May 2, 2009

KRM compromise not winning Lehman any friends

A Recall Lehman 2009 blog appeared on the scene today. Its first post, And so it begins..., came at 12:29 p.m., so if you click to see it, you'll definitely be among the first to do so.

We first heard of it from an anonymous commenter to our post on an entirely different subject. But that's how fast this Internets thing is... Of course, as we should know better than most, anyone can start a blog, so take it, at least for now, with a grain of salt. At this writing, I have no clue who is behind it.

In any case, it has been clear that State Sen. John Lehman will take heat for his opposition to use of a sales tax to fund a Regional Transportation Agency -- something that has been endorsed by city and business leaders. And now Lehman is being credited (or blamed, depending on which side the speaker is on) for the middle-of-the-night compromise he convinced the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to accept at about 2:40 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning. That compromise separates Racine County from any sales tax-supported RTA and instead imposes a $16 rental car tax on Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee Counties to fund the KRM commuter rail project.

No doubt, it's just a coincidence that former State Sen. George Petak's vote in favor of the odious Miller Park Stadium Tax also came in the middle of the night (5.a.m, on Oct. 6, 1995) after another all-night session... That vote, which led to Petak's recall, weighs heavily on every sales tax proponent. Lehman knows this better than anyone: hell, he sits in what once was Petak's seat.

In any case, as soon as news of the KRM compromise came out Friday morning, the you-know-what hit the fan.

The proposal still has to go through both houses of the Legislature, a not-at-all sure thing even Lehman concedes. At today's Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast he took time from serving sausages to tell me even Senate approval is dicey; there's a two-vote Democratic margin, but at least one of those votes is already opposed. And some Milwaukee legislators think the rental car fee -- which would produce most of its revenue from cars rented at Mitchell Airport -- merely takes money from Milwaukee County to give to us. (Ha! There's a switch!)

Furthermore, even if that opposition is overcome and lawmakers ultimately pass the thing, and the governor is convinced to sign it into law -- another tough battle -- somebody still has to convince the skeptical Feds that a rental car tax is a stable funding source for what is certain to be a very expensive ongoing rail project.

Beyond all that, we have the issue of local BUS service. Mayor Tom Friedel, among others, had hoped a sales-tax-supported RTA would allow Racine to expand bus service farther out into the county --say to I-94 and into other area communities where jobs and/or workers are. At the same time, it would have taken the BUS off the local property tax, but substituting a sales tax. And remember, sales tax proponents always figure that at least some of the revenue comes from non-residents.

Well, a better BUS is a dead issue under Lehman's plan. When asked about that this morning, he suggested that the County should participate in such an expansion. He was serious, but I chuckled, and then so did he: County participation is not likely under a.) Republican County Executive Bill McReynods; b.) Current economic conditions.

At this morning's 1st Congressional District Democrats' annual meeting there was an uncomfortable moment when outgoing Chair Ray Rivera asked whether there were any questions from the floor. The first "question" was more of an article of war. Brent Nance of Racine, 2nd Vice Chair, said to sotto voce agreement, "Lehman's name is not so good in this room."

The only support expressed for Lehman came a little later from fellow JFC member Cory Mason, who said the rental car tax, KRM rather than RTA plan "was a compromise that we really think will work. Getting everyone there was tough," taking more than 10 hours.

Mason said "a lot of people tried to get us to throw in the towel. John Lehman was there all day getting it done. We now have the opportunity to make KRM happen. It will be tough to convince Washington, but we can make a good case. We cleared a really important hurdle and got a funding source for commuter rail."

That remains to be seen. And at what price?

More on REA's endorsement ... who really made it?

Yesterday, we reported that the Racine Educational Association -- which says it represents some 1,600 teachers and other educators at RUSD -- had endorsed Bob Turner for mayor.

Today we have some additional information: A teacher sent us a copy of the document -- click to enlarge -- given to all members; it's not exactly a ballot seeking to determine who members support; it's more a ... well, read it yourself and decide.

Be sure to notice that only one candidate's name is on the piece, and members must take action to have a negative opinion registered. We have no idea how many negative "votes" may have been returned to the REA.

As another REA member wrote us -- this one anonymously:
1. Dickert was not interviewed by REA
2. Dickert was not offered an interview by REA
3. None of Dickert’s positions were shared with teachers
4. Turner’s labor record was the basis for REA’s decision
5. Schools and education were not part of REA’s decision
6. Turner was the only name on the ballot for teachers to select an endorsee
Members were told to "return this ballot" to their building representatives, and those reps were told to deliver them to the REA by 5 p.m. on Monday, April 27. The note reminded: "Please keep in mind we CANNOT use RUSD school mail to return the ballots."

The ballot also notes it was: Produced and paid for by the Racine Education Association's Political Action Committee, Lisa Postles. Chair; Jay Newell, Treasurer; 1201 West Blvd, Racine, Wl 53405; Phone: 632-6181

The whole document is available as a .pdf file HERE.

Kiwanians feed us pancakes for the 55th year

I didn't see her miss even once!

Pancakes and full stomachs as far as the eye could see.

The Kiwanis Club of Greater Racine held its 55th annual Pancake Day on Saturday -- actually, is still serving as I write this, and will be doing so until 5 p.m. at Festival Hall on Lake Michigan.

There are pancakes and sausages galore, juice and coffee, music and entertainment. Even a politician or two or three or four. I ran into John Dickert and Bob Turner, both finishing up their serving chores as I arrived (pols running for mayor get up much earlier than retired journalists!)

Still holding down the fort while I was there were Congressman Paul Ryan and Mayor Tom Friedel, on coffee duty, and State Sen. John Lehman, ably handing out sausages while answering questions about the KRM compromise he got through the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee barely 24 hours earlier, in the middle of Thursday night/Friday morning.

Postscript: The Kiwanis Club said Saturday night that they fed 6,857 people, according to the JT.

