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Wisconsin roundup: Major UW restructuring to be announced; more state news briefs

MADISON — University of Wisconsin President Ray Cross is expected to announce a major restructuring of the state's 26 campuses to cut costs and deal with declines in enrollments.

It would not close any campus — a political no-no for decades — but among other things, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says two-year campuses would be clustered with four-year schools in the same region, thus letting them share personnel and make it easier for students at the two year colleges move to four year schools to get degrees. The state's largest news outlet says the move is fueled by demographics, as 95 percent of Wisconsin's population growth is expected to be seniors 65 and older by 2040, with a miniscule increase in working aged adults 18 to 64. One reported goal of the new plan is to stabilize enrollments at the two-year schools, which have had 32 percent fewer students since 2010.

High water levels threaten Lake Superior shorelines in Wis.

High water on Lake Superior is eroding shorelines in far northwest Wisconsin.

Wayne Jensen of Minneapolis tells the Star Tribune he saw a nearly 100 square foot chunk of his vacation land in Bayfield County disappear into Lake Superior last month at Port Wing — and it carried trees with it. In Duluth, Nancy Shaw says there was 1 inch of water in her basement near the lakeshore at Park Point — her first significant flooding since the 1960s.

Officials say the region has had 30 percent more rain than normal in the past decade — and it caused Lake Superior to rise 31 inches since 2007, to the point where it's only 2 inches below its record high water level set in the 1980s. Residents say more water needs to be released at gates on the St. Mary's River, but officials say the flows are regulated by international rules — and one more gate than last year is now open.

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Lawyers to Minn.: Let Wis. boy dance

  1. PAUL — A legal foundation says it vows to file suit against the Minnesota State High School League, if it does not allow boys to compete on varsity dance teams.

The Pacific Legal Foundation went to bat Tuesday for Kaiden Johnson of Superior, a member of his high school's dance squad who could not compete in last December's conference meet in Duluth because the state allowed only girls in that event. The foundation now calls that unconstitutional.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the league has not commented, but a state dance team association official said in May that it wouldn't be easy to change the rule because teams with girls only are needed to balance the boys only teams as part of the federal Title IX law.

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Lawmakers press veterans secretary on King nursing home

MADISON — State Veterans Affairs Secretary Dan Zimmerman says he's taking steps to resolve numerous problems at his agency's nursing home at King in Waupaca County.

The Legislature's Joint Audit Committee put Zimmerman on the hot seat Tuesday, in the wake of a state audit which found staffing shortages, heavy overtime, and low morale as $55 million was transferred from the home to other state programs since 2003.

Zimmerman joined the agency earlier this year, after the audit was ordered — and he says he has "immersed" himself at King, hiring a recruiter and clamping down on overtime to deal with the nursing shortage. Lawmakers said they remain concerned about the money transfers, and they'll keep pressing for accountability.

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Former leaders claim state unit closed because they did ‘too good’

MADISON — Leaders of a state corrections internal affairs unit said it was shut down because they "found out too much" about abuses at Lincoln Hills, and it made the agency look bad.

The Office of Special Operations dug up alleged abuses of juvenile inmates by staffers, which led to an ongoing federal probe and a lawsuit that resulted in orders for the state to improve its procedures. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel obtained documents in which former unit head Steve Wieringa and investigations chief Cheryl Frey told a policy adviser they were doing "too good," and that's why the unit merged into a group aimed at reducing sex assaults in prisons. Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook says the allegation has "no credence." State Senate Democrat LaTonya Johnson says it's an effort by Republicans to cover up what she called Gov. Scott Walker's "mishandling" of the situation.

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Former Wis. couple dies in wildfires

NAPA, Calif. — A former southeast Wisconsin couple has died in the northern California wildfires.

The New York Times says 100-year-old Charles Rippey and his 98-year-old wife Sara died together as rapidly moving flames roared through their home in Napa, near San Francisco. Both went to the same elementary school in Hartford — and they graduated from UW-Madison and later raised five children. Seventy-year-old son Mike Rippey said his parents "couldn't be without each other" — and they most likely would have wanted to die together if they had the choice. Charles and Sara Rippey celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary earlier this year.

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Foxconn signs local memorandum for plant, growth

MOUNT PLEASANT — Foxconn has signed a memorandum of understanding with Racine County and Mount Pleasant about the company's new high tech plant and the land it will sit on.

It's a major step toward a development agreement that spells out public investments and a 30 year TIF district in which the taxes on the site would pay for the local taxpayer costs.

Among other things, Foxconn guarantees that its screen plant would have a taxable value of $1.4 billion by 2022, after construction begins next October. And it spells out public loans and ownership of land for the plant, future expansion, and a nearby site to be used by the company or suppliers. The memorandum came out just before three public information meetings on the Foxconn project, the first being Wednesday in Mount Pleasant.

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Corn harvest remains slow

MADISON — Only 5 percent of Wisconsin's corn for grain has been harvested, and that's 12 days behind schedule.

The state Ag Statistics Service says 72 percent of the corn for animal feed is in the bin, five days behind the average. Widespread rain showers slowed last week's field work, but grain moisture levels were reduced by the dry weather in September and early October.

Sixty-nine percent of the state's corn is rated good to excellent, along with 72 percent of the soybeans. Almost one third of the beans have been harvested, four days ahead of last year but one day behind the five year norm.

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Former state Dem chair Flynn running for governor

GLENDALE — Former state Democratic Party Chairman Matt Flynn has joined the crowded Democratic race for governor.

Flynn had news conferences in Glendale and Madison Tuesday, becoming the eighth Democrat to run against Republican incumbent Scott Walker — and some other Democrats are still thinking about running. Flynn is a retired partner with the Milwaukee law firm of Quarles and Brady — and he ran unsuccessfully twice for the U.S. Senate in the 1980s, and twice for the House. Flynn chaired the state Democrats in the early 1980s.

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Teen convicted of killing 2 in crash while high on pot

GREEN BAY — A 19-year-old northeast Wisconsin man has struck a plea deal that convicted him of killing two people in a traffic crash while high on marijuana.

Devon Robley of Greenleaf is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 5 after pleading no contest to Brown County charges of homicide by negligent driving, and driving on the influence of a controlled substance. Two injury related OWI charges were dropped in the plea deal.

Robley was 17 at the time — and prosecutors say he smoked marijuana at a park before he drove through a stop sign at 70 mph and collided with an SUV near Denmark 15 months ago. The crash killed his 16-year-old passenger Simon Hill of Greenleaf along with an SUV passenger, 32-year-old Laurie Shaha of De Pere.

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