December 19, 2009

Anderson, Stein not running for re-election

Two sitting aldermen will not seek re-election this spring.

Kelli Stein, who was appointed to the City Council in August, will not seek a full two-year term in April. She represents the city's 10th District on the south side. Look for Racine Unified School Board member Dennis Wiser, who finished second to Stein for the appointment in August, to run for the open seat.

Also, Bob Anderson is leaving the Council after two terms. He represents the second district, which is roughly the historic district south of Downtown Racine. Eric Marcus, a former candidate for the Racine Unified School Board, is set to run for the open seat.

The spring election is April 6 with a Feb. 16 primary, if needed. The deadline to file for election is Jan. 5. Even-numbered districts are up for election this year. Incumbents up for re-election include: Jim Kaplan, Sandy Weidner, QA Shakoor II, Aron Wisneski and Ron Hart.

Downtown's pajama party: Are we having fun yet?

Could they be having any more fun? Dover Flag's
Tina Labre, Jo Labre and Jeanne Melenric-Ehn
(Hint: A layer of bubblewrap helped.)

Downtown merchants' Shopping Jam -- otherwise known as a pajama party! -- got off to an early start.

By 5:15 a.m., when the first of Plumb Gold's staff arrived for work Saturday, more than a dozen customers were lined up outside the store's front door, damn the cold! The jewelry store clearly had hit a home run with its Shopping Jam promotional item: a free sterling silver bracelet to the first five customers. (The early bird, by the way, was smart enough to park in front of the store and wait -- warmly -- in his car!)

There wasn't quite the same rush at other downtown stores -- but all appeared to have customers during the come-in-your-PJ's party that ran from an unholy 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and beyond -- as long as the special offers and free goodies held out (superb muffins at Cup of HOPES!) And, from the look of shoppers wandering around downtown with shopping bags on their arms, these were paying customers.

As our pictures show, everyone was having a good time.

Here's Plumb Gold's staff; props to Austin Schultz for having
the courage to show up in that bathrobe (I'd hide behind shades, too!)
The girls are Abby Cobb, Becky Thompsen and Abi Steger

Music at Molly Magruder: Jeff Ward played the guitar for his wife, Dorothy

Customer hid her face, but Chris Sklba was proud of his 'jammies

Meanwhile, Santa soaked in a warm tub outside Common Scents

Snow carvers' lament: 'If only it were colder...'

Fred Gardner with his Blind Date

A phrase you don't often hear in Winter was muttered frequently in Monument Square on Saturday. "I sure hope it gets cold tonight," the snow carvers were saying out loud -- to each other and to anyone who would listen.

In fact, the day's positively balmy 36° -- by snow-carving standards -- took an early casualty: Neal Vogt's charming monster, which he began carving about 6 a.m. Saturday, collapsed into a soggy snowpile in mid-afternoon, an object lesson to the 19 other carvers. Luckily, we took a picture of it about 9:30 a.m., so if you missed seeing it on the square, here it is at right!

Jeff Shawhan said the message was clear to all the carvers: rough out your sculpture, and hope for the expected freeze tonight. Don't do the fine detailed work until Sunday morning.

Gina Dilbertl echoed his warning. "I hope it freezes so I can finish this the way I planned," she said. "Until then, I want to spend some time in the hot tub!"

Public judging of the finished sculptures will be Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with the results announced at 2 p.m. There will be three prizes chosen by the public: $500 for 1st place, $400 for 2nd and $300 for 3rd. And a final $100 prize for the sculpture judged best by the 20 carvers themselves.

Here's what some of the sculptures looked like about 3:30 p.m.

Gina Dilibertl with her cowgirl

Dan Ingebrigtson shapes his fairy's wings

Jim Malkowski made Billy the Browny the tallest sculpture

AnnMarie Harder carving The Simple Truth

Snowmaker John White with Touch of Class (cello to come later)

December 18, 2009

Shades of Kubrick, monoliths sprout in Monument Sq.

Twenty snowblocks await carvers in Monument Square Friday night

Remember the opening scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, when a monolith rises out of the earth, waking a tribe of sleeping apes?

Well, skip the apes, but be forewarned. Not one, but twenty white monoliths sprouted today in Monument Square. Kubrick never explained his ... but the origin of ours is clear: it's Winterfest, and 20 world-class snow sculptors will turn our snow blocks -- they are 4' x 4' x 8' tall -- into imaginative sculptures between tonight and noon Sunday.

Another difference between Racine and 2001 is the music: the movie's monolith appeared to the stirring strains of Richard Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathusta; ours will be serenaded by Christmas carols. (The movie link above goes to a wonderful animated exposition of 2001.)

When we checked in this afternoon, the last two snowblocks were being assembled, from snow trucked in from Christopher Columbus Causeway where it had been man-made over the past few days.

Fred Gardner, left, a retired engineer from Caledonia, IL, started smoothing his block, making the first preliminary cuts to what will become a huge version of the small clay sculpture on his workbench -- "Blind Date," he calls it. A snowcarver for more than 20 years, he has victories in Rockford, Lake Geneva and Montreal under his belt and is an Illinois State Champion -- just one of about a dozen champions tackling the snowblocks.

Some trepidation hangs in the air overhead. As Jeff Shawhan of Racine explains, and he should know, being both 2009 Chicago Champion and 2009 Wisconsin State Champion, the warm temperatures -- it was a balmy 36 degrees this afternoon -- are bound to affect the carvers; the snow may be too soft for some of the detail they had in mind. We shall see...

Snowcarving isn't all that's going on Downtown this weekend. On Monument Square Saturday, Santa will make an appearance.

And Downtown merchants have their Shopping Jam from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. -- with special treats for everyone in PJ's, and special offers and attractions all day. RAM has free admission in the morning, then a book-signing and a gift-wrapping contest.

Details of the snow carving HERE and the Shopping Jam HERE.

Snow is dumped into the last two snowblocks to be assembled

As night fell, a few sculptors got an early start...

...and kids met Santa or Mrs. Claus and their reindeer for pictures

Racine Community Foundation awards $91,000 in grants

The Board of Directors of the Racine Community Foundation recently announced the fourth quarter grants to area organizations totaling $91,503.

