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Skelly's corn maze to celebrate farm centennial

JANESVILLE

It’s July in Wisconsin, which means corn is growing almost everywhere.

For Skelly’s Farm Market owners Scott and Laura Skelly, it’s time to get out the corn mower.

Scott Skelly has been creating corn mazes on the farm at 2713 S. Hayner Road for more than 20 years. This year’s maze will celebrate the farm being in the Janesville area for 100 years.

The first modern corn maze was created in the early 1990s in the United States, according to cornmazesamerica.com. In 2008, Corn Mazes America estimated the United States had more than 800 corn mazes.

Laura Skelly said their mazes started as a simple thought.

“Scott decided one day that, hey, we have an acre of corn, let’s have people walk through it. It was nothing super exciting. It was just a couple of squares and some dead ends here and there,” she said.

To cut the mazes, Scott Skelly added a platform to his mower for a laptop computer connected to GPS.

“We load the designs into the computer, and the GPS unit is connected to the computer. It’s kind of like playing a video game. You follow the lines while you go throughout the field,” Laura Skelly said.

Each year, the Skellys cut two mazes. The first, called the adventure maze, has a different theme each year. Skelly said it was easy to pick this year’s theme.

“This year, we are celebrating 100 years on the farm, so we have a flash forward and flash backwards maze,” Skelly said.

The other maze is called the impossible maze, an 8-acre labyrinth with random shapes that took about eight hours to mow.

“Sometimes it’s circles. Sometimes it’s multiple shapes. And this year it’s just kind of crazy shapes everywhere,” Skelly said of the impossible maze.

The Skellys completed the cuts Friday and will continue to trim the field every couple of weeks through late August.

After a final trim, signs will be posted throughout the maze before opening for Labor Day.

The maze will cost $7 per person, but children under 3 will be admitted free.


Education
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Janesville School District settles former teacher's discrimination suit

JANESVILLE

The Janesville School District and former Harrison Elementary School teacher Peggy Wileman have settled a disability rights lawsuit that arose over Wileman’s firing by the school district in 2014.

Wileman, who was fired after she had tried to file sick time with the school district because of mental illness, will receive a $160,000 settlement from the school district’s insurance carrier, EMC Insurance, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by The Gazette.

The district and Wileman reached the agreement July 2. EMC Insurance signed the agreement Friday.

It settles Wileman’s claim in a 2017 federal lawsuit that Wileman’s firing and the district’s refusal to accommodate her mental conditions of anxiety and depression were violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Under the terms of the settlement, Wileman will receive $43,500 in back pay, plus $43,501 in “compensatory damages.” Wileman’s attorney, Fox & Fox, will receive $72,999.

Wileman is required by the agreement to drop claims the district had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act for firing Wileman after she had stayed home from work because of anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

She is also never to seek employment in the district.

The agreement indicates the district “specifically denies” the claims in Wileman’s 2017 suit, and the agreement isn’t an admission of wrongdoing by the district.

The school district issued the following statement by email and declined to comment further:

“The School District of Janesville (SDJ), through its insurance company, has entered into a financial settlement agreement with Mrs. Peggy Wileman, a former district employee. Mrs. Wileman, who was employed as a teacher from 1995 to 2014, had filed a lawsuit against the district and several of its leaders. The SDJ denies any allegation of unlawful conduct, and stands by its administration and school leaders in their handling of the matter.”

Wileman’s lawsuit claimed she had taught third grade in the district for 17 years and had “positive reviews” before she was transferred in 2012 to teach first grade, a change she claims she didn’t request and was not consulted on.

Harrison Principal Jessica Grandt-Turke in 2012 told Wileman she was being placed on the district’s supervision and evaluation plan for performance problems during the school year, according to the suit.

Wileman’s attorney said Wileman suffered anxiety, depression and panic disorder and had missed work in the past because of medical conditions, but until 2012 she’d never been disciplined for performance problems.

Wileman’s suit claimed the performance allegations were based on her disabilities and earlier absences she had because of them.

Wileman took time off from September 2012 to January 2013, then again in February and March 2014 in the weeks before she was fired, according to the suit.

The first leave came after a period during which Wileman said she was denied a full-time classroom aide to help with an “unusual number” of “behaviorally challenging students” in her class, all while she remained under “near constant evaluation and scrutiny” by Grandt-Turke, according to the suit.

During the 2014 leave, Wileman provided the district a letter from a doctor that stated she’d been placed on sick leave after she had a panic attack that required hospitalization and resulted in a nervous breakdown, according to the lawsuit.

The breakdown came after Grandt-Turke spent the fall of 2013 and part of 2014 “harassing” Wileman “and making decisions based on her disabilities rather than her actual performance,” along with warnings Wileman received that she could face disciplinary action or dismissal for “continued performance issues,” according to the suit.

The school district rejected a March 2014 request from Wileman for family medical leave time, saying Wileman had filed incomplete paperwork. The district gave Wileman written notice she had two days to either file additional paperwork or return to work.

When Wileman did not return to work by the date the district required, she was fired for “job abandonment,” according to the lawsuit.

Wileman’s attorney had filed two complaints with the state’s Equal Rights Division, her attorney said, and the state found that one of the complaints showed “probable cause for discrimination,” according to a 2017 Gazette report.


