April 19, 2008

Variety is the spice of Gallery Night

The season's first Gallery Night downtown Saturday presented a wide variety of sights and sounds, as 16 galleries rolled out the (figurative) red carpet and (literally) treats of all description, including edible.

Among the highlights:

FLAMENCO! Tabatha Salas and William Washabaugh provided traditional Spanish music and dance to go along with Monfort's Fine Art Gallery's exhibition of art by five of Spain's modern masters. When they're not performing together, he's a professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she's a loan officer for a mortgage company.

BLOWN GLASS: Darby Graham of Chicago demonstrates glass blowing at Hot Shops Glass Studio.

RAKU: Downtown's newest gallery is Elements, on Sixth, featuring the raku pottery of owner Jeff Shawhan of Caledonia, an art professor at Concordia University in Mequon.

PAN FLUTE: Jaime Encalada of Racine, by way of Ecuador, plays the pan flute on Sixth Street. His band, Inkapirka, keeps busy in the summer traveling to fairs and shows all over the Midwest. He played music from the Andes in a store doorway, accompanied by his wife, Becky -- a Racinian by way of Racine.

WATERCOLOR: Lee Hill of Lake Geneva, a former journalist, makes her living now as an "organic" artist. Here she shows an imaginative piece incorporating river rocks with her watercolors, at Northern Lights Gallery.

ENAMELED JEWELRY: Artist Leslie Perrino demonstrates how to make enamel jewelry and cloisonné at the Racine Art Museum. She will also teach a workshop at RAM on April 26.

ART OF THE BULLDOZER: OK, maybe it isn't art, but these kids know what they like.

MAKING DO: Sixth Street's new, temporary sidewalks were mostly in place as art lovers braved the construction on Gallery Night. Better times are ahead ...

April 18, 2008

Hard times for our local newspaper's parent

Not a good week for Lee Enterprises, parent of The Journal Times.

-- On Wednesday, Lee shut down one of its smallest papers, the 104-year-old Coalinga Record, a 1,600-circulation weekly in California, about 50 miles west of Fresno. Lee still publishes more than 300 weeklies and niche publications, as well as 51 dailies, and lists itself as the fourth largest newspaper publisher in the country, with 1.6 million copies sold every day and almost 1.9 million on Sundays.

Lee blamed dwindling advertising and circulation, and "challenging times." Two jobs were lost. (That "Pass the hat" headline on the final front page was not a request for donations but rather a caption for a photo showing local firemen raising funds for the American Cancer Society.)

-- Thursday saw LEE stock drop to a new 52-week low (yet another in a disheartening series), down to $8.73 per share. It has since "recovered" to $9.14 ... compared to its 52-week high last April 20 of $30.79. That's a decline of 71%.

-- And on Friday, Lee announced the closure of its printing plant in Berkeley, MO, eliminating 42 jobs and moving the printing of its small papers in the region further in-house, to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's printing plant.

So far, we've not heard of any new cutbacks at The Journal Times. In fact, we'd have to say the JT, which recently added some sharp young reporters, is doing a better job covering the news than we've seen in a long time.

Isis, a mellow Rottweiler, up for adoption

Countryside Humane Society has a wonderful new dog up for adoption this week. Her name is Isis, and she's a young adult Rottweiler mix. She is very mellow, likes other dogs, loves to hang out with people . Isis is a large dog bordering on the medium side for size. She is Black and Rust.

Countryside Humane Society is located at 2706 Chicory Road. Or call (262) 554-6699.

Pierre, our last featured dog -- a before-and-after clipping Bichon Frise, Poodle mix -- took a while to find a new home, but did get adopted. Best yet, he even got a new sister, who has the same haircut and is the same mix as he is.

April 17, 2008

Dey quits RUSD superintendent search, won't vote
Update: REA endorses; Van Atta snaps at Dey

UPDATE, 4/17, 4 p.m.: First, the Racine Education Association and the Racine Educational Assistants Association have endorsed one of Unified's three finalists: Barbara Moore Pulliam, a professor now and the former superintendent in Jonesboro, GA, a suburban Atlanta district with 52,400 students. Pete Knotek, REA president, wrote the board that Pulliam "demonstrated in her interview that she has the skills to reach out to the community, both inside the district and out, about how to move the district forward.”

Whether that endorsement is the kiss of death remains to be seen; it's likely to be so.
In any case, after the public forum Monday night, Dr. Carlinda Purcell, former superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery, AL, was the consensus choice of those I spoke to, including at least one school board member.

Second, shortly after 7 p.m., School Board member Bill Van Atta responded via e-mail to Brian Dey's 3 p.m. statement (below). We're not sure whether Van Atta meant his response to go to everyone Dey sent his withdrawal statement to -- media and other RUSD members -- but it did. Here's Van Atta's note:

The lack of integrity demonstrated by this note is simply breathtaking!
Dey's objections to the current board's making the superintendent decision have been known for some while. Dey says he was willing to go along with the current board's picking the new superintendent back in December and January, "when it appeared we could get this wrapped up by April. But when we saw that the board was not meeting deadlines, that was the point that I and Carlsen should have bowed out. There's no rush, (Interim Supt. Jack) Parker is willing to stay through August.