The Racine County Historical Society and Museum, Inc. received a grant for the development and acquisition of educational program materials and exhibit structures in support of the Racine Heritage Museum’s 2010-2011 curriculums, with an emphasis on land, water and sky. The exhibits will include large-scale transportation technologies—autos, tractors and boats.

A partial grant was made to Racine County Economic Development Corporation (RCEDC) to assist in a planning project that will be used toward the purchase and implementation of the business retention and expansion software, "Synchronist." The process concentrates on Plan Challenges that impact job creation through, entrepreneurship, business attraction, and the growth of existing businesses.

The Jane Cremer Foundation received a grant to be used toward the 2010 Racine Women’s Cancer Awareness and Education programs. These free programs will include a community-wide event, a program for the Hispanic community which will be conducted entirely in Spanish, and a program for the African American community which will focus on health issues specific to this ethnicity. Since 1998 approximately 6,300 women and over 1,000 healthcare professionals in Racine County have benefitted from 45 programs to date. Their mission is to educate and empower women to be proactive in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Human Capital Development Corp., Inc houses the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Training (FCPAT) is a local collaborative effort to recruit, train and prepare individuals with barriers to employment opportunities, in the building and construction skilled trades for the apprenticeship qualifying test (AQT). FCPAT and the Racine County Workforce Development Center will identify persons to be enrolled in programs offering soft skills and technical training. The ultimate training goal is to place individuals (women, minorities and others) in building/construction trade positions at a family sustaining living wage.

The John XXIII Educational Center received a grant to support a new after-school support program for middle and high school students and their families. The over-arching goal of the support programs, in partnership with the parents, is to enable Racine’s economically challenged students to develop personally socially, emotionally and academically so that they can graduate from high school and be prepared for success as life-long learners and leaders in the Racine community.

Family Service of Racine received a grant to be used specifically for the One Thousand Words, veteran’s art therapy program which supports the healthy recovery of veterans in our community. This program allows any veteran in Racine County to attend weekly, three hour art sessions that include instruction at Spectrum Art Gallery, free of charge. A State-certified, master-degreed therapist works directly with the participants during the sessions to address a number of stress issues. Outcomes of the program are coping skills, the ability to acquire and maintain employment, maintain positive relationships, steady income, appropriate housing and benefits for at least 50 per cent of participants.

Over Our Head Players, Inc. received a partial grant to assist with a project of a Dinner Theater at Festival Hall, Racine, for the production of “Leaving Iowa.” The specific objectives of this grant is to raise awareness and increase attendance during this season, to expand the theatrical experience for their patrons, and to provide the community with a new entertainment experience and partner with and utilize other downtown Racine facilities and organizations.

Racine Montessori Society, Inc., also know as the Racine Montessori School, located in the inner city, received financial support to be used toward the purchase and installation of signage that identifies the Nature Center to the public, seating, as well as matching signage for the solar greenhouse. The school students plan to plant, care for, and maintain the Nature Center to enhance the academic, social and community aspect of their curriculum.

At the request of 211 Racine Information & Referral, City and County of Racine parole & probation officers, and RUSD teachers/guidance counselors, to provide intervention, information, counseling services, a partial grant was made to LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin to be used toward educating, supporting and providing a safe environment for those seeking help in their struggle with their sexual orientation.

A grant was approved to Matthew 25, Ltd – Casa Cesar Chavez toward the support of disadvantaged young people by helping them to better fit into society by introducing them to reading, films and photos. The goal is to enhance their ability to see the world from a different perspective from what they are normally accustomed to see in new images so that their thinking calls much of everything into question.

A grant was awarded to The Racine County Youth Coalition (RCYC) to conduct “profiles of student life: attitudes and behavior survey” from the search institute. This survey will be administered to a maximum of 15,000, 7th through 12th graders in Racine County.

Royal Friends’ Club received a grant to support an ongoing mentoring program specifically for children, ages 7-11, in foster care in Racine County. Royal Family Kids’ Camp (a five day camp in existence for eight years) and Royal Friends’ Club, allow the children to have a sense of hope, purpose and knowledge that people love them. The children are eligible to stay in both programs as long as they are in the foster care system. It should also be noted that both programs are provided free of charge to the children, the foster parents and to the foster care system.

The Town of Norway, located in Western Racine County received a grant to be used toward the continuation of the 10-year Master Plan for Meyer Park. The current projects include a Picnic Shelter and completion of our baseball field backstop with additional tree planting for the spring of 2010. The construction of both the shelter and backstop are planned for spring of 2010. The shelter size is going to be approximately 40 feet by 40 feet which would be used by our summer playground staff as a center of activities to monitor the 150-180 children at summer playground ages 6 to 10 year old.

In other business, Marge Kozina, Executive Director, reported that as of November 30, 2009 the assets of the Racine Community Foundation were $28.8 million. The Board of Directors approved contributions, memorials new funds established and additions to existing funds and other additions totaling $222,358.33. In addition they approved advised, designated, field of interest, scholarship, organization endowment and unrestricted grants totaling $268,267.00.

The Racine Community Foundation, Inc. is a publicly supported, tax-exempt charitable organization formed in 1975. “The mission of the Racine Community Foundation is to encourage and provide opportunities for charitable giving, to manage and distribute the funds in a responsible manner and to enhance the quality of life for the people of Racine County.”

Information about the Foundation and the grant application procedure are available by contacting the Foundation at 262-632-8474 or it’s Website at

December 17, 2009

Child care audit points to Racine County deficiencies

The latest state audit of the Wisconsin Shares program -- released Thursday by the Legislative Audit Bureau -- points a finger directly at Racine County, and not in a favorable way.

The report noted that more than 600 child care centers throughout the state were overdue for inspections this year. At the same time, the caseload of Racine County's certification staff is the largest in the state: Each of the 1.75 workers tasked with that job in the county has 170 facilities to keep track of... more than any of the 11 counties the audit staff inspected.

In those counties visited, caseloads ranged from 110 to 170. The low was 23 facilities per caseload staff person in Crawford County. A national agency recommends not more than 75 facilities per certification staff person.

There are 11,120 regulated child care facilities in Wisconsin; Racine County has 298. Elsewhere in the report it lists the county as having 100 licensed family facilities, 39 licensed group facilities and 413 certified facilities -- a total of 552.

