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Mission abandoned, money gone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 16:35

What follows is a cautionary tale.
    But it comes with the caveat that its warning does not apply to the vast majority of nonprofit organizations that seek funding for good local causes in Ozaukee County and can be trusted to be true to their mission.
    People in Port Washington who gave money to an organization named the Great Lakes Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation were led to believe their contributions would be spent to “save the Port lighthouse and breakwater.”
    They weren’t.
    None of the money collected by the organization was used to repair the Port Washington breakwater or lighthouse.
    Instead, most of the funds were spent to pay the organization’s expenses and for something called “educational outreach.” Fundraising proceeds that weren’t spent were given to a Sheboygan nonprofit organization devoted to promoting sailing.
    A meticulously reported investigative news story in last week’s Ozaukee Press revealed that the foundation raised $31,133 before dissolving in 2016.
    The Press investigation found that the foundation reported, in a 2014 filing with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, spending $3,442 for organization management and $10,874 for unspecified services it provided, leaving it with a balance of $18,296 at the end of the year.
    Mary Jo Joyce of West Bend, president of the foundation, told Ozaukee Press that most of that balance was given to the Sailing Association of Sheboygan (SEAS). The organization had contributed $10,000 to the foundation, the Press learned.
    The Port Washington donors, who wanted to help the cause of rebuilding their city harbor’s failing breakwater, were misled.
    In advertising its organizational meeting in Port Washington in 2014, the foundation stated that its mission was to “save the Port Washington lighthouse and breakwater.”
    To underscore its connection to Port Washington and establish a local presence, the organization appointed a Port resident as its vice president. It solicited donations with “Save the Harbor” buckets in downtown stores and at city events, sold lighthouse necklaces and sought volunteers, including Boy Scouts who sold kites that featured an image of a life ring around the lighthouse to raise money for the organization.
    In an interview with the Press, Joyce characterized the services provided by her organization that were funded by contributions as “educational outreach” to increase awareness of the breakwater’s “structural deficiencies.”
    In explaining the money given to SEAS—$13,409—Joyce said the foundation’s bylaws required that if the foundation were dissolved, unspent fundraising proceeds were to go to an organization of “similar purpose.”
    There is no mention of a mission to support breakwaters or lighthouses on the SEAS website. Rather, the organization’s purpose is to remove barriers to the enjoyment of safe boating on Lake Michigan “created by financial, physical or cognitive needs,” according to the website.
    Leslie Kohler, chairwoman of the SEAS board of directors, blamed criticism of the Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation’s fundraising practices  on “somebody that must have spent $25 for a necklace and wonders where the money went.”
    The small donors disparaged by that comment have as much right as anyone to wonder where the money went, of course, and they should be complaining. Unlike the big contributor SEAS, which is generously supported by the Kohler family foundation, they didn’t get refunds, even though their contributions were not spent for the advertised purpose.
    The Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation could have lived up to its stated reason for existence if it hadn’t abruptly folded after two years. Though the City of Port Washington, through its own efforts in rallying congressional support for emergency repairs by the Corps of Engineers, managed to get most of the north breakwater rebuilt, it is currently facing more than $30,000 in repairs to the lighthouse and a large expenditure for repairs to the south breakwater.
    A check from the foundation to help meet those expenses would have been at least partial validation of what it claimed was its mission.
    One of the unfortunate consequences of misleading contributors is that such practices can poison the fundraising well.
    People who care about the Port Washington harbor, however, can be confident that their contributions to the Lighthouse Preservation Fund established by the City of Port Washington will be spent exclusively on the pierhead lighthouse.
    That fund has no connection whatsoever with the failed, short-lived Great Lakes Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation.

An attack on local control of schools PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 22 June 2017 17:30

