May 3, 2008

Lakefront Artists Fair adds rain to the mix

An umbrella was the perfect companion...

"Yes, it's beautiful, but where will we put it?"

Metal masks combined with torches; what's not to like?

Even hand-carved doggies...

...and wearable art until it's time for bed.

"The rain works for me," says Jan Cramer,
selling plants for the Montessori School

A lovely day to enjoy the Root River

It was a full day of activities -- rain be damned! -- at the grand opening of the Root River Environmental Community Center (REC).

Most fun, of course, was "Running the Root," when more than two dozen canoes and kayaks floated downstream all the way to Belle Harbor ... and then paddled back through a light rain.

Rep. Cory Mason explained at brief opening ceremonies that the event was aimed at getting people to think about what a real economic asset the Root River can be. Mayor Gary Becker noted that when the city was developed, the river "was a highway and a sewer." Today, however, he said "we need to get ahead of development, to decide what Racine wants the River to be." Also in attendance was State Department of Administration Secretary Mike Morgan, who helped provide a grant a year ago to help spur river planning and "obtain input on how we clean up our urban waterways." Full schedule of events HERE.

The area paddled was the proposed River District, whose boundaries are roughly the railroad bridge just upstream of REC to the mouth of the river, and the lands adjacent to the river along that route.

Among the points of interest for canoeists and kayakers were:

--The idea of placing a riverwalk between Sixth and Main Streets. The idea is that the river's edge would be vegetated and the riverwalk would be adjacent to the green space, about 15-20 feet wide, accommodating walkers and bicyclists.

--The large retaining wall at Water Street isn't going anywhere -- it's part of the sewer system infrastructure. However, it is not attractive, and the idea of creating a fabric mural created to cover the wall has been suggested.

--Belle Harbor's marina is silting in, and not viable for larger boats. Saturday's boaters were asked what kind of land use they would suggest for that property.

At the Belle Harbor Marina, under the State Street bridge

Cory Mason and his family.

Sec. Mike Morgan and Alderman Terry McCarthy

What the smartly-shod kayaker wears on her feet...

Fred, 3, ready for his first kayak ride ever

May 3 also marks the opening of this year's fishing season

Pancake Day!

Here are our pictures from Kiwanis Pancake Day. Make sure you scroll down to the bottom to read about the event's most enthusiastic fan!

First, batter is dropped on the hot skillet...

When ready, the pancake is tossed high into the air...

Was there any doubt he'd catch it?

A full house -- in more ways than one.

Cortesia Perez, 2, gets her first taste.
"She'll want to come back -- tomorrow," said her Mom

"Where'd it go," asks Mayor Gary Becker...

This one didn't get away. As for others...

And now, meet Al Mueller, Pancake Day's biggest fan:

Pancake enthusiasts unite in Racine each year on the first Saturday in May. This is not news. After all it’s been going on for over 50 years.

What is news is that every year since its inception Kiwanis Pancake Day has seen Al Mueller. In fact, Pancake Day has seen Al show up for each of his meals every year on that special Saturday. That’s right; Al Mueller buys enough tickets for Pancake Day to have breakfast, lunch and dinner. All pancakes, all day. He even brings his wife Judy for dinner and treats his son to the delicious tradition. Al's family doesn’t quite share passion for pancakes: they come only once during the day.

Al doesn’t stop at his initial serving. He wants to support our local Kiwanis so he always gets seconds and sometimes thirds. He positions himself near the serving line in order to eliminate travel time back and forth to his table. When asked what motivates this mission, Al throws a look that comes only from a wise, hard-working Racine native (we all know the look) and answers, “I love pancakes!”

Ah, yes…pancakes…comfort food.
--By Monte Osterman

Free Comic Book Day!

Today is Free Comic Book Day! The Vault of Comics and Toys at 1626 Douglas Ave. is participating in the national event, which is what it sounds like. Show up at the store and you can get free comics. Among the comics available at The Vault include: kids comics, Hulk and Iron Man, Salem Queen of Thorns, Transformers and several others.

The Vault is open until 5 p.m. today. The new store, located near the Sausage Kitchen, opened in March.

May 2, 2008

Was it Racine or New Orleans Friday night?

David Figge of the Racine Kilties played on Main Street

It was the second First Friday of the year, and it couldn't have started out on a better note

Sixth Street merchants were smiling -- no, absolutely beaming -- at having gotten their street back again on Thursday, the first phase of this year's construction work completed. Not just on time, but almost a week early.

The afternoon's nasty weather was barely a memory. The streets were dry, the sky was the bluest of blues and the sun was shining. Music came from everywhere: jazz from a pick-up twosome the far end of Sixth, bluesy tunes from Monument Square, heavy metal at the lower end of Main; Irish folk, blues -- even a lone trumpet! -- and who knows what else inbetween. (Would you believe some Civil War soldiers?) Racine was a poor name for downtown; for a while it felt more like New Orleans.

Shoppers and music lovers wandered around, into this store, listening to that music. Mothers with sleepy kids; a dad showing his three-year-old what an orange 1957 (I'm guessing) BelAir hardtop Chevrolet in mint condition looks like. (Very, very sharp!) It wasn't a large crowd at the start, but it was an enthusiastic one.