Racine also stood out among the eight cases auditors found in which a felon or child abuser was living or working in a child care facility. Of the eight, two were in Racine County:
  • A household member residing at a certified facility in Racine County was convicted of felony battery in January 2004. Racine County conducted a criminal background check of the household member in March 2009, but no action was taken. After we notified DCF of our finding, the county revoked the facility’s certification on October 9, 2009. In 2009, the facility received $6,200 in Wisconsin Shares subsidy payments
  • An employee of a licensed family facility in Racine County had a substantiated finding of child abuse in July 2004. When notified of the match, DCF indicated that the employee did not report it on her background disclosure form. Because facilities are not able to obtain information on substantiated findings of child abuse and neglect when they conduct background checks, the facility operator was not aware of the finding. DCF reported that, effective October 23, 2009, the facility is no longer licensed. In 2009, the facility received $19,500 in Wisconsin Shares subsidy payments.
Racine County child care administration expenses in 2008 were listed as $471,219, lower only than Milwaukee, Dane and Kenosha counties.

The complete audit report is HERE. This audit follows a series of investigations by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel into abuses in the $350 million Wisconsin Shares child care program. Its report on this latest audit is HERE.

Downtown at Christmas, then and now...

Main Street at Christmas during the 1950s...

Maybe it's the energy crisis, or perhaps a trend toward minimalism, but we were intrigued by two pictures showing Downtown in its Christmas finery half a century ago.

The two photos from the late 1950s show Main and Sixth Streets dressed with garlands, bells and stars. The pictures were sent to us by Gerald Karwowski from the Oak Clearing Farm Collection. Karwowski says the photographer chose a quiet time to take the pictures, possibly a Sunday night.

We thought it would be interesting to compare the streets' appearance then to the present -- although, of course, the comparison is unfair.First, the city's big and beautiful Christmas tree is out of the frame, in a different part of Monument Square, Second, we took our pictures Wednesday night, about 10 p.m. Most importantly, says Karwowski, "During December in the 1950s the streets of Downtown swelled with thousands of people out Christmas shopping." And why not? "At the time, J.C. Penney, Sears, Racine Dry Goods, Zahn's, Thrifty Sandy's and Mohr-Jones were all anchor stores. Elmwood Plaza had just opened and the mall was still a dream."

Karwowski also has fond memories of Sixth Street. On the corner of Sixth and Monument Square, was Fanny Farmers -- "Their fudge was the best in town." That corner is now occupied by Payday Loans. 'Nuff said.

Main Street, today.

Sixth Street, then...

Sixth Street, today.

December 16, 2009

Mary Beth Danielson: Buy Less. Pay More. What Did She Just Say?

By Mary Beth Danielson

This Saturday, Dec 19, 8AM-2PM -- there will be a Mayaworks Sale at Wilson’s Coffee & Tea, 3306 Washington Avenue. Please come to buy some Fair Trade products created by Maya artisans. Every item you buy (from a large selection of weavings, pretty household things, beaded jewelry, purses, totes and more) is a product that will have to be replaced by a fairly paid worker in Guatemala, thereby doubling your holiday investment of care and kindness.

That’s my main point and message -- in case you’re too busy to read the rest of this.

Fair Trade strengthens her world and ours.

Everything from here on out is “Why you should sometimes buy Fair Trade stuff.” The simple answer is that if you earn a paycheck - Fair Trade helps keep your paycheck plump, too.

Consider: My cousin recently knitted a handsome pair of blue socks for me. In a chipper conversation about the gift, I asked her how much the socks would cost if she included the price of the wool plus minimum wage for her hours of work. We cracked ourselves up when we realized I now possess $42 socks.

In this humor is the cockeyed truth of our global economy. Cheap goods are cheap because someone is being paid very low wages. In fact some say the current economic brouhaha is basically a worldwide adjustment of wages. This is because (duh) workers in other countries work for lower wages than Americans do. An article I read lately suggests that for North American workers to be competitive in our modern world, most of us should consider working for about 20% less than we do. This goes for everyone – from the CEO to the guy who sweeps his office; from the heart surgeon to the short order cook in the hospital cafeteria.

Great, huh?

Yet here is how we Americans are already paving the way to lowered wages.

Do you shop for bargains? Of course you do. Who doesn’t?

Consider… Each time you buy a $10 shirt, shoes for $15, electronics at rock bottom prices – what you are saying when you put your credit card down is that $.50 - 4.00 per hour is a fine wage for adults to earn.

Keep this clear in your mind – cheap pay is one of the main factors your purchase price is low. Someone somewhere worked for pay varying between low and near-slavery.

Many of the things we buy are made by people working 60-90 hours a week for less than a dollar an hour in sweatshop conditions. Not every foreign factory operates this way, but many do. One of the ways manufacturers coerce people into these situations is to set up a factory in one unregulated country, then bring in “guest workers” from another very poor country. If the workers resist horrible conditions, their worker status is revoked and they are sent back to their own nation, often with no payment at all. It’s an ugly business, though it enables us to buy stuff for prices far below what they would cost if manufactured in the US. Like socks for a dollar.

The important thing, in the keeping of the wool over our eyes, is to gently assume people in distant places are not quite as human as we are. Maybe they don’t mind exploitation and fatigue as much as we would. They live closer to the equator so they don’t have to pay heating bills. If they don’t have a house, then they won’t need furniture. And you know, a lot of those people are just fine eating a minimal amount of the same starchy grain over and over and over again.

We are under economic duress. We respond by looking for cheaper goods, which creates a downward spiral that causes workers to earn too little to live decently. Which causes workers in the US to lose their jobs altogether. And which enables only owners and investors to get richer.

This is too simplistic, because this is a short article. But it isn’t wrong.

You know how to fight this?

Inform yourself. Look at the labels in your favorite clothes. Google working conditions in those companies. It doesn’t take long to discover too much. Join organizations that work for economic justice at home and abroad.

But you know what else you can do?

Buy less. Pay more.

Seriously. Very few of us can do this with every purchase - but as we can, make choices that value workers.

Instead of purchasing two $10 shirts, consider buy one for $30, treat it well and make it last. Buy some of the things you need for your life secondhand. Borrow, hand down, share.

