November 1, 2008

Bye-bye, Journal Times 401(k)

Life for Lee Enterprises employees, like those at the Racine Journal Times, just got a little tougher. The parent company's economic woes -- brought on by the overall decline of newspaper advertising and exacerbated by the company's $1.4 billion purchase of the Pulitzer newspaper chain three years ago -- have now infected their retirement accounts.

On Thursday, the company suspended dividends paid to stockholders. That doesn't affect most employees substantially -- except for top executives.

But this latest cutback will: On Friday, a message went out to all employees: the company is chopping contributions to employee 401(k) accounts.

The relevant portion of the "Dear Lee employee" note from Mary Junck, Lee president and CEO, (who earned $3,791,280 this year, according to Reuters) said:
Until economic conditions improve, the company’s profit-sharing contribution to most employee 401(k) retirement accounts is being suspended beginning in December. Also, the company’s match to employee contributions is being reduced. For most employees, the reduction is half of the current levels.
Along with the dividend suspension, the company has cut staff, and frozen executive pay, suspended corporate executive bonuses and stock grant programs -- all part of a renegotiation of credit terms with lenders. The elimination of stock dividends is expected to save Lee $34 million annually, which it can apply to the $1.1 billion it still owes for the Pulitzer acquisition. Analysts already have predicted that it may take years for Lee to improve its debt leverage ratio enough to resume dividends. LEE stock dropped 79 cents Friday, down 24%, in response to the dividend suspension, to $2.50. Its 52-week high is $16.81, although four years ago it was trading near $50 a share.

October 30, 2008

Monument Square gets its Christmas tree

How do you move a 40-ft. tall tree from one side of town to the other?

With delicacy and precision, if you're the guys from Perma-Structo, Dykstra Bros. and Tree Guys Tree Service. In barely two hours, they cut down and moved a magnificent Spruce from where it has grown for perhaps 50 years, through the city to Monument Square.

Racine's community Christmas tree was donated by Paul Bouwma, who recently purchased a new home ... its corner lot dominated by a beautiful -- but far too large -- tree. When he learned from his brother, Jim -- who runs Tree Guys -- that Downtown Racine Corporation was seeking a tree for Monument Square, well, everything came together.

Jim and his brother Dan, along with Mark Beaudin, owner of Perma-Structo, and Steve Dykstra, owner of Dykstra Bros., made short work of the project (all donating their efforts). Jim wielded the chain saw; Mark operated the crane; Dan climbed the tree to attach the crane's sling; and Steve secured the tree to the oversize trailer and drove it from High Street to Monument Square. There they found Devin Sutherland, executive director of DRC, digging out the anchor points for the stabilizing cables. DRC starting preparing for this year's tree in the spring, trying to ensure that its stay in Monument Square is not cut short this season, as it was last year when 50 mph winds toppled the city's Christmas tree early. Since then, DRC built a stronger tree holder -- a 15-inch diameter steel pipe buried in cement at the south end of the square. The hole is covered by a manhole cover all year, just waiting for its tree.

The tree will be lit for the first time on Nov. 8, right after the city's Downtown Holiday Parade, which begins at 5:30 p.m.

Two boys count the rings, trying to determine the tree's age

Here it is on Sixth Street

Crane lifts the tree from trailer to Monument Square

Lights for the top get a final once-over

Dan Bouwma at the top, attaching guywires

Baby's first tree is a humdinger!

Super School Star! Lisa Kittel

Lisa Kittel

Horlick High School student Lisa Kittel helped a pedestrian struck by a vehicle on Oct. 7 in Kenosha. Here's the story from Horlick Teacher Diane Lange, who nominated Lisa for a Super School Star award:
I have a student in my Language of Medicine class, period 3, that recently intervened in a way that I believe needs to be given some special recognition.