Unfortunately, it was cut short by a little rain after not quite two hours. The smart browsers went inside to continue enjoying the music. The wimps -- me, in other words -- headed home on the Vespa, hoping to avoid the wife's "I told you it was going to rain."

Some scenes from the evening:

Gary and DeAnn Lekas in Monument Square

Jim Bednarek filling in for the babysitting Bennett Carl on Sixth

Paul Kaye in JavaVino's courtyard

Cheryl McCrary and the Heir-Born Praise Band, from Nesting

Jeff Ward, inside Molly MaGruder

Kids made pottery keepsakes at Fired Up!

Dad found the car of his dreams parked on Main Street;
( daughter unimpressed)

Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War at the Racine Heritage Museum

Racine Police getting seven new officers Monday

The Racine Police Department will swear in seven new officers Monday, bringing the force's complement to 200. Briefly.

The seven -- six men and one woman -- range in age from 23 to 39. All have passed their psychological and physical tests, and been interviewed by Chief Kurt Wahlen. They will be sworn in by the City Clerk at 2 p.m. Monday in the Police Department auditorium.

Just don't expect to see them patrolling Racine's mean streets any time soon. After a week here tending to administrative and human resource issues, being issued firearms, and getting fitted for uniforms, all seven will head to Northeast Technical College in Green Bay for 520 hours -- 13 weeks -- of recruit school training, followed by two more weeks of localized training here.

To become a police officer in Wisconsin, applicants must have completed at least 60 college credits. Although districts sometimes waive this requirement, Racine does not, according to departmental spokesman Sgt. Bernie Kupper. "They may have an associate's or bachelor's degree in anything under the sun," he said. As to their weapons experience, "they may never have hunted, handled a firearm or ridden in a squad car."

Officers earn $60,000 after two years. New recruits are paid 80% of that.

Today, the department has 193 officers, compared to its budgeted complement of 199. But this brief moment of being full-staffed won't last long: the department has one retirement scheduled for May 30, and two or three more during the latter part of June and July, according to Sgt. Kupper.

Pulliam's successor in Georgia earning $285,000,
double the salary RUSD expects to pay her

Whatever contract Racine Unified offers its choice for superintendent, Barbara Moore Pulliam, it will pale in comparison to that given her successor at the Clayton County Schools in Jonesboro, Ga., a district outside of Atlanta.

Pulliam, who was chosen here last week from a field of three finalists the board winnowed down from 20 candidates presented by its search firm, is expected to be offered a salary in the range of $144,000 a year, plus benefits -- the same paid the district's last superintendent, Thomas Hicks, who was pushed out last August. Negotiations, presumably, are under way.

Meanwhile, Pulliam's successor in Jonesboro, John W. Thomposon, who took office Monday, is getting $285,000 a year.

According to Georgia Senate President pro tem Eric Johnson, quoted Thursday in the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “I was outraged to finally see the contract with Clayton County’s new part-time School Superintendent. Even though he was declared unqualified by the accrediting agency, he will now receive $285,000 and a car and driver for 133 work days a year."

Pulliam resigned as Clayton County superintendent last July, after 3 1/2 years. When she took the job there the district was on probation, but it came off probation under her tenure.

Since she left, however, things haven't gone well. On March 15, the National Accreditation Commission board voted unanimously to revoke the 52,800-student district's accreditation on Sept. 1. And two days ago, two advisors appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to help save its accreditation, called the current school board dysfunctional and resigned.

While the selection process was under way here in Racine, there had been reports that the Clayton County board wanted to rehire Pulliam. We don't know whether those reports are true or not -- but why she would have wanted to leave Georgia behind to take on Racine's difficulties becomes more clear.

May 1, 2008

But first, Sixth Street was our historic Plank Road

There's a phone line down at the bottom...

Like an archaeological dig, Racine's Sixth Street utility work and repaving project is exposing the city's history. Unlike archaeologists, however, the construction crews are destroying what they find.

Not that there is much to save, beyond some rotting planks and brick pavers upon which the city's commercial reputation was built; even a hollowed piece of wooden water pipe here and there. All have been uncovered by the Sixth Street road construction crews -- and for the most part unceremoniously hauled away to the landfill to be crushed and buried.

Sixth Street, layer by layer...

Some of the bricks have been recovered by adjoining storefront owners. Alongside the construction path today, a few small piles of rotting planks -- four or five feet long, maybe 6" by 8" in dimension -- lay by the sidewalk.

Kate Remington, whose concrete art studio overlooks -- and shortly will become part of the reconstruction project -- brought it to our attention Thursday morning. She took a portion of a plank to the mayor, suggesting that a cross-section of the road would make an interesting historical marker along the street.

Kate Remington, with a plank road remnant

Indeed, a glance deep into a 15-ft. pit, at the bottom of which workers this morning had uncovered a working telephone line -- normally, all utilities are buried no more than three feet deep -- clearly showed the street's evolution. There were remnants of the old wooden plank highway, the brick paving stones above that, railroad tracks on top of the brick, and then the cement we're used to.

Yes, we said wooden plank highway.