Explore Fair Trade coffee, chocolate (did you know most non-Fair Trade chocolate is picked by children?), jewelry, household goods. Every time you purchase Fair Trade, you are saying that the world belongs to the people who make and serve and care.

Value your hard work by valuing the work of others.

Becker to enter a plea next Tuesday, avoiding trial

Update: Today's the day. Two big questions will be answered at today's hearing. 1.) What is Becker pleading guilty to? 2.) How much prison time will the prosecutors go after?

Judge Stephen Simanek is presiding over the trial. For the conspiracy buffs out there, Simanek and Becker were friends before the ex-mayor was arrested and Simanek isn't running for re-election this spring.

But before the comments get going with the "Becker won't go to prison" thought, it's safe to say the former mayor will spend time behind bars. It's the appeals process that'll be worth watching.

Original post: Former Mayor Gary Becker's journey through the court system, which began last Jan. 13 with his shocking arrest on child enticement and child porn charges, may end soon.

Instead of the trial he was facing on Feb. 1, Becker is now scheduled to enter a plea to at least some of the charges on Tuesday, Dec. 22, at 2:30 p.m. before Judge Stephen Simanek.

Becker was arrested in Brookfield Square Mall when he attempted to meet up with a 14-year-old girl he had been sex-chatting with online -- except "she" turned out to be a Department of Criminal Investigation agent. Computers he had turned in for repairs to city workers were also found to have child pornography on them.

The Journal Times has a little more HERE, mostly background.

City Council passes fine on video gambling machines; Crackdown in Racine coming?

This one slipped past us, and city officials probably don't mind that it did.

Tucked into Tuesday's City Council agenda under the "Public Safety and Licensing Committee Report" was this:
Subject: Ord. 24-09 , To amend Sec. 66-3(b) and 66-299 of the Municipal Code of the City of Racine, WI relating to Payment of forfeiture in lieu of court appearance; Penalty for violation.
Clearly newsworthy, right? Well, yes. This vaguely worded motion, passed at the Dec. 7 Public Safety and Licensing Committee meeting, may significantly cut back video gambling in the city.

State law allows Class B liquor license holders to install up to five video gambling machines. Several local bars and restaurants, as well as hundreds of other Class B license holders around Wisconsin, have taken advantage of the law as a way to make more money.

But several other businesses lacking Class B licenses - such as convenience stores - are also installing video gaming machines. That's technically a violation of the state law, which allows local governments to seize the machines, with money inside, and fine the businesses $500 per machine.

The local ordinance passed by the City Council on Tuesday night reflects the state law. It changes city code to allow a $500 fine per illegal machine and seizure of the machines. Section 66-299 of the city code previously allowed a court to order police to seize the machines, but did not include a fine.

So what does all of this mean?

It seems the city is gearing up a local effort of some kind to control video gambling in the city. As it stands, several local businesses are now in danger of receiving a $2,500 fine (most places have five machines) and seizure of their games. As to whether it happens is yet to be seen.

As for the obscure wording of the agenda item, that's my mistake. We need to pay closer attention to agenda items, particularly ones written predominantly in the language of city code.

Racine close to hiring a public health administrator

Racine is close to hiring a new Public Health Administrator.

The city Board of Health interviewed an experienced Michigan woman today in closed session, and later directed city staff to negotiate terms of employment in anticipation of appointing her to the position, pending City Council approval.

The candidate is Dottie-Kay Bowersox, who now is project director of the Michigan Public Health Institute in Okemos, MI. A release from the mayor's office says she has 23-years' experience, as well as a master's degree in administration from Central Michigan University.

She as been in Okemos since May 2008. Previously, her experience includes:
  • Health Officer, Calhoun County Public Health Department, Battle Creek, MI; October 2005 – May 2008
  • Deputy Health Officer/Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, Jackson County Health Department, Jackson, MI; May 2000 – October 2005
  • Acting Health Officer, Calhoun County Public Health Department, Battle Creek, MI; September 2002 – February 2003 and May 1999 – May 2000
  • Administrative Services Supervisor/Public Health Analyst, Calhoun County Public Health Department, Battle Creek, MI; April 1996 – May 1999
  • Executive Director, Aware, Inc, Jackson, MI; August 1989 – March 1996
  • Executive Director, Oaklawn Life Improvement Center, Marshall, MI; October 1986 – August 1989
She has a bachelor's degree in management of human resources from Spring Arbor University, and an associate of fine arts in graphic design and photography from the Kendal School of Design in Grand Rapids.

The hiring, if it takes place, would finally end a situation that began last December, when former city administrator Ben Hughes gave public health administrator Janelle Grammer a negative review and she responded with a harrassment lawsuit, later dismissed by the state, and a very public trial before the City Council in June -- after which she was fired. Marcia Fernholz, who filled in as interim public health administrator, was prohibited from applying for the job because she lacks the required master's degree.

It's unclear how many of the health department's other vacancies still exist. At one point, in addition to a director, the city also was looking for a sanitarian, nurse and dietitian.

When the snow doesn't come naturally...

Snow-making produced its own rainbow Wednesday

Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Just ask John White of Dubuque, IA -- the Iowa State Snow Sculpting champion. He's in Racine for this weekend's Winterfest, whose premiere event is a snow sculpting competition in Monument Square.

But last week's massive blizzard -- the one that dropped 18" of the white, fluffy stuff on Madison -- pretty much skipped Racine entirely. Good news for most of us!! Bad news for the dozen or so snow sculptors scheduled to transform twenty big blocks of snow into imaginative creatures.

Enter John White, who brought his home-made snowaking equipment here, and was busily making snow most of the night down at the end of Christopher Columbus Causeway. He didn't stop until early Wednesday afternoon, when it got too warm -- his words -- for making snow. It was a brisk 19 or so (and my hands were freezing). The snow he's made, and will continue to make, will be trucked to Monument Square, where sculpting is set to begin Friday night.

More on the snow sculpting competition is here.

And don't forget Downtown merchants' Shopping Jam, which will provide gifts, food and excitement to all on Saturday, but especially to shoppers who brave the cold, still in their pajamas, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.m.

