Lockups for teenage offenders would be built in Milwaukee and Outagamie County to replace the state’s embattled juvenile prison, according to plans Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday.
The Milwaukee facility would be built on city-owned land on the city’s north side, according to city and state officials. The second facility would be built northwest of Appleton in Hortonia.
The pair of lockups would be among those replacing Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, the juvenile prison complex north of Wausau that has been the subject of a criminal investigation for four years.
The Democratic governor’s plans faced opposition from local officials in both municipalities. The plans would need approval from the Republican-led Legislature’s budget committee.
Legislators voted last year to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake and replace them with smaller, regional lockups that would keep young offenders closer to where they live.
The new Milwaukee and Hortonia lockups would be run by the state. Others would be run by counties, but locations for those facilities have not yet been chosen.
Evers has left open the possibility of building a third state-run lockup but has not said where that would be.
The state is under a deadline to shut Lincoln Hills by 2021, but Evers wants to delay its closure. Legislators have said they want to keep a hard deadline but have been open to extending it by six to nine months.
“We are committed to getting kids out of Lincoln Hills and closer to home as soon as we safely and responsibly can,” Evers said in a statement. “Today’s announcements show significant action towards our shared goal of ensuring kids get the education, programming and mental health treatment they need in supportive settings that are closer to their families and communities.”
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett praised the plans, saying the Teutonia Avenue site was better than one at 7301 W. Mill Road that had also been considered.
But Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton met the proposal with skepticism. The site Evers picked is in his district.
“This decision was made without input from my office, the community or Milwaukee County and no further details have been provided about this facility,” Hamilton said in a statement. “It is hard to imagine that a decision made without community input can bring about the results that the community wants.”
The Hortonia location also got a chilly response.
“We’re just really taken aback by the announcement,” Town Clerk Lyn Neuenfeldt said. “We just heard about it literally when the governor was making the announcement, which to me seems really inappropriate or shocking.”
Lawmakers agreed to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake last year, just after the state agreed to pay nearly $19 million to a former Copper Lake inmate from Janesville who was severely brain damaged in a suicide attempt.
In another case, a judge ordered prison officials to reduce their use of pepper spray and solitary confinement. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are investigating allegations of child neglect and prisoner abuse.
Republican legislators expressed frustration they weren’t given advance notice of Evers’ plans.
“Surprises are not good,” said state Sen. Rob Cowles, an Allouez Republican whose district includes Hortonia.
GOP state Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine, who sat on a committee that reviewed locations for new juvenile correctional centers, said Evers’ announcement was “unexpected but reflective of the decisions” made by that committee.
The Hortonia site was one of the top picks for that committee. For the Milwaukee area, the committee recommended the location at 7301 W. Mill Road—a different site from the one that Evers chose.
“I hope the governor does a better job of being proactive and inclusive to committee members and communities around the state as we work to close Lincoln Hill in 2021,” Wanggaard said in a statement.
Evers made his announcement as he seeks an additional $194 million from the Legislature to establish the new state- and county-run teen lockups and expand a mental health facility for young offenders.
In all, he wants to spend $274 million for facilities around the state, up from $80 million that has already been approved.
“He asked for way more than what he needed,” said Rep. Michael Schraa, a Republican from Oshkosh who has worked closely on the plans to shutter Lincoln Hills.
Schraa and other lawmakers have strongly resisted Evers’ proposal to indefinitely put off the closing of Lincoln Hills.
Evers says he wants to shut the facility as soon as feasible without setting a hard deadline. Legislators have said they want to ensure the facility is shuttered by the summer or fall of 2021.
A forum starring Janesville’s five city council candidates remained tame and ran smoothly Tuesday night at Hedberg Public Library.
The forum, sponsored by the local League of Women Voters chapter and JATV, featured the four incumbents running for re-election—Sue Conley, Jim Farrell, Doug Marklein and Tom Wolfe—and the race’s lone newcomer, Jan Chesmore.
