November 8, 2008

The Felner Chronicles

The story of UW-Parkside's almost-chancellor, Robert Felner -- who was appointed to the position but resigned before his investiture -- continues to play out in Louisville, where he has been indicted on multiple charges.

We'll keep track of the unfolding story here, with links to the most important stories (most recent first); a cautionary tale for all, but especially those who serve on public search committees.

Santa arrives, lights Racine's Christmas tree

It's three weeks before Thanksgiving, but Santa came to town tonight, riding a horse-drawn carriage in Racine's traditional holiday parade.

The Jolly Old Soul got a warm welcome, and lit Monument Square's magnificent Christmas Tree before heading back to the North Pole to finish his packing. Here are a few pictures from the parade.

Technical difficulties

We woke up this morning and found out our main page,, is gone. We're working with our host provider to fix the problem. Stay tuned.

Our post- and pre-election pages are available. Start HERE and use the archives links near the bottom of our middle column.

November 7, 2008

ECU donates 33 computers to Unified

Giese Principal Anne Swanson helps students with new computers

Educators Credit Union has donated 33 computers to Racine Unified, to help replace those that were stolen in recent weeks.

“We were very sorry to hear about the burglaries that happened in some of the Racine Unified schools this fall,” said Educators Credit Union President Eugene Szymczak, “We understand the importance of having good technology and equipment to help maximize student learning. We are very strong believers that a strong education system is the key to success and growth in our communities. It is our hope that this donation will help make a difference in student learning and encourage greater support to student education in our community.”

"The donation is an incredible example of community support and caring about student’s learning,” said Dr. James Shaw, RUSD superintendent.

RUSD has put tightened security into place at district buildings, and the Racine Police Department now patrols schools more vigorously. An arrest was made on Oct. 20, but so far those responsible for the thefts of about 70 computers have not been apprehended.

Mary Beth Danielson: Sunday afternoon in a Guatemalan Cemetery; Wednesday evening in the Racine Library

By Mary Beth Danielson

It was Sunday afternoon and I was staying with a family of twelve in the highlands of Guatemala. (The mother and daughter-in-law are weavers for MayaWorks.) When they asked if I would like to go with them to the cemetery, I responded enthusiastically. I've known since I was a teenager that Latin American cultures have many traditions built around visits to cemeteries. And now I was being invited, by a Maya family, to go with them to theirs!

Adults and kids piled into the cab and bed of a truly worn-out pick-up truck. Twenty jouncing, spring-less miles further into the mountains, we piled back out at the side of a dusty lane.

The small cemetery was nestled into the wooded side of a mountain. Straight ahead, over the edge of a cliff, was a blue-misted valley. The sky was azure above us, the air was warm and breezy. Maybe there was a hundred graves, maybe less; it was just the right size for a family reunion. Many graves were simply humps of dirt covered with blankets of grass, marked by painted crosses announcing the simple poetry of loss. A name, a date of birth and then of dying. No granite tombstones, no urns, no statues, no pageantry. Just hillocks of graves.

Others resting sites were a bit more formal. Stucco finished slabs and uprights marked the grave, most were painted vivid blues and greens. It was to two side-by-side turquoise graves that we all gravitated. These were the graves of the mother and father of my hostess, Mrs. Sepet. Today was an anniversary of the passing of one of them, so adult children, their spouses, children, and grandchildren (and unexpected visitors) all attended the cemetery to clean and decorate these graves of the heads of this family.

Children of this extended family circled me. They told me their names, then asked me what they’d said. I didn’t understand them very well because my Spanish is so poor, so we soon were into a rousing game of “Que es mi nombre, Senora?” I would wrack my brain for one more noun I know, then respond, “Usted eres Gato Pequeno, no?” (“What’s my name, Ma’am?” “Ummm, Sir, you are Little Cat, aren’t you? Or kitchen. Or blue. Or rain. Or pancake mixing bowl.”) I don’t think the kids ever tumbled to the fact I didn’t know what I was doing.

Other family members arrived. The women wore their Maya clothing; hand woven jaspe skirts (jaspe is muted, heathery plaid in shades of blue, lavender, green) and tunic style blouses, called huipils (wee-pills). Huipils are art. Lusciously colorful, woven with roses, birds, zigzags and stripes.

The women walked across the grass, in their colorful clothes, carrying heavy armloads of flowers. Pink, lavender, yellow flowers – along with dozens of the creamy calla lilies that are native to Guatemala. The beauty was stunning.