Kate Remington directed our attention to an Historic Sixth Street Business District Walking Tour Guide, a slim pamphlet published in 1990 by the Racine Landmarks Preservation Commission. It described how Congress appropriated funds in 1838 for a "military highway" from Racine to Janesville, and how the Racine-Rock River Plank Road was constructed in 1848, "the year Wisconsin became a state and Racine became a city."

The following material comes from that pamphlet. It was written by Don Rintz.

"In 1834 Gilbert Knapp laid claim to about 140 acres of land lying both north and south of the Root River and the western shore of Lake Michigan. These lands were platted in 1836 as the Village of Racine...

"Much of Racine was then a forest. A few log cabins and even fewer frame houses might be seen here and there in the woods, but most of the early buildings were in a clearing south of the river at the foot of Main Street. Thea area around Sixth or Seventh Streets was 'way out of town.'

"But it became a way into town when, in 1838,Congress appropriated money for a military highway from Racine to Janesville and onward to Sinipee on the Mississippi River. The easterly section of the government road ran along the route of what is now Washington Avenue an connected at Campbell Street (now Grand Avenue) with Sixth and Seventh. They became principal routes into Racine and out again on the west. Sixth Street became very nearly as important as Main, and commercial development, rather than continuing south on Main Street, turned the corner along the south side of the public square and ran west along Sixth.

"The Historic Sixth Street Business district, as a result, was the second area of the city to develop commercially...

" 'As an inducement for neighboring towns to trade' in the city, the first county history explained, 'Racine took an advanced and liberal position in relation to road improvements.' The Racine-Rock River Plank Road Company was organized by a number of the city's leading citizens on March 6, 1848 -- in the year Wisconsin became a state and Racine became a city.

All that's left from 1848's commercial thoroughfare

"The highway came to be known as the Janesville Plank Road, and it is said to have been the first roadway constructed of planks to be laid westward from the shores of Lake Michigan. It began at Main Street and ran from the square along Sixth and out the government road. The plank pavement was considered a great improvement, a boon to travel and shipping. Stagecoaches used it daily, carrying passengers and mail on a regular schedule, and farmers drove their wagons in to the city filled with sacks of grain or piled high with hay, to be dumped for sale in the public square.

"The plank road was responsible in no small part for the growth of the City of Racine and, most particularly, of the Sixth Street business district...

"The Historic Sixth Street Business District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on March 24, 1988."

Ryan rips Fed for cutting interest rates again

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan got his Alan Greenspan on today with a fiery press release criticizing the Fed's latest interest rate cut. Ryan wants to pass a law that would force the Fed to focus on inflation and price stability, as opposed to economic growth. He blames the low interest rates for rising food and gas prices.

Here's the release:

Ryan on Rate Cuts: Enough is Enough

WASHINGTON – On the heels of yet another interest rate cut, Wisconsin’s First District Congressman Paul Ryan today announced plans to introduce legislation that would recommit the Federal Reserve to controlling inflation. Since last September, the Fed has slashed the federal funds rate down to 2%. Congressman Ryan has been outspoken with his concerns on inflation, as interest rate cuts have persisted in the face of rising prices.

While dealt a bad hand, the Fed has been unsuccessful in balancing their dual – and often contradictory – mandate of both short-term economic growth and long-term economic stability. Congressman Ryan has sought to set our monetary policy back on sound economic footing with the introduction of The Price Stability Act of 2008. This legislation would give the Federal Reserve a single mandate: price stability. The Price Stability Act would not alter the tools at the Fed’s disposal, but rather direct the Fed to make their overriding policy goal that of controlling inflation.

As the negative impact of our monetary policy becomes increasingly clear to Americans, Congressman Ryan has issued the following statement:
"Enough is enough. The continued rate cuts from the Federal Reserve have fueled price increases across the board. Inflation is an insidious threat to our economic well-being: it wipes away savings; it eats away at the paychecks of working people; and it devalues the quality of life of those living on fixed incomes.

"Congress bears some of the responsibility for the Fed’s recent actions. The Congressional mandate given to the Fed must be reexamined. The Price Stability Act would refocus our monetary policy to tackling inflation. Our economic challenges require bold solutions – and this commitment to sound money is a vital component to strengthening our economy."

Mason, Turner calling for eight-lane interstate

Update: I'll leave the original post, but here's a clarification. Mason and Turner are calling for an eight-lane interstate from the Mitchel airport exit to the Illinois border. In other words, they are in favor of four lanes in each direction, which means one new lane in each direction. They are not in favor of a 10-lane interstate as I first wondered.

In talking with Mason, he explained the state is in a comment period on the project. Some people are advocating for keeping the interstate at three lanes in each direction. Mason said he supports four lanes because it will help economic development in Racine County and create more construction jobs for local residents to help build the highway.

It's also worth noting the project will "unbraid" the frontage roads through Racine County. This is critical to future development, because the current configuration of the frontage roads prevents serious development along the I in the county.

More will be out on this tomorrow when Mason and Turner hold their press conference.

Here's the original post:

Rep. Cory Mason sent out a press release this morning titled, "Racine Leaders to Call for Maximizing Economic Impact of I-94 Reconstruction."

The release then adds: "Local Leaders Support 4 Lane Expansion" and "Four Lanes a Better Option."