This tree caught a blast of man-made snow

The man behind the curtain ... um, inside the snow-making truck

...and here he is from the working end, snow spewing into the air

Super School Star: Karen Plummer, Janes Elementary

Every day students and teachers excel in our local schools. RacinePost will highlight a few of these successes with a weekly series called "Super School Stars." Do you know a student or staff member who deserves recognition? Contact us at:

Karen Plummer is the reading best practices/model school coordinator at Janes Year-Round Elementary School. "She is top-notch at staff development and does a wonderful job of sharing tips and best practices for K-3 reading. Staff from other districts around the state, including South Milwaukee and Platteville, have visited Janes to find out how Karen does it," stated Jeff Weiss, director of curriculum and instruction for RUSD. "Karen has also really led this school in the use of data for student achievement. We're very lucky to have Karen."

December 15, 2009

Raiders coach, two others win league honors

Three members of the Racine Raiders were recognized as the best by the North American Football League.

Head coach John Mamerow was named the Northern Conference Head Coach of the Year. In his second year, Mamerow led the Raiders to a 12-3 record. The team won the Great Lakes Region title and made it to the Northern Conference championship game, losing to the St. Paul Pioneers.

Wide receiver Charles Owens was named the conference Ironman of the Year. Owens had a combined 987 yards and five touchdowns. He led the NAFL in punt return yards and punt return touchdowns.

Don Wadewitz was named the Public Relations and Media Relations Person of the Year. Wadewitz spearheaded the publication of the 2009 yearbook and press releases, maintained the team website, and organized social media efforts on Facebook and Twitter.

The Raiders' website was recognized among the best in the NAFL.

St. Cat's starting wireless middle school program

No more pencils,
No more books,
No more teacher's dirty looks!
Well, two out of three isn't bad! Incoming sixth graders at St. Catherine's will face an unfamiliar landscape, as the 145-year old school -- which began as a girls academy in 1864 -- embraces cyberspace with a new "wireless" middle school next September. The program will provide all students with their own netbooks -- a smaller version of a laptop computer -- and the kids will work interactively online with eBooks.

"No more heavy textbooks to lug around," says the program's founding teacher, Elisabeth Blandford, who taught for 37 years before "retiring" from Unified to create this middle school program for St. Cat's. The program allows St. Cat's to "go green and save money and trees as we cut back on paper use."

More importantly, "students will be learning in a different way -- with an interdisciplinary format."

Blandford said the middle school will start with 25 students in sixth grade, and will add a grade each subsequent year as the students progress (offering sixth and seventh next year, and sixth, seventh and eighth the year after) ... unless there are enough students for a seventh grade class in September as well. "We're almost there already for the sixth grade," Blandford said Tuesday night.

Blandford, who is developing the program, will be its first -- and only -- teacher this first year, teaching all the core classes: English, science, math and history. "The following year, with a second grade, we'll be team teaching," she said. The netbooks -- their smaller keyboard is perfect for smaller hands -- and wireless access to eBooks are not the program's only new wrinkle. Interdisciplinary teaching, with coordinated lessons, is another.

She explained it this way: In geography class, the students might be studying Pakistan and Afghanistan. In English, they would be reading Three Cups of Tea, about mountain climber Greg Mortenson's efforts to start schools in rural Pakistan. Math would be pulled in with doing statistics, or whatever they're studying in math, on demographics and population. The same with science: the children will develop projects, individually or in small groups. "The idea is to be able to apply their knowledge in the next unit."

"The first thing the students will be exposed to is critical thinking skills and creative thinking skills, and using those in all the projects they do." Blandford said this this approach was developed by Jefferson Lighthouse in 1972. She taught Lighthouse at McKinley Middle School for 12 years, then went to Mitchell. "I was so disappointed when the Lighthouse program took hit after hit. Thirty years ago, when it was developed, it was 30 years ahead of its time."

"By seeing how concepts and skills are used differently or in the same way across the curriculum, students understand the concepts and skills better, remember them longer, and apply them appropriately to new learning situations. They are ready to apply those concepts and skills in the real world. Research shows us that this method of teaching is superior," said Blandford.

"I expect there will be some sixth graders doing seventh grade math. The idea is to meet every kid where they are and help them succeed, and facilitate the pace they are comfortable with."

A master teacher, Blandford has a Master's Degree from Carthage College, and was the Phi Delta Kappa 2007 Outstanding Educator of the Year in Southeastern Wisconsin. She retired from Unified to take this job, and says: "This is the biggest, most exciting opportunity of my career. I've never been more excited.

"I've been a 'public school lady' all along, and I think the public schools in Racine are doing a great job, considering all the problems they have to deal with, like educational requirements not funded by the state. I've had many absolutely fabulous colleagues. Now I'm doing something different.

"I keep walking down the halls saying -- you remember the line from Field of Dreams? -- 'Is this Heaven? No, it's Iowa.' Well for me, the answer is, 'No, it's St. Cat's.' "

St. Cat's said its new wireless program will prepare middle school students for twenty-first century problem solving, putting students on a fast track and enabling them to begin taking high school credit classes as seventh and eighth grade students.

"Successful learning starts with willing students, supportive parents and outstanding teachers. Elisabeth Blandford will be the cornerstone of our staff as we assemble a first-rate faculty over the next few years. It will take some time, but I am confident that our mission, curriculum, technology and teachers will place our new 6-12 program among the very best schools,” said Christopher Olley, St. Catherine’s High School president.

For more information on becoming a student contact Sean Brady, St. Cat's admissions director, by email or phone at 632-2785 ext. 429. Students must sign up by Jan. 15 for classes which start next September. Tuition is $4,500 a year, with $1,500 financial aid available. Tech/book fee is $400.

Chinese delegation visits -- Racine may get a new sister city

Carolyn Milkie, Sheyang Mayor Chao Xu and John Dickert
'sign commitments to consider future alliances'

A week after they've come and gone, we're told that a delegation of Chinese government officials and businessmen visited Racine and met with local government officials.

RCEDC sent out a press release this morning saying "The Racine County community recently hosted a reception honoring Wanming Chi of the China SINB group and five government officials from Sheyang, China."

A call to RCEDC brought back the information that the reception took place Dec. 5.

The press release went on to remind us that the China SINB Group purchased 54 acres in Mount Pleasant in July, and has proposed the development of an Eco-Business Park with 600,000 sq. ft. of office and production space.

