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The school board’s assignment PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 17:29

A survey of Port-Saukville School District residents offered little help; now the board has to figure how to meet the most pressing school building needs at a tolerable cost

A survey of residents of the Port Washington-Saukville School District revealed that voters would not be likely to approve a referendum calling for spending $25 million to $97 million on school building improvements.

    That outcome had a probability roughly equivalent to the odds of the sun rising in the east each morning.


    Near their upper end, the combined spending proposals would have resulted in one of the most expensive school referendums ever attempted in Wisconsin. It should have been obvious that this would be beyond the means of the Port-Saukville district.


    Conducting a survey to assess taxpayers’ opinions on school-building spending made sense as a way to identify projects likely to be supported in a referendum. But because the proposals prepared by an architectural firm that stands to profit from school construction projects were so grandiose and expensive, this survey offered limited guidance to the school board.


    It was more than a little surprising to learn that the board chose not to scrutinize the architects’ proposals before they were presented to the public, that it had only a very limited role in shaping the recommendation.


    Without the board’s input, people responding to the survey had no clear idea of what the district’s realistic building needs are or how they might be met at a rational spending level.

     The survey did show that a plurality of respondents prefer remodeling the high school rather than replacing it with a new building and think high school needs should be addressed before elementary school improvements. Yet these results should not be interpreted to mean the high school is necessarily the priority over the elementary schools, because the survey proposals were presented without the context of what are the school district’s most pressing building needs. The most definitive finding of the survey remains the obvious one—that $25 million to $97 million is too much to spend.

    School Supt. Michael Weber told Ozaukee Press the school board is intent on holding a referendum as early as next April, and that is certainly good news. The elementary schools and the high school have maintenance problems and space deficiencies; they need to be fixed sooner rather than later.


    The school board missed an opportunity to explain the district’s building needs and get more specific guidance from taxpayers in the survey. Meeting those needs, however, is still more important than responding to public preferences. Voter approval is needed for the spending, but it is the board’s responsibility to set the school building improvement priorities. If, as a hypothetical example, the elementary schools’ needs are more pressing than the high school’s, the referendum should be configured to address them.             


    The survey at least reminded school board members of something they had surely figured out for themselves—that school district residents will not agree to spend the astonishing amount of money needed to check off all of the items on the architects’ laundry list and build a new or remodeled high school while also upgrading the elementary schools.


    Now it is up to the board to do the work it was elected to do: establish the district’s building priorities, craft proposals to address them at what is presumed to be a tolerable cost and make the case to the voters.



 
Rate hikes would take state backwards PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 19:36

We Energies’ rate increase proposal punishes people who try to conserve energy and puts a damper on clean energy initiatives

Electricity rate changes proposed by We Energies would encourage energy consumption, penalize customers who conserve energy and set back progress on renewable energy.

    What part of this proposal can the Wisconsin Public Service Commission possibly like? The agency that regulates We Energies and other utility-monopolies should reject these rate increases out of fairness to ratepayers who are thrifty energy users and in support for what has been Wisconsin’s enlightened policy of encouraging alternatives to fossil-fuel energy.

    We Energies proposes to nearly double the fixed portion of monthly electricity bills from $9 to $16 and to slightly lower the kilowatt-hour rate from 13.9 cents to 13.5 cents. The net effect would be to punish people who have relatively small electricity bills, including those of limited means who live in small houses or apartments and others who strive to conserve energy, and reward high energy users.

    The proposed rates would be an incentive to use more of the electricity the utility produces while at the same time virtually killing long-standing incentives for installing systems to generate solar electricity.

    The company proposes to apply a new charge on electricity generated by solar panels and to reduce the rate it pays to people who send this electricity back to the power grid.

    The impact of those changes was brought home in a letter from the church council of Port Washington’s First Congregational Church to the PSC, which was published in last week’s Ozaukee Press. When the congregation in 2010 approved a large investment in a solar panel array to meet more than half of the church’s electricity needs, it did so on the basis of an expected payback in 14 years under the rate structure currently in effect. Under the rates now proposed by We Energies, the payback would take 153 years.

    “Obviously,” the letter concluded, “no one will seriously consider investing in a renewable energy system with that kind of payback.”

    Exactly. Not only are the proposed changes a betrayal of the individuals and organizations that invested in clean energy with the expectation of recovering their investment in a reasonable (though still long) time frame, but they would eliminate the economic justification for future renewable energy initiatives.

    We Energies defends its effort to radically increase the costs of renewable energy producers on the grounds that people who generate their own electricity are not paying a proportionate share of the costs of operating the power grid.

