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School district releases survey results; board chooses no new school option


UPDATE: Region braces for next round of snow; Ellsworth voters reject referendums; 6 state stories

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UPDATE: Region braces for next round of snow; Ellsworth voters reject referendums; 6 state stories
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

No good day goes unpunished -- not in Wisconsin this winter. After the two mildest days of 2014 this week, up to a foot of snow is predicted for Thursday and into Friday as an intense low-pressure system builds steam from the Great Plains.


The Eau Claire and Black River Falls regions may get 8- to12 inches of wet, heavy snow. Six- to 12 inches are predicted for central and north central Wisconsin. The La Crosse region could get 6- to10 inches. Northeast Wisconsin is projected for 4- to 8 inches.

In southern Wisconsin -- including Madison and Milwaukee -- only an inch or two are in the forecast, but those places are supposed to get freezing rain that could create a quarter-inch of ice.

Also, brutal winds are due in late Thursday afternoon and into Friday, with gusts up to 40- and 45-miles-an-hour statewide. The National Weather Service says it could close highways in west central Wisconsin, and cause white-out conditions in a number of places. Once the snow leaves on Friday, it's supposed to get cold again for the weekend with lows either below zero or in the single-digits above. Tuesday was the warmest day in three months in far northern Wisconsin -- where it got up to 42 in Ashland. Another dry-and-mild day is expected Wednesday.

Voters reject Ellsworth school referendum, approve others

Wisconsin voters appeared to be in a generous mood yesterday, as they approved three building referendums and rejected only one.

Just over 60 percent of voters in Ellsworth said no to borrowing over $29 million for a new elementary school and other projects.

A statement on the district's web site said voters rejected question number one -- a request to fund new facilities, but a margin of 901 "yes" to 1,379 "no". A second question, which would have authorized an added $800,000 in operating funds, was defeated 1,038 "yes" to 1,243 "no".

"The Ellsworth Community School District Board of Education would like to thank the members of the Ad Hoc Facilities Committee, all of our staff, and community members who worked hard to develop the referendum questions that were put before our community. While these were not passed, we will continue to work to find the best avenues to address our district’s financial and facility needs," a statement from district officials said.

Appleton, Onalaska, and Lomira were the places where bonding referendums were approved.

Fifty-eight percent of 8,700 Appleton school voters said yes to borrowing $25 million for a number of upgrades.

In Onalaska, near La Crosse, voters overwhelmingly said yes to $16 million for remodeling and additions in two elementary schools.

Lomira voters agreed to borrow $24 million for school building work. That passed by 27 votes out almost 1,500 cast.

In addition, Onalaska voters endorsed requests for new technology equipment, and exceeding the state-mandated revenue limit.

Appleton voters accompanied their bonding approval by saying yes to $5 million more for recurring expenses.

Revenue cap referendums were approved in Stockbridge and River Ridge, and rejected in Herman.

Also, numerous city, county board, and school board primaries were held throughout the state.

In River Falls, incumbent mayor Dan Toland pulled 291 votes over would-be opponents Mike Wharton, who got 64 vote and former mayor Don Richards, who received 138 votes. Toland and Richards will face-off in the April 4th election.

Three people challenged Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima -- and he was among the two top vote-getters advancing to the April general election, along with attorney Shawn Reilly.

Accountability package would more closely watch private schools

MADISON -- Private schools that get tax funds to teach low-income kids would face more scrutiny under a limited school accountability package approved Tuesday.

The Wisconsin Senate sent the bill to the Assembly on a 29 to 3 vote. Democrats Jon Erpenbach, Bob Wirch, and Jennifer Shilling voted no.

The private voucher schools would be graded by the state on their performance, just like public schools are now and they would have to provide a host of new data by 2015, instead of a previously-set date of 2020. However, the lowest-performing schools would not get sanctions.

Republican Education Committee chairman Luther Olsen of Ripon said he had to delay what he called a more "ambitious agenda" -- but he calls the watered-down measure a "big step forward."

Racine Democrat John Lehman said the bill doesn't go far enough. He accused Republicans of caving in to conservative voucher school supporters. Also yesterday, the Senate gave final legislative approval to four bills aimed at fighting the state's growing heroin problem.

Those measures were sent to Gov. Scott Walker on voice votes.