So what does this mean? It seems like Mason and Rep. Bob Turner, whose name was also on the release, are in favor of adding four lanes to I-94 from Milwaukee to the Illinois border. If true, that would make the interstate a Los Angeles-esque 10 lanes through Racine County.

I wrote Mason's office for further explanation, and will update when I hear back from them.

The state is already planning to add two lanes to I-94 once it completes the Marquette Interchange project. The interstate expansion is expected to cost $1.9 billion.

Since Mason's plan is touted as an "alternative" to the state plan, it seems like he is calling for a bigger project. He's scheduled a press conference for Friday morning with representatives from the highway construction unions and local job training agencies.

Perhaps a larger roads project is a way to generate jobs for the area.

On the 5th anniversary of 'Mission Accomplished'

That was then...

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, issued this statement today:

"Five years ago today, the President stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln beneath the now infamous “mission accomplished” banner. But five years later, with the image of the president under that banner etched into the memories of so many Americans, our brave men and women remain bogged down in Iraq in a war that is jeopardizing our national security, damaging our military, and provoking regional instability. This anniversary marks yet another year of the administration’s failure to address the global threat posed by al Qaeda.

"The State Department Country Terrorism report released yesterday serves as yet another reminder that al Qaeda continues to be the greatest terrorist threat to the U.S. and is reconstituting its capabilities. Congress should not wait for the next anniversary before fixing the Administration’s mistaken priorities. For the good of our military and national security, and for the stake of stability in the Middle East, we must safely redeploy our troops from Iraq and refocus on those who attacked us on 9/11."

More on the Country Terrorism report HERE.

And a review of what's happened in Iraq and Afghanistan since Bush declared, "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," is HERE.

Students rally for immigration rights

The cadence blared out from megaphones, and got the time-honored response:
"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"
Several hundred students, mostly high schoolers, filled the south half of Monument Square at 8 a.m. this morning, for a brief rally demanding immigration rights. Then they marched up Sixth Street, past U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's office -- he wasn't in -- and back around to Festival Hall, where six buses waited to take them to Milwaukee for an even bigger rally.

The only elected official I saw was Racine Mayor Gary Becker, who said, "Let's demand respect for everyone in the community." When asked whether all those kids shouldn't have been in school, the mayor said the event "is a good learning experience. I'd take my kids out of school for this."

Meanwhile, the Journal Sentinel reported today that Wisconsin's Wisconsin's Hispanic population grew faster last year than the nation's, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the past year, the state's Hispanic population grew 4.3% to 271,830. The state's percentage gain was greater than the national Hispanic growth rate of 3.3%.

"The Hispanic population here grew the most of any minority group - 41% from 2000 to 2007. With Hispanics constituting 4.9% of the state's population, Wisconsin ranks 32nd for its percentage of Hispanics and 24th for total Hispanic population," the J-S reported. The full story is HERE.

April 30, 2008

Wisconsin GI's Dad -- and YouTube -- spur Army
to deal with deplorable barracks worldwide

Well, that didn't take long!

Just a couple of days after Menomonie's Ed Frawley posted a video on YouTube showing the deplorable barracks his son, Sgt. Jeff Frawley, 22, was assigned to at Ft. Bragg, NC -- after returning stateside from a 15-month deployment in the mountains of Afghanistan -- a senator and congressman are all over the Secretary of Defense and the Army is investigating barracks worldwide.

Frawley called the barracks "embarrassing and disgusting" as well as unsafe in the 10-minute video showing pictures he took when the families of 82nd Airborne Division's Charlie Company greeted their returning soldiers in April.

The ten-minute video included images of moldy walls, broken toilets, potential gas leaks, and bathrooms flooded with sewage, rusty pipes, missing ceiling tiles; you name it.

Click HERE to watch the YouTube video.

The Army appears to agree with Frawley.

Brigadier General Dennis Rogers -- who is responsible for maintaining barracks throughout the Army -- said, "We let our soldiers down." He told reporters at the Pentagon inspections were done last weekend, and in cases where extensive repairs are necessary, soldiers will be moved until the fixes are completed.

Congressman Ron Kind, D-WI, and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, are all over the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.

Feingold called on the Army to address the deplorable conditions at Fort Bragg. In a letters to U.S. Army Secretary Pete Green and Defense Inspector General Claude Kicklighter, Feingold asked that the Army take action to ensure that any service member currently living in unsafe conditions at Fort Bragg be immediately relocated to safe and acceptable housing.

“After serving bravely in Afghanistan, these brave soldiers returned to live in potentially unhealthy conditions. That is absolutely unacceptable,” Feingold said. “They must be transferred to suitable facilities immediately and the Army’s failure to provide acceptable housing must be investigated.”

According to media reports, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Dick Cody called Frawley to say he shared his anger and that there was no excuse for the conditions. In one of the widely distributed pictures of the conditions, a soldier stood in a sink while trying to unclog a drain in a bathroom with inches-deep sewage-filled water. Other pictures showed what appears to be mold, paint chipping from the ceiling and a broken drain pipe.

The best story on the incident, from the Dunn County News, is HERE.