"But now we're talking about an indecisive board trying to rush a decision."

FURTHER UPDATE, 4/18/08, 5:21 a.m.: Dey responded to Van Atta's note with this:
While I owe you no explanation, I do owe the public that elected me. Hence, the public notice of my withdrawal. This Board has worried more about its image with staff, than the public it represents. It's about time someone publicly scrutinizes the actions of this Board and its ineptness. There is a clear difference between you and I. You owe your allegiances to the special interests that put you there, i.e. RAMAC, Johnsons. I owe mine to the general public.
ORIGINAL POST: Brian Dey, a member of the Racine Unified School Board since 2005, did not run for re-election this year (choosing instead to run for the County Board, a race he lost). Nonetheless, until the new board members are sworn in on April 28, he is still a member of the board, and its superintendent search committee.

Until today. Here's the statement Dey released this afternoon:

Effective immediately, I will be officially withdrawing my name from the Search Committee for the Superintendent of the Racine Unified School District. To be clear, I did not attend past meetings, including the first interviews with the eight finalists, nor was I involved with the selection of the three finalists. I have previously discussed with Board President Tony Baumgardt that I felt the process, as it was proceeding should have the newly elected Board members involvement as they would be the ones ultimately working with the new Superintendent. I was unable to attend last night's meeting and discussed with Tony, following adjournment, the events that took place. (The Board released this statement after that meeting.)

I agreed that more needed to be done. However, comments that were made with regards to how the Board came to this decision troubled me. Certain criteria have risen to the top of qualifications, namely "collaboration." While in part I would agree, but total collaboration may not be practical in achieving the communities’ desire for raising academic achievement, and I fear a candidate that for all other reasons would make an excellent Superintendent, may be discarded without merit.

I also fear that the Board may fall back to one of the remaining two, and that is concerning as well. In part, this may be related to comments made by a few of the stakeholders, which were very influential in the hiring of Dr. Thomas Hicks.

To conclude, it is my belief that the new members (should) be a part of this process, and that the exiting Board members stay out of the way. I will continue to follow the events leading up to the hire as a private citizen and will abstain my vote should a vote arise on this matter prior to my departure.

Two other board members did not run for re-election in April. One of them, Randy Bangs, resigned last fall, and was replaced by Melvin Hargrove. Hargrove won election to a full term on April 1 and is participating in the superintendent search. The other departing member is Russ Carlsen, who is also serving on the selection panel. The two new board members who will take office April 28, but until then have no vote in the superintendent search are Pamela Handrow and Dennis Wiser. Both were given the opportunity to meet with the three finalists.

Meanwhile, the board is checking references of its preferred candidate, doing the kind of background checks and due diligence that one would have expected its search firm to have already done for its $37,000 in fees and expenses. Or: as the Journal Times graphically described the process...

'God is in the details' -- Nietzsche

At first glance, this chart showing state revenue for March, released today by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, is cause for cheering.

What recession? It shows income tax collections all-but doubled from last year -- up 97.1% from March 2007, and up 5.9% year-to-date; overall tax collections up 18.2% in March, and 3.8% year-to-date.

Alas, the fine print -- the notes to the above chart -- tells a different story: it's all just a matter of timing. Income tax withholding last year was negatively impacted by the fact that March 31, 2007, fell on a weekend, so the payment was not recorded until April. "Hence, collections for March of last year are artificially low, making the growth rates for individual income tax and total taxes this year appear larger. Adjusting for the late posting, individual income taxes increased 8.0% in March -- still no slouch -- and the year-to-date increase is 3.0%. Total collections, after the adjustment, are 1.3% for March and 2.3% YTD."

As Gilda Radner's Emily Litella would've said, had she been a Cheesehead: "Never mind!"

A similar "Oops" has changed the meaning of the sales tax collection figures. "March sales tax collections reflect February sales. Adjusting for the extra “leap year” day, the March increase in the sales tax collections is 0.5%."

What we do not see, however, is a fine-print explanation of the bump in cigarette and tobacco tax collections. Seems the extra $1 a pack tax, whatever its "intended" dampening on sales, is just turning out, at this early date, to be a solid revenue source. Damn the health effects, full speed ahead.

State: Fees cover costs for RTAs, so no cost for RTAs

When a bill is introduced in the state Legislature, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau is required to estimate how much the proposal will cost. Here's one such report on a proposal from state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia. Vos wants to require voters to pass a referendum to join a Regional Transit Authority, which is a taxing body that would raise money to spend on transportation projects like busing and commuter rail.

Here's the complete fiscal estimate (emphasis added):
Bill Summary: The bill allows most cities, towns, villages, and counties to create regional transit authorities (RTAs), which are public bodies corporate and politic that are separate governmental entities.