On October 7 Lisa Kittel was returning from a swim meet in Kenosha at 8:00 pm. She was riding in a car with her mother and a friend of her mom's and witnessed a woman pedestrian being struck by a Suburban. They saw the woman laying in the street. Lisa sprinted across the road, stopping some civilians from lifting the womandue to the student's fears that the neck may have been injured. She assessed the woman and asked her what hurt. Rescue squad had been called. The woman complained of shoulder pain, hip pain, and abdominal pain on the left side where she had been struck. Lisa instructed people to block the wind and rain and another to call the woman's family. Lisa also attempted to direct traffic while they waited for the rescue squad.

When the rescue squad arrived, the woman was transported to the Emergency Room. Lisa reported then leaving the scene "soaking wet, but happy to have helped."

Lisa, a junior, is an honor student at Horlick High School. Congratulations to her, and thanks to Diane Lange for nominating her for a Super School Star award.

Do you have a student, teacher, administrator or staff member you would like to nominate? E-mail me at:

Property transfers for Oct. 20-24

Here's the county's most recent list of property transfers. Click here to download the spreadsheet.

A few highlights:

* Kelly's Bleachers II in Waterford sold for $2.2 million.

* An apartment building at 3108 86th St. in Sturtevant sold for $1.41 million

City plans to raise bus rates

Here's the key graph from today's JT story:
If the city does not make some cuts to BUS expenses or raise more revenue the system could have a deficit of approximately $170,000 in the 2009 budget, according to Jones. That number is based on federal energy department diesel cost estimates for October, he said. The number could be different in November when new estimates are released.

Sorry to say, but we need a car tax (or rental car tax?) to support public transit. It's the only way we'll get people to consider alternatives to driving everywhere.

Positively Racine: Downtown Racine Corp works daily to build Racine's businesses, pride

This summer's "Spheres" is just one event Downtown Racine Corp organizes throughout the year.

By Bill Griffiths

In my travels, I’ve driven through a lot of dead downtowns. These are towns that have been decimated by the presence of national retailers that have a tough time remaining nameless.

Racine’s downtown is family-friendly and aspiring, and anything but dead. That is no accident. There are a lot of people working hard to keep our downtown viable.

Last year, someone outside the country wanted to send me a gift, but wasn’t familiar with Racine. They contacted the Downtown Racine Corporation (DRC) and arranged to send me some Downtown Gift Certificates. These were indeed a welcome gift and helped introduce me to several stores downtown.

At the same time, I could not help but notice that many of the activities downtown (First Fridays, Public Art, Summer Nights on the Square, holiday parades, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Party on the Pavement, etc.) are all partnerships between DRC, the downtown merchants and hundreds of volunteers.

It’s a common mistake to think the DRC is busy from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For a small organization, the DRC is a beehive of planning, meetings, fundraising and recruiting, all year long…and all focused on promoting the image of Racine and drawing more people downtown to visit and shop.

The two full-time people at the DRC are its Executive Director, Devin Sutherland, and Director of Marketing, Jean Garbo, who work along with several part-time people and volunteers.

The DRC works proactively promoting downtown to retain existing businesses as well as recruiting new businesses. In doing this, the DRC:
· Writes grants and creates fundraising activities to help underwrite its activities and programs,
· Manages the Business Improvement District (that funds ‘clean and safe’ initiatives, the Public Service Ambassador program, downtown landscaping and seasonal decorations),
· Continually evaluates the effectiveness of events they have managed and performs (or commissions) ongoing research to identify new ideas to further enhance the quality of life in Racine, and
· Works with organizations like Leadership Racine to provide downtown businesses and their employees with new or refreshed skills and approaches to being more successful.

Mr. Sutherland says, “We did a retail/entertainment study to identify the types of businesses that we need to add. Hardware stores certainly made it to that list. And a grocery store is certainly near the top of the list. That need becomes greater as more and more people occupy the new apartments and condos downtown. Recently, we’ve had a prospect, who seems very eager to open a grocery store at the southeast corner of Main and State, and we are involved in ongoing negotiations.”

The DRC is also studying, as an initiative for 2009, ways to improve the signage from the Interstate to downtown. Many a traveler has mistaken several parts of Racine for downtown and never found their way to downtown.