Here are some pictures:

Riley Lowrance, 16 mos., meets Mr. Pancake: Kiwanian James Snider,
who's been dressing up (down?) as a pancake for eight years

Festival Hall was the place for pancakes

McKinley School's Red Jazz Band entertained

Politicians doing "real" work: Congressman Paul Ryan...

...State Sen. John Lehman...

...and Mayor Tom Friedel.

1st CD Dems elect new chair, target Ryan in 2010

Changing of the guard: Mark Pienkos and Ray Rivera

Mark Pienkos of Lake Geneva, a former chair of the Walworth County Democrats, was elected chair of the 1st Congressional District Democrats this morning, at the group's annual meeting held at Infusino's. He replaces Ray Rivera of Kenosha, who was chair for four years and did not run for re-election. Pienkos defeated David Corey of Burlington for the position.

His top priority: Electing a Democrat to replace six-term Congressman Paul Ryan. "We have an opportunity in 2010 to elect a Democrat," he said. "We have conceded the district to Ryan for the past five elections." The unkindest cut of all to Pienkos: In 2008 Barack O'Bama not only won the state by a wide margin, he even took the 1st Congressional District. And yet, Ryan won re-election by a big margin.

Refering to yesterday's news that Chrysler's engine plant will close as part of the auto company's reorganization, Pienkos said, "Kenosha is losing jobs. Paul Ryan needs to answer for that."

"It all comes down to his stimulus vote," said Pienkos, a school superintendent. "Paul Ryan voted against this bill, against the 500,000 people per month who are losing their jobs. We've got to change the perception that we've got a Congressman working for us."

Pienkos said he will focus on getting greater visibility for the 1st CD Dems on the county level, in part by personally appearing at their meetings.

Other speakers also made Ryan the target of their remarks. Jason Stephany, who became Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in mid-March, said Ryan "has a really, really great way of lying to your face." Despite his vote against the stimulus bill, "he will be here taking credit for every shovel-ready project." Stephany and others said Ryan has his eye on statewide office and national office, but Democrats "should fight for every single vote, in every single district."

Said Jeff Hall: "Paul Ryan has been touted as the idea guy of the Republican Party. Well, that doesn't take much."

Paulette Garin of Kenosha, who came in second to Marge Krupp last year for the nomination to oppose Ryan ("while spending one-tenth"), said "2010 may be the perfect storm to defeat Ryan." Will she run in the next election? she asked herself rhetorically. "Maybe," she said, pointing out that her campaign committee is still intact, has no debts and will expand its grassroots base.

Peter Barca, the former Congressman who now represents Kenosha in the state Assembly, said "It's a new day in America," with a Democratic president, Democratic control of Congress and the state Legislature. "Isn't it time these winds of change blow across the 1st Congressional District? But here we have somebody trying to block the wind."

"Barack O'Bama is leading the parade down Main Street," he said, "but Paul Ryan is leading it down Wall Street."

The convention, attended by about 100 party members and delegates, elected the following new officers:
  • Chair: Mark Pienkos
  • Alternate Chair: David Corey
  • 1st Vice Chair: Steve Herr
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Brent Nance
  • 3rd Vice Chair: Gail Gabrelian
  • 4th Vice Chair: Steve Butts
  • Admin. Rep.: Marilyn 'Mike' Nemeth
  • Admin. Alternate: Meg Andrietsch
  • Platform/Resolutions: Bob Huele
  • Platform/Resolutions Alternate: Tom Ralston
  • Secretary: John Heckenlively
  • Treasurer: Norm Buchholz

May 1, 2009

Music, art and shopping draw First Friday crowd

Macyn Taylor's singing draws an audience at Northern Lights Gallery

First Friday drew surprisingly large crowds Downtown tonight -- as strollers navigated, without complaint, the mess on Sixth Street, filling some of our art galleries, listening to live music and generally having a good time.

Restaurants were busy, folks were buying stuff -- that is the whole point of the thing, after all -- and musicians and artists were making new friends and fans. It was a better crowd than I expected, given that the temperature barely topped 50 degrees, but even the Monument Square beer tent -- which benefits the Theatre Guild's Jean's Jazz series -- could barely keep up with demand.

There was a horse-drawn buggy -- and an extra horse to meet the kids, a variety of musicians wherever you walked -- emphasis on guitars, free admission at RAM, a new exhibit highlighting some of Racine's manufacturing innovations at the Racine Heritage Museum, the opening of a show of bright and interesting paintings by Lauretta Ludwig at the Racine Arts Council ... all-in-all, a great night to be Downtown. A wandering magician was even scheduled -- but he must've made himself invisible, because I never found him.

If you missed it all ... well, your loss. Don't despair: You'll have another chance on the first Friday of June.

Lauretta Ludwig with two of her bright canvases at the Arts Council
(note the jewel collage at the upper left -- interesting!)

Al Schoening strumming up funds for a cancer cure, at Copacetic

Ben Tompsedt, 21, said you don't have to be a kid
to get your face painted, 'as long as you are a kid at heart.'

Pavlik, Stellman & Martin kept Monument Square hopping all night

'Cadillac' Lekas and Noah Lekas played on 6th as American Restless

Macyn Taylor brought her guitar and vocals to Main Street

Stompin' Blues from Paul Kaye on Sixth

Fourcast played at Crosswalk Park on Main Street

This must be art, because there it was inside RAM

Mom shows her son the inside of Monument Square's cannon

Julie Kennedy was shopping for a new hat at Copacetic.
(For those of you old enough to remember: she said
the hanging price tag reminded her of Minnie Pearl!)

A beat they could dance to, in Monument Square

REA endorses Turner for mayor

The Racine Education Association, which represents more than 1,600 educators, has endorsed Rep. Bob Turner's mayoral candidacy.