Fiscal Effect: The bill does not directly impact the Department, and therefore the Department assumes that it will have no state fiscal effect. The Department assumes that political subdivisions eligible and electing to create RTAs will incur one-time costs related to activities necessary to form the RTA, e.g., drafting and adopting authorizing resolutions. The Department assumes that the one-time costs associated with creating RTAs will differ among local units of government, but has no basis for reliably estimating the amount of those one-time costs. Therefore the Department has listed the local government fiscal effect as "indeterminate". However, because the bill provides that RTAs, once legally formed, may set fees and charges for functions, facilities, and services provided by the RTA, the Department assumes that RTAs will set fees at levels sufficient to cover their costs and will have no net annualized fiscal effect.
In other words, there are no anticipated costs for RTAs because the RTAs will set fees to cover the costs. So what are the fees? "Indeterminate."

And what's the point of this fiscal estimate? Also ... indeterminate

April 16, 2008

Unified: No decision on superintendent

Here's an update from Unified on where things stand with the superintendent candidates:

The Board of Education met this evening in closed session for more than three hours to review the feedback regarding the Superintendent Finalists that was received from the meetings with staff, students, union leaders, parents, and the community as well as the Monday evening forum at the Golden Rondelle. The Board also reviewed other information that had been received concerning the candidates, and during the meeting additional questions were raised that the Board feel must be answered to be able to decide how to proceed. The Board will release information regarding the next steps in the Superintendent search process as soon as a decision has been made.
Let's summarize: The Board met in closed session. It still has questions. No decision was made. It will tell us when they make a decision.

10 things I learned from John McCain's visit

10. Sen. McCain supports nuclear power. At a glance, this seems like a bad idea. But McCain points out that 80 percent of France's power comes from nuclear plants, and they seem to like it quite a bit. I suspect nuclear waste is still an issue, but so is pollution from coal plants.

9. McCain doesn't seem to have much trouble asking difficult questions. He put two powerful CEOs on the defensive in front of a lot of television cameras and newspaper reporters, and it was his own event. McCain asked the head of the Medical College of Wisconsin why technology improvements in the medical field lead to cost increases, compared to decreases elsewhere. He later told the head of a national mortgage company that the industry was at fault for the subprime mortgage crisis. Not bad ... dare I say, that was 'straight talk'?

8. I don't like how McCain uses that phrase, "straight talk." OK, we get it, you're a maverick. But it doesn't seem to take much these days to be a maverick. Yesterday, McCain called out some CEOs for pocketing huge sums of money while their companies (and customers) fell apart. Interestingly, the head of MGIC (a national mortgage company) noted in his bio of panel members that he took a 52 percent pay cut last year. Hmm... I wonder why? If momentary flashes of common sense count as "straight talk," then most people I know are "straight-talkers."

7. The event came in sharp contrast to the Democrats' donnybrook that's passing as a campaign these days. McCain calmly goes about his business, building consensus, gaining solid, if not spectacular, media coverage along the way. Meanwhile, Obama and Hillary are slugging it out on the fronts of web page's everywhere, yammering on ad nauseum about who cares what. By November, McCain may roll to victory because everyone's so sick of the other two.

6. McCain is not dynamic. It's not a criticism, but he's definitely not Clinton or Obama in the oratory department. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the debates.

5. I'm not really buying McCain's (or any of the candidate's) plans to help people who are losing their homes in the subprime lending crisis. I know, I know, they should have done more research on safe borrowing practices. But the lending institutions knew they were offering risky products and still kept putting people in homes. I wish something could be done to help people come out of this mess with some financial stability, but Congress isn't good at reacting to issues like this. I don't think McCain has worked out a way to make meaningful help possible.

4. There wasn't even an attempt at diversity at the event. Carly Fiorina was the only non-white male at the summit, and there were maybe 10 minorities in the entire crowd. Are white men really the only people who have valuable input on the economy?

3. McCain is a bit crazy when it comes to campaign security. Somebody should tell him he is one of three people in the world who could be president of the United States in less than a year. It's almost uncomfortable seeing him walking around without noticeable Secret Service protection. I get that he's a veteran and a really tough guy, but it just doesn't seem smart.

2. Bucyrus' manufacturing space is enormous. Apologies for getting too geeky, but I kept thinking of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" when I stepped inside of their manufacturing space. Seriously, it was like you could build a planet in there.

1. The McCain campaign offered free coffee and bakery to reporters and photographers. I didn't take anything, but that was a very nice touch. If anyone is wondering, the media can be bought with ridiculously small quantities of sugar and caffeine.

McCainiac? Nope, just old-fashion discussion on the issues

I was able to attend Sen. John McCain's "Wisconsin Economic Summit" today in South Milwaukee. Here's what I saw:

It's the first time I've seen the presumptive Republican presidential nominee (all media types are using "presumptive," since he hasn't officially been nominated yet), and he looked good. Questions will be raised about his age during the campaign (he's 71 and would be the oldest president elected to a first term in U.S. history), but he looks good. I can't see this being a major issue (and if it is, things have gone real negative). Let me add, McCain actually started his event on time. That can happen when you have 13 corporate CEOs in attendance (all with calendars to keep), but I found this impressive. These events are usually an hour late.

About 300 people showed up. Most seemed to be Bucyrus employees and and Republican invitees. It wasn't a campaign event. OK, it was a campaign event, but it wasn't a rally. This led to a very different tone than when Sens. Obama and Clinton zipped through the area. There were no signs or hoopla, no loud cheering and, really, no feeling of an election underway. I had to leave a bit early, but McCain didn't mention his opponents in the first hour and a half. He's obviously trying to direct attention to his economic policies, but it did have something of a feel of officials getting together and chatting about the business world.