Among the local officials sitting down with the Chinese were Carolyn Milkie, president of the Mount Pleasant Village Board; Peter Hansen, president of the Racine County Board; and Racine Mayor John Dickert. All three -- according to the press release -- made the usual stilted welcoming remarks: Milkie: "The Village welcomes the opportunity to work with ...investors that discover the benefits of our location in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor." Hanson: "Racine County is well positioned and open for business." Dickert: "The cities of Racine and Sheyang have significant similarities, both communities are waterfront cities, home to industries and open to forming new, mutually beneficial alliances."

Sheyang, according to the 'net, is on the Yellow Sea and has a population of 1,047,000 (and is not to be confused with Shenyang, which is four times larger). Pictures of Sheyang are here, on the city's English-language website.

According to RCEDC, both Racine and Mount Pleasant have agreed to consider sister city agreements with Sheyang, "the first step that will lead to cultural and business exchanges that will benefit both communities."

Racine's current sister cities are: Oiso, Japan; Montelimar, France; Aalborg, Denmark; Zapotlanejo, Mexico; Forteleza, Brazil; and Bluefields, Nicaragua. Mount Pleasant has none, but Milkie said the village "would like to foster some idea exchanges and educational exchanges. The more we do, the more likely is further investment in Mount Pleasant." Wanming Chi, she said, "knows some very influential people."

Alderman wants closer look at American Tire and Recycling

Update: Alderman Shields was the only council member to vote against the American Tire and Recycling proposal Tuesday night. The full council approved the $39,600 incentive for the company.

Original post: Alderman Michael Shields wants the City Council to hold off on approving a deal that would help American Tire and Recycling, based in Niagara, Wis., to open a plant at a trucking depot in Racine.

Shields said he wants to ask more questions about the company, which plans to recycle tires into fuel for power plants and surfaces for playgrounds. The plant/distribution site is expected to create as many as 88 jobs at 2301 S. Memorial Drive.

The City Council's Finance and Personnel Committee voted last week to pay American Tire and Recycling's rent for its first 18 months in Racine. The incentive amounts to $39,600; in exchange, the company has agreed to give Racine residents preference for the jobs.

Shields said he wants Keary Ecklund, owner of American Tire & Recycling, to answer the same questions local developers have had to answer about their projects. Ecklund has yet to appear before a city committee.

"Everybody should be treated and evaluated the same way," Shields said, adding about Ecklund: "I think it's very strange he hasn't shown up."

Shields said he had questions about Ecklund's background, which includes a handful of court cases. Ecklund was the owner of a failed indoor football league and had a tax warrant filed against him by the state in 2005. The last court case involving Ecklund was filed in 2007, according to state records.

Shields handed out a packet of information at the meeting detailing court cases

The City Council will consider the incentive for American Tire and Recycling at its meeting tonight.

Sports jersey store in Racine offers discount to collect toys for kids in need

Jimmie Ross at Fantasy Sports, 1351 Lathrop Ave.

Jimmie Ross, the owner of Fantasy Sports at 1351 Lathrop Ave., is looking to help some kids in needs this Christmas. To do it, he's offering to help his customers, too.

If you bring in a new toy to Fantasy Sports before Christmas, he'll give you an extra 15 percent off any jersey, hat or other sports-related item in the store. It's a great deal considering Ross is already offering 25 percent off store merchandise. With a new toy (bring something you'd give to your own child, Ross asked), shoppers can receive 40 percent off. Authentic NFL jerseys selling for $129.99 can be had for $77.99, which is a competitive price in the area.

"If you go to other stores you can get a printed jersey for that much, and those will fade after washing a few times," Ross said.

But while sales will be nice for the new store - Ross and his wife, Deborah, opened Fantasy Sports on Sept. 5 - he's emphasizing the toy drive as a way to help kids in need.

Ross got the idea as a way to teaching his 8-year-old son the importance of helping others. "I wanted to show him a different meaning of Christmas," he said. "It's more than receiving gifts."

Fantasy Sports, located at the corner of Lathrop and Wright avenues, is a sports jersey store featuring garb from NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL teams. Ross, a Louisiana native and New Orlean Saints fan, got the idea for the store after friends started paying him to track down obscure jerseys. With his wife's support, the service turned into a full-time business.

The store is packed with jerseys from several NFL teams, including the Green Bay Packers. Despite the Packers' success this year, Ross said the No. 1-selling jersey is still Brett Favre. He has Favre jerseys for the Vikings and the Packers, the latter for Favre fans who can't bring themselves to wear purple and gold.

(Interestingly, Ross said an increasingly popular Packers request is rookie linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. Unfortunately, those jerseys are hard to come by, at least for now, he said.)

Along with jerseys, Ross has a nice collection of unique New Era hats. With the 40 percent discount, you can get one of the hats for $15.

While the 15 percent new toy discount expires at Christmas, Ross said, Fantasy Sports' 25 percent off sale will run through the end of the year.

Looking ahead to 2010, Ross said he planned on adding soccer jerseys. He's also hoping to lure the Milwaukee Bucks' Brandon Jennings to Racine. Ross was good friends with Jennings' late father, and he's a fourth cousin of the star point guard.

Visit Fantasy Sports at 1351 Lathrop Ave. or give Jimmie Ross a call at (262) 412-1154.

December 14, 2009

RDA passes option for West Racine grocery store, restaurant and gas station

A crowd packed Monday's Redevelopment Authority meeting to see what would happen with Tom Tousis's request for an option to build a grocery store, restaurant and gas station in West Racine. His request passed on a unanimous voice vote. So many people packed the committee room Mayor John Dickert, left-foreground, stood for the discussion and vote.

A proposed grocery store in West Racine cleared the first of several hurdles Monday evening.

The Redevelopment Authority voted unanimously to grant developer Tom Tousis an option on land at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard to build the grocery store, along with a restaurant and gas pumps.

Tousis's request now heads to the full City Council on Jan. 5 for final approval on the option. It's a positive step forward for Tousis, but the approval process is far from over.

If the City Council finalizes the option, the city's Access Corridor Review committee and Plan Commission will review the specifics of Tousis's proposal. Both committees will take a close look at the project's layout, traffic impact and the overall fit in West Racine.

