You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Walker, Assembly Republicans reach deal to aid rural school districts

MADISON

Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Republicans have reached a multimillion-dollar deal to help schools in rural areas and districts with fewer funds, but it remains unclear if the GOP-controlled Senate will agree to the proposal.

The deal could resolve an unusually contentious fight among Republican officials over what to do about schools with special challenges such as a sparsely populated district or low revenues.

In the state budget last year, Walker proposed helping the thinly populated districts. Assembly GOP leaders moved instead to help schools that have been locked into tight budgets by state law, only to see the governor veto that provision and leave schools without either proposal.

On Monday, Walker and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, proposed a compromise at Coleman High School in northeast Wisconsin to help both groups of districts.

“Our top priority is driving student success and ensuring our children receive a quality education, regardless of where they live,” Walker said in a statement. “This legislation provides additional support for our rural school districts to address their unique circumstances.”

Nygren, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, called the bill a “step in the right direction.”

“Does it solve all the problems for rural schools or low-revenue school districts? No. But it’s a significant step,” Nygren said in an interview.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said part of the plan would take another year to kick in and didn’t do enough.

Democrats have put forward their own proposal to give more for schools and have published a map showing how their plan would benefit districts.

“If Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans were serious about funding our local schools, they wouldn’t have scrapped this plan in the 2017-19 budget,” Shilling said.

In that budget, Walker wanted to make aid available to more thinly populated districts and increase aid amounts.

In Monday’s compromise, the aid for districts currently receiving it will increase to $400 a pupil from the current level of $300 a pupil at a cost of $6.5 million. But the deal would not expand the number of schools receiving the aid—about 145 of the state’s 420 districts.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, had no comment. But Nygren said he had been working with Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, to build support among GOP senators.

Since it includes a modest spending increase, Monday’s proposal was a sign that Walker and GOP lawmakers are not expecting dire tax revenue numbers to show up in next week’s projections.

The package would provide additional aid to school districts that spend the least on their students.

Starting in 1993, state law limited how much districts could raise in property taxes and state aid per student, but districts were locked in at different rates depending on what they were spending at the time. Leaders of the most frugal districts said they have been punished for years with lower revenue limits because they were spending less a quarter-century ago.

The Assembly GOP plan that Walker vetoed last year would have evened out some of those differences. All districts could have gotten at least $9,300 per student this year—up from $9,100 under current law—and then $100 more every year after that until they hit $9,800 per student.

Monday’s deal would essentially bring back that deal starting next year and catch low-revenue districts up by allowing all school boards to raise at least $9,400 per student in the 2018-19 school year.

The deal could end up increasing property taxes in those school districts, so the plan includes a provision to placate conservatives concerned about rising taxes. If voters in a district have rejected a referendum to increase taxes within the past three years, that district would not be able to raise taxes under the plan without a new referendum.

Eighty to 90 districts would be able to raise property taxes by up to $22.5 million next year under this part of the bill, according Walker’s office and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.


Angela Major 

Crews use heavy equipment to remove the northbound lanes on the Interstate 90/39 bridge over East Milwaukee Street in Janesville on Monday. A portion of East Milwaukee Street is closed through Thursday for removal of the bridge. The work is part of the state Department of Transportation’s project to widen the Interstate between Beloit and Madison. Janesville police said Monday they will dispatch staff to the area to adjust traffic patterns at school release times.


Angela Major 

Barricades block part of East Milwaukee Street as crews use heavy equipment to remove the northbound lanes on the Interstate 90/39 bridge over East Milwaukee Street in Janesville on Monday. A portion of East Milwaukee Street is closed through Thursday for removal of the bridge. The work is part of the state Department of Transportation’s project to widen the Interstate between Beloit and Madison.


Government
top story
Janesville will seek grants to extend, connect paved pedestrian trails

JANESVILLE

For years, Janesville and Milton residents have requested the Ice Age Trail segments between the two cities be connected.

The Janesville City Council on Monday took a step toward that goal by authorizing the city to request Wisconsin Department of Transportation grants for two trail projects.

The first trail the grants would fund is the Glacial River Trail on the city’s north side.

There’s a 1-mile gap in the Ice Age Trail between the Highway 26 overpass near BMO Harris Bank and Janesville Animal Medical Center to the northeast. Connecting the trails would allow pedestrians to more easily and safely travel between the two cities and beyond.

Pedestrians have to use John Paul and Wright roads to bridge the gap between the Ice Age Trail segments. John Paul Road has limited shoulder space and fast-moving traffic, which can endanger pedestrians, associate planner Terry Nolan said.

Creating a pedestrian trail in the area is a priority because “we see people riding and traveling along that corridor already,” Nolan said.

To make things safer for pedestrians, the city plans to pave a ¾-mile trail known as the Glacial River Trail on the other side of the ditch parallel to John Paul Road. That would take pedestrians from Janesville halfway to Wright Road before they would again have to use John Paul Road to connect to the Ice Age Trail leading to Milton, Nolan said.

“It doesn’t completely solve the problem, but it’s a step in the right direction,” she said.

A paved trail can’t fit within the existing right-of-way past McCormick Drive, which intersects John Paul Road, but the city plans to complete the remainder of the trail as part of a later project, she said.

“We can fill part of the gap now, and as that area (north of McCormick Drive) develops, we can get easements and get the right-of-way that’s needed to fill the rest of the gap,” Nolan said.

Rock Trail Coalition President and frequent trail user Dean Paynter is excited to see the project in the works.

“It’s actually a safety issue,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that would like to see that done.”

The proposed trail work would cost $900,500, of which $180,000 would come from the city if the grant is awarded, according to a memo to the Janesville City Council.

The city also will request a grant for the Fischer Creek Trail on Janesville’s west side.

The city plans to pave a path through the greenbelt with hopes to eventually connect the Robert O. Cook Memorial Arboretum with Rockport Park to the south.

The trail portion the grant would fund would go between West Court Street and Dartmouth Drive and include pedestrian-activated flashing lights at two intersections, Nolan said. It also would make it easier and safer for students to walk or bike to Parker High School, Paynter said.

The city hopes to make a trail for a side of Janesville that doesn’t have many, Nolan said.

“The west side doesn’t have a lot of trails aside from the Ice Age Trail along the river on the west side of the downtown,” Nolan said.

The portion of the Fischer Creek Trail project would cost an estimated $410,000, of which $82,000 would be locally funded should Janesville receive the grant, according to the memo.

Trail work wouldn’t begin until 2021 at the earliest. The proposed projects are part of the city’s long-range transportation plan, which is updated every decade, Nolan said.