This was cool. The guy in the middle holding up his finger is Marko Eremija, a Serbian born immigrant who lives in South Milwaukee and has worked as a crane operator for Bucyrus International (host of the summit) for 37 years. McCain mentioned Eremija to the crowd after they met while McCain toured the plant. Eremija told the senator that he has three kids who live in Arizona, McCain's home state.

The woman to the right of McCain is Carly Fiorina, best known as the former head of Hewlett-Packard, and one of the few women to hold a prominent role in the high-tech industry. Fiorina is a rock star in the computer world, and it was coup that McCain got her to moderate the first of two hour-long panels. At least, I thought it was a coup.

Substance wise, it's hard to say much came out of the summit. McCain talked up his economic policy he released yesterday, pushing a gas tax holiday this summer (that would save about 18 cents per gallon at the pump), corporate tax cuts, doubling the federal tax credit for dependents to $7,000 and several other proposals meant to walk a line between benefits for people and businesses (here's the Washington Post's take. Here's a more sympathetic take from U.S. News & World Report.) My only thought as he listed off everything he wants to do is the same as when I hear any politician list off what they want to do: 1.) How is he going to pay for this? 2.) How will it ever get past the opposition party? His answers were pretty trite: cut spending and come together around bipartisan solutions. Yeah, and maybe politicians will stop listening to special interests and agree to end negative campaigning.

State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, was there (and I think that's State Sen. Alberta Darling he's talking to). Vos' first comment on McCain's summit: "It's straight talk." Sigh. Vos is very good at staying on message. Seriously, though, he saw a lot of truth in McCain's words, particularly when it came to Racine. How does an aging industrial city compete in the global market? McCain believes the U.S. needs to cut corporate taxes, work out free trade agreements and train U.S. workers for jobs. "If you're graduating high school now, you should be able to get a job to sustain yourself," Vos said.

This is a lousy photo, but I liked the big American flag in the background. All in all, I thought McCain showed some interesting flashes. Twice he put CEOs on the defensive with tough question (I wrote about those here), and I appreciated the fact that a politician could organize an event without stuffing it full of campaign rhetoric. Granted, the understated approach surrounded by CEOs on the floor of a heavy industrial factory with a giant American flag hung in the background is pretty heavy in campaign symbolism. But the whole event had a very laid back feel to it. No security checks of reporters, no Secret Service hovering around the stage, no rousing cheers or nasty attacks, just a bunch of guys (and Carly) talking about the economy. Was it diverse? No. Was it substantive? No. Was it informative? Yes.

I suspect the McCain campaign is slow-rolling the idea that the most important issue of this presidential campaign will be the economy, an issue where he's leading his Democratic rivals. But that other issue is hanging out there, and we were reminded in Racine this week that it's very relevant to our community.

April 15, 2008

Mayor assigns us a book to read
(and there will be a test)

The word of the day is globalism. And its sibling, regionalism.

They both came to City Hall yesterday, as Gary Becker took the occasion of his fifth anniversary as Racine mayor to deliver a simple message:

The city is dead. Long live the region. (P.S. The region is also dead...The World is Flat, as everyone whose job has been outsourced, and everyone who has tried to get tech support from India knows.)

Tom Friedman's book came out in 1999; now there's a new, regionally relevant book, and Becker has assigned it (will there be a quiz?) to all the members of the City Council. It's Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism by Richard C. Longworth ($17.13 from Amazon). The mayor gave a copy of it to each council member Tuesday, as part of his state-of-the-city address.

Publisher's Weekly said the book "paints a bleak, evocative portrait of the Midwest's losing struggle with foreign competition and capitalist gigantism. It's a landscape of shuttered factories, desperate laid-off workers, family farms gobbled up by agribusiness, once great cities like Detroit and Cleveland now in ruins, small towns devolved into depopulated rural slums haunted by pensioners and meth-heads.

(Ouch. That's not us by a long shot, yet -- but the cacophony of gunshots lately...)

"But the harshest element of the book is Longworth's own pitiless ideology of globalism. In his telling, Midwesterners are sluggish, unskilled, risk-averse mediocrities, clinging to obsolete industrial-age dreams of job security, allergic to change, indifferent to education and totally unfit for the global age. They are doomed because global competition is unstoppable....the idea of trade barriers (is) simplistic nonsense...the silver linings — biotechnology, proposals for regional cooperation — are meager and iffy. The Midwest's real hope, Longworth insists, lies in a massive influx of mostly low-wage immigrant workers and in enclaves of the rich and brainy, like Chicago and Ann Arbor, where the creative class sells nebulous information solutions to dropouts and Ph.D.s."

Whew! This isn't going to be a feelgood read. Luckily, Becker finds a more optimistic message, even as the Racine economy has seen globalism drive off Jacobsen Textron (and all those jobs), bulldoze Case's foundry (and all those jobs), and... well, why belabor the point. Becker says Caught "explains why we can never be satisfied with where we are...(it) does a great job of explaining the impact globalism has on the Midwest and provides ideas to not only survive, but to have our city prosper.

