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Following teen's suicide, county to update crisis policies, training


In the wake of a Milton teen’s suicide, the Rock County Human Services Crisis Intervention Unit will update its policies and retrain staff in accordance with a plan of correction approved by the state.

The county was required to submit a plan of correction after the state Department of Health Services Division of Quality Assurance investigated how the department handled the case of a Milton teen who died by suicide.

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The plan was submitted to the state Sept. 24 and accepted Oct. 14, according to an email from a state quality assurance analyst to Rock County Human Services Director Kate Luster.

Family members of Cole Fuller, who died by suicide April 4, believe Rock County officials failed to help Cole during the 45 days he was under county supervision for a Chapter 51 mental health commitment.

Cole’s father, Jeff, filed a complaint with the state, hoping the county would be held accountable for failing his son.

The investigation identified four deficiencies in how Cole’s case was handled.

The changes proposed in the plan will be implemented by Oct. 30, according to the document.

The plan focuses on:

  • Actions to assure clients under Chapter 51 commitments who enter the Rock County system from another county go through the same processes as those committed in Rock County.
  • Improved procedures for timely access to appropriate care.
  • Strengthening fidelity to best practices in risk assessment and response for clients at risk of suicide.

Crisis staff under revised policies will complete an “after visit summary” document to improve communication with clients, according to the plan.

The county’s venue transfer procedure will be updated to better coordinate transition between counties, according to the plan.

Under the revised procedure, a legal change of venue will not occur until treatment resources have been identified and coordination of care has occurred.

A policy will be developed to identify procedures and expectations for referral and linkage to services for clients at high risk of suicide, according to the plan.

Client crisis plan documents will be updated to include focuses on high-risk clients and provide clarity about when a plan is complete, according to the correction plan.

Grievance training will be developed to teach staff how to identify a complaint, how to document complaints and how to assist clients in filing grievances, according to the plan.

Crisis services will develop a policy regarding staff appointment cancellations and rescheduling, according to the plan. The policy will include identifying client needs and a process to cover appointments with other staff.

Investigators found prompt and adequate services were not provided to Cole “as evidenced by delayed case management appointments, a lack of referrals, and under-assigned risk potential.”

The most recent examination of Cole before his death determined he was at “high-risk of crisis, including suicidal and violent behavior” and had a history of losing progress when not receiving constant treatment, according to the report.

Cole’s family feels crisis workers did not take the result of Cole’s examination seriously, according to the report.

A crisis worker rescheduled meetings with Cole twice because of health problems, delaying Cole’s access to treatment.

The behavioral health division manager will review and update policies to ensure they reflect best practices for suicide screening and assessment, response, safety planning, assessing access to lethal means and lethal means counseling.

Other changes will update the crisis unit’s documentation procedures, according to the report.

“The policy changes and other actions referenced in the Plan Of Correction are well underway and the Crisis Intervention Unit remains committed to continuous quality improvement in our daily work with Rock County citizens experiencing complex behavioral health needs and risks,” Luster said in an email to The Gazette.

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Calculating the impact: What school budget means for Janesville residents


Explanations of Wisconsin’s public school financing system usually fall into one of two categories: Gross simplification or an approach that Janesville School District Chief Financial Officer Dan McCrea described as “granular.”

The first is usually employed to make a political point, and the second would be interesting only at a convention of school business managers.

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But with Janesville property values going up, and Janesville school enrollment doing down, it’s crucial for people to understand how the system works and what it means for their schools and their pocketbooks.

The Janesville School Board is expected to approve the 2019-20 budget Tuesday night.

Step one: Understanding revenue limits

All of Wisconsin’s public schools, technical colleges, cities, towns and counties face revenue limits. The limits were imposed in 1993 in an effort to keep local property taxes in check.

At the most basic level, revenue limits dictate how much revenue a school or municipality can generate through local property taxes.

But here’s the kicker: The amount of money technical colleges and municipalities can generate through property taxes goes up when the property base expands through new construction.

That’s not how it works for public schools.

Step two: Counting kids

School funding is based on school “membership,” which is not exactly the same as enrollment.

McCrea refers to enrollment as the “belly button count:” Each child counts as one.

The membership method counts students in preschool or 4-year-old kindergarten as 0.5 or 0.6, depending on the program. Students in grades kindergarten to 12 are counted as one.

Students are counted for membership purposes on the third Friday in September. Between September 2013 and September 2018, the district’s membership dropped from 10,023 to 9,528. This fall, membership was 9,637. The slight uptick was due to more children in kindergarten classes and an increase in open enrollment for other districts.

To determine what the revenue limit is, membership is multiplied by the amount the district is allowed to raise per student, a figure that’s set by the state. This year, that about is about $9,700.

To that amount are added any exceptions. When school districts go to referendum, that amount is added in.

Step three: Calculating taxes

At a Janesville School Board Finance Committee meeting last week, McCrea explained what that would mean for local taxpayers: As enrollment goes down, state aid goes down. However, the amount that can be raised per student, that $9,700 amount set by the state, remains the same.

That means that more of the burden will shift from the state to the local taxpayers.

That hasn’t happened yet, but a recent property re-evaluation in the city of Janesville has left people nervous about tax increases. Assessments will go up an average of 31 percent, city officials say.

What does that mean for school taxes?

The tentative school budget, which probably will be approved next Tuesday, calls for total spending of $121.45 million, down from $121.55 million last year. Of that, $35.7 million will be covered by local property taxes. That’s down from $37.52 million last year, a decrease of 4.85%.

