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Next time, a Belgium school PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 17:53

The Cedar Grove-Belgium School District needs classrooms and building upgrades; to get them, drop the central campus concept

The appeal of grouping all of a school district’s buildings on a central campus is obvious: It’s efficient.

The efficiency comes from sharing resources, infrastructure, parking lots and more, which can result in construction, maintenance and operation cost savings.

If efficiency were the only consideration in choosing locations for new schools, every school district would have a central campus or be trying hard to create one.

That isn’t the case—in fact, the opposite, decentralization, is the goal of many school districts across the nation these days—because there are educational priorities that trump efficiency. Nevertheless, the Cedar Grove-Belgium Area School District decided to go that route with the proposal to build a new middle school and technical education center on the Cedar Grove campus that was presented to voters last week.

Voters rejected the idea emphatically—by a two-to-one no vote.

School district officials cited the advantages of a central campus as the reason they did not pursue the idea of meeting the district’s space needs by building a school at another location, say, in the Village of Belgium.

Elsewhere, education professionals are less enthusiastic about the central campus concept. In many districts, neighborhood schools are highly valued. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is pressuring states to do more to facilitate the development of what might be called the ultimate neighborhood schools—charter schools that can spring up just about anywhere. 

It was not surprising that the school district’s building plans gravitated to the central campus concept. The ground rules set by the board in planning for the referendum specified that “political” factors were not to be considered. In this case, the word “political” was code for the Village of Belgium’s often-stated wish to have the district’s next school built there.

The process thus got off to an unfortunate start, with the assumption that decisions concerning a $25 million school building program could be made in some sort of purified, artificial world insulated from everything not deemed strictly educational.

The School Board proceeded with the referendum under the pretence that Belgium’s wishes didn’t matter. The voting results—more than 70% of the Belgium residents who went to the polls said no to the school building plan—made it clear they do.

As they should. Belgium is right to push for its own neighborhood school. The village, with its surrounding township, is a partner with Cedar Grove in funding the school district. Belgium’s population and valuation have grown rapidly; yet it has no public school.

It should not be too much to ask that an elementary school be built there, so that Belgium can have one of the basic elements of what is considered a complete community, with all of the pride and satisfaction that goes with it, so that for a least a few years of their school careers the children of Belgium might be able to walk to school.

The school district’s buildings are overcrowded and in some cases in poor shape. These problems need to be addressed. The resounding referendum defeat sent a message that the School Board must find a better way to do this. Finding that way should start with the premise that Belgium deserves a school.

That would not only be right, but practical. The bad economy certainly contributed to the referendum defeat—proposing to spend $25 million of local taxpayer money when unemployment is at more than 10% is a model of bad timing—but the vote tally also reflected the fact that Belgium residents are committed to satisfying the need for a school in their community.

Now, with one approach tried and failed, it’s time for the School Board to address that need with a plan for school expansion and improvement that includes a school in Belgium. Efficiency may suffer a bit. But the quality of education won’t. That comes from good teachers and good programs—which the Cedar Grove-Belgium District certainly has—not buildings. And not central campuses.


Saukville gets it on public worker pay PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 15:32

The village’s wage-freeze agreement with municipal worker unions is a model of public-spirited cooperation in hard times

Saukville taxpayers have good reason to be pleased by the honest and enlightened manner with which their village government and the unions representing many of the people it employs on their behalf fashioned labor contracts for the coming year.
In fact, everyone should be buoyed by the spirit of cooperation that was displayed. Call it a tonic for hard times.

Two unions, AFSCME, representing public works employees, and the Labor Association of Wisconsin, representing police officers, agreed to forego any pay increases in 2010.

This is not unheard of, and is getting less unusual by the day as the Great Recession lingers on, but the way agreement was reached was quite remarkable. Absent was any of the posturing and calculated give and take so often seen on the part of both sides in labor negotiations.

Instead, cards were laid on the table. The village shared financial information and offered to absorb an increase in health insurance costs. Union representatives said they were open to a wage freeze through 2010. The Village Board then unanimously approved two one-year no-pay-increase contracts.

Referring to the unions, Village President Barb Dickmann said, “They came forward and said they understand what we are going through.”

In other words, in Saukville, they—the municipal government as the employer and the unions representing municipal workers—are getting it.