An REA statement said it based its support on Turner's "outstanding voting record in support of public schools over the years. Bob will play a crucial role in revitalizing city leadership, supporting sensible economic development, and helping students and their families prosper.”

“Quality, affordable education is a cornerstone of healthy communities, and I look forward to continuing our work to build a stronger Racine,” Turner said.

The May 5 election ballot pits Turner, D-Racine, 61st District, against John Dickert and write-in candidate Jody Harding.

Ryan 'shocked' by news of Chrysler plant closing

First Janesville's GM plant -- 1,300 jobs lost since Christmas -- and now Kenosha's Chrysler plant -- another 850 jobs going; you'd think by now...
WASHINGTON – Wisconsin’s First District Congressman Paul Ryan issued the following statement regarding today’s news reports about the closing of the Kenosha Chrysler plant:

“I am shocked, surprised and deeply disappointed by today's news. From my conversations that took place with Chrysler executives this year and as early as Wednesday evening, I had been given assurances that this would not occur. I learned about this troubling development from news reports today and not from either Chrysler or officials at the White House that negotiated this bankruptcy restructuring. We are still trying to ascertain the meaning of this court filing.

"In fact, the details surrounding Fiat’s involvement in these restructuring plans gave me hope on the prospects of securing a new product in Kenosha to keep these jobs. Sadly, the crisis in the auto industry has hit Southern Wisconsin especially hard. With this gut-wrenching news, I am committed to continue to do all I can to support those in our community hit hardest by this loss, as we work to rebuild and revitalize the Kenosha community and Southern Wisconsin.”

DRC unveils sidewalk insert for Sixth Street

The Downtown Racine Corporation has unveiled the new granite inserts which will be installed as part of the 6th Street reconstruction project. The 24” x 24” granite pieces will be installed later this summer as sidewalks are completed.

In 2008 DRC put out a call to artists to submit designs for the granite pieces; the design committee chose the one submitted by Erika Deutmeyer Adams, shown at left. She and her husband, Jonathon, live in an historic home in Racine

Erika submitted a square, historic-looking design to go with the street's historic theme. It incorporates Victorian-looking scrolls and Racine elements like a lighthouse, sailboat, tractor, the Frank Lloyd Wright tower and Festival Hall. It also notes the year the city was established (1834) and lists some of the amenities here, such as shopping, beaches, marinas, festivals, the zoo and museums.

Sixth Street's reconstruction is expected to be completed by the end of October. It will boast new paving, wider sidewalks, benches, planters and rain gardens, new lighting and landscaping. Despite the construction, all of the shops, galleries and restaurants along 6th Street are open for business.

Turner praises committee's vote on KRM

In today's No-Surprise Department, State Rep. Bob Turner, D-Racine, expressed support for the Joint Finance Committee's approval early this morning -- middle of the night, actually -- of a KRM Authority funded by a $16 tax on rental cars.

“I think it is a win-win situation for Racine in that we will see the KRM project realized without the imposition of a sales tax increase in Racine County,” Turner said.

“I am extremely happy that this compromise has been negotiated under the leadership of Finance Committee members John Lehman and Cory Mason,” said Turner. “I will do my best to convince my colleagues in the Assembly that this is a workable and fair way to fund commuter rail in Southeast Wisconsin. I have great hopes for the future of this project.”

The proposal was engineered by State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine and passed on a party-line vote in the Democrat-controlled committee. And Lehman and Mason have endorsed Turner for mayor in next Tuesday's election.

Rental car tax to pay for KRM line

Nearly 16 hours after their meeting was scheduled to start, state legislators voted Friday morning to pay for commuter rail through Racine County with a $16 rental car tax.

The gist: Sen. John Lehman got his cake and ate it too. Lehman fought against a sales tax increase to pay for the KRM commuter rail line to connect Kenosha to Milwaukee with stops in Racine and Caledonia. He convinced the Democratic-controlled committee to reconsider a rental car tax as an alternative to the sales tax.

The committee voted for the plan, approving the $16 rental car tax, which would be indexed annually to the consumer price index.

The Joint Finance Committee first voted to remove Racine and Kenosha from the regional transit authority included in Gov. Jim Doyle's budget. The committee voted to allow Milwaukee County to create a 1 percent sales tax to pay for transit, parks, cultural services and emergency medical services.

It also created a regional transit authority to manage KRM. The RTA would include Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties and use the rental car tax to pay for the rail line. The RTA, which would be appointed by mayors and County Board presidents (not County Executives - a move to prevent Scott Walker and Bill McReynolds from making appointments), could also issue up to $50 million in bonds.

Lehman told WisPolitics the compromise allowed communities to choose their own way to pay for commuter rail and buses.
"What we're seeing now is the result of communities making it very clear what they want to do in their own sweet way about transit" Lehman said.

April 30, 2009

Helding endorses Dickert for mayor

Alderman Greg Helding endorsed John Dickert for mayor on Thursday. A mayoral candidate himself, Helding said he owed it to his supporters to choose between Dickert and Bob Turner before the May 5 special election.

Here's the letter Helding wrote explaining his position:
Racine has an important decision to make on May 5. As an Alderman and former mayoral candidate, I just can’t “sit this one out”. I owe it to my supporters and the citizens of Racine to get off the fence. I am endorsing John Dickert for Mayor of Racine.

I believe that we the people of Racine should choose our next Mayor and not have the choice dictated to us by the power brokers in Madison. I don’t have the backing of well-financed labor unions and I don’t have influence with people in the backrooms of the Capitol. I’m just a voice for Racine encouraging everyone who voted for me in the primary to cast their general election ballot for John Dickert.

Racine is facing some real challenges and we have a lot of work to do. Racine needs someone at the helm who is dedicated to being Mayor. We need someone who is ready to start working for us now, not in September when the state budget is completed. On May 5, please vote John Dickert for Mayor.

Greg Helding
11th District Alderman

Charon endorses Harding for mayor

Former mayoral candidate Jaimie Charon today endorsed write-in candidate Jody Harding in the May 5 election.

