rebuilding. Besides a new surface, the road just needs a safe path for users not in motor vehicles—a separate paved multi-use path if there’s room in the right of way; if not, a wide, paved shoulder designated for users on foot or bikes.

    But what the road needs before that is some effort by the Town Board to get rid of the 55 mph speed limit set by the state. State statutes allow the town to reduce the limit by 10 mph. That would  be a start, and the board should do it, but 45 mph would still be too fast. A solution would be to designate Green Bay as a state Rustic Road.

    This idea was suggested by one of the folks attending the meeting, but was pretty much shot down by thetown engineer, who said the road wouldn’t qualify.

    This may have been a hasty judgment. The state Department of Transportation says that for a road to qualify for Rustic Road status it “should be a lightly traveled local access road, one which serves the adjacent property owners and those wishing to travel by auto, bicycle or hiking for purposes of recreational enjoyment of its rustic features.”

    This describes Green Bay Road perfectly with the possible exception of the “lightly traveled” part. It’s a good guess that there is some leeway in the definition of lightly traveled. A traffic count might support an application for Rustic Road status. It’s certainly worth a try, because if successful the town could lower the speed limit to, say, 35 mph. That would give residents a safer road on which to drive, walk or ride bikes and send a message to drivers that if you’re trying to get some place in a hurry, you’re on the wrong road.

    The Town Board asked for input from residents and it got it. Now it should act on it, working to slow down the traffic on Green Bay Road even before its starts the rebuilding project.



 
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