At a time when roughly 10% of people who want to work can’t find jobs, when one in 10 village taxpayers might well be unemployed, when other taxpaying families have to get by with diminished jobs or pay cuts, pay increases for the public employees whose salaries they pay would be not only irresponsible in an economic sense, but an affront to citizens whose financial circumstances are difficult.

Similar issues did not end so well in Port Washington earlier this year. Non-union city employees were granted raises in spite of an opportunity to defer them until the city’s challenging budgetary situation improved.

Mayor Scott Huebner made a well reasoned argument against the raises and the vetoed them when they were approved by the Common Council. Undaunted, aldermen reconstituted and approved the raises in another form, calling them merit raises instead of cost-of-living raises, and the mayor signed the resolutions granting the increased pay.

Port Washington taxpayers should demand better from both their elected officials and non-union and union municipal employees when pay contracts are next on the table.

None of this is about the quality of the work of city and village employees. That’s not in question—these are hard-working folks who keep our municipalities running. The truth is, they deserve raises. But not now, not when the people who pay their salaries aren’t getting raises—when some of them aren’t even getting paychecks.

Danger: distracted drivers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 14 October 2009 15:28

Some distractions that cause highway accidents can’t be restricted; others, like texting, should be banned by laws as stringent as those on drunken driving

The crash on I-43 between Port Washington and Belgium last week that killed two people and injured three others, including one from Ozaukee County who is still hospitalized with grievous injuries, is a horrific example of the menace of distracted drivers. The Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department says that the driver of the semi that caused the three-vehicle crash took his eyes off the road to reach for a bag of snack food.

Federal and state lawmakers should take note. No, we’re not suggesting laws should be passed to prohibit snacking by drivers. But there are other distractions that should be outlawed, including sending text messages and operating computers and similar devices while driving. Restrictions on cell phone use are also needed.

Federal legislation to prohibit texting by drivers is in the works, as is a similar bill in the Wisconsin Legislature. These efforts need to pick up speed.

That’s not as easy as it should be because lobbies for the most dangerous vehicles on the road, semi-trailer trucks like the one involved in the I-43 crash, are one of the impediments to getting texting bans passed.

Many of these trucks are fitted with computers to give directions and keep drivers in contact with dispatchers. According to an investigation by the New York Times, drivers routinely use the computers to send and receive messages while driving. Just like automobile drivers who thumb messages on their BlackBerrys while underway, they take their eyes off the road to do it.

The Times story reported that while the truck computers usually display an advisory that they are not meant for use while underway they also have a “proceed” button that is well used. A semi driver composing messages on his keyboard while his 60,000 to 80,000-pound rig speeds down the highway is truly a scary thought.

The truck lobby is seeking to have truck computers exempted from any texting ban.

Large trucks are dangerous enough with alert drivers. As much as 25 times heavier than the average car, they represent about 3% of the vehicles on the roads, but account for about 15% of the fatal accidents, more than 5,000 fatalities per year.

The question of whether texting while driving is dangerous has been fully answered. Numerous tests have shown texting drivers to be too distracted to safely operate a vehicle. Several tests have compared driving while texting to driving while drunk and found that the drunken drivers drove better than the texting drivers.

What’s needed to limit these electronic distractions is some of the zeal now evident in Wisconsin in moving to criminalize drunken driving, with in some cases prison-sentence consequences.

Driving while operating a device to send text messages is every bit as irresponsible as driving while impaired by alcohol and should be every bit as criminal.
Although using cell phones while driving is acquiring the veneer of an acceptable behavior because so many people do it—and because of its undeniable appeal as one way to do something useful with the hours spent behind the wheel—it too has been shown to be a significant highway risk factor.

 No one should need a scientific study to know that. Just watch for the vehicle that can’t keep a steady speed or stay between lane lines—odds are the driver is having a cell phone conversation.

A bill in the Wisconsin Legislature would ban cell phone use for drivers 18 and under. That would make a good law in its own right and might pave the way for other needed restrictions on cell phone driving. Many states have them. Wisconsin so far has none.

Capt. Dave Guss of the Sheriff’s Department said the driver of the semi in the crash here “looked down and when he looked up he realized he was rapidly closing on another northbound driver who was slowing.” A couple of seconds with eyes off the road was all it took.

In this case, tragedy was the result of reaching for a snack. Nothing can be done about that—you can’t legislate good sense. But lawmakers can and should deal with other causes of driver distractions.
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