According to Mr. Sutherland, “Racine has a lot of great qualities that people living elsewhere just aren’t aware of. An image campaign is something we feel strongly about, and is also on the minds of the Racine County Economic Development Corp. and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. It’s not moving as quickly as we’d like, but it’s certainly on everyone’s’ radar.”

He continues, “Local shoppers have also told us they want more consistent hours and days of operation from merchants, and we’re developing a plan to address that.”

This year, on the first three Saturdays of December, the DRC is introducing ‘Santa Saturdays’. You’ll no doubt be reading more about those.

If you haven’t been downtown lately, come downtown and see that people are putting a lot of thought and effort forward to make it a place to take pride in. And, to make it a lovely place to shop, eat, listen to music or just get together.

To learn more, take a look at the DRC website at . If you want to order some of those Downtown Gift Certificates, you can call (262) 634-6002.

October 29, 2008

Unified voting on last budget under state revenue caps?

Lost in all of the attention over the presidential election this fall is the very real possibility that Democrats could take control of the state Assembly on Nov. 4.

If they pull it off, Dems would control the Senate, Assembly and governor's office, which could lead to a number of major changes. In no particular order:

1. Racine Unified may vote Thursday on its last budget with state revenue caps. Dems could eliminate those caps, long a favorite of Tommy Thompson Republicans, if they gain power. Risk: What would it do to local property taxes?
2. They could pass universal health care for state residents. Risk: The state is already $3 billion short on its budget. Where's the money?
3. KRM could become a reality. Risk: Hmmm ... Robin Vos will be upset?

I'm sure there's more issues Dems, who have been waiting a long time to gain power, or holding out for. This could have a bigger impact on our lives than any changes at the federal level, but it's hard to write about because there's little polling done at the state level. It's one of the subplots - a major subplot - of the upcoming election.

First-time voters

Scott Anderson of The Journal Times has an inspired piece of journalism on first-time voters that's available online. Anderson, a photographer for the paper, tracked down local residents with fascinating stories that will lead them to the polls on Tuesday. He wrote the stories and took beautiful portraits of the residents. It's worth your time to read through these pieces. They really show what voting means to people.

Planned Parenthood asks McCain:
How much jail time if abortions again illegal?

Click above to view the ad

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin and The Winning Message Action Fund have started broadcasting their "How Much Time?" television ad, asking Republican presidential candidate John McCain to explain what will happen if abortion is again made a crime in states like Wisconsin.

"The McCain/Palin ticket has made clear it wants to criminalize abortion. But we know that banning abortions won't stop them, it will just make them extremely dangerous,” said Kelli Conlin, president of The Winning Message Action Fund. “We have questions Sen. McCain: will you stand by as states put women behind bars? As good doctors are forced to stop providing abortion care? If women are forced to return to back-alleys? What, John McCain, will you do then?"

Twenty-one states, including Wisconsin, are poised to ban abortion immediately if Roe is overturned. Wisconsin’s Criminal Abortion Statute outlaws abortion even when the health of a woman is at risk, and in cases of rape and incest. The statute provides criminal penalties for women and physicians that would be enforced immediately if Roe v. Wade were to be reversed.

"Wisconsin’s 1849 criminal abortion law was passed when women couldn’t vote and families had no ability to control their childbearing decisions,” said Chris Taylor of Planned Parenthood Advocates “John McCain and Sarah Palin are out of touch with people’s lives, and want to go back to a time when women and families didn’t have any reproductive choices. Through our campaign, we will ask voters to consider the consequences of a McCain/Palin ticket, which will send us back to a time when women who had abortions and doctors who performed them were considered criminals.”

A series of polls including a February 2008 statewide poll of 500 likely voters conducted by Lake Research Partners and a May 2007 Mellman poll of 600 likely voters indicated a majority not only want to repeal Wisconsin’s antiquated Criminal Abortion Statute, but they would also vote against any legislator who opposed abortion and supported criminal penalties for women.

“The people of Wisconsin have spoken, and the message is loud and clear—they believe women and their doctors, not politicians and the government, should make these personal decisions about abortion,” said Taylor. “Abortion is a personal decision, not a criminal act, so we urge concerned citizens to join us in asking Sen. McCain this simple question: ‘How much time should a woman do for having an abortion?’”