Monday's meeting went relatively smoothly for a project that's proven controversial in recent months. The meeting opened with RDA member Pete Karas asking the proceeding be held in open session. No one objected and the meeting proceeded with the understanding that it could go into a closed session, if needed.

Tousis and developer Ray Leffler sat at the table along with the RDA members and City Development Director Brian O'Connell. Mayor John Dickert, Aldermen Terry McCarthy, Aron Wisneski, Sandy Weidner and Mike Shields watched in the audience. Alderman Jim Spangenberg sits on the RDA.

There was little debate on the proposal and once Karas made a motion to accept Tousis' option, with Scott Terry seconding, the proposal passed on a unanimous voice vote with no further discussion.

Despite taking a step forward, Tousis's proposal is far from finalized. Along with passing city committee and the City Council, it needs to come back before the RDA to finalize a developer's agreement. Tousis must also secure a liquor license and financing for the $5 million project.

The option approved Monday by the RDA would sell RDA-owned land at Washington Avenue and West Boulevard to Tousis for $250,000. Tousis would receive $50,000 of mortgage relief every year for five years - or $250,000 - if he creates at least 24 jobs.

Leffler, a prominent local developer who is working with Tousis, said the project would create more than 24 jobs.

"We want to over-deliver, which is what our intention is," Leffler told the RDA.

December 13, 2009

Champions! Mitchell students win MSOE Challenge

Holly Munch, Jason Bernhardt, Sam Kohlmann and Elizabeth Brau, l-r,
hold Overall Champion Trophy from National Fluid Power Challenge

Story and photos by Keith Kohlmann

Twelve eighth grade students from Mitchell Middle School's Technology Education class, "Gateway to Technology," competed in the National Fluid Power Challenge Championship at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). They were led by their Technology Education teacher, Keith Kohlmann and school counselor Kate Mascarette.

All Mitchell students in the "Gateway to Technology" classes built fluid power machines as part of "Project Lead the Way," a national standard for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education. The program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, prepares students for engineering careers.

Twelve students were chosen for the three Mitchell teams, each of which comprised two boys and two girls. They had four weeks to develop and build, during class, a working prototype of a four-function, three-axis hydraulic lifting machine. Their machines had to meet some very tight specifications.

A camera crew from Channel 10 has been following their progress for the last month as part of a documentary called, "Innovations in Education." It will be a reality show illustrating the excitement of science and technical education using real students. In November they filmed the Mitchell kids in action at MSOE and again in the classroom last Wednesday.

Each team had to submit a technical report on their machine as part of the overall point total. The 14-page reports were finished at 3:30 on Thursday. On Friday, Dec. 11, the Mitchell teams joined 14 teams from the Milwaukee area at MSOE for the competition. Starbuck Middle School also participated, sending four teams.

All teachers left the room for a tour of the MSOE fluid power engineering labs, and the students were then given three hours to build a second version of their hydraulic lifting machine, using only their tools, a box of materials and the technical report containing the plans they drew. As they worked, judges graded the groups on teamwork, cooperation, technical skills and answers to quiz questions.

The students worked non-stop, measuring, cutting wood, gluing parts and checking their work against their plans. They worked through lunch, with some teams placing the last components and trouble-shooting problems in the final seconds.

The teachers returned to watch the teams operate their machines in the Fluid Power Challenge. Points were scored for each object successfully picked up and moved with fluid power during a two-minute round. There were many tense moments; machines broke down, strategies failed. A month's worth of preparation led up to this final test.

Cory Trossen, Keeley Gwizdala, Shanya Haines, Garrett Sexton

Mitchell Team 3 went first, flaming out when they blew a hydraulic cylinder, scoring zero points.

Tom Vertz, Hallie Sensig, Tacoiya Anderson, Josh Ertl

Mitchell Team 2 scored early by placing a three point cylinder on the delivery shelf, but then lost all their points when they knocked it off trying for a second three-point score.

The teams from Racine Starbuck and Greenfield Bilingual Academy turned up the heat by repeatedly scoring points during their two-minute rounds. They were tied for first place with 8 points each.

Holly Munch, Elizabeth Brau, Jason Bernhardt, Sam Kohlmann
use hydraulic actuators to operate their fluid power machine.

Mitchell Team 1 drew the last round. A last-minute change in their communication plan got them off to a shaky start and they barely scratched together three points in the first minute. With time slipping away, they regrouped and scored six more points in less than 20 seconds, putting them in the lead with nine points.

While the students cleaned up, the judges totaled each team's points in the areas of design, structural stability, teamwork, technical knowledge, engineering portfolio and machine performance, deciding the winner in each category, as well as the overall champion.

Mitchell Team 2 (Tom Vertz, Hallie Senzig, Tacoiya Anderson and Josh Ertl) took home the "Best Engineering Portfolio" trophy.

Mitchell Team One (Elizabeth Brau, Holly Munch, Jason Bernhardt and Sam Kohlmann) received the "Overall Champion" First Place award by posting the highest point totals in all areas of the competition.

NFPA participants from Mitchell Middle School and their teachers are invited to attend the premiere of "Innovations in Education" in January at Discovery World in Milwaukee. The video is scheduled for nationwide distribution to educators and classrooms this spring.

The Fluid Power Challenge is a skills competition intended to expose students and teachers to engineering problem-solving using fluid power technology. Students then are encouraged to select high school courses in math, the sciences and technology that will lead to post-secondary studies and, eventually, careers in fluid power.

Industries in the Racine area have had a long history of invention and innovation in the fluid power industry. Local industry sponsors of the National Fluid Power Challenge include: Air-Logic, Bosch Rexroth, and Racine Federated, Inc.

Champions:Front, l-r: Elizabeth Brau, Keeley Gwizdala, Hallie Senzig,
Tacoiya Anderson, Shayna Haines, Holly Munch, Garrett Sexton,
Sam Kohlmann; back: Jason Bernhardt, Cory Trossen,
teacher Keith Kohlmann, Tom Vertz, Josh Ertl

County Board Supervisor Mike Miklasevich dies

Racine County Supervisor and former County Board chairman Michael Miklasevich died early Sunday morning at Wheaton-Franciscan Hospital after a brief battle with acute t-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma.