Feingold's letter is HERE. Rep. Kind's letter to the Secretary of Defense is HERE.

This all has a deja vu feeling to it. Anybody else remember the Army's surprise upon reading the Washington Post's stories about the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Hospital in February 2007? No doubt the generals stay in nicer quarters.

April 29, 2008

Hourly employees jump at CNH; mini-Magnum coming

In all the talk about Racine's highest-in-the-state unemployment rate, and amid the efforts of civic and business leaders to create job training programs and attract new companies with manufacturing jobs to the city and county, one existing firm's good news has slipped under the radar.

John Valko Jr., president of UAW Local 180, corrected that oversight recently with an article in the labor paper in which he noted that CNH's tractor-building force increased to about 490 in recent weeks. In other words, Case New Holland has hired 194 additional hourly employees since the current contract was ratified in March 2005 (after a nasty four-month walkout/lockout).

"These new employees are just on the hourly side of the business, and there has also been hiring on the salary side, but not to this extent," Valko said. "Since I wrote that article an additional eight employees have been hired, and seven more are starting this week, which will bring the new hire total to 208 since ratification, and I am told the hiring will continue."

Valko says the hiring is due to high demand for Case's product. And, "we are in the process of a line rebalance to increase production in May." What that means is that Case-New Holland will be building a new tractor, "smaller than the current Magnum. It is talked about being a mini-Magnum, and will be in the 180-210 horsepower group. I don't know what it will actually be called, but it will be RED. We are all very excited about this, and we will continue to build the Magnum and New Holland tractors as we currently do." (For the uninitiated, red is Case's traditional tractor color; New Holland's color is blue. You have to be a Racinian to care ... but if you are, then it really matters. And don't even ask about John Deere green.)

Of course, everything is relative: In 1974 when Valko started working at Case, there were approximately 3,300 hourly employees in the foundry -- bulldozed two years ago -- and the tractor plant. Hourly employment reached a high during the mid-1970s of about 3,600. The current salaried employee headcount, he says, is between 2,000 and 2,500 in Racine.

Just a week ago, CNH released its 1st Qtr earnings, with net income up 19%, to $125 million. Sales for the quarter rose 26% to $4.1 billion over the first quarter 2007. "“Our first quarter net income represents the ninth consecutive quarter of year-over-year improvement, which is very encouraging,” said Harold Boyanovsky, CNH president and CEO. "The industrial issues which negatively impacted margins in the fourth quarter of 2007 continued into the first quarter of this year, as strong demand for our agricultural products pressured both our manufacturing operations and our supplier ranks. Corrective actions which are already underway will improve results as we progress through the year."

But the stock market was unimpressed, and punished CNH investors by bidding the stock price down last Thursday by almost $10 from last week's high of $56 per share. It dropped another $2.44 today, to close at $44.81.

Statement by RUSD after naming superintendent

The Racine Unified School Board voted affirmatively this morning to begin contract negotiations with Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam to become the next Superintendent of Schools for the Racine Unified School District (RUSD). Tony Baumgardt, President of the RUSD School Board, said today, “the majority of the Board and I were impressed with Dr. Pulliam’s tremendous academic background, past successes in urban school districts, and proven collaborative leadership. We believe her well-rounded skill set and background will serve the RUSD students, staff, and community well.”
Wiser, McKenna: Why we voted 'no'
During Tuesday’s board meeting, school board members also touted that the district currently has a very good foundational block that includes the Quality District Model, strong labor relations, sound finances, and the establishment of professional learning communities that are moving the district forward. The Board felt that the next Superintendent should build upon those foundational blocks, and most felt that Dr. Pulliam could not only build upon but also had the experience that could accelerate the progress. Although, Board Members Julie McKenna and Dennis Wiser did not vote in favor of opening negotiations, both stated that they would support Dr. Pulliam if that was the board’s decision.

School board member Bill Van Atta stated, “RUSD is fortunate to have found an experienced Superintendent who has hands-on experience in a large, urban district. Dr. Pulliam believes in building partnerships with the staff and community, and that is an important quality the Racine community told the Board that they needed in the next Superintendent of Schools during our community meetings in January.”

Sue Kutz, who chaired the Search Committee said, “I believe Dr. Pulliam is the right fit for our district. Her experience, her training, and her management style correlates with the direction that this district wants to take. She has over 10 years of experience as a superintendent. She was the Superintendent of the Year, nominated by the Georgia State PTA. Her focus is on doing what is right for students.”

Dr. Pulliam is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of West Georgia in Carrolton,GA, where she teaches graduate level courses in the College of Education, Department of Leadership and Professional Services since January 2008. In addition, she is a Senior Program Associate for School Leadership Services in Greensboro, NC; a position she has held since
August 2007. In this capacity, she provides leadership training programs for school district staff; central office and school site administrators/principals. Her previous professional experience includes more than 30 years working in public education including ten years of superintendent experience.

Most recently, Dr. Pulliam was the Superintendent of the Clayton County Public Schools in Jonesboro, GA. This metropolitan district is just a few miles south of the City of Atlanta and serves 52,400 with an annual operating budget in excess of $550 million. During her tenure, she successfully achieved reinstatement of school district accreditation. She not only began the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program in two high schools, but also established a Dual Language School. She started the “Connect-Ed” school-to-home communication system and centralized the student registration function, in launching a Student Registration Center. Dr. Pulliam implemented a Blue Ribbon Commission on school discipline and began Community Engagement Conversations, among other accomplishments.