The ad will begin running in Wisconsin this weekend on cable and broadcast television.

View the TV ad here
, or visit Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin online, or here to learn more about the How Much Time Campaign.

Bad economy? Miller Park is feeling no pain

The Miller Park Stadium District Board reported this week revenue is up 16 percent from the 0.1 percent sales tax we all pay. Given the down economy, nobody is sure why sales tax revenue would increase to $2.42 million from Sept. 16 to Oct. 15.

Here's the J-S story

October 28, 2008

Kevin the Kitten looking for a new home

They're messing with me down at Countryside Humane Society.

The pictures the animal shelter sent me -- you see them both here -- are named "fido1.jpg" and "fido2.jpg." But, of course, you see the pictures... the sorriest-looking Fido I've seen in a long while.

Actually, his name is Kevin -- not much better! But there's a reason we have a kitten this week instead of a dog: Countryside is redoing its floors, so doesn't have many dogs right now. But cats -- ah, cats live in little cages until they are adopted.

Kevin is at the shelter with his sister Karen and his brother Kendal. He's neutered and although he's just 3-4 months old, he's already litterbox-trained. He really loves people, we're told, and gets along with other cats.

Interested? Visit Countryside, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

And for those keeping track, our last dog, Garrett the Shih Tzu, did find a new home.

Kenosha committee passes ban on texting while driving

First smoking in bars, now texting while driving. Kenosha is fast becoming a city known for cracking down on questionable behavior.

A Kenosha City Council committee voted to ban texting while driving this week. Violators would be fined $75 for a first offense and $500 if texting led to an accident.

So what's next on Kenosha's hit list? Alderman Jesse Downing suggests:
"I thought this was a good idea, and I think we should ban cell phones altogether while driving."

Alderman Michael Orth questioned that idea:
"I don't want to throw out the text messaging baby with the cell phone bath water."

But he didn't rule the idea out.

West Sixth Street residents want security cameras turned on

I've been sitting on this post for three days waiting for the city to update its website with minutes from Monday's Public Safety and Finance Committee meeting. But it's Wednesday night and still no minutes, so here's what we have ...

Security cameras installed on W. Sixth Street by the police department are not yet working, according to residents in the neighborhood. They want the cameras turned on to fight crime. The City Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee took up the issue at its meeting last night.

Read the residents' letter here.

Updates as they're available ...

Case High grad Adam Barron gets national recognition

Here's an announcement from Racine Unified about a student who graduate high school and was instantly a college sophomore. Here's the details:
J.I. Case High School graduate, Adam Barron, has earned an Advanced Placement (AP) Scholar Award in honor of his exceptional achievement in five AP exams. Barron was recognized by the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program, which provides motivated and academically prepared students with the opportunity to take rigorous college-level courses while still in high school. The College Board is a non-profit membership association whose mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity.

Barron, who actually took six International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, qualified for AP Scholar with Distinction Award by earning an average grade of 4.0 on five AP exams. He also earned the IB Full Diploma with a total score of 34, an outstanding number for those who take the exam. For the combination of all of his scores and placement tests at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Barron earned a total of 47 college credits and was able to earn sophomore status as an incoming freshman.

Schools closed Thursday and Friday

Students and teachers have a three-day week this week. Area schools are closed Thursday and Friday for the annual Teacher's Convention. Here's the district's release:
Racine Unified would like to announce that there will be no school on Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31, due to the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) Teacher Convention. All schools will be closed for teachers and students on those days. School will resume on Monday, November 3. Families with questions should direct inquiries to their student's school.

October 27, 2008

HALO searching for executive director

HALO, Racine's homeless shelter, is looking for an executive director. Pays $55,000 a year, but you need extensive experience working with the homeless. Apply here. The new director replaced Cheryl Buckley, who came out of retirement to run the agency after it was started in 2005.

Anyone see the snow today?

I looked out my window around 3 p.m. today and saw a driving snow/slush storm. The Milwaukee news also reported snow throughout the region today. Anyone else see it? It didn't last long ... I couldn't even get a picture.