Miklasevich represented Mt. Pleasant on the county board since 1996, and was chair from 2006 to 2008.

He was a member of the Make A Difference Day Committee, which won national honors from 1995 – 2000 and a member of the Greater Racine delegation in 2003 when Racine was named an All America City. He was nationally involved with the Children’s Shrine Hospitals, and an active member of the Tripoli Shrine Club, the Racine Shrine Club, Racine Masons, and Milwaukee Court #101 of the Jesters. Mike was a member of St. Richard’s Catholic Church and served on the Holy Name Elementary School Board.

Miklasevich retired as Manager of Case Credit, North America, and was owner of M & M Investments. He is survived by his mother, two brothers, an aunt in Pennsylvania and an uncle in Washington. Draeger-Langendorf Funeral Home is handling the funeral arrangements.

County Executive William McReynolds said, “We have lost an outstanding person in Mike. He was a close friend, great mentor, quietly generous and devoted to the County Board. I always saw Mike as the type of guy who wanted to do the right thing."

Watercolor Wisconsin opens at Wustum;
sculpture by Russell Bohn wins 1st Place

La Ultima y Nos Vamos by Francisco Mora, 2nd Place Winner
Photos by Jon Bolton, Racine

By Julie A. Jacob for RacinePost
For the Racine Art Museum and watercolor artists in Wisconsin, December is more than the season of holiday cheer, evergreens, and red bows. If it’s December, then it’s time for the opening of RAM’s annual Watercolor Wisconsin exhibit.

On Sunday afternoon, the Wustum campus of the Racine Art Museum hosted the opening reception for Watercolor Wisconsin 2009. This year’s exhibit, which runs until April 24, features 106 watercolor paintings and other artwork created by 87 Wisconsin artists. A panel of experts from outside the state selected the works from among 295 pieces submitted by 164 artists. About 25 percent of the pieces are from artists in the Racine area. Several of the painting in the exhibit received awards, and RAM will purchase three pieces for its permanent collection.

This year’s first-place award winner was a sculpture, instead of a painting. Dad Hitch-hiking to the Tavern, created by Russell Bohn, is a paper mache, watercolor, acrylic, and latex sculpture (at right). Second-place went to Francisco Mora for his watercolor painting, La Ultima y Nos Vamos, and third to Alice Rossman for her painting, Could Use a Broome. In addition, several artists received cash merit awards or awards of art supplies.

Watercolor Wisconsin has a long and distinguished history. The exhibit, now in its 43rd year, began as a joint project between the Wustum Museum and the Racine Junior League. The Junior League bowed out of the project after a few years, but Wustum continued sponsoring the annual competition and show.

Wisconsin is well known as a center of watercolor painting excellence, said Bruce W. Pepich, RAM’s executive director and curator of collections. That may be due to the state’s beauty –the forests, farms, rivers, and lakes – that inspire artists to paint outdoors. The sheer, soft colors of watercolor paints are ideal for conveying the shifting, ethereal beauty of nature. This year’s exhibit includes many pastoral Wisconsin scenes, including pictures of cows grazing in a field, gardens, trees, and the lakefront.

“Watercolors can very effectively communicate fog, most, and water scenes,” said Pepich.

Could Use a Broome
by Alice Rossman, 3rd Place Winner

But although watercolor painting has its roots in landscape painting, it is used for a much broader range of subjects today. In addition, watercolor paints are often mixed with other materials, such as pencil, ink, and acrylic. Subjects in this year’s exhibit includes urban scenes, abstracts, and portraits.

Although the subjects and styles of each year’s entries vary widely, trends and themes emerge over the years. For example, noted Pepich, the entries one year included many still life paintings; in another year, many entries included purple in the palette. This year, the exhibit features many small paintings.

“The judges found a lot of small jewels,” said Pepich.

Another unique aspect of Watercolor Wisconsin is that the judges actually come to the museum to view the entries. For most exhibitions, judges look at online digital photos of the entries. For Watercolor Wisconsin, however, the judges come to the museum and spend a day looking at the entries. The judges this year were Steven Jones, the art gallery and collection curator at the College of Lake County in Grayslake and William Lieberman, director of Zolla/Lierberman Gallery in Chicago.

The Watercolor Wisconsin exhibit is free. Wustum Museum, 2519 Northwestern Ave., is open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information on the Racine Art Museum and Watercolor Wisconsin are online.

License plate recognition cameras still in budget;
Gateway gets $500,000 for health lab building

While most of us were sitting on our butts Sunday watching the Packers eke out a victory over the Bears, or endangering our lives (and credit cards) at the mall, the U.S. Senate was busy approving a $1.1 trillion spending bill.

And agreeing to send $800,000 directly to Racine. The projects the bill will fund here are:
  • $100,000 to fight crime with four license plate recognition cameras to be mounted on police cars.
  • $500,000 for Gateway Technical College, to renovate and equip its Health Occupations Laboratory.
  • $200,000 for Racine’s EXCEL Program to address student risk factors and student / parent needs. This program includes age-appropriate activities in a variety of curriculum areas that address the physical, intellectual, and emotional needs of the students.
Deep in the FY10 Omnibus Appropriations bill -- which combines $447 million for federal agencies and $650 million for benefit programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- is $850,000 for crime prevention in Southeastern Wisconsin. Milwaukee gets $750,000 of that; we get the rest, thanks to Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Gateway and EXCEL funds are part of $3.2 million for job training, education, and health care initiatives in the Milwaukee area. Most of that is going to UW-Milwaukee, $900,000, and Marquette University, $850,000.

Racine's projects are just three of 5,244 earmarks included by members of Congress, with a total cost of just under $4 billion, according to the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Another earmark that may benefit us is $3,409,000 to enhance Wisconsin’s transit system: The federal funds will be used to support Wisconsin’s transit agencies, by purchasing buses, support vehicles, vans and taxis across the state. Funding will also go to construct, upgrade and repair transit facilities and to purchase equipment to improve fleet operations and security.

We had an earlier story about the license plate recognition cameras in November, when the Senate first approved its version of the Appropriations bill, but now it goes to President Obama for signature... and disbursement. And just in time, we might add: the government's previous spending authorization bill expires on Dec. 18.