September 16, 2014

Madison schools sued over union contract with teachers

Teachers protest at the Capitol during the debate over Act 10 (File photo: WRN)

Teachers protest at the Capitol during the debate over Act 10 (File photo: WRN)

A conservative group is suing Madison school officials, claiming they violated a state law that limits collective bargaining with public employees when they took advantage of a judge’s ruling to negotiate a new teachers’ contract.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty accuses the Madison School Board, teachers’ union, and school district of acting against the terms of the 2011 bargaining limits. Madison Teachers Incorporated filed suit over Act 10 and Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled that the law did not apply to them. While the state was appealing that decision, the Madison School Board and teachers negotiated two one-year contracts which run through mid-2016.

The state won its appeal earlier this year, when the Supreme Court ruled that Act 10 is constitutional. The Institute for Law and Liberty argues the Madison district should have known that the new contracts would be found illegal, and it’s asking a Dane County judge to invalidate them.

Republican Governor Scott Walker made the contracts an issue in his re-election campaign against Democrat Mary Burke, who sits on the Madison School Board. She is not named as a defendant in the new lawsuit.

Affiliate WIBA contributed to this report.

Lawmakers talk with northern Wisconsinites about school funding

File photo

File photo

Two state legislators head to the Northwoods to hold a public forum on school funding.

State Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Representative Mandy Wright (D-Wausau) will be in Rhinelander Thursday evening to discuss the impact of current and possible future funding on rural schools.

Wright says a proposal to greatly expand the school voucher program could put more pressure on public schools. “$420 million of public funds are going to private schools in this budget alone, and then we are talking about taking the caps off. If we take the caps off, the projected cost is a billion dollars. We would be subsidizing the education of every single private student across the state of Wisconsin.”

Wright says if the proposal is signed into law that money will put more local pressure on public schools. “That comes at a price tag of $1 billion. We simply won’t have the money to address the funding deficits for our rural schools.”

Speaker Robin Vos put together a task force earlier this year, lead by Representative Rob Swearingen of Rhinelander, that met around the state to hear of concerns from rural schools. Democrat Wright says Republican Vos is one of the proponents of the expanded voucher program.

Public schools provide 83 percent of Wisconsin students with an education, and nearly half of them are on free or reduced lunch programs.

The forum is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Northwoods. It is from 7:00 until 9:00 p.m. Thursday, September 11th at James Williams Middle School Auditorium.

Ken Krall, WXPR

David Obey Civic Resources Center dedicated

Former Wisconsin Congressman David Obey (Photo: Larry Lee, WSAU)

Former Wisconsin Congressman David Obey (Photo: Larry Lee, WSAU)

A new facility at the UW-Marathon County is aimed at inspiring the same passion about politics that inspired a long-serving Wisconsin Congressman to represent the state. The David R. Obey Civic Resources Center is named for the former 7th District Congressman, who was elected to the 7th Congressional District in 1962 and retired four years ago.

The former Congressman hopes more young people get involved in their government, because politics impacts everyone’s lives. He said during Wednesday’s dedication “I know that young people are often turned off by politics.They need to understand that whether they like politics or not, politics is going to impact their future. They need to understand how it works. They need to understand what their choices are, and this is a place where they can learn about that.”

Obey added that “it’s been politics that gave us Medicare, Medicaid, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Public Broadcasting. Politicians made all of those choices, and that’s made the country a better place…All I want it to do is to convince at least one student that politics is worth getting involved in. One person can make an awful difference if they’re willing to work with other people.”

The David R. Obey Civic Resources Center is in the UW Marathon County Center for Civic Engagement, and was put together with Obey’s archives and dollars from both the federal government, corporate and private donors.

When Obey looks back, he says the biggest change in politics is the money. “When I was elected to the (Wisconsin) Legislature the first time, I spent eleven hundred dollars. Today, I’ve seen State Senate seats cost half a million dollars. That’s the worst thing about it.”

Obey is retired, but still engages in political discussions and public forums on occasion. There are things he misses about serving in Congress. “What I miss least is the fundraising and the role of money. What I miss most is just the people. There are a lot of awfully nice, good people in the Congress, and I certainly miss them. They were mostly all friends.”

The ceremony included several speakers, including Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger, County Board Member Jacob Langenhahn, current 7th District Congressman Sean Duffy, National Democratic Party Chair and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Senator Tammy Baldwin, and officials of the university. There were also comments by video from former Congressman Melvin Laird and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.


UW gets federal funds for flex program

UW_system_board_of_regentsThe University of Wisconsin System gets approval to give federal financial aid to some students in a competency-based flexible option degree program. Adults who started college but never finished have a new, affordable opportunity to earn a UW degree at their own pace — through the UW Colleges Flexible Option program.

UW System President Ray Cross explains, it’s a result of a landmark financial aid option approved last week by the U.S. Department of Education. “There are in excess of 750,000 adults in Wisconsin that fit that criteria — somewhere between 750,000 and a million,” and he says, “There are 31 million in the United States, so that’s a pretty sizable number.”

Cross says Wisconsin needs those individuals — workers — to obtain their degrees so they can help generate growth in the economy. He says there’s a need to fill the so-called “talent gap.” Cross says, “It isn’t in every discipline; it’s in select disciplines.” He says, “The state is clearly short on talented workers in specific areas.”

Aaron Brower, interim chancellor of UW Colleges and UW-Extension, says the highest demand is for workers is in the areas of healthcare, information technology (IT), and business. He says this is a big deal and others will look at the UW as a model. “We’ve now created a direct pathway for other institutions who wish to award aid for competency-based education.”

This funding approval by the federal government allowing aid to students enrolled in competency-based education is the first of its kind for a public higher education system in the country, according to Cross. The flexible degree concept was introduced in June 2012. The first group of students started in January.

Officials urge customers to ‘shop smart’ for back-to-school

School supplies

School supplies

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) offers up tips for back-to-school shopping, so you’ll get your money’s worth. Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator with the agency, says the most important thing to remember is that Wisconsin law requires stores to charge the lowest advertised price.

“If there is an overcharge and your item rings up at the register higher than that lowest advertised price, the store is required by law to refund you that overcharged amount.”

It’s always a good idea to watch as the clerk is ringing up the items, she says, but also check your receipts closely. That’s why it’s so important, Chalmers says, to take copies of the ads with you to the store … so you have proof of the sale price. If you do see a discrepancy, take it up with management right then and there. She says it’s the quickest way to resolve the issue.

Despite the warnings, Chalmers says Wisconsin businesses are really good at charging consumers the advertised prices. “Our inspectors consistently find that about 99 percent of the time in Wisconsin shoppers are charged the accurate price. So you can have a high degree of confidence at the cash register.”

A recent national survey found that the average family spends nearly $690 on K-12 back-to-school shopping, so it’s important to account for every penny spent. The majority of back to school spending goes toward clothing, and then electronics, followed by school supplies.

Before visiting a store, make sure to closely review the company’s advertisements for restrictions involving quantities, returns or rain checks. Customers can report pricing errors to state or local inspectors. To file a weights and measures complaint with DATCP’s Weights and Measures Bureau, send an e-mail  or call the office at 608-224-4942.