JT endorses... flu-shot choice for New Jersey;
U.S. newspaper circulation drops again (go figger)

With just one week to go before this critical presidential election, I eagerly open the local newspaper each morning.

Surely, I say to myself, surely today they will have endorsed a candidate in one of the major races -- a presidential pick, perhaps, or maybe their choice in the 1st District Congressional race. Hell, I'd even settle for some guidance in the 63rd Assembly District: Robin Vos who opposes the KRM rail link the Journal Times supports, or Linda Flashinski who agrees with the newspaper?

I am, of course, biased in favor of newspapers endorsing candidates. Having spent almost 40 years on the editorial side, I've written many of those endorsements, working hard to be fair and fact-based, struggling sometimes with choosing the Lesser of Two Evils. (Funny story: I once endorsed a candidate as the LoTE, and -- despite getting our influential imprimatur -- he was none-too-pleased about it.)

Why do newspapers endorse? Well, the theory goes that the newspaper staff has had better access to the candidates than you, the average... um, Joe; that our Editorial Board has sat down and grilled everyone seeking a particular position; had our questions answered; followed the race closely; taken time to reflect and perhaps debate it intelligently among ourselves. In pre-cable TV days, this was certainly the case; now, with 24-hour saturation, maybe not so much...except for the actual sitting down with the candidates part.

In any case, the theory went, the newspaper was merely offering guidance, a suggestion based on this preferred access and focus. Editorials used to be called leadership; now they're called partisanship by everyone who disagrees with an endorsement, a headline, even mere coverage of this story ($150,000 wardrobe?) or that (ACORN organizer!). There's no absolute requirement for making an endorsement, but the argument was made this way to me by one of my first publishers: "The voters have to choose among these candidates, so why shouldn't we do so as well?" It's a more compelling argument than can be made for printing the Daily Horoscope, certainly.

Every year, a few more newspapers cop-out entirely, refusing to make any endorsements at all, or simply endorse in just a few races (almost everyone supports local schools). When they don't endorse, they often go to great lengths to explain (justify? rationalize?) that decision. For example, on Sunday the Ann Arbor News announced its non-endorsement in the presidential race this way: "When we look at (John McCain and Barack Obama) we see two seriously flawed candidates... We find ourselves unable to work up sufficient enthusiasm to endorse either one." After 820 words, they conclude: "Our political endorsements aren't really meant to tell people how to vote, but rather to add to the public discussion on important issues. In this race, some will surely see this lack of endorsement as a cop-out or a lack of courage. So be it. For us, it's simply a reflection of reality."

So I open the local paper and look for their endorsement. At the top of the page they list the members of the Editorial Board: the publisher, the circulation manager and six reporters and editors. There's no shortage of letters to the editor on the page, earnestly picking sides, but so far the Journal Times' editorial page is a non-player, sitting above the fray. The Sunday a week before an election is often the time for a major endorsement -- you want to wait until close to the election in case someone makes a significant stumble late in the campaign -- but the Journal Times chose to fill its editorial space with an essay explaining that the "Reality of election fraud usually falls short of hype." It concludes with this gem of a mixed metaphor: "Stopping campaigns from encroaching on voter registration will ensure at least one borderline continues to shine brightly."

Today's editorial, just seven days before the election, is no more relevant: "New Jersey's flu-shot mandate goes too far," the JT says, arguing that "parents know the needs of their children better than a one-size fits all policy from the state capital." Is this even an issue in Wisconsin? Our state has no such flu shot mandate, the editorial makes clear. Perhaps there's a New Jersey newspaper thundering for (or against) KRM even as we speak...

But there's still time. I'll eagerly turn to the Editorial page for the next week, to see if the JT's editorial board can find its way to endorse ... anybody. Then -- as I would have anyway (and I hope you would , too) -- I'll vote how I damn please.