The women worked smoothly together (the way my mother and aunts did when they cleaned up a kitchen after a holiday dinner). They swept the flat graves while men cut and stripped pine branches. When the graves were cleaned, the fresh and fragrant pine needles were laid on the tombs. The masses of flowers were arranged into huge bouquets at the head stones. Candles were set into clear plastic soda bottles that had been rinsed, trimmed and filled with a little water to keep the candles safe.

The graves were done. People murmured respectfully, said quiet prayers, and the next thing I knew, snacks were being handed out to everyone. Grape soda and wrapped packages of wafer cookies. Sugar is apparently the universal language of togetherness.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in that quiet cemetery. Kids played with their cousins. Men talked to each other, then went over by the various trucks to look at engines and tires. One boy had a new puppy that all the kids adored. A baby was held by everyone, including me.

It’s curious, isn’t it, how much strength and identity we find when we get together? Children learn what’s acceptable behavior in our group - and what’s not. The stress we feel in our individual homes is released for a few hours; we stop thinking about all the things we have to do; we relax into shared conversation. We tell the stories of people who aren’t with us. We meander in our spirits, as we become community.

This coming Wednesday evening, November 12, 6-8PM, at the Racine Public library, there will be an event opened to all to hang out, rub elbows, share conversation, practice community.

MayaWorks Executive Director Jeannie Balanda and Board Member (her connections with MayaWorks go back to 1992) Phyllis Nickel will talk about the stories and challenges of creating economic justice in a Guatemala, among these beautiful, determined people.

You are cordially invited to attend. Hear stories, ask questions, eat some sweet treats. MayaWorks and HOPES Center sales will be hosted, so bring your checkbook and buy a present for the holidays.

November 6, 2008

Ryan says 'no thanks' to leadership draft

The story in the Wisconsin State Journal earlier today said:
Colleagues of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan are trying to draft him for the top leadership spot among Congressional Republicans — and the Janesville Republican is listening. "He is in listening mode, gathering input from several of his colleagues who have contacted him," Conor Sweeney, Ryan's spokesman, said today.
Well, he's no longer listening. Early this evening, Ryan made clear he is not interested in seeking the House Minority Leader's post -- a thankless job, to be sure, when the majority party in both houses and the presidency belongs to the other side of the aisle.

Wrote Ryan:
“I have been honored and humbled by the outpouring of support from my colleagues who have asked me to lead our party in the 111th Congress. I share their hunger for reform and will work tirelessly as a policy leader for the Republican Party. My first priority in life will always be my wife and my three young children. As I reflect upon the strains that this position would place on my young family, I have decided not to enter my name as a candidate for House Minority Leader.”
Oh, yeah, "family reasons." Nothing to do with that Democratic majority. Me bad.

November 4, 2008

Local results: Vos, Ryan, incumbents win; Police lose

Karen and Fred Kelroy celebrate Obama's victory at Buckets Pub

Here are the final Racine County totals for locally-contested races. The county's vote summary tables are here for all races, and the precinct-by-precinct details are here.

In all, the county had 80% turnout: 101,110 votes cast out of 126,228 registered voters.

Democrats Barack Obama and his running-mate Joe Biden won Racine County by a commanding margin, 52.79% to 45.41%. They received 53,405 votes, to the 45,941 given to Republicans John McCain and his running-mate Sarah Palin.

Of seven minor parties with candidates for President, Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez did the best, garnering 496 votes in the county, or .49%

Congress, 1st District
Republican Paul Ryan won a sixth term in Congress by a bigger margin than even he had enjoyed in past non-contests. In Racine County, he defeated Democrat Marge Krupp, receiving 59,656 votes in the county, to her 36,305; 58.98% to 35.89%. Libertarian Joseph Kexel received 1,038 votes, or 1.03%. In Kenosha County, Ryan got 43,638 votes, or 51.95%, to Krupp's 31,365, or 37.34% and Kexel's 1,372, 1.63%. The most complete unofficial total we've seen encompassing the entire Congressional District, with 303 precincts out of 304 counted, shows Ryan with 225,563 votes, or 65%, to Krupp's 122,437 votes, or 35%.

General Assembly
Three incumbents made easy work of their challengers.

In the 61st District, Democrat Robert Turner received 16,267, or 70.05% of the votes cast, while his opponent, George Meyers received 2,242 votes, or 9.65%. Some 4,674 voters, or 20.13%, didn't bother picking any candidate in the race.

In the 62nd District, Democrat Cory Mason received 17,891 votes, or 62.5%, to his opponent Keith Deschler's 3,214, or 11.23%. Some 7,448 voters, 26.02%, didn't bother choosing anyone.