She also previously served as Superintendent of the St. Louis Park (MN) Schools, Associate Superintendent of Education and Equity/Interim Associate Superintendent/General Manager of Equity for the Rockford (IL) Public Schools, and Principal for Harper High School, which is part of the Chicago Public School System. Dr. Pulliam received a Ph.D. in School Administration from Vanderbilt University; a M.S. from Eastern Michigan University and a B.S. from Western Michigan University.

Board member, Don Nielsen, who worked for the district for almost 30 years said, “One of the things that struck me about Dr. Pulliam is that she has been a teacher; she has been a principal; she has been an administrator; and she has been a superintendent. She has worked in districts as large as Chicago and smaller districts in Rockford and Minnesota and most recently in Georgia. She is coming from a district that is approximately twice the size of Racine, and so she has vast experience in dealing with the issues of urban school districts.”

Dr. Pulliam’s selection as the district’s new superintendent caps a 5 month national recruitment and selection process which included interviews by students, community and staff; three interviews by the Board of Education and Dr. Jack Parker, Interim Superintendent; and a community forum. Throughout this process, the board was cognizant of a variety of community
concerns and made additional efforts to ensure those concerns were addressed prior to today’s meeting. The process also included extensive background and reference checks. Dr. Gretchen Warner stated today, “I was the member of the board who was asked to do reference checks, and I went way beyond the list that was given to me with Dr. Pulliam’s resume. I went to many, many additional people particularly in the state of Georgia. Overwhelming what I heard was that Dr. Pulliam has incredible leadership skills, communications skills, and collaboration skills.”

The district has been led by Interim Superintendent, Dr. Jack Parker, since early October 2007. Regarding the selection of Dr. Pulliam, Parker said, “I believe that Dr. Pulliam is an excellent fit for Racine Unified and will continue the improvements under way. Her collaborative leadership style and strong credentials will serve her well in her new role and benefit the students of Racine Unified and the Racine community. I look forward to working with and supporting her during the transition.”

Dr. Pulliam will be attending the Panasonic Foundation’s Leadership Associate Program with district staff this weekend in New Orleans, La to begin acclimating herself to the district even though negotiations have not started. She is expected to relocate and begin work full time by July 1. The School Board will plan an official community welcome once she has joined the staff full time.

A video of today’s board meeting will be available on the district’s website by late Tuesday and will also be shown on the district’s educational cable channel (Time Warner Channel 20) during evening broadcasts.

Wiser, McKenna opposed RUSD superintendent pick

It wasn't unanimous this morning, but the Racine Unified School Board voted to offer the superintendent's job to Barbara Moore Pulliam.

The vote was 7-2. Opposed were Dennis Wiser and Julie McKenna.

Wiser voted no, he said, because "the community isn't totally comfortable with the process or the candidates, and the search would be better if we reopened it, so a thorough search could be done."
Board statement HERE.
In addition, he checked the test scores in Pulliam's former district, Clayton County, GA, and was not happy with what he found: "There are 50 different tests by the state of Georgia, and 36 of them went down in Clayton County over the last six years." Pulliam was superintendent for three years.

"One argument" raised in Pulliam's favor, he said, "is that the district is terribly dysfunctional. Well, that should make it easy for fixes."

McKenna, who was a member of RUSD's search committee, said, "Sometimes you have to listen to the people. I heard from a lot of people in the community, it was 2 - 1, sometimes closer to 1 - 1, that people wanted us to keep the search open. They weren't happy with the candidates we had, and the fact they had been bought out of their contracts in their past jobs."

McKenna said the three finalists "had a lot of accomplishments, and I was kind of surprised by their all having been bought out. I felt I should honor the people." She noted that RUSD has bought out almost all of its past superintendents: "I didn't want that repeated. The district hasn't had a good track record of bringing in superintendents from elsewhere. I wanted more local."

Finally, she noted, "I wanted more support for the superintendent. I will do everything I can to help her, but it's possible you can get the right candidate that people will accept."

Wiser, one of two board members who just took office Monday night (the other is Pamela Handrow), also said he will support whoever the board brings in as superintendent on July 1.

The board is just starting contract negotiations with Pulliam and expects to offer her a contract comparable with that former Supt. Tom Hicks had: a salary of $144,000 plus benefits. "She knows the range," Wiser said. "The quicker, the better."

Our coverage of the candidates began HERE.

April 28, 2008

City moves closer to approving electric vehicles

Aldermen Greg Helding and Aron Wisneski put out this release today:
Racine is one step away from allowing the operation of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs). On Tuesday, May 6th, at 5:30 PM, there will be a brief press conference and demonstration in front of City Hall, 730 Washington Ave, Racine, WI. Tim Thompson, from Green Autos in Janesville will be demonstrating a ZENN Motors NEV. Aldermen Greg Helding and Aron Wisneski will be available to answer questions about the proposed ordinance, which allows the operation of NEVs in Racine, provided they are properly licensed with the state and stay on roadways with speed limits of 35 MPH or less. The ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing and adoption at 7PM that same night.
Having just seen the movie, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" over the weekend, I'll admit to being a big fan of these cars (not a big enough fan to buy one, though). Let's hope the company finds enough success to build bigger, faster, better electric cars in the near future.

