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Rock County groups promote opioid addiction resources at Rock for Recovery


Nicole Shipler says she was a “good addict.”

She found heroin at 28 years old and was addicted before she knew it.

“I was on the verge of losing my freedom. I was miserable,” Shipler said. “There were times I wish I would overdose and be done with it. … It’s just a vicious cycle.”

Now, Shipler, 33, has been sober for a year. She’ll be in court next week to regain custody of two of her daughters—ages 7 and 8—and for the first time, all three of her daughters will be together.

Shipler said a year ago, she couldn’t have imagined sharing her story. But Wednesday night, she detailed her experience for about 180 people at the third annual Rock for Recovery event.

The event, which took place at the Craig Center on the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds, was sponsored by the Rock County Human Services Department and the Rock County Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Task Force.

Erin Davis, director for Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change, said Rock for Recovery is one of the bigger outreach events of the year. She said it introduces individuals struggling with addiction to treatment providers and other resources.

Groups such as the Rock County Trauma Task Force, HealthNet of Rock County and the Beloit Comprehensive Treatment Center had booths at the event. Davis said about 60 people signed up for a walk before the event.

Shipler was among four keynote speakers. In an interview after the event, Shipler said she moved to Janesville from Watertown to “get away from alcohol and drugs and bad people.”

But her addiction got worse.

“From childhood, it was a rocky road, and I didn’t ever learn how to respect myself or love myself. I didn’t even like myself,” she said.

Shipler said she went to an inpatient program in Milwaukee last year when she got pregnant with her third daughter. Once her daughter was born, Shipler said she relapsed.

But she entered Rock County drug court, Narcotics Anonymous and Heroin Anonymous. Today, she’s on Vivitrol, an anti-relapse drug, and said “everything has changed.”

“I never lost my baby,” she said. “I’m working. I have my license. I have a car. I have a house. I have family that’s supportive now.

“A year ago in my addiction, I would never have spoken to anybody publicly,” Shipler said. “I didn’t even speak to family honestly. To be up here and to be able to be honest with a room full of strangers and to have nothing to hide, that’s a first for me in my whole life.”

Shipler said Rock County is a great place for addicts who want to get into recovery. The resources available—such as drug court, recovery coaches, Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery and a yoga-based recovery program—are life changing.

She recommended other addicts join the programs.

“There’s plenty of resources if you’re willing to put in the work for them,” she said. “There is life after addiction. There is a way to get better. You can recover. You can get everything back and be even better than before.”

Richard Barney, a doctor who has struggled with addiction to painkillers, was another presenter at the event. He asked those in the crowd who are currently in recovery to stand.

About 26 people stood up. The crowd applauded.

“This is how we defeat addiction. The people standing are soldiers,” Barney said. “This is what recovery looks like. This is what success looks like.”

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Janesville dog wins runner-up in People Magazine 'cutest dog' contest


A dog from Janesville will grace the upcoming edition of People Magazine for his inspirational story—and his cuteness.

Rex, the reddish-tan colored dog originally from Texas with a congenital deformity that left him with underdeveloped front legs, was voted as a runner up, one of the top three dogs chosen in People Magazine’s World’s Cutest Rescue Dog contest.

Anthony Wahl 

Janesville dog Rex jumps up to get a treat from owner JoLynn Burden while playing outside the family’s home last summer. Rex, a rescue dog with a congenital deformity that affects its front legs, was voted as runner-up for People Magazine’s national World’s Cutest Rescue Dog contest.

Rex’s Janesville owner, JoLynn Burden, said Rex might not understand the concept of celebrity or being a top dog chosen by judges at People Magazine and the pet food company Pedigree, but Rex has gotten a lot of attention in the past few months.

Rex has been in the running since this summer—one of three rescued dogs initially chosen by People readers as finalists out of a field of about 10,000 dog entrants in the contest.

The winners were announced by People on Wednesday morning via a segment on NBC morning news show TODAY.

Rex and his story will be featured in the upcoming edition of People Magazine, which hits newsstands Friday, Burden said.

The dog that learned how to kangaroo hop on its hind legs with its stunted front legs and paws curled to its chest isn’t demanding any special treatment as a magazine celeb and national top dog.

Burden said Rex just wants love.

And treats.

“We’re probably going to give him a ‘puppuccino.’ And he’ll probably get lots of extra hugs,” Burden said.

The contest, which the magazine runs to benefit and boost awareness of rescued dogs and the organizations that help them find homes, has special significance to Burden.

Burden is a volunteer with Paddy’s Paws, a dog rescue and adoption network in Fort Atkinson. She initially took in Rex while the dog awaited adoption to a family. When Rex’s placement fell through, Burden decided to adopt Rex.

Rex now gets around using a specially designed, wheeled sling. The dog also loves to swim at Lake Koshkonong.

Rex’s photo is on a People web page that announces the dog contest’s top winner—Penny, a one-eyed golden retriever from Maryland rescued from an “abusive” past.

Rex was neck-and-neck as second runner-up alongside Keller, a white and brown long-haired dog.

Rex’s photo shows him hopping on his back legs with a “smile” that Burden said is infectious.