In the more hotly contested 63rd District, incumbent Republican Robin Vos received 20,170 votes, or 59.19%, compared to Democrat Linda Flashinski's 12,608, or 37%.

County Clerk
In a real squeaker, Republican Wendy Christensen received 47,515 votes, 4699%, to defeat Democrat Theresa Cotton-Kendrick, who received 46,350, or 45.84%. If only some of the 7,152 voters who skipped this election had picked a favorite, the result might not be so tight.

Police Overtime Referendum
There'll be no extra $400,000 for police overtime in Racine. The referendum was defeated. It received 16,331 no votes, but only 12,922 in favor, losing 46.02% to 36.41%

No smoking in Kenosha
Kenosha's advisory referendum on banning smoking in all workplaces -- strenuously fought by the city's taverns -- was defeated. It received 22,240 no votes, 50.28%, and 20,542, 46.44%, yes votes.

Racine Unified: No policies violated in selecting textbook with Obama chapter

"Much ado about nothing."
-- William Shakespeare

The presumably uncontroversial quote above pretty much describes the end of the mountain-out-of-a-molehill contretemps regarding an excerpt from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama discovered in one of Racine Unified's 8th grade textbooks.

After review of the controversy caused by an anonymous parent's complaint to a conservative blogger, Racine Unified Superintendent Jim Shaw and Board President Tony Baumgardt released the following statement today:
“Concerns raised in recent weeks about textbook selections in Racine Unified’s 8th grade English Language Arts class deserved a careful investigation and deliberate response to members of our community who initially identified this issue. Upon review, we have determined that textbook selection policies and procedures were followed appropriately; the Obama excerpts are consistent thematically with the required curriculum, and teachers did not advocate for any political candidate through the teaching of these selections. Our educators work diligently every day to provide the best possible education for our students, including relevant, interesting content that reflects the diversity of our student population.”
Jeff Weiss, RUSD director of curriculum and instruction, added:
"The readings by Obama are an approved part of the eighth grade curriculum. As such, they may be included as optional readings in the curriculum unit, “Acceptance of Others Makes Life Better.” By using this literature circle format, students will have choice in their reading selections without limiting the teachers’ ability to communicate the major themes of the units."
Literature circles, Weiss said, are used four times during the school year, and are recognized as a best practice by the National Council of Teachers of English. They provide students "with a variety of reading selections, from an approved curriculum, centered on a common theme. Students are able to choose the reading selection that they find the most appealing. Teachers are then able to discuss how the theme relates to many situations and different facets of life."

Supt. Shaw's report, issued today to the Board of Education, concluded that "all applicable policies and procedures were followed properly."

The review was prompted by questions raised by two Racine parents "about the timing and delivery" of a curriculum unit with selections from a memoir and speech by Obama (who, it must be noted, may be elected president today). The excerpts are included in the McDougal Littell Literature anthology selected by the District in May 2007, well before Obama became the Democratic presidential nominee.

The selections are not specified as mandatory reading in the curriculum guide, but are included as options among selected readings within the unit. The review concluded that both selections are appropriate thematically with the 8th grade curriculum unit “Acceptance of Differences Makes Life Better” and aligned to Wisconsin State Standards. Furthermore, the review determined that no teachers who chose to include these selections in their lessons advocated for any political candidate through their teaching. District policy prohibits advocacy for a political party or candidate.

No formal, written complaint was received by the district, Shaw notes. "Two parents asked for a review of the timing, questioning whether it was appropriate to teach the Obama selections one month prior to the presidential election. Both declined to file a formal complaint about the material when offered that option. Hundreds of phone calls and emails were received from citizens inside and outside of the school district."

Click on the link below for the three-page report, which lays out a time line of how the book was selected and concludes it was not used with any partisan intent in the middle schools. The same book is used in 12 other cities around the country, and 11 other school districts in Wisconsin.

The report also found several references to Sen. John McCain in text books used in Unified's high schools.

Click "Read More" below to read Unified's findings.