Here's our original article on the ZENN.

Cool as the ZENN may be, how about one of these?

This looks promising ... link

Sixth Street reconstruction ahead of schedule

Asphalt done; striping under way Wednesday

Good news for Sixth Street: The first phase of utility construction in the 200 through 400 blocks is nearing completion and asphalt repaving should be under way. Globe Contractors expects to paint the roadway striping, remove the barricades and replace the parking meters by the end of the week. The original timetable said this work wouldn't be completed until May 5.

Phase two work in the 500 and 600 blocks has started ahead of schedule. Sanitary sewer work has begun on both blocks with work in the 600 block starting at Grand. Installation of laterals is scheduled to begin on the North side of the 600 block around April 30, and on the North side of the 500 block beginning May 18. Water main work is scheduled to begin on approximately May 14.

The entire project -- this year's portion of it -- is due to be completed by July 3.

Where have all the newspaper readers gone?

The Dead Tree Edition world is reeling this morning, as newspaper circulation figures for the past six months are released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the industry's accountant.

Big readership drops have been reported almost everywhere with two exceptions: fractional gains at the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, which already had the largest circulation in the U.S. Together, they gained 13,000 additional daily readers, to add to their existing 4.33 million -- a gain of .3%. Every one of the next 25 largest papers in the U.S. lost daily circulation, in chunks from 2% to 10.5%.

The news was worse on Sunday: 24 of the 25 largest papers lost circulation; the best-selling U.S. Sunday paper, the incomparable New York Times is down 9.26% (150,000 papers every week!); the Denver Post is down 4.7%; the Chicago Tribune is off 4.46%.

Remember, all these losses above took place over just six months -- since the papers last reported their circulation figures on Sept. 30, 2007.

So much for the big picture; what about here? How's the Journal Times doing? The story is mixed, although you probably won't read it in their pages. The following numbers compare March 2008 figures to March 2007.

The Journal Times' Sunday circulation grew in the past year, from 30,807 to 30,860, a gain of 53 new subscribers. But daily circulation dropped from 28,586 to 28,103, a loss of 483.

Five years ago, the Journal Times had 29,058 Sunday subscribers, and 31,399 daily.

The Kenosha News' Sunday circulation fell from 27,403 to 26,502, a loss of 901; daily dropped from 25,248 to 24,535, a loss of 713. Five years ago: Sunday, 26,613; daily, 29,065.

The bad numbers are bigger in Milwaukee. The Journal Sentinel's Sunday circulation dropped from 400,317 to 384,539, a loss of 15,778; daily dropped from 230,218 to 217,755, a loss of 12,463. Five years ago: Sunday, 434,668; daily, 257,599.

In Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal went from 143,512 to 138,276 on Sunday, a loss of 5,236; its combined daily circulation with the Capital Times went from 106,174 to 104,265, a loss of 1,909. The bittersweet news from Madison this weekend, as the 90-year-old CapTimes published its final edition, is that the WSJ reports retaining all of the CapTimes' 14,000 afternoon subscribers to its morning edition. Five years ago: Sunday, 154,588; daily, 113,189. The New York Times' CapTimes obiturary is HERE. Individual "obits" on all the CapTimes journalists who lost their jobs in the closure are HERE. The CapTimes' farewell editorial is HERE.

Editor and Publisher's list of the top 25 daily papers' numbers is HERE; the Sunday list is HERE.

Big -- r-e-a-l-l-y big! -- change coming to Festival Hall

Big changes are coming to the Racine Civic Centre this summer. The city is investing almost $300,000 in Festival Hall, Memorial Hall and Festival Park to improve the facility and make it more attractive to event planners.

Some of the changes will barely be noticed by guests:
-- $75,000 spent to tuck-point Memorial Hall;
-- $65,000 to replace one of two rooftop air conditioning units on Festival Hall (the other one will be replaced next year);
--$17,500 for ice makers, freezers and walk-in coolers for both Festival Hall and Memorial Hall;
--$15,000 for a new lighting control board to replace one that was "just short of duct tape;"
--$3,000 for two portable bars

Inside view of the new Festival Hall structure

But the biggest change is r-e-a-l-l-y big and will be seen by everyone who wanders around the colonnade toward the big tent. You know the tent -- the big one with the rope outriggers sticking 8' out that everyone has tripped over at one time or another.

Outside, it will look like this ... with no rope outriggers

That tent is being replaced with a clear-span structure that is not only bigger -- 66-ft. wide by 115-ft. long, -- but also better. Gone are those three huge tent poles, and the dozens of ropes that snared unwary feet. The new structure will have a permanent aluminum frame, anchored into the concrete, and trusses that can each hold 1,000 lbs. of lights and sound equipment. In some ways it will look a lot like the old tent -- it's a fabric-enclosed building, after all -- but it's sturdier, easier to maintain and more flexible to operate.