Update: I'll update this post daily until the election with the subject of each day's Journal Times editorial, just in case they decide to actually take a stand on something substantive. (And then I'll take credit for shaming them into it.)
  • Tuesday, Oct. 27: The Journal Times endorses civilized behavior, and opposes hair-pulling.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 28: The Journal Times endorses patience as a bailout mechanism, opposes stimulus checks.
  • Thursday, Oct. 29: The Journal Times endorses riding the train, based on a story about increases in use of Amtrak's Hiawatha that were reported on Oct. 13.
  • Friday, Oct. 30: Wooee! Paul Ryan, Marge Krupp and Joe Kexel are actually mentioned in a JT editorial... but only to say there is "high interest" in their race. No choosing here! Readers, you're on your own.
  • Sunday, Nov. 2: Nope. Nothing about the election except an endorsement of budget cuts afterwards, to reduce the tax levies of local and state governments. Not that anyone opposes that, but it's like coming out for apple pie at a time when -- IMHO -- the real contest is the election in just two days.
For those keeping tabs nationally, the score right now is 184 to 82, with Obama ahead of McCain in the newspaper presidential endorsement sweepstakes.

Newspaper circulation declines... again

Meanwhile, since we're on the topic of newspapers: The Audit Bureau of Circulations released its semi-annual report on newspaper readership today -- and the news ain't good, again.

ABC's tally for the six months that ended Sept. 30 shows an average 4.6% decline in daily circulation, and a 4.8% drop on Sunday for the 507 newspapers reporting. Last year the decline was 2.6% daily and 4.6% Sunday.
  • The Journal Times did much better than the average, losing only 0.8% daily, to 28,039, and 1.7% on Sunday, to 29,947.
  • Kenosha News daily circulation was down 2.5% to 23,928; Sunday dropped 2.9% to 26,374.
  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was off 3.9% daily to 212,156, and down 3.8% Sunday to 375,857.
  • The Chicago Tribune lost 5.7% daily, to 516,032, and 7.7% Sunday, 864,845.
  • The Boston Globe dropped 10.1% daily, the Newark Star Ledger (which just cut an incredible 40% of its newsroom employees) fell 10.4% daily and 14.6% on Sunday. And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, flagship of Lee Enterprises which owns the Journal Times, was off 9.1% daily -- but up 0.8% Sunday.
Top 25 dailies

Top 25 Sundays

Unified takes up redistricting report today

The Racine Unified school board will receive its long awaited redistricting report today -- a plan that tries to balance seemingly conflicting goals: neighborhood schools and diversity.

The report breaks down its recommended implementation into three phases stretching over three -- or more -- years, but even with that timeframe notes: "Much more is contemplated than can wisely be pursued; projects should only be undertaken with involvement of all stakeholders."

Phase one, during the 2009-2010 school year, would restructure the Special Education and English Language Learner programs. Even this, the report states, might have to take two years... or not be done until the 2010-2011 school year.

Phase two is scheduled for 2010-2011, but it "will possibly require three years for full implementation." This would involve the redistricting of all elementary school students, changes to the focus of some schools -- Jefferson Lighthouse could become an IB program, and move to Red Apple; Julian Thomas could become a dual language (English/Spanish) specialty school with a world culture, performing arts and leadership theme; Caddy Vista might adopt a science, technology, engineering and math them. And so on.

Phase three, 2011-2012, could involve construction of a new middle school, to reduce building size to the "best practice" recommended limit of 500, a new k-12 school replacing Franklin and Walden III, and many other changes.

The report mentions in a postscript that the district's three high schools are too large -- "Some research sets 800 as the largest size for a high school. The REAL School and Walden III’s successes are often attributed to their small size." -- and concludes:
"Major change to both High Schools and Middle Schools) is the most important and difficult reform currently being considered - if closing achievement gaps, raising achievement, and improving the work force are the driving issues. In many economic and social experts’ analysis, the traditional large comprehensive high school simply cannot provide a successful high school experience for all students AND provide the skills and knowledge needed for the future. The
district and the community must address this concern."