“With the election just days away, I wanted to let those who supported me in the primary know where I stand on the mayor’s contest,” Charon said. “I have had the opportunity to speak with Jody on the issues regarding Racine and the job at hand for the next mayor. With our similar position on KRM, the strong desire to help improve education and to be more fiscally conservative with taxpayers' money, I believe Jody Harding is the only candidate in this race that offers Racine our best options.”

According to Charon, who came in last in the primary, “We need and are asking for change in Racine – Jody is the person who will provide that change.”

Harding expressed her appreciation, saying “It isn’t easy to buck the trend and show support for a dark horse candidate.”

The election ballot pits Bob Turner against John Dickert; Harding, who came in 7th of 11 in the April 7 primary, has registered as an official write-in candidate.

Dickens said, 'Read RacinePost every day!'

All of you without a sense of humor, leave the room. (We know who you are from your comments on the previous post!)

OK, now that we've gotten rid of the sourpusses -- here's a totally useless, but fun website.

First, click on this quote from Charles Dickens and then come back here when you're done:

If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.

Now click this Dickens quote:

Repression is the only lasting philosophy.

And finally, this one:

If you could see my legs when I take my boots off, you'd form some idea of what unrequited affection is.

Actually, if you looked at the underlying code for each of those quotes/links, you'd see that the quote is the URL. Mostly.
Yep, those first two quotes, from The Old Curiosity Shop and Tale of Two Cities now, belong to us, assigned (randomly, we'll assume) by a cool new website -- sort of the antonym of And the third quote, from Dombey and Son -- damned if we want to contemplate it too closely, but we swear it was assigned randomly! -- belongs now and forever to the Journal Times. Guys, you can thank us later.

Want your own Dickens-quote URL? Curious to see what Dickens quote the computer will assign to your favorite website? Just go here and have some literary fun:

Does this make Rep. Vos a twit?

Look out! Technology and politics have converged.

We just noticed (Hat tip to!) that Rep. Robin Vos, R-Racine, is tweeting on the job.

Greg Bump of Wispolitics reports that Vos, a member of the beleaguered Republican minority on the Legislature's powerful Joint Finance Committee, "is sending out messages from his Twitter account to give followers updates on the JFC action." It is Joint Finance, remember, that will vote on the RTA later today...

Bump wrote at 4:17 p.m. yesterday: "Vos just sent out two tweets about votes on the Department of Veterans Affairs, criticizing Dems for not approving a proposal to fund the Wisconsin Veterans Museum with general purpose revenue rather than SEG funding, which they say would help make the vets trust fund public."

Or as Vos' tweeted: "GOP tries to maintain the integrity of the trust fund but we and veterans lost."

And then: "Its amazing that dems just defeated an increase in worker training saying that we couldn't afford it. What is a higher priority than this?"

Finally: "
Wow. This is amazing. This motion cuts financial aid by 20 million!!"

Want to follow Vos' tweets yourself? You know you do! Follow him here. I wonder which other of our legislators are tweeting; this easily could get addictive.

April 29, 2009

The Racine Promise: How three cities pulled it off

Wingspread Panel: From left: Carole Johnson, Johnson Foundation;
Saleem Ghubril, Pittsburgh; Robert Jorth, Kalamazoo; Racine's
Aron Wisneski; Tom Dabertin of Hammond; Noel Radomski, Madison

When Aldermen Aron Wisneski and Greg Helding first proposed something called the Racine Promise -- a proposal to pay the college tuition of all graduates of Racine high schools -- the comments on the Journal Times' website came fast and furious. Seventy-three comments were quickly appended to that first story, on Nov. 3, 2008, most of them negative. They're still there.
It's "preposterous," said one. "What a joke," said another. And, "Here's a promise for you, Wisneski -- you are so out of here in the next election." "Understand one thing. Free education does not bring jobs here. You need a lesson in economics," said another. And, "The only thing this idea will do is draw people to Racine who can't afford to send their kids to college in the first place. Basically, just moving more economically depressed people into the city for the freebie." And so it went...
It's too bad the folks behind those opinions couldn't all have been at Wednesday's Wingspread briefing, and heard from representatives from three communities that already have created such programs. They would have had to eat their words.

For almost two hours, about 70 community officials and business leaders heard from and questioned, spokesman for "promise" programs operating in Kalamazoo, MI, where "The Kalamazoo Promise" started this movement three years ago; Pittsburgh, PA, and Hammond, IN. The programs are similar in purpose, though not identical; the results are all the same: Improvements in school performance, in the numbers of kids going to college, in business, in jobs, in home sales.

The Racine proposal was brought forth by Wisneski and Helding, who first saw it mentioned in the book, "Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism," by Richard Longworth. (Dare I mention here that former Mayor Gary Becker assigned that book to council members on his fifth anniversary as mayor? Well, he did, in April 2008. Ed note: Becker actually learned about the book from Wisneski and Helding.)

Wisneski said he was reading the book's section about Kalamazoo "reeling from plant closings," and then experiencing a "housing boom," and "parents moving back," as Kalamazoo Promise got under way. "Greg Helding called me and said, "Why can't we do something like that here?" It was, he said, "a societal epiphany," the realization that they had found a really "big idea," an "AHA! moment."

Noel Radomski, director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, volunteered to help Racine study the issue, "look at all the different models and design something that will work here." Because, regardless what is done or not done, "educational attainment" is needed in the Rust Belt; "This is not your granddaddy's Racine" when it comes to filling a job, he said.

And so, Racine heard short presentations from three cities that already promise college tuition to all of their high school graduates.