November 3, 2008

RUSD Board of Education

Dr. James Shaw, Superintendent of Schools
Jeff Weiss, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Review Appropriateness of Material: 8th Grade, Literature

At my request to District staff on October 15, 2008, Jeff Weiss, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, has completed a review of:
· Textbook adoption policy
· Materials complaint procedure
· Instructional practices for the 8th grade English Language Arts curriculum
· Appropriate alternative curriculum choices

Textbook Selection Process
The textbook selection process began February 13, 2006, and was completed May 1, 2007. The adoption encompassed English Language Arts materials for grades six to eight. Six textbook publishers provided materials for review. A four-step textbook selection process was used.
· In the first step, the English Language Arts Textbook Committee, after reviewing possible textbook selections, narrowed the choices to two publishers: Holt and McDougal Littell. The committee voted to recommend the McDougal Littell 2006 edition series and accompanying material for possible adoption. The 2006 edition reviewed by the committee did not include selections by Obama. In January, 2007, McDougal Little offered its 2008 series (including selections by Obama) and additional materials at no additional cost. When compared to the Holt series, the McDougal Littell curriculum was explicitly aligned with State and local standards, was newer and less expensive, and provided intervention materials for struggling students. Jeff Weiss, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and the English Language Arts Supervisor provided the Textbook Committee with this new information and several versions of the 2008 text.
· In the second step of the adoption process, the McDougal Littell 2008 materials with selections authored by Obama were provided to every teacher. Teachers were then asked for feedback. Mandatory meetings were held:
o March 29, 2007, Mitchell Middle School
o April 3, 2007, Starbuck Middle School
o April 17, 2007, McKinley Middle School
o April 18, 2007, Gilmore Middle School
o April 23, 2007, Jerstad Middle School
Supervisors and teachers concluded that the McDougal Littell series provided the best transition from elementary to middle school, supported the instructional process, had texts online, contained and offered diverse, contemporary and multicultural readings, provided intervention strategies as required by RTI federal mandate and was aligned with Pre-Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. The curriculum is organized around themes in order to teach skills, which current research advocates to improve student achievement.
· In the third step of the adoption process, the English Language Arts Supervisor presented the McDougal Littell recommendation to a sub-committee of the District-Wide School Improvement Council on May 1, 2007. The sub-committee reviewed the processes used by the adoption committee and unanimously recommended that the McDougal Littell series be approved for adoption.
· In the final step of the process, the Board of Education voted to approve the textbook adoption of the McDougal Littell 6th-8th grade 2008 edition middle school language arts series on May 21, 2007.

The review found that all relevant District policies and procedures (6161) regarding textbook selection and adoption were properly followed, and that all 8th grade teachers were following the adopted curriculum.

Materials Complaint Procedure
To date, there is no formal written complaint filed by a parent or Racine Unified citizen. The complaint procedure is available in the Croft Policy Procedure for Handling Complaints Concerning Educational Materials (6144.33). Two parents asked for a review of the timing, questioning whether it was appropriate to teach the Obama selections one month prior to the presidential election. Both declined to file a formal complaint about the material when offered that option. Hundreds of phone calls and emails were received from citizens inside and outside of the school district.

Because no formal written complaint was received from a Racine parent or citizen, no action under this policy was considered or initiated.

Instructional Practices for the 8th Grade English/Language Arts Curriculum
The RUSD 6th-8th Grade Curriculum Map, Part II was developed during the summer of 2007 by a team of teacher curriculum writers and the Supervisor of English Language Arts. This curriculum guide provides a road map for middle school English teachers to follow to ensure that daily lessons meet larger unit goals that are aligned with Wisconsin State Standards for Reading. There are six first-quarter units detailed on pages 6-7 of the curriculum guide:
· Introduction
· Metacognition
· WKCE Preparation
· Ideas are Powerful
· Thematic Curriculum Unit: “Acceptance of Differences Makes Life Better”
· Text Unit Five: Poetry
An issue has been raised with respect to the inclusion of two essays written by Obama. The problem arises as part of an English curriculum unit for the 8th grade, known as “Acceptance of Differences Makes Life Better”. One of the excerpts is from Obama’s “Dreams of My Father” and appears on pages 832-843 of the Literature textbook, 2008 edition. The second excerpt is from Obama’s “Out of Many, One” which appears on pages 847-848 of the textbook. The core theme of the curriculum unit “Acceptances of Differences Makes Life Better” is that every American, taking advantage of what is available, can succeed. Obama states in “Out of Many, One”, “… my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all those who came before me, and that, in no other country on Earth, is my story even possible.” In the other selection, “Dreams of My Father”, Obama describes himself as a “misfit” (page 848) who struggled to succeed in school. One, both, or neither of the excerpts may be taught as part of this curriculum. The required reading for this curriculum unit is 145th Street Short Stories by Walter Dean Myers.
The selections and corresponding activities are directly correlated to the Wisconsin Model Academic State Standards for Reading. As an example, four Wisconsin Reading Standards are explicitly referenced in relation to the Obama selections:
· 1.1.6 Understanding connotative language (identified in text; not curriculum guide)
· 3.2.2 Identifying relationships (cause and effect)
· 4.2.3 Identifying purpose and point of view
· 4.2.8 Drawing conclusions

Wisconsin State Statute 118.01(2)(c)(7) requires that the instructional program include “an appreciation and understanding of different value systems and cultures and understanding of human relations, particularly with regard to American Indians, Black Americans, and Hispanics.”