And: "The Community cannot be naïve about the resources and support the school district will need to bring about the improvement of student achievement and Secondary Transformation. Given the troubled and uncertain economic times we are in, this becomes even more challenging. But if we are NOT effective, the economic and social issues only become worse."
The report goes to the board tonight at 6:30 p.m.,

Here is a summary written by Dr. Jack Parker, who served as interim superintendent of the district last year, and who is shepherding the proposal, at least for the next two months:

In October 2007, the Board of Education assigned me to form a Redistricting Commission to present a plan on redistricting with the focus being improvement of student achievement with a “hybrid” plan that incorporated the best aspects of both “neighborhood schools” and schools with diverse student bodies that reflect the demographics of the community.

The attached document turns out to be a report, not a plan. The Commission could not develop an actual plan with proposed boundaries, or options between several proposed boundary plans (as such projects often contain) because the District did not have the capability to facilitate that work internally. External services were very expensive and could not deliver options within the time frames the Commission needed. The District recently obtained the software, and staff is in the process of getting the necessary training to conduct this work internally.

Other notes that are important when reporting on this redistricting report are:

o The report gives guidance to future redistricting plans and includes recommendations, especially for some first steps for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, but should by no means be considered a plan for redistricting as it does not contain detailed scenarios with proposed boundaries.

o Feasibility of the proposed first steps awaits the examination of data and the running of scenarios, as well as the input of the new Superintendent. Deadlines for providing the Superintendent with the feasibility information are included.

o The report includes strong recommendations for community participation in the redistricting plan as well as emphasizing the importance of communication with the district’s stakeholders especially parents.

o The report includes 10 “Guidelines and Principles” by which to measure any proposed plans.

o The report reflects the Commission’s ideas in summary, but the decisions on which if any ideas should be implemented will be at the Board of Education’s direction with the recommendations of the Capacity and Planning Team and the Superintendent after appropriate stakeholder input.

o The charge to focus on the relationship of redistricting to student achievement created a very complex and challenging problem for the Commission. There is conflicting research and a wide range of opinion about this issue.

o The report contains a wide variety of ideas for future configurations of schools and programs, including new construction. Many more ideas are presented than could possibly be implemented, even in a 3-5 year time frame. The Commission is very conscious of the district’s limited resources and the difficult economic times. However, the Commission took seriously the need to improve student achievement for ALL students in suggesting the various possibilities.

October 26, 2008

UPDATE: Racine poll worker asked for ID, even though state law says she shouldn't have

UPDATE: Some readers were asking good questions about how, exactly, a ballot can be challenged. Here's what the Racine City Clerk's office said:

1. Poll workers are not allowed to ask for ID.
2. If you go to the polls, pretend to be someone else and know their address, they have to give you a ballot.
3. But, if a voter is suspicious, they can challenge the ballot. At that point, the voter needs to prove their identity.
4. If you go to vote, and someone has already voted under your name, the poll workers call in the state to investigate.
5. If fraud is discovered, the case is sent to the District Attorney's office for possible charges.

One point to remember: You need some sort of identification to register to vote. People who register before the election needed a driver's license number or state ID number. If they don't have either, they could use the last four digits of their Social Security number.

On the day of the polls, you can register with a utility bill or other piece of official mail to prove your address.

In summary, it is possible for someone to vote as someone else without presenting an ID. But doing so puts the person at risk for criminal charges, and even if someone did it 50 times on election days (a huge number considering the long lines, time driving between polls, risk of getting caught, etc.), it would barely sway an election where millions of ballots are cast.

Also, registering to vote requires you to prove your address and puts you at risk for criminal charges.

It would take a massive conspiracy - thousands of people voting multiple times - to sway a presidential election in Wisconsin. Try as some may, there is simply no evidence of that occurring in recent elections.

Original post:

I voted Saturday at City Hall. When I stepped up to receive my ballot, the poll worker asked to see my driver's license. I handed it over, but also told her she couldn't ask for ID to give people a ballot. She mumbled it was about "being safe."

Afterward, I asked my wife (we went together) if she was asked for ID. She wasn't.

That's how the system is supposed to work. Once you're registered, you do not have to provide identification at the polls. Asking a registered voter for ID creates an additional obstacle to voting that the state specifically eliminated to increase voter turnout.