For taxpayers, that translates to an estimated tax of $8.10 per $1,000 of equalized property value, down from last year’s $8.51, a decrease of 4.82%.

But because property values are going up an average of 31 percent, doesn’t that mean the total amount of school taxes also will go up?

Probably not, McCrea said.

Here’s why: The school district will be collecting a smaller property tax total.

“We’re asking for a smaller amount of money from a larger pool (of property value),” McCrea said.

What’s next?

Enrollment has been dropping across the state, with rural districts being hit harder. Brodhead, Clinton and Parkview school districts all have struggled with declining enrollments.

Here’s the challenge: Declining enrollment is spread across 13 grades in numerous buildings. In Clinton, they have three buildings; Janesville has students in 20 locations. Even if a school loses enough students to eliminate a grade, that school still would need to be heated, it still would need school counselors and administration, maintenance people and secretaries.

Districts such as Parkview have resorted to referendums to cover operating expenses. The referendums are non-recurring, meaning that the district has to return to the public in another three years.

Between November 2017 and April 2019, 82 Wisconsin school districts had non-recurring referendums. The majority were for operating costs to maintain existing programs.

The Whitewater School District asked to exceed the revenue limit to maintain “comprehensive instructional and co-curricluar programs.”

Other districts used non-recurring referendums to upgrade technology.

McCrea said Janesville School District officials were not considering a referendum anytime soon.

School board members have noted that with new businesses in the area, such as SHINE, and the development of new housing projects, enrollment might even go up.

Death list for Oct. 21, 2019

Darlene A. Brown

Gary J. Hamre

Louise “Lou” Loomis

Mary A. “Muzzy” McIntyre

Kimberly Ann Neuenschwander

Mulvaney's missteps draw scrutiny from Trump allies


For Mick Mulvaney, the hits just keep on coming.

First, President Donald Trump’s acting chief of staff stirred up a tempest by acknowledging that the administration had held up aid to Ukraine in part to prod that country to investigate Democrats and the 2016 elections. Then Mulvaney went on television Sunday to defend his boss in effusive terms—and ended up making a new problematic comment.

Explaining why Trump had tried to steer an international summit to one of the president’s own properties before giving up on the idea, Mulvaney said Trump “still considers himself to be in the hospitality business.” That did nothing to allay concerns that the president has used his office to enrich his business interests.

The bookended performances over the span of a few days were panned by the president’s allies and cast doubt on Mulvaney’s job security at the White House.

Mulvaney denied on “Fox News Sunday” that there was any consideration of his resignation, “Absolutely, positively not.”

At a press conference Thursday, Mulvaney tried to put a positive spin on Trump’s selection of his Doral, Florida, golf resort to host next year’s Group of Seven world summit. It was also an opportunity for Mulvaney demonstrate his ability to defend the president.

He struggled, in the process offering fresh fodder to critics of a president already besieged by an impeachment inquiry.

Mulvaney asserted in the briefing that military aid to Ukraine was delayed partly because Trump wanted officials there to look into a security company hired by the Democratic National Committee that discovered that Russian agents had broken into the committee’s network in 2016.

“The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation,” Mulvaney told reporters. “Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption that related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that.” Mulvaney continued: “That’s why we held up the money.” Trump’s personal lawyers quickly dissociated themselves from the chief of staff’s comments.

Mulvaney’s description of the administration’s handling of the Ukraine aid amounted to a quid pro quo, though he later claimed his comments had been misconstrued.

“That’s not what I said,” Mulvaney told “Fox News Sunday” as host Chris Wallace repeatedly confronted him with his own comments. “That’s what people said that I said.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to defend the comments in an interview Sunday with ABC’s “This Week.”

“I will leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended,” Pompeo said.

Mulvaney is not aware of any effort to replace him, according to a person close to him who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations. The president has also expressed his support for Mulvaney to the acting chief of staff’s team, the person said. Press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Sunday afternoon that Mulvaney still has the confidence of the president.

The news conference on Thursday left aides in the West Wing dumbfounded at the former South Carolina congressman’s performance and some quarters of Trump’s orbit—the Justice Department and Trump’s personal attorney, among them—dissociating themselves from his account. The president himself, already angry that Republicans were not defending him on Syria and Doral, was also displeased that Mulvaney only made the headlines worse, according to three White House officials and Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

Still, a swift dismissal doesn’t appear on the horizon, according to nine staffers and outside advisers, who noted the difficulties Trump has faced attracting and retaining high quality White House staff even before the impeachment episode. The shortage of viable replacements has kept other officials in their posts months after he soured on them.

Even before Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry, Mulvaney was on thin ice, with diminished status in the White House. Holding the job of acting chief of staff since January, Mulvaney has frustrated aides who saw him as less willing than his predecessors to challenge the president.

Once Democrats began investigations meant to remove Trump from office, Mulvaney drew the brunt of criticism from presidential allies who felt the White House wasn’t prepared to fight back forcefully.

He has also clashed with White House counsel Pat Cipollone, sometimes mentioned as a potential Mulvaney successor, over strategy and tactics in response to impeachment. Mulvaney has complained that he had been iced out of the process, which the lawyer was treating as a legal, not political, matter.

Trump’s decision late Saturday to reverse course on his much-criticized plan to host the G-7 at Doral was the latest move that called into question Mulvaney’s job security.