Civic Centre executive director Jim Walczak expects to raise the new structure in June -- and it will stay up until Party on the Pavement in October. "It could stay up all year if heated," Walczak says, "but that's not going to happen with current heating costs." In past years the city spent $60,000-$75,000 replacing portions of the old tent, damaged by windstorms. The new structure, which cost $86,000, is guaranteed to withstand up to 80 mph winds. The frame and fabric each have 7-year guarantees, and "we'll gain another eight years on the fabric by taking it down each winter."

Most important to Walczak, "it will go up earlier in the spring and expand our offerings." Not to mention providing more room along the colonnade.

Jim Walczak and the shrubs he plans to turn to grass seating

Another noticeable change to the grounds of Festival Park will happen shortly. Walczak plans to remove the shrubs along both sides of the park -- between the big lawn and the north side of Festival Hall itself for starters -- and have the area seeded and turned into grass. It will prevent the annual damage to flowers and shrubs -- which cost about $7,000 a year to replace -- and give patrons a place to sit and watch the shows. The trees and lights will stay.

And, by the time Festival Hall hosts its first big event of the season -- Kiwanis Pancake Day and the Artists Fair on May 3 -- Walczak hopes to have much of the interior of Festival Hall repainted.

But wait, there's more! Also in the planning stage are new seats for Memorial Hall. Walczak has assembled seven candidates in a storage room for the mayor and city officials to review. So far, nothing's been decided, although he'd like to replace the hall's 1,200 folding chairs -- 25 years old, with chipped and scuffed paint and needing constant repair -- with more comfortable stacking chairs, at a cost of $36,000 - $48,000.

Walczak became executive director of the Civic Centre three years ago, when VenuWorks (then called Compass Facility Management) was hired to run Festival and Memorial Halls. On his first visit to Racine, he said "I looked out over the harbor and said this must be Lake Michigan's best kept secret. " His mission, then and now, has been to reduce the operating deficit by attracting more events. (The annual deficit of about $300,000 is about half what it was in 2002.) Many of this year's capital improvements are aimed at event promoters: ice makers, coolers and lighting control panels, for example, are things they often had to rent elsewhere, and worry about. Now they are part of the service. Without them, "it cost $10,000 to $15,000 more to produce some shows here," Walczak said, "and was more labor intensive."

Still, he is realistic about the difficulty of attracting, say, major musical performers, here. "We're in Chiwaukee," he says, and there are bigger halls in both communities -- more seats being more profitable for the performers. Even Waukegan, just 30 miles away, has a 4,800-seat hall, more than double the Civic Centre's capacity. And although he concedes the facilities here are "underused," part of the difficulty -- besides the current economy, which was blamed for the sudden cancellation in mid-February of this year's HarborFest -- is the lack of certain facilities, like dressing rooms and showers. (When the ECW was here recently, arrangements were made for the wrestlers to use the showers at the YMCA. Golden Gloves boxers just went home sweaty.)

So Walczak is beating the bushes for smaller events -- he'd love a comedy series, for example, or dinner theatre, and business events like the city's 50th anniversary party for its 20-year employees' club last week. "It's all about finding the right partner," he says.

BACKSTORY: Walczak has a long history in the business, having managed arenas -- like the Kellogg Arena and Convention Center in Battle Creek, MI, and the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton -- since graduating from UW-LaCrosse with a degree in Parks and Recreation Management. His office wall is crammed with pictures of him with performers like Bob Hope, Victor Borge, George Carlin, Jeff Foxworthy, the Cable Guy, Wilie Nelson. Frank Sinatra once "gve me an Italian slap on the face," he recalls.

He loves "the magic behind the scenes," he says, and "nurturing new producers through their first shows, teaching them the passion I have for this business."

But Walczak's most interesting story occurred before he began his present career... starting in high school, , where he as an all-county track star at Menomonee Falls North High School. At Mankato State he was recruited as a football team walk-on -- 4.6 in the 40 and a deadly placekicker -- by Coach John Coatta, former head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers.

He was a dedicated kicker. He'd go out and kick 75, 100, 125 kicks per session... alone except for his Golden Retriever, Brandy, who fetched his footballs. "He'd bite on the end of them, like a cigar."

After graduation he was invited to the Cleveland Browns' free agent camp under Coach Sam Rutigliano. Don't get Walczak talking about the experience unless you have an afternoon. He was one of 539 players invited to camp, including 70 kickers. "I had a great day. No matter what I did that day -- place kicking, field goal, everything -- I didn't miss a single kick."

It almost paid off. The Browns signed him to three one-year contracts ($24,000 the first year) and he was on the bench, suited up for the Browns' first two exhibition games of the season. "I didn't make a single kick; never made it onto the field." The Browns' already legendary kicker, Don Cockroft told him, "Kid, you're good enough to kick in the NFL." But Cockroft, who was renegotiating his contract at the time did come to terms (and went on to a career 1,080 points with the Browns, second only to Lou Groza's 1,349) and Walczak was cut before the season. Goodbye contracts. All he got out of it was $225 a week "and I never ate better in my life."

He went back to LaCrosse, did some coaching, worked at Sears and soon moved onto own career path running the arena rather than starring on the turf.