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More teachers losing jobs since Act 10; Hearings set on drunken driving bills; 11 more state news stories

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More teachers are being fired in Wisconsin now that unions lost a lot of their bargaining power under Act 10.

Nobody is keeping track of how many teachers have been let go since Act 10 took effect two years ago, but officials of the state’s largest teachers union and the state School Boards Association both say they’ve seen a noticeable increase in firings and non-renewals of teacher contracts.

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It used to be that school boards needed proof of wrongdoing before they could let teachers go, but that’s no longer the case now the unions have lost virtually all of their bargaining power.

Supporters of Act 10 said too many poor teachers were being kept on the job, while unions said the law allows teachers to be fired arbitrarily.

“So many districts have thrown the idea of just cause out the window,” Christina Brey of the WEAC teachers’ union told the Oshkosh Northwestern. She said it has become an unfair process for “educators who might be targeted.”

Oshkosh school official Mike Nault said there does not appear to be an increase in teacher firings in his district. He said the key is to treat teachers fairly.

In many school districts, teachers can appeal their firings to their school boards. There are no independent arbitrators.

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Hearings set on drunken driving bills

Three more drunken driving bills will get a public hearing this week in the Wisconsin Legislature.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee will hear comments on Thursday about making first-time OWI a criminal misdemeanor if the driver’s blood alcohol level is .15 or higher.

Wisconsin is the only state where first-time drunken driving is generally a citation and not a criminal offense. The only exception is when a young child is in the vehicle.

The other two bills in Thursday’s hearing would let authorize seize the vehicles of certain drunken drivers and require all OWI suspects to appear in court at least once.

The bills are authored by Assembly Republican Jim Ott of Mequon and Senate Republican Alberta Darling of River Hills. They also sponsored three other bills which had hearings recently. Those measures would make third- and fourth-time drunken driving felonies and require longer prison terms for those who kill or injure motorists by driving drunk.

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Libraries let patrons ‘check out’ heirloom seeds

Some Wisconsin public libraries are getting involved in the trend toward locally produced food.

The La Crosse Public Library is among those that check out heirloom seeds. Folks plant them in their gardens and then return seeds from the original plants once the growing season is over.

Kelly Becker said over 600 groups of seeds have been checked out since La Crosse began its program in February. She said the demand was almost overwhelming at first as more people become interested in “eating local” and knowing where their food comes from.

Libraries in Green Lake, Wonewoc and LaFarge have similar lending programs. Madison is among those looking at the idea to see if it could be sustainable.

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Gun violence spikes in Milwaukee

Milwaukee police are dealing with a surge of gun violence in the city.

Authorities say since August 2, 23 people have been injured by gunfire. Seven of them have died.

Police Chief Edward Flynn unveiled a plan to curb the violence, including an increased police presence at trouble spots across the city.

Chief Flynn says the goal is to disrupt the criminal environment “thoughtfully.” A similar plan helped drastically drop crime rates two years ago. Authorities say there was a 67% drop in crime during that operation.

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Want to watch the Packers tonight? Try the Spanish broadcast

The continued Time Warner Cable and NBC26 dispute will prevent Green Bay Packers fans in Fox Valley from watching the pre-season game tonight.

However, a Time Warner spokesman said there is an alternative – Telemundo. He said customers will need a cable box and the broadcast is in Spanish.

Contract negotiations with the station’s parent company, Journal Communications, and Time Warner Cable have lasted a couple months with no resolution. The station’s general manager says negotiations have “stalled.”

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Robber attacks elderly woman in her home

Police in Superior are looking for a man who beat and robbed an 84-year-old woman at her home early Sunday.

Authorities said the woman answered her door around 6:30 a.m., and a man immediately punched her in the face, knocked her to the floor and demanded money. She gave him what she had. The robber then searched the house and took a few small things before running off.

Police said the attacker was 25 to 35 years old. His victim was treated at a hospital for her injuries and was later released.

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State Fair is one for record books

The Wisconsin State Fair ended last night in West Allis, and it appears to be one of the most successful in its 160-year history.

The 11-day expo had a tough act to follow after attracting 921,000 people last year – the most in well over a decade.

It’ll be a few days before we know the final attendance numbers, but organizers say the just-completed fair appears to have drawn almost one million people. Mild weather helped as last week’s heavy storms stayed to the north.

Large crowds showed up for Sunday’s final day, despite a threat of rain. Country star Miranda Lambert was the final major act.