First up, Robert Jorth, executive administrator of the Kalamazoo Promise, which began in 2005. The program pays up to 100% of the tuition and fees charged to Kalamazoo high school graduates, as they attend any college or university in Michigan: students get 65% if they just attend a Kalamazoo high school, and up to 100% of the cost of 130 credit hours of college if they attended K-12 in Kalamazoo. Any program; any course of study. "We want this to fit the student. It's not about how many we get into college, it's how many get through college," Jorth said.

Of equal interest are the program's "strategic priorities," which go beyond student achievement. There are four: Economic development, urban vitality, student support and Pre-K-16 education. Kalamazoo had a high poverty rate, Jorth said, but "donors believe that if we invest in education, the economic vitality of the community will be enhanced." So far, so good: an $84 million school improvement bond issue passed, the largest in Michigan; the city, which had been losing jobs for 17 years saw growth of 5,000 jobs in 2008; unemployment is the lowest in the region; population is growing; housing sales are up. The city has a population of 77,000.

Even school districts in the county -- whose students are not part of the Kalamazoo Promise -- are passing bond referenda and improving; and county tax revenues are up, "attributed to Promise-related construction."

Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise, which started just one and 1/2 years ago, had a similar story. The scholarships, he said, "are just the maraschino cherry on top of the sundae." The program has brought a public school reform agenda: "we no longer say Pittsburgh public schools are excellent for an urban school district." No qualifier, thank you very much. And finally, Pittsburgh sees safer neighborhoods, despite economic difficulties that afflict 60% of the school population. Pittsburgh's scholarships, too, are paid on a sliding scale: 75% for those who just attended local high schools;l 85% if the student also went through local middle school; 95% for elementary school and 100% for K-12. Pittsburgh, a city of 310,000 people (down from 700,000 a few decades ago), has 28,000 school students.

Pittsburgh's scholarships started at $5,000 a year maximum, but in 2012 will go to $10,000. They can be used at any public or private college in the state, including faith-based, trade or community colleges. Or even at the University of Pennsylvania. It started out paying only tuition and fees, but now covers books, room and board, etc.

Tom Dabertin spoke about College Bound, the program Hammond, IN, adopted in 2006. To put the community into perspective, it is the home of US Steel, which now has 6,000 workers doing what 35,000 used to do. Its program, too, pays 100% of graduate's tuition, but to qualify for the scholarship students must have a 3.0 GPA, or 1,000 on their SAT. Hammond has 77,000 residents and 13,000 school students: 9,000 in public schools and 4,000 in private or parochial schools.

Hammond also has an interesting wrinkle: scholarships are only offered to families that own a home in the city (only 63% of Hammond's families own their own homes). While Hammond offers scholarships to Hammond students even if they graduated from nearby community high schools, it's the home ownership and residency requirement that defines a Hammond student.
"People are interested in buying a home in Hammond for the first time in 30 years, Dabertin said, doing the math: "If you have two kids and buy a $150,000 home, that's a $66,000 benefit we're providing." And if you have four kids... For families living in rental units, the city has a $5,000 assistance program for home ownership. Scholarship recipients must reapply each year, and prove continued home ownership and residency by parents.

Hammond requires that its scholarship be used within 16 months of high school graduation, and students have just five years to finish, at any Indiana public or private college or university, not trade schools. Recipients must also provide 40 hours of community service a year. Those limitations are are compensated for by the program's generosity: up to $33,000 per student.

Interestingly enough, the negativity that greeted the program here in Racine was matched in Pittsburgh. Ghubril recalled jumping up when he saw a picture in the local newspaper with the mayor and school superintendent announcing the program. "I said, 'This is the most important photo ever appearing in the paper.' " Others, he said, were less excited and gave the announcement "lots of mockery." As in, "Ha, ha, ha, the mayor and superintendent are talking out of their a--."

So the city hired McKinsey and Company, the management consulting firm, to get an independent report on what the program might provide -- or not. "After nine months, the city concluded it had to do it."

Okay, fine, I hear you all asking. But what about the costs? Each of these cities has a different funding mechanism. Kalamazoo's is unquestionably the best: Anonymous donors contributed what some say is $500 million to fund the program. (Kalamazoo was the home of Upjohn, which made many, many multi-millionaires when it was sold.) Hammond's is funded by tax revenue, some $3 million a year, all provided from the city's "riverboat casino the size of an aircraft carrier." Those funds, mostly raised from a $2 per person admission charge, were earmarked for economic development -- and objections to its use for the scholarship program were eliminated when the economic benefits were totalled. Pittsburgh, according to Ghubril, also has "a lot of old money -- traced back to the steel and coal days." The city says its program will require $250 million to fund itself in perpetuity; it received a $100 million commitment from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and has to raise the rest. "We're trying really, really hard not to use public dollars," he said.

Wisneski said Racine "should go after as many private dollars as possible." But he said the city "shouldn't be afraid to have a bake sale" ... and there are a lot of retired teachers who care about the city's students. "When they see an idea with true vision, they're willing to share."

Is speed of the essence? Well, yes and no. Jorth, of Kalamazoo, said "a couple of hundred" cities have contacted him already. Dabartin said Green Bay and Madison have looked over Hammond's program. Many more are considering it. So won't cities with such programs then lose their competitive advantage? No, said, Jorth: "We don't lose our competitive advantage is everyone is educating their youth."

"If you wait," said Radomski, "you'll be at a distinct disadvantage."

Taking it all in, among others, were Mayor Tom Friedel and Racine Unified School District Superintendent Jim Shaw. I didn't have time to talk to them after the panel discussion, but I could tell what they both were thinking: "If only..."

Eight reasons Lehman is wrong on KRM

Sen. John Lehman looks ready to play the KRM spoiler role this week by voting against Gov. Jim Doyle's proposal to create a regional transit authority to pay for commuter rail and local bus systems. Here's his quote in the JS:
"I'm not sure many people around the state realize the aversion to sales taxes there is in Racine County," Lehman said, adding that people are still mad about "that little one-tenth of one percent of a sales tax for Miller Park."
Here are 8 reasons why Lehman's assessment is wrong:

1. The RTA isn't a multi-million corporation that pays its employees millions of dollars to play a game many people could care less about.