This review concludes that the use of the selections in question are consistent with the overall theme of the unit and aligned to Wisconsin State Standards. Additionally, the review determined that these selections were taught in at least one middle school last year (2007-08 school year). The teacher and principal at this building report that no parent concerns or complaints were raised during the 2007-08 school year.

Instructional practices were also reviewed in a meeting on October 15, 2008, with 8th grade language arts teachers. Teachers reported that they organized instruction following the guidelines of the District’s approved curriculum. There is no indication that teachers used any curriculum or instructional practice to advocate for either candidate through the teaching of these selections. District policy prohibiting advocacy for a political party or candidate appears to have been followed by the teachers who used the Obama selections for this unit.

Other Notable Information Regarding 2008 Presidential Candidate References
The request for a thorough review has prompted a review of other references to 2008 presidential candidates in textbooks used by RUSD. There are no references to either candidate in the eighth or ninth grade social studies textbooks. There are multiple references to John McCain in the textbooks used for the high school American Government courses. After a review of the content and context of the grades 8-12 social studies curriculum, references to Senator McCain’s legislative accomplishments are determined to be appropriate and consistent with our approved curriculum units.

In response to a request for information regarding the use of the McDougal Littell Literature Series, the McDougal Littell Company stated that the following school districts use the 2008 McDougal Littell series:

· San Diego, CA
· Phoenix, AZ
· Ft. Wayne, IN
· Evansville, IN
· Chandler, AZ
· Wichita, KS
· Springfield, MO
· Wayne Township, MI
· Mesa, AZ
· Sioux City, IA
· Sioux Falls, SD
· Grayslake, IL

The McDougal Littell Company stated that the following districts from Wisconsin use the same series with the 2008 copyright:
· Dodgeland School District
· Prairie du Chien School District
· Iowa Grant School District
· Sparta School District
· Port Edwards School District
· Baldwin Woodville School District
· Washington Caldwell School District (Racine Co.)
· Rib Lake School District
· Hales Corner Lutheran School, Hales Corner
· Black River Falls School District
· Oconto School District

In conclusion, the textbook selection process used in reviewing and adopting the McDougal Littel Literature 2008 edition conforms to district policy. The textbook was properly vetted and found to be satisfactory. It was adopted before Barack Obama became the Democratic presidential candidate. There is no evidence that the selections were used to advocate for a political candidate.

Young family votes for those who cannot

LeiLani Camacho may be the youngest person at the polls in Racine today. The three-week-old baby came with Mom, Vanessa Tellez, and Dad, Roberto Camacho, to vote at Festival Park.

I joked LeiLani was on her way to being a politician, and Vanessa jumped right in.

"She better be," she said. "She better grow up to be something."

There was a kindness to the answer, but also a fierce determination. Voting for Vanessa and Roberto, both 21, is not something to take for granted.

When asked why they voted, Vanessa answered: "We have the right to. It's a right we had to fight for."

She added: "We also voted today for all of the people who can't vote."

Roberto saw voting as critically important.

"It's the way to a better life," he said.

Ex-felon casts his first vote

Michael Simpson, left, and Christopher Ward, right

Michael Simpson, of Racine, turned off ESPN to focus on CNN in recent months.

"I had CNN on all the time, no sports," he said. "I had to watch things close. I didn't want any slip ups."

Simpson, 35, voted for the first time in his life on Tuesday. It's the first time as an adult he's been off probation.

"I hope Obama wins by one and it's my vote that made the difference," he said.

Simpson was hanging out Tuesday in front of the Tyler-Domer Community Center with Christopher Ward, 28, who also voted for the first time.

Ward said the election brought him hope. "Maybe it will change," he said. "I never thought I'd see this happen."

"But to be honest," he added, "if Obama loses I'll probably never vote again. It'd be like my vote didn't even matter."

Talking about Obama, Ward made a distinction few in the media bother with. He pointed out Obama is biracial, which to Ward made his election even more signficant.

"It means a lot," he said. "He's making unity in this country. Maybe he can bring us together."

He added: "I feel he's somebody who relates to me and cares about the people where I live."

Ward said he already sees it in his little nephews, who asked him if he voted. "It's definitely changing things," he said.