Assembly passes new provision for investigation of in-custody deaths

MADISON -- Wisconsin police departments would be required to have outside agencies review the deaths of suspects in custody, under a bill passed by the Assembly. The measure was sent to the Senate Tuesday evening on a voice vote.

An earlier version of the bill would have also created a statewide review panel to examine officer-involved deaths, with an eye toward setting uniform policies in that area. Police officials called the panel unworkable, and it was scrapped in recent negotiations to keep the measure alive.

Also, the Assembly voted 60 to 39 in favor of a scaled-back measure to speed up appeals of state laws which are blocked by judges.

On a voice vote, the lower House agreed to do more to make sure alleged domestic and child abusers turned in their guns as required when restraining orders are placed on them.

The Assembly also voted to let doctors apologize to families for bad medical outcomes on their relatives, without having those statements used against them in malpractice suits.

Bills were also approved to increase state funding to expand the zones where Milwaukee Police can determine when gunshots are fired on a real-time basis -- and to increase the numbers of county jail inmates who can be strip-searched.

Finally, on a 58-38 party-line vote, majority Republicans voted to begin the process of seeking a U.S. constitutional convention for a new amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.

Republican majority stalls tougher pollution rules passed 4 years ago

MADISON --Wisconsin industries and wastewater plants could delay expensive improvements to reduce the phosphorus they dump into waterways.

On a voice vote Tuesday the Senate agreed to hold up regulations passed by majority Democrats in 2010.

Business groups said the requirements would put undue hardships on them, while farms and other non-point sources would not face the same rules. Under the new bill, companies and communities could delay the new emission restrictions for up to 20 years if they can prove a financial hardship in meeting them.

The measure now goes to the Assembly.

Also, senators voted 25- to 7 to no longer apply the sales tax to aircraft maintenance parts and labor.

And on a voice vote, senators agreed to allow charity duck races without making them run afoul of state anti-gambling laws. That bill now goes to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.

Ryan hasn't ruled out White House bid in 2016

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- House Budget chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville says he's keeping his options open about a possible run for the presidency in 2016, but he won't start to survey the political landscape until Congress completes its business for this year.

For now, Ryan -- the 2012 vice-presidential nominee -- said he's focused on running the House Budget Committee, and he'll worry about the other things later. Ryan made his comments in Manchester New Hampshire last night, where he spoke at a fund-raiser for former House colleague Frank Guinta who's trying to win his job back after he lost in 2012.

Ryan also praised the Tea Party's influence on the GOP, and said inter-party skirmishes were nothing more than "creative tension." He said the Republicans lost their footing before 2010 -- and Ryan said the Tea Party has"done a great service to become a real fiscal conservative party."

DNR board considers state park hunting rules

Hunters could not shoot their weapons across trails in state parks, under a policy to be considered next week by the Natural Resources Board.

A state law passed three years ago allows hunting and trapping in state parks, and it gives the DNR Board the authority to ban those activities in certain places.

Earlier, the panel approved emergency rules to prohibit guns and arrows from being shot across trails, and to require the use of dog-proof traps for last year's hunting seasons. Next Wednesday, the board will consider permanent rules.

Officials say they should not have any new effects although trappers would be mainly limited to taking raccoons in the state parks.

Amery Chief placed on leave

AMERY -- Amery's police chief is on paid administrative leave, after he was arrested for drunk driving this past weekend.

The City Council's personnel committee discussed Thomas Marson's arrest on Monday. Any action by the full council is not expected until next Monday. The city issued a statement Tuesday confirming Marson's leave, and naming retired sergeant Mark Meyer as the acting police chief.

He had been working for the Amery police force part-time during his retirement.

Marson was arrested after his personal vehicle slid into a ditch late Saturday night about five miles south of Amery.

Murderer who pleaded insanity rejected for jury duty

A man who was found innocent by insanity in the murders of his wife and two kids in 1987 was called to jury duty in Milwaukee County this week.

Keith Kalota had spent 16 years in treatment before he was released from the state's Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison.

Kalota was among 28 potential jurors questioned for the trial of a defendant accused of possessing an illegal fire-arm silencer.

Kalota said he was told that he could serve on a jury, because he was never formally convicted of a felony.

Attorneys on both sides decided not to choose him to help decide their case.

Steve Dzubay
Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer since 1995. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.
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