There are a couple of big indicators that this year’s State Fair was more successful than the last. Total receipts for the Governor’s Red, White and Blue Ribbon animal sale were almost 9% higher. Also, the Wisconsin Bakers Association said last Thursday it was on track to sell over 400,000 of its signature cream puffs for the only second time since 1924.

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Friends hope balloon will trigger clues to girl’s disappearance

A candlelight vigil was held in Antigo last night to mark the fourth anniversary of Kayla Berg’s disappearance.

Her friends and relatives released 400 balloons into the air, a hundred for each year she’s been gone. Each balloon contained a photo of Kayla in the hopes it would trigger clues as to where she might be.

Kayla was 15 when a man picked her up from her family’s home in Antigo Aug. 11, 2009. According to news reports at the time, the two apparently smoked marijuana before he dropped her off at a home in Wausau where she was last seen while expecting to meet another friend.

The first man was arrested, and authorities hoped that would uncover the girl’s whereabouts.

The FBI has offered a $20,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in Kayla’s disappearance.

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People still trying to bring weapons into courthouse, says Portage Co. officer

It’s no secret that Wisconsin’s county courthouses have become more secure the past few years, but apparently not everyone has gotten the message.

In Stevens Point, authorities say they have not seen much of a decline in the numbers of potential weapons that folks try to bring into the court facilities.

Portage County Chief Deputy Daniel Kontos said over 23,000 people have been checked at what’s now the only public entrance to the courtrooms on the second floor. Still, Kontos told WSAU Radio in Wausau that 416 knives were found plus 105 other devices that could be used as weapons.

He said people are still bringing things to court like baseball bats and brass knuckles when they should know better. Nobody’s tried to smuggle in a firearm yet.

Kontos also said lots of people see the checkpoint and turn around before getting there. He calls that the “lighthouse effect” because you never know how many boat crashes lighthouses save, and you never know how many weapons might have gotten into court had people not shied away from the metal detectors.

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Blue-green algae warning issued

This is the time of year when blue-green algae makes its presence known in many Wisconsin lakes.

The state Department of Natural Resources is warning swimmers and boaters to watch out for algae blooms. Those blooms typically grow in August due to rising water temperatures and other conditions that make algae growth possible.

Last week, UW-Milwaukee said it received a $750,000 national grant to test Lake Winnebago – the state’s largest inland lake – to see if blue-green algae create toxins in drinking water.

Officials say the toxins can cause rashes, hives, aching stomachs and flu-like symptoms.

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Bank of Wausau fails

FDIC regulators have shut down the Bank of Wausau, making it the second bank to shut down in Wisconsin this year.

According to the FDIC, the single branch bank had over $43 million in assets and $40 million in deposits.

Nicolet National Bank in Green Bay has agreed to buy out about $30 million of the assets with the FDIC assuming the remainder.

The bank failure is expected to cost the insurance fund over $13million. This latest shutter brings the total number of failed U.S. banks to 18 this year, compared to 51 last year and 157 in 2010.

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Volunteers needed to extend Ice Age Trail

Slowly but surely, construction continues on Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail.

The trail’s alliance plans to build another 2.5 mile stretch in Washington County starting a week from Wednesday. The alliance is seeking at least 100 volunteers for the work.

The new path will run between the Milwaukee River and Hwy. 45 northwest of Milwaukee. When it’s finished, it will provide 36 uninterrupted miles of hiking in the region.

The Ice Age Trail will run for 1,100 miles throughout Wisconsin once it’s finished. It’s one of 11 nationally designated scenic trails across the country.

Almost 650 miles have been completed – over half the total project. Earlier this month, a new 5.5 mile stretch was opened northeast of Wausau in Marathon County.

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UW-Stevens point gets another award for conservation work

For the third year in a row, UW-Stevens Point has received a national honor for its conservation efforts.

The Princeton Review has again included the Point campus in its “Green College Honor Roll.” It’s the only one in Wisconsin to make the list, and it’s among 22 colleges around the country to get the highest possible score of 99.

The criteria includes having a healthy and sustainable quality of life.

The Stevens Point Operations and Waste Management Facility was also recognized for its various composting and recycling efforts and its use of solar power to heat water at campus dorms.

The Green College honors are listed in the Princeton Review’s “Best 378 Colleges.” That’s the same book that listed UW-Madison as the nation’s eighth-best party school.

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