2. The proposed RTA isn't located in western Milwaukee County. KRM would stop in Racine and Caledonia, and Racine's bus system would get needed money.

3. Racine and Caledonia would actually gain economic benefit from the RTA. Racine County was included in the Miller Park stadium tax with the dubious claim that Brewer fans would stay in the county. KRM stations would generated development.

4. George Petak made a back room deal in the middle of the night to flip his support in favor of the Miller Park stadium tax. That's what made people angry.

5. The RTA's sales tax could be used to offset local property taxes - not a professional sports stadium.

6. Lehman's political base is in Racine, not western Racine County. He shouldn't take his base for granted.

7. State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, has already staked out the anti-KRM position. If Vos runs for Senate, Lehman has already lost the KRM issue.

8. Lehman's KRM stance is a failure to lead. That may cost him more at the polls than voting for KRM.

April 28, 2009

Mason endorses Turner's bid for mayor

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, 62nd District, endorsed fellow State Rep. Bob Turner for mayor today.

“I have seen first-hand how Rep. Turner’s leadership has benefited the Racine community,” Mason said. “Bob’s experience as chair of the I-94 labor development committee will help bring thousands of jobs to the area.” Mason and Turner serve together on the Department of Transportation’s I-94 Labor Development Committee, which has been working to ensure Racine residents have the training they need to be hired for the project.

“Bob Turner will know what to ask of his Legislative colleagues for the benefit of Racine,” Mason said. “Racine doesn’t have the luxury of a mayoral learning curve. Bob Turner has the experience of having served on the City Council and in the Legislature; he’ll be able to hit the ground running on day one.”

Turner represents the 61st Assembly District. The special election for Racine mayor will be held on May 5. Turner is opposed by John Dickert, and write-in candidate Jody Harding.

Dickert outraises Turner by $8,000 on latest campaign finance reports

John Dickert outraised Bob Turner by about $8,000 this month in their race to become the city's next mayor, according to campaign finance reports.

Dickert raised $19,860 from March 24 to April 20 compared to $11,065 for Turner over the same period. Both candidates have about $8,000 left to spend before the May 5 special election. (Click here for the candidates' primary finance reports).

In addition to raising more money than Turner, Dickert also had more individual donors. Dickert received contributions from 164 people in the last month compared to 63 individual donors for Turner.

Turner, though, received nearly $2,000 from political committees. He cashed in on his connections in the Assembly with donations from State Reps. Mike Sheridan ($600), Mark Pocan ($250), Pedro Colon ($100), Barbara Toles ($300) and Mark Richards ($250).

Turner also received donations from the Sheet Metal Workers PAC ($200) and IBEW Local Union 430 ($250).

Among Turner's donors include: Timothy O'Brien ($500), Alderman Ray DeHahn ($50), Dick Hinsman ($100), Catherine Lehman ($50), Alderman Ron Hart ($100), Kate Remington ($100), Dr. K B Turner ($500), Mark Freeman ($100), William Garvey ($100), Pat McManaway ($100), Karen Nelson ($150), Gary Vidian ($100), Fred Richmond ($100), Keith Evans ($100).

Gloria Turner also loaned the campaign $5,000.

Turner's campaign spent $18,771 from March 24 to April 24. Half of that total went to Craig Oliver for consulting fees, including one $5,000 payment. Oliver, who is no longer with the campaign, also received payments of $2,504, $625 and $875.

The campaign also paid the Insider News $450, the Racine Mirror $500, Walgreens $578 to print brochures, Accurate Printing in Kenosha $3,518 to print brochures and yard signs, Diamond Laser in Racine $2,985 for mail services.

Dickert's key contributors included:

Dennis Wiser ($100), Jeff Thielen ($100), Ted Hart ($100), Tamara Maddente ($100), Nancy Drott ($100), JoAnna Richard - Deputy Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development ($450), R. John Schacht ($100), Thomas Knabel ($100), Dixie Dickert ($500), Anne Knoll ($100), Jonathon Altenberg ($100), Joe Heim ($250), Rachel Kane ($250), Heidi Domanik ($200), Thomas Scoville ($750), Scott Paul ($100), Kimberli
Netzinger ($100), James Bolm ($300), Barry Altenberg ($325), Richard Hansen ($100), Holly Moore ($100), Paul Navratil ($100), Chip Brewer ($100), Alison Wittke ($100), Susan Liedel ($100), Glenn Lampark ($100), Matt DeHahn ($200), Brent Nance ($100), Dave Titus ($100), Peter Dickert ($100), Boyd Frederick ($100), Gary Wolfe ($100), Michael Wynhoff ($200), George Christenson ($100), Jerry Landmark ($100), Ray Leffler ($250), Erin Neal ($100), Robert Riegelman ($100), Doug Nicholson ($100), Sara Nicholson ($100), Anthony Totero ($150), Jerry Ranow ($100), Lynn Monroe ($500), Michael Michie ($100), S. John May ($100), James DeMatthew ($100), Anup Khullar ($200), Dan Cunninghman ($300), Lee Dickert ($100), Branko Brpa ($100), Carol Hansen ($100), Arthur Smith ($250), Richard Christensen ($100), Joey LeGath ($100), John Apple ($100), Mark Levine ($100), Kristin Cunningham ($200), Gurwant Kaleka ($800), Alderman Robert Mozol ($300), John Becker ($250), Anthony Rossi ($100), Joseph Karls ($200), Andra Nollendorfs ($100), Joel Borgardt ($100), Steven Johnson ($100), Tim Dickert ($100), Christopher Klose ($200), William Williams ($100), Sheila Constantine ($100), John Rogers ($200).

Dickert loaned his own campaign $4,000.

Dickert spent just less than $21,000 on his campaign in the last month and $26,249 this year.