"The world is not going to stop changing because those of us in Racine find it uncomfortable or difficult to continue to adapt to a new world," he warns. "The key to the future of our city is in doing everything we can to make education at all levels accessible... The people of Racine need to take advantage of educational opportunities unless they want to be on the bottom of the economic ladder. In addition, we must make our city attractive to others who can bring key skills and creativity to our community."

Becker told the council, "We must think beyond the limits of our city. The lines that separate us from Mt. Pleasant and Caledonia can only exist on the map. We must continue working together for our immediate area. There are things we need to work together on to strengthen the Racine area."

Sewer, water? Check (finally, 20 years late.) Regional dispatch? Zoning? Policing? Not so much. Real unification? Heck, after all these years there's a school secession movement afoot.

Regional transportation? Arghhh.

But Becker is thinking far beyond the normal adjacencies... far beyond getting Mount Pleasant and Racine to swap some land and clean up their borders. "Regionalism needs to go further," he said. "We can not view the rest of South Eastern Wisconsin as competitors. They must become partners as we all have different strengths, and what is good for one is generally good for the region. And then we need to understand that the Illinois state line means nothing. The benefits from Chicago’s economy can positively impact us if we choose to understand that they are the engine that drives our region." (Yes, he touched briefly on commuter rail, although not mentioning KRM by name.)

It's a message that doesn't yet resonate with everyone. A similar -- but phrased more negatively -- message from Barack Obama last week created a firestorm for the Democratic presidential candidate (who has been endorsed by Becker): "...a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them... and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Becker doesn't want it to come to that. Instead, he wants us to embrace the opportunities globalism and regionalism present ... since the negatives will be thrust upon us in any event. All in all, a gutsy message.

Here's the complete text of the mayor's address.

Senate 'urges' peace in Africa. Yeah, that'll help

The news from Sen. Russ Feingold's office this morning that the Senate has passed his resolution condemning violence in Chad, the Central African Republic and Sudan evinced a yawn from yours truly.

Forget the U.S.'s diminished leadership capacity in the world thanks to the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, the resolution is one of those high-minded, do-nothing statements of concern sure to be ignored on the ground -- wherever that ground is. (Somewhere in Africa, in this case; 6923 miles from here as the crow flies.)

Even the verbs used -- express concern... call upon... urge the governments... encourage the international community -- talk so softly as to give the impression they don't even know where the sticks are kept, much less whether there's a big one anywhere within reach. But don't take my word for it; here's the press release:

Senate Passes Feingold Measure Calling for Resolution to Crisis in Chad, Central African Republic and Sudan

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate passed a resolution authored by U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-WI, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, calling on governments, multinational bodies, and non-state actors in Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Sudan to implement a comprehensive peace process to end the violence. The bipartisan resolution recognizes that the conflicts in Chad, CAR, and Sudan are intricately related and require increased cooperation and commitment from the national governments, backed by the wider international community. Despite agreements to cease support to rebel groups, these countries continue to suffer cross-border attacks by armed militants, which have already displaced thousands and left millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance. Feingold’s resolution is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Lugar, R-IN, Carl Levin, D-MI, and Chuck Hagel, R-NE, and 19 other senators.

"The conflicts in Chad, the Central African Republic, and Sudan cannot be resolved in a vacuum because they have both domestic and regional implications. A sustainable peace requires good-faith negotiations both within and between the countries with strong monitoring by the international community," Feingold said. "I am pleased the Senate has sent such an important and timely message. The international community cannot ignore the complex cross-border problems that have resulted in great suffering."

Feingold’s Resolution:
* Expresses concern for the citizens who have been gravely affected by the violence in this region
* Calls upon all parties to cease hostilities immediately and uphold human rights
* Urges the governments of Chad and Sudan to abide by promises not to support insurgent groups and to recommit to inclusive negotiations towards regional peace
* Urges the government of Chad to restore its political legitimacy by improving accountability, provision of basic services, and respect for basic human and political rights
* Encourages the United States and international community to support multilateral peacekeeping missions in Darfur, Chad, and Central African Republic and to play an active, constructive role in a comprehensive peace process to stabilize the region

April 14, 2008

Grading Racine's three superintendent finalists

Sue Kutz and Bill Van Atta sort questions for the finalists

Grading Racine Unified's three superintendent finalists began Monday, after a busy day of meetings with school stakeholders: students, teachers, principals, administrators and business leaders among them. The day concluded with a public forum at the Golden Rondelle, at which about 200 citizens got to hear brief statements from the candidates and their answers to submitted questions.

Everyone was well-behaved (although Bill Krummel, picketing outside, carried a sign charging the "pillars" of Unified with complicity to a murder), and all the candidates received polite applause, but when it was over there was a clear consensus.

Here's how I'd grade the three, based mostly on their appearance Monday night:
Dr. Craig Bangtson: F (because that's the lowest grade I'm allowed to give)
Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam: B
Dr. Carlinda Purcell: A
One school board member put them in the same order after the presentation, with Purcell clearly the front-runner. When I teased a Unified principal that Bangtson would be her new boss, she said, "Don't even joke about it."