"It shows that in America anyone can sit in the top chair in our country."

Election Updates

I'm turning this post into a reservoir for election-related news throughout the day. First, please note our front-page widget, which will keep track of vote tallies around the country, and county-by-county in Wisconsin. It will go live at 7 p.m. our time.

So far, polls appear to be running smoothly. A counting machine temporarily broke down at Tyler-Domer Community Center, but was fixed with minimal interruption.

At Festival Hall, a handful of volunteers from the Obama campaign were prevented from helping register or direct voters after a McCain supporter protested their presence at the polls. One of the election chiefs had no problem with the volunteers, who were not wearing Obama pins or clothing, but two others did.

Funnily, the volunteers were allowed to help when the lines got long this morning, but were sent away when things were more under control.

The volunteers were sent to the polls by the Obama campaign to help keep the lines moving during peak times. The thinking is if the lines move faster people won't get discouraged from voting by long wait times.

Stephen Bull Fine Arts polling site

Kitty Clark, front left, Ralph Henkes, front right, and Carol and Leroy Williams, back row, were the first voters at Stephen Bull Fine Arts Elementary School on Tuesday.

Hard to say who the first voter in Racine was on Tuesday, but Ralph Henkes had to be close.

A Racine alderman in the 1970s, Henkes showed up at Stephen Bull Fine Arts Elementary at 5 a.m. to cast his ballot. No one else was there at the time - not even poll workers - so he went home and came back at 5:45 a.m.

"I've never been first in my life and figured it was time," said Henkes, who had offered to allow Kitty Clark to step in front of him in line, even though she showed up at 6:10 a.m.

"He tried to let me be first," Clark said.

Carol and Leroy Williams were just behind. They showed up at 6:15 a.m., largely to avoid the long lines everyone is anticipating today.

"The one who gets the most votes is going to win," predicted Henkes, noting that in U.S. elections that's not always the case.

"I hope Florida gets through it this year," he said, referring to the controversial 2000 election that saw President George W. Bush elected by a handful of votes after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a full recount.
Like most poll workers, Dorothy Krause, right, and Diane Smith, middle, will work from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Poll workers at Stephen Bull started arriving around 5:30 a.m. Most of them will work all day for $100 and pizza for lunch. Diane Smith, who is working her third presidential election, said she didn't mind.

"I love seeing everyone come out," she said.

Smith will work today alongside Dorothy Krause and Lillie Price, who is the chief election inspector for District 2, Ward 4. They'll be at the school until at least 10 p.m. tonight.
Attorney Chester Slaughter

Sitting behind them, six feet away, was Attorney Chester Slaughter from Chicago. He's an election observer from Obama Vote Protect, an organization that placed 1,200 attorneys at Wisconsin polling sites to monitor voting activities.

"Wisconsin's voting laws are the most liberal in the nation," said Slaughter, who is a general practice attorney. "Most people don't realize, and that can lead to confusion."

Several other election observers sat behind the poll workers monitoring voters as the polls opened at 7 a.m. with the cry, "Hear ye, hear ye, the polls are now open."

Line outside of Stephen Bull

One woman ran to the polling table to vote with her husband. The line that had been inside the school's gym spilled out the door into the parking lot. Beautiful weather today should make waiting outside a little easier. Temperatures were in the mid-50s at 7 a.m.

November 3, 2008

Lockwood Park getting $126,000 in playground equipment

Lockwood Park is in line to receive $126,000 in new playground equipment thanks to a $63,000 matching grant from a company called Game Time. The equipment will be installed in 2009.

Note: This post originally reported Game Time was a nonprofit organization. They're a for-profit company, that helps customers locate grants for playground equipment.

Community block grant dollars to be finalized

The City Council will vote Wednesday to finalize how the city will spend about $2 million in federal Community Development Block Grant dollars. Here's public and nonpublic projects that got funded this year.

Work finished on City Hall Annex's solar panels

Work is complete on City Hall Annex's photovoltaic solar panels. Magaw Electric Construction, Inc., of Sturtevant, completed the project for $341,934. Money for the project came from grants and existing funds in the city budget. The City Council unanimously approved the project on Nov. 6, 2007.

Racine Promise: City officials explore college funding for Racine graduates

A group of city officials are exploring a program that would pay for Racine high school graduates to attend college.

The idea is based on the Kalamazoo Promise, a program started three years ago in Kalamazoo, Mich. to attract families to the city. The program is simple: If a child graduates from a Kalamazoo High School, their tuition is paid to any Michigan university or tech school. That could amount to $36,000 for a student attending the University of Michigan. The only requirement is that a student maintains a 2.0 GPA and makes continual progress toward their high school diploma.