People elected to represent the public in government are called leaders, but sometimes it is the forward-looking public that is leading, while the “leaders” follow, trudging along under the burden of their backward ideas.
    You can see that in the way public education is treated by government in Wisconsin. While state government leaders have progressively shrunk K-12 funding by pairing reduced state aid with tax levy limits, the public has responded in school districts across the state by voting for referendums that increase local taxes to fund school facilities and operations.
    This has obviously gotten under the skin of some legislators. State Sen. Duey Stroebel of the Town of Saukville, with half a dozen co-authors, has introduced a package of bills that curtail the ability of voters to make decisions about their schools and punish local taxpayers for approving referendums.
    Stroebel explained his rationale in a statement: “I am tired of being a high tax state, and I’m especially tired of pushing for lower taxes and limited spending only to have the efforts undone in school referenda.”
    Voters in Stroebel’s back yard and elsewhere in the state don’t seem very concerned about his fatigue or his yearning for low-tax bragging rights. In the April election, Grafton School District voters approved a referendum to spend just under $40 million to upgrade neglected and deteriorated school buildings.
    Throughout Wisconsin in April, voters approved 62% of school funding referendums totalling $700 million. In Verona, a $162-million school bonding proposal, one of the biggest in Wisconsin history, was passed by a majority of 73% of the voters.
    In September, the Port Washington-Saukville School District will open the academic wing of its remodeled and expanded high school paid for with borrowing approved by voters in a $49.4 million referendum.
    The takeaway: Wisconsin voters refuse to be led backwards in education.
    Six bills authored by Stroebel and his cohorts would impose various restrictions on school referendums. A particularly mean-spirited one would penalize taxpayers in districts where tax increases for school operating costs are approved in referendums by reducing state aid in an amount equal to 20% of the spending authorized by voters.
    The bills were roundly criticized by public-school officials at a hearing last week. The thrust of their criticism was that revenue limits imposed by the state have made referendums an essential last resort for school districts to meet building needs and in some cases, especially in poorer districts, to fund operating costs.
    A school board member from Baraboo put it well when he told senators at the hearing chaired by Stroebel: “The level of referendums would drop significantly if the state would get behind real education reform.”
    The educational case that these bills should not become law is strong. Beyond that, they are objectionable per se in their manifest contempt for voters. The message this legislation sends is unmistakable: Taxpayers cannot be trusted to make their own decisions about how local taxes are spent.
    This message has been written by legislators who decry big government at every opportunity while singing the praises of local control, but now find it perfectly acceptable to slam the heavy hand of state government down on local school districts and the taxpayers who support them.
    Small wonder that when it comes to schools, the public doesn’t want to follow these leaders.

A voodoo experiment goes bad PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 14 June 2017 16:57

The blockbuster news broke last week.
    No, not that blockbuster, not the Trump-Comey-Russia show in Washington. This news came out of Kansas, and Wisconsin residents should hope their legislators were paying attention to it.
    The big news from Kansas was that its Legislature, which is firmly in the control of conservative Republicans, passed a bill that raises state taxes and voted to override the governor’s veto of the tax increase.
    It was big news because the Kansas governor, Sam Brownback, had declared his state a “real-life experiment” in which he led a campaign to drastically reduce taxes with the promise that this would stimulate vigorous economic growth and ensure a prosperous future for the state.
    The experiment didn’t just fail, it exploded, blowing up state services and crippling education with such disastrous effect that Republican legislators rebelled and pushed through a $1.2-billion tax increase to save the state.
    If Wisconsin legislators ignore this, it will be at the peril of their constituents. Gov. Scott Walker and his supporters in the Legislature have been using Wisconsin as a laboratory for a similar experiment in the so-called “trickle-down” economics that paralyzed Kansas.
    Trickle-down believers preach that reducing taxes for wealthier taxpayers and businesses energizes economic growth and job creation, the benefits of which will eventually trickle down to people in the lower income strata. It sounds like magic and in fact is a trick that is all illusion and no substance.
    In Wisconsin, tax cuts that limited state revenue were a factor in harmful reductions in state aid to K-12 public schools and the University of Wisconsin system.
    Meanwhile, there has been no sign that trickle down works in Wisconsin. Job growth is crawling. Walker promised to create 250,000 new jobs by the end of his first term. He is now nearing the end of his second term, and the number of jobs created on his watch stands at about 185,000. The state’s economy ranks 28th in the nation, or a dismal 38th when job creation is factored in.
    By most economic measures, Wisconsin trails its neighbor Minnesota, where taxes for the top 2% of earners were increased.
    Tax cuts usually please taxpayers, but in Kansas many of them recognized the folly of shrinking revenue and shrinking government to satisfy a rigid anti-tax ideology. They voted a number of the governor’s legislative supporters out of office last year in what one newspaper described as “punishment for damaged schools, potholed highways and near recession.” One Republican state senator reported getting “email after email after email from constituents saying, ‘Please, let’s stop this experiment.’”
    The governor of Kansas, who was so full of himself that he once claimed he was leading a “march to zero” where he could do away with income taxes altogether, is paying a price for his hubris.
    Still, he deserves some credit, ironic though it may be, for providing a valuable service. The spectacular failure of his experiment shows other states tempted by trickle-down voodoo—Wisconsin prominent among them—exactly what not to.

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