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Let private enterprise shine on new arena PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 17:39

Residents of Ozaukee and other suburban counties won’t tolerate another tax to support pro sports teams that enrich owners fabulously

There is still talk about taxpayer funding for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, as though that’s actually a possibility. It’s not. That ship sailed the instant Bucks owner Herb Kohl accepted $550 million for his basketball team.

    It doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to understand that big-time professional sports franchises are money-printing machines. Anyone who didn’t know that before the Bucks’ sale does now.

     The Bucks are the worst team in the National Basketball Association by at least three measures. The have the worst won-loss record this season; they play in the least lucrative market; they were rated by Forbes magazine as the NBA team with the lowest financial worth.

    Yet two canny, ultra-successful Wall Street investors were happy to pay more than half a billion dollars for the team and throw in an extra $100 million to put toward a new arena.

Kohl bought the team in 1985 for $18 million, about one-thirtieth of what he was paid for it 19 years later.

    No one should begrudge Kohl the good return on his investment; he was a generous owner who did much for Milwaukee, not the least of which was fashioning a sales agreement that included $100-million contributions for a new arena from both him and the new owners. But the astonishing amount of money the Bucks fetched underlines the absurdity of any attempt to have the taxpayers pick up some of the cost of a new venue for the team.        The arena should be paid for by those who stand to benefit most from it—the owners of the Bucks.

    Things don’t often work that way in the NBA, however. The league and its teams have leverage, and they’re not bashful about using it. The Bucks’ new owners made a lot of happy talk about keeping the team in Milwaukee before it was revealed the sales contract gives the NBA the right to buy the team for $575 million and move it to another city if a commitment for a new arena is not in place by late 2017.


    This has stirred considerable angst in Milwaukee, and with good reason. The Bucks mean a lot to the city, in direct economic benefit and in prestige that enhances the metropolitan area’s efforts to attract economic development.

    How to pay for a replacement for the outmoded BMO Harris Bradley Center is a fraught subject. The contributions of the old and new Bucks owners would probably cover less than half of the cost of a new building. Hence the talk about taxpayer contributions.

    It’s wasted breath. Southeastern Wisconsin taxpayers will not abide another hit to help finance a facility that enriches team owners. There is plenty of bad feeling already about the Miller Park sales tax surcharge, especially in the suburban counties where it’s levied, including Ozaukee. The tax has collected more than $400 million for the Brewers’ stadium and the end is not in sight. One of the most popular votes of the Ozaukee County Board in a long time had to be the one last year that approved a resolution opposing any new regional sales tax.

    If money spent on an arena is a good investment, as those who tout public financing of such facilities maintain, then it is something the smart investors who own teams should jump into.

    It has been preached ad nauseum that government should not be doing what the free market can do on its own. Let the uber capitalists who can afford to invest half a billion in a basketball team prove the validity of that aphorism and build the arena that will serve their needs and those of the region in which they do business.

    Milwaukee has to do what it can to get the arena built, of course. Loans, TIF district financing and creative ways to involve suburban areas in supporting the city’s entertainment and cultural offerings short of direct taxation should all be on the table.

    What should not be, because it would be a waste of good table space, is any proposal for a regional arena sales tax. Like a “brick” thrown up by an inept free-throw shooter, that is not going to fly.


 
Too necessary to fail PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 23 April 2014 14:03

The Feith Family YMCA has become the vital heart of the Port-Saukville community; the Metropolitan YMCA’s financial troubles must not be allowed to threaten its future

Legally, the Feith Family YMCA in Saukville is owned by the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee.

    In virtually every other way, it is owned by the people of the community of Port Washington-Saukville and the surrounding area.

    The people of this community paid most of the cost of building the facility in 1999—$4.1 million of the $6.7-million price tag, which included large donations from John Feith and Charter Steel.

    The people of this community also invested in the institution by joining the YMCA in great numbers—memberships at the Saukville facility are now approaching 10,000—by making generous financial contributions and by volunteering in support of the many YMCA programs offered to the community.    

    This “ownership” is relevant in light of the revelation last week that the Metropolitan YMCA is facing a debt crisis, with $30 million owed to banks. An official of the organization called the amount “unsustainable.”

    The same spokesman, when asked if the Saukville YMCA could be closed as part of a restructuring to deal with the debt, said, “Everything is on the table.”

    That comment was worrisome enough, but it gained an extra measure of grimness when the official told Ozaukee Press that YMCA officials believe the Feith facility is responsible for about $5 million of the Metropolitan organization’s debt. That number is suspect considering that contributions covered about two-thirds of the construction cost, but it suggests nonetheless that the Saukville YMCA could be vulnerable.

    That seems wrong. It has been said about some banks that they are too big to fail. It can be said about the Feith Family YMCA that is too needed to fail.

    The Saukville YMCA has carried out the YMCA philosophy of inclusiveness and accessibility so effectively that it is not an exaggeration to say the institution exists for everyone in this community. Nor is it an overstatement to call it the heart of the community; more than any other building in the area, public or private, it is a community center.