The school board will meet individually with each of the candidates Tuesday morning for formal interviews and answers to the tough questions that have arisen about their departures from previous superintendency's, and then take a few days to review community feedback (and hopefully verify the information submitted by the candidates, something not done prior to their visit, as proven by the Bangtson resume fiasco. "I'm without words on that one," said Don Nielsen.) Tony Baumgardt, board president, said he hoped the board could make a decision by Thursday or Friday.

About Dr. Craig Bangtson, the less said, the better. His presentation was flat, his jokes were lame ("I don't want to shock you, but we don't educate anyone at the central office.") and his explanation of previously revealed resume enhancements didn't touch on the more serious infraction (allegedly writing his own reference letters for Antigo, WI). He called the other , which listed a one-year tenure as three, "a typo." "I've only known one perfect person," he said at one point, "and that person was crucified." One businessman who had lunched with Bangtson, told me his rambling presentation Monday night was far better than earlier in the day. And I won't even mention the observation that his argyle socks worn at lunch were inside-out...

Finally, Bangtson did himself in by stating, "I don't need the money. I'm independently well off." He's 58, and said he would expect to stay until he receives Social Security, four to six years, "shorter if I don't get results."

At odds with the other candidates was Bangtson's observation that "there needs to be more of a partnership between the business community and the schools." Others seemed to think that already exists.

Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam, 60, made a better impression, and trotted out her Midwest roots -- having worked in Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. She said she learned to ski in Wisconsin and was eager to come here because Racine "is right on the lake and I'm a fisherperson, eager to go out for crappie." Unfortunately, she said crappie, only catching herself and re-pronouncing it croppie when many in the audience laughed. That, moderator Bryan Albrecht, president of Gateway Technical College, noted, was a "teachable moment."

In response to a question about gifted students, Pulliam described opening a K-5 school for the gifted and also noted that schools "are teaching children today who ten years from now we don't know what they'll be doing. We need to teach them how to learn. They have to be smart enough to learn on their own." She also took a shot at No Child Left Behind when she said, "We are really looking for a change in leadership in Washington."

She dealt directly with a question about her leaving the superintendent's job in Clayton County, GA, pointing out that she took a district that was on probation and got its accreditation back, only to feel that new members on the school board "had a different agenda than student achievement." Since leaving, she's been teaching, and "it's been most fulfilling." There have been reports the current board would like her to come back.

Asked about raising students' test scores, she said trained teachers and proper support were crucial. Also, "We've got to make sure they are taught what they need before the test -- curriculum alignment."

As for solving the dropout problem, she said, "We know by the time they are in middle school" the set of behaviors -- behind in reading, poor performance generally, attendance issues -- that lead to dropouts. "It takes almost missionary work of reaching out."

But the best impression of the night was made by Dr. Carlinda Purcell, 58, with her energetic presentation, her knowledge of Racine school issues and her statements that "there are no better assets than the children I met today. We have a responsibility to every single student... I was really impressed by the students."

Asked about improving parent involvement, she noted, "There may be models that work somewhere else, and one of the things you have to do is fit the models to Racine." Her masters' thesis was on the effectiveness of parental involvement.

Asked how she would deal with Racine's high dropout rate, she described a "drop-in day" she created at a previous district, to bring back students who had dropped out. "We asked the kids if there was anything we could do to bring them back... sometimes it was just a change of teachers."

How long would she expect to stay here if given the job of superintendent? "I would want to stay a long time. It takes at least three years to accomplish anything... then longer to reap the benefits."

Like Pulliam, she looks forward to changes in No Child Left Behind. "It is my hope that something will be done in the next administration," she said, to ease NCLB's "stringent" provisions. Still, she noted, "I'm not a gung-ho testing person, but it is the yardstick we are measured by."

As for dropouts, she said: "I think the student who has decided to drop out has decided in the third grade. I would not wait until high school" to do intervention programs."

She also won the audience over when she said, in answer to a question about budget shortfalls, "I'm not a sports person, but a high school without a football team, a basketball team, a band is pretty sad. It's a question of pride. Tough choices have to be made."

Journal Times reporter Paul Sloth followed the candidates around all day. Here's his report.

Least surprising, funniest story of the day: Search firm happy with finalists

WHEDA passes on Corinne Owens development on State Street

The state declined to finance a $5.6 million affordable housing and commercial development named after local civil rights activist Corinne Owens, the developer said Monday.

Damon Dorsey and his development company, the Dorsey Group, had proposed building 24 three-bedroom townhouses and 4,500 square feet of commercial space on State Street next to the Racine Transit Center (map).

The proposal had the support of city officials, but failed to receive funding from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. WHEDA announced its $100 million in affordable housing tax credits on Monday.

Dorsey said WHEDA rejected the Corinne Owens-Reid Square project because of a "weak" housing market. That left Dorsey wondering how the state felt that a city with the highest unemployment rate didn't have a need for affordable housing.

"I knew it could get rejected, but I didn't think it would be because of a weak market," said Dorsey, who is based out of Milwaukee. He added that it was WHEDA who suggested the project include townhouses for people to rent.