The top winner of the contest—Penny—earned a gift package including a $1,000 prize that gets funneled to selected dog rescue organizations.

Rex wins a Pedigree gift basket.

Locally, Rex has a vaunted status as the only Wisconsin dog to be a finalist in the People contest. The dog is now slated for visits to local schools, including the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Janesville.

“It’s a win-win for him because he is an ambassador for the world of rescue dogs, and everybody he meets loves him,” Burden said. “He just loves life.”

Obituaries and death notices for Oct. 4, 2018

Margaret R. Frye

Judith Lynn Matheson

David Stanley Meyer

Nancy Joyce Revord

Karen L. Seales

James R. Singkofer

State school referendums seek more than $1.4 billion on November ballots

Wisconsin voters will be asked to commit more than $1 billion in additional funding for their public schools in the November election.

More than $100 million of those referendum requests are from eight districts in Rock and Walworth counties.

If the referendums pass at the rates seen in recent years, 2018 could be the highest year on record for dollars raised by school district referendums, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Four Rock County school districts are asking for $78 million Nov. 6.

Four Walworth County districts are asking for nearly $24 million.

Voters already approved about $648 million in referendums for 48 of the state’s 421 school districts this year, according to the report. Sixty-one districts will seek an additional $1.4 billion Nov. 6.

Referendums are increasing in size and numbers despite recent increases in state aid for schools and lawmakers’ attempts to rein in the ballot questions, according to the policy forum.

The findings come in the midst of a heated governor’s race in which K-12 education—and how to pay for it—has emerged as a crucial issue.

Democratic candidate and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said Tuesday that the rise in referendums is “directly related” to the budget cuts Gov. Scott Walker made to schools after he first got into office in 2010.

“Frankly, that’s a Scott Walker tax,” said Evers, who maintains his plan to increase school spending by $1.4 billion in 2019-21 would reduce the need for referendums.

Walker’s campaign staff said the number of referendums proposed has actually declined under the governor, to 735, compared with the 858 proposed under his Democratic predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle.

“While Evers pushes tax hikes to pay for his exorbitant spending, Scott Walker’s reforms balanced the state budget so we can afford to invest in our priorities, and still enables people in local communities to decide what’s best for them,” his campaign said.

Jason Stein, research director for the forum, pointed to a host of factors that appear to be driving the numbers, including enrollment changes, the economic expansion and a shift in voter attitudes toward tax increases for schools.

He cited repeated Marquette University Law School polls this year showing a majority of voters supported increasing funding for schools over cutting taxes and ballot questions in other states.

“We’re seeing sort of a national trend in which more candidates are talking about increasing education funding in this election cycle,” Stein said.

School referendums are rooted in the revenue caps imposed by lawmakers beginning in the 1993-94 school year that limit how much districts can raise via local tax levies—a response to two decades of rising property taxes tied to school funding.

In the past, the caps increased with inflation, but they were cut with the passage of Act 10 in 2011 and have been frozen since 2014-15.

As school district budgets were squeezed, many turned to referendums for additional tax dollars—pushing up local property taxes to pay for capital projects, maintain and expand programs and services, and finance costly retirement benefits.

Since 1990, Wisconsin school districts have passed more than 1,600 referendum proposals totaling $12 billion—more than half of that in the last decade. Most of those have been to acquire debt for capital projects, but a growing number are to exceed revenue limits for operating costs to maintain programming.

In 2016 alone, voters approved referendum questions that authorized borrowing $1.35 billion, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance, a predecessor organization to the policy forum. That was 10 times more than in 2011 and the most since the alliance began tracking the data in 1993.

Officials in districts that have turned to referendums say they often have no choice but to ask local taxpayers for more money.

“With the revenue cap, we have to limit what we can put in the annual capital improvement budget,” said Todd Gray, superintendent of the Waukesha School District, which is asking voters to approve $60 million for safety and building repairs and upgrades. “We have three building projects that are impacting educational areas and safety that we didn’t have to worry about 10 or 12 years ago.”

Dan Rossmiller, government relations director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said many of the larger referendums are in growing communities where they have to build new facilities.

“Every district is making these decisions based on what they think is in the best interest of their students and their community,” he said. “They are in a competitive environment between private school choice and public school open enrollment. And good schools are absolutely critical to communities in terms of economic development.”

Other findings in the report:

  • In 2018, the number of referendums is expected to hit 156 (some districts post multiple questions), the highest number since 2001. That could change if any are withdrawn before Election Day or new, emergency referendums are required because of a natural disaster.
  • Over the past two decades, the number of referendums on ballots tended to reflect the health of the economy.
  • The approval rates for referendums has been rising since 2003, hitting 79 percent in 2016.
  • Most school districts seeking referendums were rural schools, the majority of which are experiencing declining enrollment that effectively lowers their state aid, forcing them to make that up from local taxpayers.

Republican lawmakers, troubled by the rise in referendums, have introduced several measures over the last two sessions aimed at reining them in, with limited success. Beginning this year, school districts may float only two referendum questions a year, and in most cases only during regularly scheduled fall or spring elections.

Stein said he expects lawmakers to raise the issue again in the next legislative session.

Gazette Reporter Frank Schultz contributed to this story.