Aldermen Aron Wisneski and Greg Helding, and City Administrator Ben Hughes, are seeking two $8,000 grants to study creating a similar program here. The City Council is expected to grant permission to pursue the grant on Wednesday.

Click below to read city Grant Facilitator Debbi Embry's explanation of the grant, and long-term thinking about a "Racine Promise" program.

October 16, 2008

Mayor Gary Becker
And Common Council
Racine, WI 53403

Your Honor and Aldermen:

I respectfully request to appear before the appropriate committee to discuss our request to apply to the United Way of Racine County to request $8,000 for a “Racine Promise Study”. The Finance Department has been contacted for coordination, and the grant control number is 2008-039.

Last Spring Aldermen Wisneski and Helding, and City Administrator, Ben Hughes began investigating “Kalamazoo Promise”, a scholarship program created in 2005 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The “Kalamazoo Promise” scholarship program provides four years of tuition and fees at any public college or university in Michigan for students who have attended Kalamazoo Public Schools. The “Kalamazoo Promise” is unique in its scope and basis. While most other scholarship programs are based on merit or need, the “Kalamazoo Promise” is based only on location. The program seeks to remove the financial barriers to enrolling in college for those students who have attended Kalamazoo schools and lived within its boundaries for at least the four years of high school.

The impact “Racine Promise” would have on our community is tremendous:

1. Since all students are eligible for the reimbursement of tuition and fees regardless of financial means, the program also seeks to transform the school district by focusing on ensuring that all students are prepared for a postsecondary education.

2. The direct contribution of the scholarship program lowers the cost of postsecondary education, thereby increasing incentives for high school graduation, college attendance, and college completion.

3. Among its broader outcome, it is anticipated that this program will lead to a more educated workforce, higher overall earnings for graduates, greater disposable income for local families, and improvements in the local economy and housing market.

4. An impetus for regional economic development. Economic experts hope that the scholarship will entice more middle class families, who would otherwise sacrifice income to save for college tuition, to stay in or move to the area. Local business, public relations, and real estate experts can use the Promise as a tool to attract businesses to relocate and invest in Racine.

5. The potential increase in available jobs would also serve to attract new residents to the area, but more importantly it would provide income for existing residents as well.

6. Even surrounding areas that would not benefit directly from the scholarships would foresee economic growth in commerce and entertainment industries.
There is no match requirement.


Deborah L. Embry, MBA
Grants Facilitator

City closes in on $210,000 grant to help people get to work

City Grant Facilitator Debbi Embry is poised to land a three-year, $210,000 grant to help Racine residents get car loans to get to work.

The grant would bring the national "Way to Work" program to Racine. Way to Work trains people how to manage money and helps them secure a $4,000 car loan so they can get to a job.

Embry is requesting City Council permission Wednesday night to apply for a $50,000 grant from the SC Johnson Fund to pay for the program. Family Services of Racine would run the program. No matching dollars are required by the city.

The goal is have 150 Racine families receive car loans in three years, and to have 450 individuals go through financial literacy training.

Click below for Embry's letter detailing the program.

October 16, 2008

Mayor Gary Becker
And Common Council
Racine, WI 53403

Your Honor and Aldermen:

I respectfully request to appear before the appropriate committee to discuss our request to apply to SC Johnson Fund for matching funds of $50,000 for the Ways to Work Program. The Finance Department has been contacted for coordination, and the grant control number is 2008-037.

As you know, last spring, Racine County developed a strategic plan, “Higher Expectations: A Workforce Development Strategy for Racine” to address workforce development issues in our county. Racine County’s vision is to develop a vital, dynamic economy characterized by a workforce that is fully employed. One of the challenges to the vision of a fully employed workforce is the access to affordable transportation to and from the workplace for low-income individuals. The City of Racine, Family Service of Racine, and Ways to Work provide an opportunity to eliminate transportation as a barrier to employment by providing low-income individuals with financial education and small, low-interest loans to purchase or repair a used car. This helps parents get to their jobs; as well as access education and better care for their children.

Ways to Work is a national program, based in Milwaukee, with 40 offices in 20 states. Nearby, it currently has offices operating in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Green Bay and Chicago. The program delivers focused, intensive financial education to low-income, working parents with distressed credit histories. Those clients deemed well prepared for success are provided a car loan of up to $4,000 with a two-year term and ongoing case management supports.