Obituaries and death notices for July 7, 2018

Violet L. “Skip” Buckley

Cora M. Forbush

Clayton Friedl

Robert G. Gutheridge

Wilmer J. Herr Jr.

Nicholas Dorwin Schommer


US-China trade war elevates the risks to the global economy

WASHINGTON

The trade war that erupted Friday between the U.S. and China carries a major risk of escalation that could weaken investment, depress spending, unsettle financial markets and slow the global economy.

The opening shots were fired just after midnight, when the Trump administration imposed a 25 percent tariff on $34 billion of imports from China, and Beijing promptly retaliated with duties on an equal amount of American products. It accused the U.S. of igniting “the biggest trade war in economic history.”

Because of this first round of hostilities, American businesses and, ultimately, consumers could end up paying more for such Chinese-made products as construction equipment and other machinery. And American suppliers of soybeans, pork and whiskey could lose their competitive edge in China.

These initial tariffs are unlikely to inflict serious harm to the world’s two biggest economies. Gregory Daco, head of U.S. economics at Oxford Economics, has calculated that they would pare growth in both countries by no more than 0.2 percent through 2020.

But the conflict could soon escalate. President Donald Trump, who has boasted that winning a trade war is easy, has said he is prepared to impose tariffs on up to $550 billion in Chinese imports—a figure that exceeds the $506 billion in goods that China shipped to the U.S. last year.

Escalating tariffs are likely to slow business investment as companies wait to see whether the administration can reach a truce with Beijing. Some employers will probably put hiring on hold until the picture becomes clearer. The damage could risk undoing some of the economic benefits of last year’s tax cuts.

“Trade disruption is the greatest threat to global growth,” said Dec Mullarkey, managing director of investment strategies at Sun Life Investment Management. “The direct effects will be amplified as business confidence drops and investment decisions are delayed. Markets are still hoping that the key players return to the negotiation table.”

The root of the conflict is the Trump administration’s assertion that China has long used predatory tactics in a drive to supplant America’s technological supremacy. Those tactics include cyber-theft and forcing companies to hand over technology in exchange for access to China’s market. Trump’s tariffs are meant to press Beijing to change its ways.

The rift with China is the most consequential trade conflict the administration has provoked. But it’s hardly the only one.

Trump is also sparring with the European Union over his threat to tax auto imports and with Canada and Mexico over his push to rewrite the North American free trade agreement. And he has subjected most of America’s trading partners to tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Many caught in the initial line of fire—U.S. farmers absorbing tariffs on their exports to China, for instance—are fearful. The price of soybeans has plunged 13 percent over the past month on fears that Chinese tariffs will cut off American farmers from China, which buys about 60 percent of their soybean exports.

“For soybean producers like me, this is a direct financial hit,” said Brent Bible, a soy and corn producer in Romney, Indiana. “These tariffs could mean the difference between a profit and a loss for an entire year’s worth of work out in the field, and that’s only in the near term.”

Christine LoCascio, an executive at the Distilled Spirits Council, said she fears China’s tariffs on U.S. whiskey will “put the brakes on an American success story” of rising exports of U.S. spirits.

Even before the first shots, the prospect of a trade war was worrying investors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has shed hundreds of points since June 11. But the risks are now priced into the market, and the Dow actually rose nearly 100 points Friday to 24,456.48.

China’s currency, the yuan, has dropped 3.5 percent against the dollar over the past month, giving Chinese companies a price edge over their U.S. competition. The drop might reflect a deliberate devaluation by Beijing to signal its “displeasure over the state of trade negotiations,” according to a report from the Institute of International Finance, a banking trade group.

The Trump administration sought to limit the impact of the tariffs on U.S. households by targeting Chinese industrial goods, not consumer products, for the first round of tariffs.

But that step raises costs for U.S. companies that rely on Chinese-made machinery or components. And it could force them to pass those higher costs on to their business customers and, eventually, to consumers.

If you like Chick-fil-A sandwiches, for instance, you could feel the effects. Charlie Souhrada of the North American Food Equipment Manufacturers said the tariffs could raise the cost of a pressure cooker Chick-fil-A uses.

The administration has placed “these import taxes squarely on the shoulders of manufacturers and, by extension, consumers,” Souhrada said.

One way the tariffs will squeeze farmers, landscapers and construction firms is by raising the price of excavators and loaders made by Bobcat, which uses attachments imported from China. U.S. suppliers rarely make these attachments, so the company must import them.

Jason Mayberry, Bobcat’s assistant general counsel, said in a filing submitted to the U.S. trade representative’s office that the company would have to raise prices to offset the tariff. Bobcat’s raw material costs have also risen because of the administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs.

The Federal Reserve is picking up signs that the trade war is causing businesses to rethink investment plans. And if Trump extends the tariffs to up to $550 billion in Chinese imports, consumers won’t be able to avoid getting caught in the crossfire: The taxes would hit products like televisions and cellphones.

That’s what happened to imported washing machines, which were hit by separate Trump tariffs in January. Over the past year, their price has surged more than 8 percent.

American trade groups are urging the two countries to resume talks.

“Tariffs will bring retaliation and possibly more tariffs,” said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. “No one wins in a trade war.”


Randy Bryce