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The seductive vision of a new high school PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 16:00

As a school referendum approaches, upgrading the current heart-of-the-city Port Washington High School must be considered as a viable alternative to a gleaming new building on a remote campus

The edifice sprawls in the countryside adjacent to the city on a tract of flat land as big as a farm. It is surrounded by playing fields, a running track, football stadium, fieldhouse and mega parking lot. Within the building, every element—the classrooms, laboratories, offices, dining area, library, lounges and performing arts center—dazzle with space and light, and the array of computer systems that do everything from controlling the inside environment to managing education programs is cutting edge. At the entrance to the street leading through the vast campus to the building is an impressive sign mounted on brickwork and featuring an image of a friendly pirate. The sign says “Port Washington High School.”

    The foregoing is pure fantasy, of course. But it is safe to say that a similar vision of a new high school has crossed the minds of some Port Washington-Saukville School District administrators, teachers and School Board members. It can also be said that the wheels have started turning toward the possibility of making that vision real.

    The vision is seductive—caution is indicated.

    Questions about building a new high school as opposed to remodeling and expanding the current high school will be included in a survey of district residents authorized by the School Board Monday night. The survey will be preparatory to a referendum that will ask for voter approval of a number of school building improvements.

    Commissioning the survey by a company that specializes in school polling is a wise move. The results will guide the School Board in fashioning referendum questions that address building needs while having a reasonable chance of voter approval of the necessary spending.

    Some of the likely referendum questions are already obvious. Both Lincoln and Dunwiddie Elementary Schools are at capacity. The district has ample land at both schools and planning has started for additions. This needs to be done.

    There is nothing obvious, however, about the direction the district should go in dealing with high school needs.

    The current school is so old that great-grandparents of today’s students walked the hallways of the most ancient of the mishmash of buildings that make up the school. Overall, the design is antiquated and inefficient, the electrical, plumbing and air-handling infrastructure is obsolete and parking is inadequate.

    Those inadequacies add up to a strong argument for a new high school building on a new site, but there is more to consider.

    Cost may ultimately be the determining factor. Logic suggests fulfilling the vision of a new state-of-the art high school, which could include the acquisition and improvement of a large amount of land, would cost substantially more than remodeling and adding to the current school. Yet even aside from financial considerations, the latter option has some advantages. Some of those are intangible, but that makes them no less compelling.

    First, the Port Washington High School of today is located in the middle of the largest concentration of population in the school district, in the heart of Port Washington.

    Many students can walk to school. For others, it’s a short drive. The central location enhances the role of the school as a sort of community center; it’s easy for the public to get to athletic events and the popular performances staged in the school auditorium. The athletic field complex in the forested hollow along Sauk Creek behind the school is unique—no other school in the region has anything like it—and beautiful. As a setting for a Friday football game, it is unparalleled.


    To their credit, the district’s School Board and administrative leaders have maximized the advantages of the central location by using space at the nearby Thomas Jefferson Middle School for facilities used by high school students. The Aquatic Center at the middle school, recently upgraded, is perfectly adequate for high school swim teams. The soccer field on the middle school campus is a splendid home venue for the high school soccer team.

    We should mention too that in spite of the present high school’s apparent shortcomings, all indications are that education is being accomplished there at a high level.

    One item we won’t list as an advantage of the current high school site is tradition. It doesn’t matter that the school has been at its Webster Street location for almost a century. Nostalgia has no role here.

    What does matter is that remodeling and building an addition on vacant land at the high school site is thoroughly explored and objectively presented in the coming survey of district residents as a viable alternative to that seductive vision of the perfect school on an 80-acre campus.


 
Nation of doubters PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 15:12

America cannot fulfill its proper role as a leader in the climate crisis if its people refuse to believe the science of atmospheric warming

Do you know robots can milk cows and cows can decide when they want to be milked?

    You do if you read the fascinating story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the LaCrosse dairy farm that uses a robotic milking system that relieves farmers of the tyranny of twice-daily milking. Cows enter a stall when they feel the need to be milked, and a robotic milker takes over.


    It is as though the cows milk themselves—with the help of computers, elaborate software and devices such as transponders and closed circuit TV cameras. All of this on farms where manual labor in its most basic and demanding form was the rule for centuries.


    Robotic milking is the product of science, of course, one of the numerous manifestations of progress evident in everything from smart phones to drugs that cure cancer.


    Whether Americans marvel at this progress or take it for granted, it is still shocking that a recent poll found that a large majority of us distrust the scientific findings that could be considered the most important to mankind—that of the evolution of life on earth and the cause and effect of global warming.


    The AP/GFK poll published in April found that most Americans don’t believe that life evolved over millions of years through natural selection or that the temperature of the earth is rising mostly because of manmade heat-trapping gases.

    One explanation is that influential constituencies dispute these findings on non-scientific grounds. Conflict between evolution and some religious beliefs has been going on since Darwin’s day, though mainstream Christian religions have been able to reconcile the science of evolution with Biblical versions of creation. Still, based on religious belief, many people claim the earth is a few thousand years old when science has measured its age at 4.5 billion years.

    The campaign against belief in manmade climate change has its roots in economics, rather than religion. If humans have to change their behavior to counter global warming by relying less on the fossil fuel that creates greenhouse gases, there will be an economic price to pay and the market will suffer. Better then to deny science and not be tempted to make hard choices that may have a financial impact.