    There is some truth in that, though put in context it does not justify the utility’s proposal. Renewable energy producers represent such a tiny fraction of the utility’s customers—less than half of 1%, according to the Environmental Law & Policy Center—that their impact on grid operating costs is barely measurable. Moreover, if they’re getting a good deal, they deserve it—as one of the incentives that is essential to the development of clean energy sources.

    The utility’s claims concerning the power-grid cost of solar systems fail to account for the fact that, unlike fossil-fuel energy, solar imposes no costs on the environment in terms of the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming.

    Not merely unfair to many ratepayers, We Energies’ retrograde rate proposals would take the state backwards in clean energy at a time when it’s critical that it moves forward.


 
The Voter ID follies PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 October 2014 19:53

The attorney general’s insistence on trying to impose ID requirements on the Nov. 4 election in defiance of a Supreme Court order has elements of farce, but it’s not funny

If the consequences were not so grave, we could all be enjoying a good laugh over the burlesque that Wisconsin’s Voter ID follies have become.

    Alas, there is nothing funny about confused voters and poll workers and citizens discouraged from exercising the fundamental act of participation in democratic government—voting.


    Here is the latest tragicomic twist: The U.S. Supreme Court last week issued an order that can only be interpreted as telling Wisconsin officials they cannot under any circumstances impose Voter ID restrictions for the Nov. 4 election. To which Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen responded with a statement vowing that Wisconsin will “have Voter ID on election day.”


    While we ponder what part of the word “no” baffles Van Hollen, we can observe the ironic result of his efforts and others in the Walker administration to force the flawed Voter ID law into effect, which is to make the once simple act of voting more difficult for not just those most likely to be affected—the poor, the elderly poor and minorities who don’t have IDs that satisfy the law—but for everyone.


    Counties like Ozaukee have relatively few citizens in the most affected groups; nearly everyone has a photo ID that would suffice at the polls. Yet by persisting in trying to apply the law to the fall election less than three weeks away, Van Hollen has cast a pall of uncertainty over the votes of thousands of voters here.


    These are the votes by absentee ballots that have become the preferred way of voting for a sizable percentage of voters. The ballots were mailed to requesters before Van Hollen announced he would impose the ID law on the Nov. 4 election and thus came with no mention of the photo ID requirement.

    That impediment to the voting process was so obvious that even one the three Supreme Court justices who dissented from the order blocking Wisconsin’s Voter ID law took note of its pernicious effect. Justice Samuel Alito called it “particularly troubling that absentee ballots have been sent out without any notation that the proof of photo ID must be submitted.”

    The Voter ID law was passed and signed in 2011, yet three years later it is more like a volleyball than a law, a thing being whacked back and forth across judicial nets. After challenges in state courts, it was struck down by a federal judge, then resuscitated by a three-judge panel of the 10-member Seventh District U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled it could go into effect for the Nov. 4 election, then halted by the U.S. Supreme Court last week, then a day later attacked in a furious assault by five members of the Seven District Appeals Court.

    Wisconsin was one of a number of states that enacted Voter ID laws in the past several years as part of what looked like a fad among states with Republican legislatures that were following a conservative playbook. No surprise there—this sort of thing is one of the perks enjoyed by majority parties. In the past, Wisconsin Democrats had their own playbook.


    But Wisconsin’s attempt morphed into the Voter ID follies because legislators could not resist making the ID requirements so stringent that the law’s constitutionality was in doubt from the get-go.


    At least it can be said that the resulting delay in enacting the law has had some benefit: Facts presented at various court hearings have made it clear that Wisconsin doesn’t have any voter fraud problems that could be remedied with a Voter ID law. It’s always nice to get a bit of good news.


    Last week Federal Judge Richard Posner, in a withering indictment of the Wisconsin Voter ID law signed by five appeals court judges, wrote, “Some of the ‘evidence’ of voter impersonation fraud is downright goofy, if not paranoid.” He went on to state that such fraud “is essentially nonexistent in Wisconsin” and to criticize the Wisconsin law for discouraging voting.


    The much respected Posner was appointed to the federal bench by Republican President Ronald Reagan and supported Indiana’s Voter ID law (less severe than Wisconsin’s).


    It was fitting that Posner, as a jurist who now has to play a role in Wisconsin’s Voter ID follies, punctuated his scathing opinion with a punch line:


    “As there is no evidence that voter impersonation fraud is a problem, how can the fact that a legislature says there is a problem turn it into one? If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?”


 
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