    The thousands of Ozaukeeans who go to the Feith YMCA have in common that they are there for physical improvement and the overall sense of well being that can come with it. By other measures, they are as diverse as any group can be.

    It is not unusual to see an elite athlete running at a marathon pace on a treadmill beside a disabled person doing his or her best on an adjacent machine, or children being guided to their next activity through a hallway packed with senior citizens waiting for their Silver Sneakers exercise class to start.

    And those are just the extremes. In between are a multitude of area residents representing an eclectic mix of cultural, social and economic backgrounds. While most are there for exercise in independent workouts and classes or for training in groups for w and other athletic challenges, it’s clear that many are also attracted by the social rewards of sharing the benefits of the Y with friends and kindred spirits.

    The Feith Family YMCA is the quintessential example of everything the YMCA stands for; its parent, the Metropolitan YMCA, deserves credit for this. Its expertise and unflagging emphasis on letting no barrier deny access to its programs have much to do with the value of the Feith YMCA to the community.

    That said, the Metropolitan YMCA owes an explanation to the many members who are now left wondering about the future of the institution that has become so important in their lives.

    The Ozaukee County residents who fought hard to get a YMCA and then stepped up with financial contributions and generous support in other ways deserve to hear more than, “Everything is on the table.”

    The response that should be forthcoming is: “We will take the necessary steps to deal with our problem, and there may have to be cutbacks, but closing the Feith Family YMCA is not on the table.”

    Whatever the explanation for the financial troubles turns out to be, it should be safe to assume that the YMCA’s debt was earned in service of its mission to spread the organization’s benefits as widely as possible.

    That is a cause worth supporting generously, and we have no doubt that, given an assurance that their YMCA will endure, the people of the greater Port-Saukville community will do just that.


 
Common Core clarity PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 15:01

Grafton school officials gave critics clear, reasoned responses in defense of national academic standards (and so did a potential presidential candidate)

Grafton School District officials did a good job of defending Common Core academic standards at a meeting last week. They made it clear that the rigorous national standards are making Grafton schools better and are not interfering with local control of curriculums.

    The educators were responding to complaints about the Common Core standards from several residents at the April 7 School Board meeting. Their responses were effective, but it’s too bad Jeb Bush wasn’t there to drive home their points.

    There was no way Bush was going to attend a Grafton School Board meeting, of course, but he is worth mentioning because on the day before the meeting this former governor of Florida and son and brother of former U.S. presidents who may run for president himself spoke words of uncommon clarity on the subject of Common Core.

    Said Bush: “I understand there are those opposed to the standards. But what I want to hear from them is more than just opposition. I want to hear their solutions for the hodgepodge of dumbed-down state standards that have created group mediocrity in our schools.”

    The words had considerable heft because Bush was addressing them to his own Republican party, including the members of its archconservative wing who have turned a non-partisan educational initiative into a political issue, and because he aimed his comments at the fundamental flaw in the campaign against Common Core.

    The standards are vilified for being a one-size-fits-all remedy, yet that consistency is their strength, the reason they are the answer to the “hodgepodge” Bush was talking about.

    Common Core is a set of academic standards meant to serve as goals for students in all states to reach. They are more stringent than most state standards, some of which, as Bush said, are dumbed down.” And that’s the point: American academic achievement in grades K-12 is falling short; Common Core demands that schools, teachers and students improve.

     At the core of the opposition to Common Core is the notion that the sensible idea of nationwide academic standards is really an attempt by the federal government to take over local education. It was one of the criticisms voiced at last week’s Grafton School Board meeting.

    There is no evidence the claim is true. The standards were developed in 2010 by academics not associated with the federal government. They were approved by 45 state governments.

    Not surprising in a time when publication on the Internet lends some sort of credibility to all manner of assertions regardless of their intrinsic worth, a number of other arguments against the standards are rooted in myth.

    For example: Common Core usurps the power of local school boards to set curriculum; it gives the federal government power to tell school districts what to teach about sex; it will require schools to take retinal scans of students; it was bought and paid for by Microsoft magnate Bill Gates.

    In spite of the patent absurdity of such claims (including, perhaps, a plot by Gates to indoctrinate potential software engineers with love of the Windows operating system and contempt for Apple), the enemies of Common Core carry on their mission to insinuate politics into education. A bill was introduced in the last session of the Wisconsin Legislature to create a committee dominated by political appointees to rewrite standards for public schools. It died without a vote, but look for it to come back as a zombie in the next session

    At the Grafton School Board meeting, criticisms of the school district’s adoption of the national educational standards in language and math were answered articulately and persuasively. School staff members, School Board members and the school superintendent made it clear:

    Common Core does not dictate what is taught in Grafton schools.

    The school district has “absolute control over curriculum standards.”

    Common Core is increasing the rigor of school standards and as a result Grafton schools are improving.

    Jeb Bush could not have said it much better.


 
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