So far he's repaid himself two a $4,000 loan, paid Misson Control in Mansfield Center, Conn. $9,965 for lit pieces, $1,000 to campaign manager Greg Bach, $633 to Staeck's Management for rent, $513 for a radio ad, $294 in postage and $250 to Buona Vita for a fundraiser.

Note: The Dickert campaign reported a clerical error on its campaign finance reports. Dickert took out one $4,000 loan and repaid it. The report, which has been corrected, said he repaid two loans.

Notable numbers in the WKCEs

Pete took a closer look at Unified's WKCE results and came up with some interesting numbers. Here's his notes:
I see some standouts, but for everything that would make someone happy there's a corresponding ouch. For example:
  • Jerstad 3rd Grade gained 21 points in reading, to hit 79% proficient and advanced (1 pt over state avg.)
  • Red Apple 4th Grade lost 37 points in reading, to drop from 93% prof and advanced last year (well over state avg of 80) to 56.
  • Red Apple 5th gained 16 points in reading (from 74 to 90), but Giese dropped 18 points.
  • Wadewitz 3rd grade gained 22 points -- but that brought them from a district-wide low last year of 29 prof and advanced to 51, which is still below the state average of 75. Jefferson, which led the district last year with 88 (state avg. was 73) improved by 5 to 93 ... wow!
  • Actually, take a look at the Math 3rd grade: lot of good gains ... Schulte gained 35, going from 41 to 76, one over the state average.
  • Math 4th grades: All but two schools showed gains. Math 5th grades: all but 3 showed gains.

All quiet on the Unified front, but test scores show difficult task facing school district

Racine Unified put out its annual WKCE test results today, and we'll get to the results in a few paragraphs. But first a note on coverage of the school district in recent months.

It's been uneventful since Dr. James Shaw took over as superintendent. After years of public scrutiny, the School Board and district administrators have had some relative quiet to go about their business.

The main reasons for the change are:

1. Reporter Brent Killackey left The Journal Times. Brent, with his depth of knowledge on school issues, was basically a School Board member. He reported volumes of information about school finance and the district's inner workings any paper would be hard-pressed to match.

2. Publisher Dick Johnston left the paper. That's important because Johnston was tied in with Brian Dey and Randy Bangs, two former School Board members who raised questions about Unified's finances. They fed stories to Johnston and Johnston made it clear he wanted them in the paper. (Dey just emailed to say he never met Johnston. -db)

3. The combination of Brent's skill - he wrote five stories a week just on Unified - and Johnston's borderline editorializing made the school district a major point of public discussion. Since both left, the JT relaxed its coverage of Unified. (Consider the paper's upbeat report on today's results.)

4. This may be for the best. Lost in many discussions of Unified is the simple fact that thousands of students learn every day. Are they ideal conditions? No. Is there room for improvement? Probably. But for most students and families, our public schools work.

5. The district faces remarkable obstacles. Over half of its students live in poverty. Its buildings are decrepit. Budgets tighten every year. Its public reputation is in shambles. And still, the doors open, teachers teach and in a couple of months, thousands of teenagers will graduate. For all its problems, the system works.

OK, on to the WKCE (Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam) results. It's tough to spin good news out of the numbers. Only a handful of grades met the thresholds established in reading and math scores. None of the high schools met the state requirements.

In its press release, the district emphasized positive numbers among elementary students, who showed progress in third and fourth grade reading. They also said students appear to be sustaining progress as they move up grades.

But the district is always going to struggle when it's dealing with this:
The level of poverty among our students continues to increase and we know that economically disadvantaged circumstances remain a factor in readiness to learn. There are 57.7% elementary, 52.1% middle, and 48.8% of our high school students who are identified as qualifying for Free or Reduced Lunch, an indicator of economic disadvantage, compared to 55.8%, 48.4%, and 45.8% respectively last school year.
Statewide, this percentage is currently 34.7%; last year statewide it was 32.9%.
I've tried to find examples of school systems succeeding in areas with high poverty rates. But the reality is it doesn't happen. School administrators can work around the edges, but they have little effect on the societal pressures that undermine the education of our children.

That said, check out the results for yourself. Here are the results and statements from the district:

April 27, 2009

Journal Times' circulation drops 4.6% on Sundays

Newspaper circulation continues to decline -- across the country in almost every big city, and here in Southeastern Wisconsin as well.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations released figures today for the six months ending on March 31, 2009. Editor and Publisher, a newspaper trade magazine, summed it up this way: "The largest metros continue to shed daily and Sunday circulation -- now at a record rate."

The daily circulation of at least two big-city papers -- the New York Post and the Atlanta-Journal Constitution -- was down 20%. Double-digit drops, like the Boston Globe's 13.6%, were not uncommon: The Miami Herald fell 15.8%; the San Francisco Chronicle, 15.7%.

On average, the 395 newspapers reporting lost 7% of their daily circulation; in a nation of over 300 million people, only 34 million newspapers are bought daily (some are shared, of course). The loss was a little less for 557 Sunday newspapers reporting: circulation was down 5.3% to 42 million.

The newspaper news from around here fell into the same pattern.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dropped 6.7% daily, and 6% on Sunday. Average weekday circulation was 203,240 for the six months ending March 31, compared with 217,755 a year earlier. Sunday was down to 361,355, compared to 384,537 in 2008.

The Journal Times had average Sunday circulation of 29,430 for the six months ending March 31, compared with 30,859 a year earlier, a decline of 4.6%. Weekday figures were not comparable due to an Audit Bureau rule change, but here are the figures we do have: Monday-Saturday circulation is now 27,627; a year ago, the JT's Monday-Friday number was 28,100, and its Saturday number was 26,664; in September 2008 the JT reported weekday sales of 28,287. (The JT got smaller in a different way earlier this month as well, cutting its physical page size by almost 10%.)