A lot of people worry this will lead to fraud. But in reality, there are low levels of voter fraud in Wisconsin. Aside from a handful of felons who vote, there are no cases of outright voter fraud in the state.

Some people will claim there are cases of voter registration fraud, which is true. But this amounts to someone sending in a falsified request for a ballot, not an actual vote being cast in an election.

As for the ID, I didn't make a scene with the city employee on Saturday. But this should be corrected. Poll workers should not be asking registered voters for identification.

If you don't like it, start by voting Nov. 4 in favor of candidates who want to require a photo ID at the polls.

'Self in the City': Creative teens host art show Nov. 15

By Jalissa Henderson, Sage Sanchez and Amanda VanSwol

You can forget the stereotypes about lazy teens. There's a new crew of creative youth in town, and they've got the work to prove it.

On November 15, Main Gallery will be hosting its fall premier, entitled "Self in the City." The event will take place at the Racine Arts Council, 316 Sixth Street in Downtown Racine, from 6-9 pm. Highlights of the evening will include a screening of video work, an exhibition of paintings and sketches, and a performance of poetry and fiction.

The event is free and open to the public and light refreshments will be served. Those who attend will also receive a copy of a newly released magazine featuring writing and artwork by the youth.

Main Gallery, a 13-year-old program, provides job skills training to teens ages 14-19 by teaching them workforce fundamentals while they make art. The program had been spearheaded by the City's Department of Parks and Recreation until six years ago, when the city brought the Racine Arts Council on board to help administer the program and select artists-in-residence to work with the youth.

Racine County Workforce Development recently invested funding in the program to make it accessible during the school year. Previously, Main Gallery had only operated during the summer.

Presently, teens from across the city and representing almost every high school are working in one of three different art disciplines: video, painting and drawing, and creative writing. Each of the groups is working out of a different community center, although they collaborate occasionally.

"We're visiting local public institutions, such as the zoo and Racine Art Museum," said Jessika Mikol, Program Coordinator of Main Gallery. "It's so exciting because it helps the teens collaborate as they explore their connection with the city by making site-specific artwork."

Although the whole public is invited to the November 15 premier, community leaders, educators, parents and teens are particularly encouraged.

"Main Gallery is not like other jobs," said Jalissa Henderson, a participant in this fall's program. "I hope other teens come. They might get inspired or decide to apply."

The teens aren't the only ones excited about their program, either.

"Main Gallery is such an important program," said Lorna Hennig, executive director of the Racine Arts Council. "These teens are learning valuable skills and enjoying it, because the arts require a kind of thinking that other jobs don't encourage."

Jalissa Henderson, Sage Sanchez and Amanda VanSwol are members of Main Gallery's creative writing group.

Over 4,000 people have voted early in Racine

Over 4,000 people have voted early at City Hall, according to a city employee taking ballots on Saturday. Another 2,000 ballots have been sent out to voters, the employee said.

To put that into context, 37,628 city residents voted in the 2004 presidential election. Based on the 2004 turnout, between 11 and 16 percent of city voters have already connected the arrows on their ballots.

That's good news for poll workers, who should see smaller crowds on Nov. 4 with so many people voting early. Then again, a big turnout for Obama could still make for long waits outside of the voting booths.

Couple of interesting numbers from 2004:

* City of Racine turnout was 69 percent of registered voters

* Countywide turnout was 82 percent

* Bush beat Kerry in Racine County 52,456 to 48,229.

JT reports city's massive health care spending increase

Hard as I may be on the JT, they're getting better at covering City Hall.

Stephanie Brien's story in today's paper about city retiree's health benefits is quite good. The gist:
The City of Racine currently spends about a sixth of its tax levy to pay for annual retiree health benefits, but a recent analysis found the city would have to spend half of its tax levy on those benefits to adequately prepare for the future.

The city would not be liable for future retiree health benefits if it were able to put an additional $15.25 million per year in revenue in its coffers, according to an analysis dated Aug. 8.

Brien points out the additional spending on health benefits would equal half of what the city raises in property taxes every year. That's not good.

I think we all need to look at this a little closer.