The incumbents touted the city’s progress over the past few years. They referenced projects that have happened under their leadership, such as downtown revitalization, or alluded to efforts still underway, such as General Motors redevelopment or changes at the Janesville Mall.
Chesmore prefaced some of her answers by saying she didn’t fully understand the issue because she had not served on the city council. On other questions, she gave roundabout answers that deviated from the main topic.
Chesmore admitted she had a lot to learn about the council’s inner workings. Running for local office could be intimidating, but she said she was committed to learning and thought the council could use another female voice.
Currently, Conley is the only woman on the seven-person council.
Each candidate was asked the same questions and had one minute to answer. There was no debate and little room to refute another candidate’s answer.
Chesmore staked her most vocal criticism of the council on downtown revival efforts. She compared ongoing projects to plate spinning—too many things happening at once. One project at a time would be better, she said.
Such an opinion ran counter to the views of most city officials and council members, who have spent plenty of time the past few years hyping downtown infrastructure and beautification projects.
Wolfe said downtown projects were being done according to plan, despite a feeling among some residents that construction is making the area a mess right now.
The rest of the incumbents effusively praised downtown.
Marklein said the neighborhood was on the cusp of private investment.
Farrell said downtown condos could make the area attractive for young workers.
Conley said she hoped the new festival street would be used regularly for cultural events.
Similar responses were common among the incumbents. At times, it was hard to distinguish their answers from one another.
But they also demonstrated an understanding of some of Janesville’s most pressing issues, such as homelessness, affordable housing and the city’s slice of state shared revenue.
Those were issues Chesmore either admitted she was unfamiliar with or showed a superficial understanding of the subject.
The five candidates are running for four open council seats. Election Day is April 2.
Ronlyn Edmonds Bauer
Timothy “Timmer” Fuller
Donald D. Herr
Kelly A. Jones
Preston E. Sigmon
Sherry E. Thurner
Rhonda L. Waldie
Kelly S. Wohl
Janesville schools have changed since revenue caps were imposed 25 years ago, and Superintendent Steve Pophal wants Wisconsin school funding to change, too.
At a meeting Tuesday, Pophal told the Janesville School Board the state’s funding formula along with cultural and demographic factors have made it impossible for most schools to financially keep up.
Revenue caps were first imposed on school districts in the 1993-94 school year. The caps mean school districts can increase local taxes only when the property tax base expands through new construction. If a district wants to exceed the amount it gets in local taxes, it has to go to referendum. For some school districts, that means going to referendum every two years just to cover the costs of operations.
By now, most people know the school funding system is broken; they just didn’t know how to fix it, Pophal told the board.
In January, a blue ribbon commission on school funding released recommendations. The commission, which was chaired by state Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, and state Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, took a year to look at how tax dollars were divided among schools and recommendations for any changes.
The report had 18 recommendations. Of those, six are particularly important to the Janesville School District, Pophal said.
In 2001, about 21 percent of the district’s 10,758 students lived in poverty. In 2019, 51 percent of the district’s 10,007 students live in poverty.
The income level for poverty is set by the federal government. This year, the poverty level for a family of four is $32,600. That’s before taxes.
The blue ribbon commission recommended providing revenue limit adjustments for energy efficiency measures, lead testing and abatement projects, mental health service, school resource officers, school safety expenditures, school nurse costs and above average transportation costs.
Pophal pointed out that the revenue caps were put into place before the 1999 Columbine shooting.
“Before that time, our doors were wide open,” Pophal said. “We didn’t have security cameras, we didn’t have school resource officers. We all know those days are over.”
Security is crucial and worthwhile, but its costs take away from resources originally designated for educating students, he said.
The revenue caps also punished school districts that had below-average spending before the caps were put into place. Pophal estimates that the Janesville School District has lost at least $118 million in funding between 2000 and 2017 because of revenue caps.
“We desperately need to communicate this with our community,” Pophal said.
In a interview before the meeting, Olsen, the state senator, said the recommendations have been written up as a bill, and they are now circulating in Madison. Some commission members are sponsoring bills and other legislators with an interest in education also have taken them up, Olsen said.