The Kenosha News reported Sunday circulation of 26,222, compared with 26,502 a year earlier, a 1% decline. Its weekday numbers also aren't exactly comparable but here's what's reported: 23,939 Monday - Saturday; a year ago, its Monday - Friday circulation was 24,535, and its Saturday number was 23,246; and in September 2008 its weekday circulation was 24,552.

Universal Language: Messerschmit helps others through Your Yoga Lifestyle

By Heather Asiyanbi

A few years ago, Linda Messerschmidt was climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying the view, but her high level of stress was starting to take its toll. She started looking for ways to help manage her stress and bring more balance to her life when she discovered yoga. At first, she embraced the practice to find some peace. Embarking on a career as an instructor was spontaneous.

"It was surprising just how much I enjoyed yoga and how my life changed because of it," Messerschmidt recalled. "I decided to go to California to a school accredited through Yoga Alliance and get a more formal education."

What she wants people to know is that yoga is not a religious practice. It actually means "union," and the practice is meant to integrate the mind and body.

"You don't have to be able to twist your body into a pretzel to do yoga, and it isn't some bizarre, freaky practice," Messerschmidt emphasizes. "I have students from every walk of life. Yoga is what you make it, a time to be away from the hectic pace of your life." Yoga is a universal language, she added, and international business guests of local companies and summer visitors who keep their boats in Racine marinas often drop in for class.

Yoga is non-seasonal and so much more than exercise. It takes strength and flexibility, certainly, to hold many of the poses, but Messerschmidt makes a point during each series to demonstrate the different postures to accommodate various levels for students.

"This is non-competitive and non-judgmental so there are no mirrors in the studio," she added. "Your Yoga Lifestyle means just that. Students only do what they can do and they shouldn't have any expectations of themselves. Some are more advanced simply because they practice more often or have been at it for a longer period of time. The point is to make each practice the most it can be for the individual."

There are some studies that show yoga can increase self-esteem, clarity, and immunity while decreasing depression and stress.

After receiving her E-RYT certification, which means she has completed required hours of instruction while also teaching a certain number of hours making her eligible to teach future yoga instructors, Messerschmidt returned to Racine to start her own business. She began by conducting on-site yoga classes for various companies, to help busy executives and their staffs reduce stress and increase their productivity. Messerschmidt enjoyed the work and welcoming more people to yoga, but she spent more time in the car driving to clients than she actually spent with students.

She set up Your Yoga Lifestyle studio at Lake House Center, across from Gateway Technical College, and began teaching there. "Bringing people out of their workplace and away from home reinforces that their yoga practice is really time for themselves, where nothing else can intrude," Messerschmidt said. Enrollment in classes continued to grow.

Then, in December 2005, Messerschmidt was diagnosed with cancer in her right eye. Doctors told her they could try a variety of procedures to try and save her eye with some considerable risks, but Messerschmidt chose to have her eye removed instead. From the moment her eye was removed, she was cancer-free and has remained so. She does get scans every six months to make sure all remains well.

"I know that sounds a little crazy," she said of her decision to lose her eye. "But I made my decision with no fear and with a totally positive outlook. Yoga helped me cope and so did my students."

The yoga studio closed for more than two months while Messerschmidt had her surgery and recuperated. She admits she was afraid she would lose students during her absence.

"Everyone came back when I returned," she remembers. "Family and friends were, of course, wonderful, but my students, many of whom I didn't know very well, were really supportive."

Eventually, Your Yoga Lifestyle outgrew the space at the Lake House and Messerschmidt moved to a storefront in West Racine on Washington Avenue. Now, Your Yoga Lifestyle occupies the second floor above Shogun Restaurant on College Avenue downtown where enrollment continues to grow, especially among corporate clients. Messerschmidt is getting set to conduct four lunchtime seminars as part of a local company's lunchtime seminar series.

In fact, Messerschmidt says she is getting an increased number of calls from businesses interested in corporate wellness programs to help keep employees productive, healthy and happy. And it's not just women who take yoga. A full 20% of Messerschmidt's enrollment are men and they actually have a higher degree of dedication than their female counterparts.

"I did an informal study and I was surprised to discover that 73% of the men keep to a regular schedule, which is almost four times the rate of the women who take yoga here," she said. When asked why that might be, Messerschmidt said she suspects it's because women have a hard time taking time out for themselves. "Moms are busy at home, with the family, and if they work outside the home, it's even worse. Men, on the other hand, don't have a problem taking time for themselves. I wish I knew how to get more women see that they deserve 75 minutes out of every week."

Your Yoga Lifestyle offers a variety of classes throughout the week for students of every level, from a beginner's program to an advanced, Ashtanga class taught by Jason Frankhouser, also certified through the Yoga Alliance. Melissa Brown is just completing her education through Yoga Alliance and will soon take over the Tuesday 7 p.m. Hatha 1 class. Her dream, Messerschmidt said, is to be able to offer classes to new teachers and to expand class offerings.

In addition to classes, Messerschmidt also hosts Lifestyle Workshops throughout the year. Upcoming events include a "Detoxify Your Body" seminar on April 25 with Arthur Shattuck, owner of Root and Legend in West Racine, as well as "Finding Inner Peace Through Anger Management" on May 2 with two experts in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga and meditation. "Deconstructing Cravings" on June 20 will be led by Heidi Fannin, health counselor and owner of Body Wellness. There is a charge for the April 25 and June 20 workshops, but the May 2 workshop is free and all are open to the public.

The workshops and seminars, as well as retreats, are meant to help deepen the yoga experience for students, to help them embrace a more holistic way of living.

"I love seeing yoga get more popular," Messerschmidt said. "But I didn't get into this for the money. I wanted to feel better, but it's really about helping others feel better."

Your Yoga Lifestyle is located at 518 College Avenue, Racine. Linda Messerschmidt can be reached at (262) 880-4044 or by visiting