A recent national evaluation of the program showed that program participants averaged a 41 percent increase in income, became more strongly attached to the workforce, repaired their credit standing, and accessed better day care for their children. Goals for the city of Racine, in partnership with Family Service of Racine is to provide 150 families with low-interest loans to purchase or repair a car over a three year period, and finally to provide financial literacy education to 450 families.

The Ways to Work program has the opportunity through a Wisconsin Department of Transportation grant to provide programming in Racine. The organization would provide an agency/organization with $280,000 over a three year period of time and over $500,000 is available for consumer loans to program participants. There is a match requirement of $210,000 over the three year period. .The amount requested from SC Johnson Fund is for $50,000 to help launch the program in Racine. The community partner for the program is Family Service of Racine.

There is no match requirement.


Deborah L. Embry, MBA
Grants Facilitator

City wants to install LED lights in parking ramp

LED lights

City officials are seeking permission to install more LED lights in the Civic Centre Parking Ramp.

Racine became the first city in Wisconsin to install LED lights this year. The new lights, which use 20 percent of the energy and last at least three times as long as normal lights, were installed on Spring Street just west of State Street, 21st Street and Taylor Avenue, and on South Memorial Drive from 16th to 18th streets.

The city's public works office will ask the City Council Wednesday night for the OK to apply for a grant to pay for the lights.

Ann Arbor, Michigan replaced all of its street lights with LEDs in 2007. It expects to pay for over 1,000 new fixtures in under four years with energy savings and fewer bulbs changed.

Over 10,000 early votes in Racine, Mount Pleasant

Caught this stat in the JT's story this morning:
Before Saturday’s voting, 5,200 absentee ballots had been cast in Mount Pleasant and 6,459 in Racine.

No matter who wins Tuesday, this year's election definitely got people involved.

November 2, 2008

Look at Santa and say, 'Liver Treats!'

Desiree Davis' dog, Joy, poses with Santa (Bill Infusino)

There was plenty of people food, imaginative doggie treats and vendors selling a host of toys, clothing and other delights, but the highlight of Proper Paws University's "Old Fashioned Holidays" for canines on Sunday definitely was the photo-op. Dogs lined up for the chance to have a professional photo taken -- for use on Christmas cards or whatever.

Santa was present both to assist the photographer, and to be in the picture for those dogs still young enough to believe. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Hope Safehouse.

My dog -- of whom we have far too many pictures already -- wanted me to tell you that the highlight of her visit was the ice cream treat: frozen yogurt, mixed with peanut butter and banana, frozen in a dixie cup with a doggie bone as the "stick." Come to think of it (except for the doggie bone part) it sounds pretty good. But Cally was enjoying it too much to ask her to share.

Santa distracts Gerry Salvek and Tim Bell's pets: Miles, Fluffy, TT and Schotzi

Republicans get their man!

Add crime-fighter and news photographer to the titles of Josh Kuehn, better known as co-chairman of the Racine County McCain-Palin campaign.

On Saturday night Kuehn spotted two political sign thieves, called the police, followed the thieves' car and then photographed the arrest of two men now accused of stealing McCain-Palin campaign signs in Burlington. Obama supporters, it must be acknowledged, if a bumper sticker on their vehicle is to be believed.

The press release from Bill Folk, chairman of the Racine County Republican Party, says:
On Saturday night ... Kuehn spotted someone in his front yard. As he watched, the man grabbed a McCain-Palin yard sign from his front yard. Kuehn noted a vehicle moving slowly down his street with its lights out. He shouted for the man with the sign to stop, but he ran off, and the vehicle drove off at a high rate of speed. Kuehn quickly called police and took off after the thieves. He quickly spotted the vehicle a block away, picking up his dismounted accomplice. Kuehn followed the vehicle until police arrived and arrested the two perpetrators.
More Kuehns are needed. Folk notes that "the Racine County Republican Party would like assistance in solving the thefts of hundreds of yard signs in the Racine, Mt. Pleasant, and Caledonia areas. Multiple victims have provided a description of a white, late model, full size, short-bed pickup truck driving suspiciously in the area around the time of the thefts. The Racine County Republican Party is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the driver of this vehicle."

Even at this late date, the Racine County GOP encourages those who have been victimized to pick up replacement signs at the Racine Victory Center, at 6500 Washington Ave. in Mt. Pleasant, or the Burlington Victory Center, at 248 North Pine St., Burlington.

Multiple allegiances: Presumed Obama supporter is also a
Packers and Badgers fan, a pro-unionist and cares about
endangered species. No idea what the skull represents.