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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Which way to vote?

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 7, and voters are deciding on candidates and referendums.

Add your comments on:

--The marriage amendment

--The Whitewater school referendum (previous comments)

--The Delavan school referendum

--The Big Foot school referendum

--The 32nd Assembly District race between Thomas Lothian and Ryan Schroeder (previous comments)

--The governors race

--Any other race you’d like to comment on.

Friday, October 20, 2006

By Henri Kinson: Whitewater schools have never had so much

The Whitewater School District is asking us to raise our taxes again, this time with the slogan, "What's a good education worth?"

We've been here before.

If you'll recall, we were told we needed the largest property tax increase in history with the last referendum because enrollment was going to climb; now we're being told we need to raise them even higher because it's dropping. At about the same time, the district cut funding for roofs so it could get a pool it knew the public wouldn't support, and instead counted on a referendum for roofs 10 years and $750,000 in pool expenditures down the road (i.e. today). After all, who could be against roofs for the children? Worse yet, believing taxpayers will continuously fall for this scam, they have no plans to adequately fund them in the future.

The district says, "We've cut to the bone." This at the same time it's repeatedly giving double-digit health retirement benefit increases to employees in addition to raises. It now has well over a million dollars in unfunded medical retirement liabilities and continues to increase them to about $100,000 per person for most employees. Interestingly, however, even though these come at the expense of academic programs, they’re never referred to as "cuts." They also missed the district's "cut list" floating around.

The truth is, much of this referendum will be used to finance retirement benefits. In fact, if you add just retirement benefits, the $338,000 in aid reductions that would result from passing this referendum (you purposely haven’t been told that the state takes back 16 cents in aid annually for every extra dollar the district spends), and the pool/roof extortion racket, you’ve accounted for most of the referendum.

It's no wonder Whitewater residents have become, ahem, 'skeptical' of the district echo chamber with its incessant whining about "cuts." Actually, on a per-pupil basis, Whitewater's school expenditures have never been higher—up 6.25 percent just last year to more than $10,000 annually. Yes, teaching positions are being cut, but not as fast as students are leaving. Consequently, Whitewater's pupil-to-teacher ratio has never been lower.

Unfortunately, neither have test scores—for the first time in history, Whitewater is a below-average school district. For the latest school year, in 14 of 23 categories of the WKCE tests in subjects like reading, math and science from third through 10th grades, Whitewater students are at or below state averages academically (dpi.state.wi.us).

The reality is that the school district has never had so much: so many teachers per pupil, so much money per pupil, so much square footage per pupil, so many sports and facilities per pupil, etc. Now, by enabling Whitewater students to hope to be average, never has it accomplished so little.

So the next time you hear someone from the school district trying to distract you from their shoddy management with the slogan, "What's a good education worth?" be sure to insist that they not change the subject.

The author is from Whitewater.


Friday, October 13, 2006

By Rev. Max J. Rigert: Acrimonious amendments deserve a 'no' vote

There are two items on this November's ballot which transcend the realm of partisan politics and need careful and ethical consideration.

The first deals with capital punishment and seeks to reverse the state of Wisconsin's long-standing opposition to the death penalty.

The execution of criminals is brutal and cruel, but more significantly has been shown to be ineffective in the curtailment of crime.

Innocent people have died, the administration of the death penalty has been shown to be racially prejudicial and the extended legal processes have proven to be far more expensive than life imprisonment.

Help preserve our state's reputation for sanity and progressivism by defeating this unwelcome overture.

The second item is the so-called marriage amendment which seeks to define marriage as soley between a man and a woman, but proceeds to outlaw any sort of legal relationship between members of the same sex.

The amendment is seen as an affront by homosexual persons and men and women cohabiting without benefit of legal marriage.

First, Wisconsin state statutes already define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Thus, those who want to define marriage in the traditional Judaic-Christian understanding will find this amendment redundant.

Second, the amendment seems unnecessarily punitive to those who choose to live in a same-sex relationship, or to the many women and men who today live together unmarried ... whether we like it or not.

This amendment would prevent such domestic partners from sharing health insurance benefits, retirement benefits, the privilege of family hospital visitation rights, the ability to invoke living will stipulations for one another, and the simple freedom to live together with the rights others in committed relationships possess.

Many of us within the Christian faith tradition find both of these amendments to be acrimonious and ethically stifling, rather than life affirming.

You are urged to emphatically vote 'no' on both measures.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Board should reconsider lack of support for homeless

By Rebecca J. Boggs

"Not in Our Back Yard" was the cover story featured in Walworth County Sunday published on October 1, 2006.

Linda Akins' cover story about the Walworth County Emergency Homeless Shelter, which has been a collaborative effort of area churches, included some wonderful comments from County Administrator, David Bretl, who indicated that the Walworth County Board had earmarked funds in their 2007 budget to target the issue of homelessness in our community.

How sad that before this paper even arrived on the doorsteps of homes across our community, members of the County Board Finance Committee voted to remove this item from our county budget simply because it was not mandated.

The details were made available in Mike Heine's article "Budget moves without a thumbs up" in The Week, October 1, 2006. I extend my thanks to both writers for their work in keeping this important issue in the front of the public.

My home church, Delavan United Church of Christ, has been part of the shelter rotation since it began and I have volunteered and participated in each rotation.

As a person of faith, I am called to respond to the needs of those in my community.

And as I pursue my theological education as a student at Chicago Theological Seminary, I am called to question the moral and ethical questions raised by the removal of these funds from the County budget, based on the lack of mandate.

While we may not be "mandated" to provide food and shelter to the hungry and homeless, don't we have a moral obligation to do so?

Jesus said that the poor would always be among us. By opening our wallets and our churches, we are able to respond faithfully as we care for those in need. But we simply cannot stop by meeting only the needs of the poor. We must also look to the systems that have failed them. While housing the homeless and feeding the hungry, we tend to the symptoms. We must also look to the disease.

I respectfully ask that the members of the Walworth County Board Finance Committee reconsider their decision. Before making budget cuts simply because they are not mandated, please consider the actions unfolding in the communities you have been elected to serve. While the mandate to house the homeless may not technically exist, you might consider the "thumbs up" response of those in our community as a moral mandate.

The author lives in Williams Bay and is the youth ministry coordinator at the Delavan United Church of Christ. She is an emergency homeless shelter volunteer.

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