The apartments were 2,000 square-feet each, a comfortable amount of space for families in search of affordable housing, Dorsey said.

"We did a market study that showed there was a need for this kind of development," he said. "I guess WHEDA saw it a different way."

WHEDA's decision does not necessarily kill the project, he said.

"There's still the possibility to do a project there, we just have to go about it in a different way," Dorsey said.

Two Racine County projects did get funded by WHEDA. Lincoln Villas in Mount Pleasant received $283,996 for 97 low-income units for the elderly. And, Burlington received $93,469 for 36 low-income units in the Foxtree and Hillcrest apartment buildings.

April 13, 2008

Another RUSD finalist got $279,000 to go away
(plus, the district bought her house for $327,000)

Let's put this in perspective:

When Tom Hicks, Racine Unified School District superintendent, was eased out last fall, he took with him about $200,000 in salary and benefits just for going away. The district paid the final year of his contract without Hicks having to work for it.

That's chicken feed compared to the payout received in 2006 by one of RUSD's three superintendent finalists when she was forced to resign. She got $279,000 -- a year's salary of more than $155,000, another $56,000 for benefits earned but not taken, and an extra $68,000. Plus, the board agreed to buy her $327,000 home.

Dr. Carlinda Purcell was superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools in Montgomery, AL, from 2004 to 2006, according to her resume. A story on the website of Montgomery TV station WSFA -- which doesn't make clear why Purcell and the board parted ways -- indicated only that the resignation "was controversial and came about three weeks after several board members sent a letter to Purcell asking her to resign." The board voted 5-2 to negotiate termination of her four-year contract. The newsletter American Renaissance says, "At least 200 members of the black community met Monday night at a rally filled with racial overtones" in her support.

Unlike the case of finalist Dr. Craig Bangtson's resume issues, RUSD was aware of all this. Sue Kutz, chairman of RUSD's search committee, said when contacted this afternoon, "she had issues with the school board. The school board was put on probation because of this ... it was a case of a badly-behaved school board."

A story in the Montgomery Advertiser quoted board member Beverly Ross, one of two who wanted Purcell to stay, saying "I think she (Purcell) is the best superintendent this school system has ever had. I do not want her to leave. She is what's best for the children in this community." Dr. Purcell was Montgomery's first female, and first African-American superintendent.

PROACT Inc.'s president, Dr. Nancy Noeske, who headed up RUSD's search, was also aware: she is quoted in a Jan. 22, 2007, Toledo Blade story about a search she headed there -- in which four of the seven applicants to be interviewed for the superintendent's job came to the district with what the story called " baggage" -- being forced out of previous jobs.

Two of those candidates are now on Racine's short-list: Dr. Bangtson and Dr. Purcell.

Dr. Noeske was quoted about another of Dr. Purcell's departures -- she left her job as superintendent in Warren County, NC, a year before her contract expired. Dr. Purcell said she left, according to the story, to spend time with her ailing mother, who had a stroke. "The wonderful time I had in Warren county...It was a success story," she said. But the story then went on to quote Dr. Noeske, saying "there was some tension between Ms. Purcell and the school board."

All three finalists were bought out of last contracts. JT's story HERE.

Our earlier story on RUSD's finalists HERE.

Two resume incidents mar one candidate's record

One of the three finalists for superintendent named this morning by the Racine Unified School Board had problems in his past that the school board search committee was not aware of.

Dr. Craig Bangtson, former superintendent of the Bartow County Schools in Cartersville, GA, allegedly lied twice on resumes, once for a job he didn't get and once for a superintendent's job in Wisconsin that he held for three years, according to separate news stories relating to previous times he sought a superintendent's position.

-- On Jan. 24, 2004, the Daily Comet of Thibodaux, Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, reported that Bangtson "...was selected as a finalist though his application was incomplete. He failed to include a copy of his undergraduate transcript and proof he was a certified superintendent.

"Those application holes later revealed that Bangtson was asked to leave a top post at a Wisconsin school system in 1989 after an investigation showed he wrote his own letters of recommendation."

Bangtson's resume, provided by RUSD, shows his only Wisconsin employment as that of superintendent of the Unified School District in Antigo, from August 1986 to August 1989. The next job listed in chronological order was as superintendent of the Mt. Iron-Buhl Public Schools, in Mt. Iron, MN, from August 1989 to February 1992.

-- On March 8, 2007, a story in Hernando Today, an edition of the St. Petersburg (FL) Times, reported that Bangtson withdrew his application for superintendent, after he was named as a finalist by the Hernando County school board, when confronted with evidence he'd misrepresented facts on his resume.

His resume stated that he'd worked three years as superintendent of the Bartow County Schools in Georgia, from July of 2002 through June 2005. "But residents and the local newspaper in Georgia told a different story: that Bangtson was hired there in June of 2003, following a yearlong "retirement" between jobs, and lost his job 18 months later following allegations of abusive behavior toward subordinates" A March 19 story said, "Bartow County School District superintendent Abbe Boring was cautioned by the school district's attorney to not reveal too much about why Bangtson left." The story quoted Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, saying that Bangtson left because he earned the reputation, "It was his way or the highway."