    Almost all of the world’s scientists—97% by one assessment—agree that human activity is causing warming of the atmosphere that will have catastrophic consequences in the not distant future. Yet far less than half of Americans who are not scientists believe that.


    It is easy to understand the political and economic forces that debunk scientific evidence of global warming—they have a vested interest in resisting a reduction in the use of fossil fuel and they’re fighting to protect it. Not easy to understand is the refusal of a majority of Americans to accept scientific warnings of the dangers that await the world if warming of the atmosphere is not arrested.


    Evidence of miseries to come—drought, floods, frequent storms, famine, extinction of species, warfare over diminishing resources—mounts by the day. Yet those who dismiss it without a shred of science-based evidence to the contrary get public support when they deserve public contempt.


    The public’s refusal to believe the science of global warming, or to even take an interest in the phenomenon, has helped render America impotent in reacting to climate change. Congress has been shamefully absent on the issue. This week a faint hope that the world’s biggest producer of earth-warming gases might at least lift a finger to counter global warming appeared when President Barack Obama announced new Environmental Protection Agency rules to reduce power plant emissions.


    It is a tiny step, but at least a step in the right direction. Sadly, though, if Americans don’t start believing science, and the political foes of climate science prevail, the measures will surely be scuttled before they can be effective.


    If cows can learn to be milked, humans ought to be able to learn to refrain from the behavior that is a causing a climate crisis.


 
An image, a call to do our duty for veterans PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 14:58

America has a sacred obligation to not just root out malfeasance in the VA, but to adequately fund the department that is charged with caring for the nation’s 21.2 million veterans

If one photograph of the many published in observance of Memorial Day could capture the spirit of America’s special regard for its war veterans, it was last week’s Ozaukee Press cover picture. The image was of a 10-year-old Boy Scout, a child who glowed with the fresh-faced innocence of youth but was proper and solemn in his uniform and tie, placing an American flag, its stirring colors brilliant in the spring sun, among the green grasses embracing the headstone of a veteran’s grave in Saukville’s Union Cemetery.

    The holiday weekend was replete with other acts of reverence for veterans living and dead—applause for the color guards marching on main streets in Memorial Day parades, gatherings in the parks named Veterans Park that nearly every community seems to have, speeches in praise of the sacrifice and courage of those who fought for their country.

     The holiday’s rituals reminded us that no matter how sharply Americans are separated by political, economic and social status, they stand together in respect for veterans. How, then, can the Veterans Administration health-care scandal that loomed like a unwelcome rain cloud behind the Memorial Day veterans’ honors be explained?

    Explanations of how veterans’ care was delayed at some Veterans Administration facilities will surely be forthcoming. Investigations by the Obama administration, Congress and the news media will likely find evidence of petty, greedy, incompetent or even corrupt actions by VA bureaucrats at some level. The bad actors will doubtless go, but the bigger problems in the way the U.S. fulfils its responsibility to its veterans will remain.

    Those problems start with the fact that the United States creates veterans at a pace unmatched by any developed country. It will be debated forever which wars were necessary and which were fought by choice, whether good choice or bad choice, but the fact remains that this is a warlike nation.

    As a result, America has 21.2 million veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs budget for fiscal 2014 is $150.7 billion. That’s an astonishingly large number, but it’s not big enough. VA funding has not kept pace with the numbers of wounded and sick veterans who need care.

    House Speaker John Boehner was moved to tears last week when he spoke in front of TV cameras in condemnation of the VA scandal. There is no record of him crying last February, however, when senators from his Republican party filibustered to death a Democratic bill that would have increased VA funding by $40 billion over 10 years to pay for 26 new VA health care facilities.

    The bill’s supporters argued it would be no burden on the federal budget because it would be funded by money saved in the wind-down of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Opponents acknowledged the savings, but insisted they be applied to deficit reduction instead of VA funding.

    Disgust and outrage over the VA problems cross party lines, but that doesn’t exempt the controversy from hypocrisy and political opportunism. Some of the loudest critics of the performance of the Veterans Administration are members of Congress who have repeatedly proposed cuts in VA funding. Others are exploiting the scandal as part of their shrink-the-government agenda, citing it as evidence of the evil of an oversized federal government.

    The VA is indeed a massive government bureaucracy with nearly 300,000 employees. That is what it takes to administer benefits to a population of veterans that is bigger than most countries in the world. This is a not a responsibility that can be passed off to the states or, as some government haters have proposed, to private for-profit companies.

    It falls squarely on the shoulders of the government of the United States of America, and no other need, and certainly no call to reduce the nation’s debt, can take precedence over that of taking care of the men and women who gave service to their country. Fulfilling that obligation requires not just rooting out bureaucratic incompetence and malfeasance in the VA, but paying the financial cost of caring for veterans.

    There is something more to be found in that evocative cover photo than a portrayal of the reverence Americans hold for their veterans. In that image too is a nuance that foreshadows an uncertain future, the realization that the boy in the Scout uniform could one day in a decade or so be wearing a military uniform and along with others of his generation be asked, or told, to risk his life in defense of his county in yet another war.

    We can only hope future leaders will make the right choices in demanding sacrifices of citizens. But we can do more than hope that our veterans are cared for. We can resolve to keep every promise made to them in return for their service to their country—whatever the cost.


 
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