Bangtson's resume for Unified's job does not make the same mistake as to his tenure in Cartersville, GA, at the helm of the Bartow district: his resume here lists his time there as July 1, 2003 -- to July 1, 2004.

Asked whether Unified was aware of these controversies, Sue Kutz, chair of Unified's search committee, said, "No, we did not."

Asked whether the board should have been told about them by Dr. Nancy Noeske, who headed the search performed by PROACT Search Inc., of Milwaukee, she said: "Probably." Noeske was "leading the search, and part of the due diligence was to make sure the academic credentials are what they say." PROACT was paid $24,000 for its services, plus expenses.

But she added, "Before we do a bunch of conjecture, let's talk to the candidates and ask them."

Blangtson could not be reached this afternoon. He was booked on a flight to Chicago and is due in Racine tonight before the two days of interviews scheduled by the board Monday and Tuesday.

Our earlier story HERE.

Another finalist got $279,000 to go away. Story HERE.

All three finalists were bought out of their last contract. JT's story HERE.

RUSD names three superintendent finalists

RUSD board announcing its finalist choices, at 8 a.m. Sunday

Three finalists for the job of superintendent of schools at Racine Unified were announced Sunday morning.

All three have been urban school superintendents, although none is holding that job at present. There are two African-American women among the three finalists, and one white male.

The three are:
Dr. Craig Bangtson, former superintendent of Bartow County Schools in Cartersville, GA, and former superintendent of Grayson County Schools in Leitchfield, KY;

Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam, assistant professor, College of Education, University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA, and former superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools, Jonesboro, GA;

Dr. Carlinda Purcell, former superintendent, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery, AL, and Warrenton, NC.

All three, according to the nine-member RUSD board search committee, have had success in improving academic achievement, the district's number one goal. Russ Carlsen said the district's top three goals are "academic achievement, academic achievement, academic achievement." (Presumably in that order.)

The three finalists -- winnowed down from eight candidates interviewed last weekend (by the entire search committee, with the exception of Brian Dey) from the original pool of 24 -- will meet with teachers, administrators and community leaders Monday, and the public will have an opportunity to meet them Monday night, at a forum and reception at the Golden Rondelle, 1525 Howe St., beginning at 6 p.m. with a 45-minute reception. Feedback from these constituent groups will be collected and given to the school board before it interviews each of the candidates on Tuesday.

Here are some details from the candidates' resumes (presented in alphabetical order):

Dr. Craig Bangtson: 57 years old, married for 33 years, two children. (The only candidate who listed this information on resume.) "Retired" two years ago to care for his mother, who died of cancer last fall. Has 26 years of superintendent experience, in districts ranging from 450 students to 16,000. Managed budgets up to $175 million. Bartow, his most recent district, has more than 15,000 students, 2,200 employees and a budget of $130 million. Ed.D in Educational Administration from Texas A&M in 1985. First "honor" listed on resume: "Educational Leadership Award given by U.S. Sec. of Education Richard Riley in Washington, D.C., for leadership in student achievement, only one superintendent given this honor every four years; January 1995."

Quoted: "He negotiated labor agreements for over 21 years and reports never having had a work stoppage. He feels that his success in dealing with staff is a result of creating an atmosphere of professionalism. Noting that success can become contagious (he) said the quest for excellence is an on-going pursuit..."

Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam: Currently teaches graduate courses. From 2004 to 2007 was superintendent in Jonesboro, GA, a suburban Atlanta district with 52,400 students that passed a $269 million referendum for building new schools and renovating older ones. Ten years as a superintendent, including seven at the st. Louis Park, MN, district with 4,400 students. PhD from Vanderbilt University in 1988. First honor on resume: "Superintendent of the Year, Georgia PTA, 2007."

Quoted: "I believe that one of my greatest strengths is my ability to listen and to hear what people are saying. it takes patience and sometimes a lot of time to do this, but it also is one of the best ways I know to make certain that the Superintendent is hearing what is being said... My greatest strength is my ability to bring key stakeholders to the table..."

Dr. Carlinda Purcell: Presently a consultant. Superintendent from 2004 to 2006 in Montgomery, AL, a district with 33,000 students, 58 schools and 4,300 employees; budget of $246 million. Superintendent in Warrentown, NC, from 1995 to 2002, a district with 3,300 students, 500 employees and a $22 million budget. EdD in Administration and Supervision/Special Education, from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, 1983. First honor listed: "Education Technology Think Tank/Technology to Empower community Champion Leadership Award/Congressional Black Caucus Education Brain Trust by Congressman Major Owens for recognizing the critical needs to provide 21st century learning environment."

Quoted: "When she began her tenure (in Warrenton), the level of African-American students achieving Adequate Yearly Progress was only in the 40th percentile. Her leadership helped this district register one school at the 80th percentile ... prior to her departure. During her last year, every school except the high school achieved Adequate Yearly Progress rating, meaning 80% of all students in those schools were at grade level..."

The three candidates are competing for a two-year contract (the longest the state allows a district to make) at a salary potentially starting at $144,000 a year, plus benefits.