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Referendum might be needed for school maintenance in Janesville



It’s not a word Janesville School Board member Kevin Murray wanted to say out loud, but he thought the public needed to know.

Neither new buildings nor remodeling are driving the need for more money. Instead, it’s the less-glamorous prospect of addressing an estimated $120.43 million worth of building maintenance: aging boilers, replacement of air-handling units, asbestos abatement, updating electrical panels and new windows.

At a May 28 meeting, the board discussed the maintenance needs cited by Unesco, a Madison-based program management firm.

Of the $120.43 million in projects, an estimated $77.84 million worth of items are in the “alert” or “alarm” category, according to the firm’s report.

The report isn’t a surprise. For years, the board’s finance, buildings and grounds committee has whittled away at the Unesco list. The projects were funded either through the district’s capital improvement budget or through Act 32.

Act 32, which the Legislature passed in 2009, allowed school districts to exceed state-imposed revenue caps for projects that resulted in energy savings.

Revenue caps limit the amount of money districts can raise. If a district needs more money, a referendum is often the only option.

Previously, the school board used Act 32 to pay for roof work, tuck-pointing, interior and exterior lighting, and heating and cooling maintenance at Edison Middle School.

Of the $120.43 million in current maintenance needs, about $106 million could have been covered using Act 32.

But Act 32 is no longer in effect, so districts can’t use the exemption. That’s why a referendum might be the only choice.

“If we’re looking down the road, it might be time to have that discussion—I hate to even say it—about a referendum. And that’s a big pill to swallow,” Murray said at the May 28 meeting.

Board member Dale Thompson agreed, adding, “If the Legislature doesn’t do anything, we might have to do something local.”

Board member Greg Ardrey said the finance, buildings and grounds committee has looked at ways to “slice and dice” maintenance items into each budget, but those efforts might not be enough.

Ardrey wanted to make it clear what kind of work was under consideration.

“Let’s not use the word improvements,” he said. “Let’s use the word maintenance.”

He said public buildings that must be closed often are closed because of lack of maintenance, not because of lack of use.

The Unesco report notes, “Without maintenance, building materials will decay and degrade at an accelerated rate.

“While all of the School District of Janesville buildings have maintenance issues, most have ‘good bones,’ meaning they were built to last,” the report states. “Most SDJ buildings are only halfway through their designed life, meaning they are excellent candidates for revitalization.”

School board President Steve Huth said the committee will continue to dissect the Unesco report, which contains what he described as an “incredible amount of data.”

The committee will return to the board with recommendations by September or October.

The district’s annual capital improvement budget is about $1.2 million to $1.5 million, so at that rate, the district will need more than two decades to address all the major maintenance issues, Huth said.

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Who was Black Hawk? Sauk leader has connection to region's history


Jeff Henriquez’s sweeping mural of Black Hawk is taking shape downtown, drawing onlookers daily.

The warm colors and golden hour backdrop add a point of interest to Main Street, but the symbolic mural might lead some to ask: Who was Black Hawk?

Until now, Black Hawk has been largely represented as a namesake for local institutions—Blackhawk Technical College, Blackhawk Community Credit Union, Blackhawk Bank. There’s Blackhawk Village Shopping Center on the south side and Blackhawk Golf Course near Palmer Park.

Nigella Ryan, who helped commission the mural, said a painting of Black Hawk was her idea. For all the places named after Black Hawk, there was no major, local memorial to honor the Sauk leader.

It’s more accurate to say Black Hawk was a war leader than a chief. It does not appear he was ever in Janesville, but his connection to this region stems from the 1832 conflict now known as the Black Hawk War.

Black Hawk was about 65 years old when he and other elders led their tribe from present-day Iowa to Illinois. They came to protest an 1804 treaty, which the elders deemed invalid, that ceded Sauk tribal lands east of the Mississippi River, said Skip Twardosz, a man of Potawatomi heritage who has studied Black Hawk.

Anthony Wahl 

Artist Jeff Henriquez begins to add color to the face of Black Hawk as he continues work on his mural in downtown Janesville on June 17.

The Illinois militia soon chased the Sauk up the Rock River. Black Hawk’s attempt to unite other tribes and resist failed, likely because those tribes wanted to protect themselves, Twardosz said.

At Stillman’s Run, south of present-day Rockford, Illinois, Black Hawk sent three men carrying a white flag to a militia camp. One of the men was killed in the surrender attempt.

In retaliation, Black Hawk and other Native warriors charged the camp and forced the militia to flee. It was a significant victory for the Sauk, but it would not take American forces long to recover.

Black Hawk continued up the Rock River into present-day Wisconsin, chased by militia troops with considerably more men. He continued through western Walworth and eastern Rock counties past Fort Atkinson before heading west.

At the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, near present-day Sauk City, Black Hawk’s warriors were able to delay American troops long enough to allow civilians to escape. The tactic was later studied by U.S. military leaders, Twardosz said.

The Sauk eventually made it to the Mississippi River and tried to surrender once again. Militia leaders instead shot anyone trying to flee across the river, slaughtering dozens and ending the war in what is sometimes known as the Bad Axe Massacre.

Black Hawk fled Bad Axe to preserve a “war bundle” of spiritual importance before returning, Twardosz said. He was captured and held in custody for about a year before dying in 1838.

Twardosz is skeptical Janesville’s mural will start a dialogue about Native American history. The conversation could fade once the artwork’s novelty wears off, he said.

Billy Bob Grahn, a local Native American activist who is in the same drum group as Twardosz, said he appreciated Janesville’s willingness to accept a large portrayal of a Native American into its downtown. He recently led a spiritual custom known as a smudging ceremony to bless the grounds.

The drum group will eventually perform near the mural when it is finished, he said.

Maintaining the conversation will be up to groups such as Allies of Native Nations, a subset of the Diversity Action Team of Rock County. Grahn is part of that group and so is Holly Denning, a senior sociology lecturer at UW-Whitewater who also teaches within the American Indian Studies program.

Denning said the lone image won’t go far unless schools take field trips to the site or more Native art appears downtown. The Allies of Native Nations is working on a guide that will provide more information about Black Hawk, she said.

Her American Indian studies introductory class always fills quickly, which gives her hope people are willing to learn, she said.

Grahn was optimistic and cited his own ongoing effort to get state officials to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.

“The doors are slowly opening again without hate,” he said. “People are slowly welcoming some of the truths of Native Americans, their true history.”

Obituaries and death notices for June 18, 2019

Dorothy A. Bielas

Darlene Bradley

Donna Jean Brellenthin

Kathryn “Kathy” Buechel

Charles G. Hallett III

Steve Kirkpatrick

Richard “Dick” La Monte

Jerald L. Nordlee

Beverly Pruessing

Rose Marie Schneider

Donna Mae Warnlof

US sending more troops to Middle East as Iran tensions mount


The Pentagon on Monday ordered another 1,000 American troops to the Middle East, moving to bolster security in a region reeling from hostile attacks on commercial ships that the U.S. has blamed on Iran.

Officials said the deployment includes security forces and troops for additional surveillance and intelligence gathering in the region. And while the number is small, it represents an escalation of U.S. military might aimed at deterring Iran and calming allies worried that transit through key shipping lanes could be in jeopardy.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan issued a statement saying the forces are “for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East.”

The forces are part of a broader military package of options that were initially laid out to U.S. leaders late last month, totaling as much as 10,000 forces, Patriot missile batteries, aircraft and ships. The decision to send 1,000 troops signals a measured approached by President Donald Trump, who campaigned against the Mideast entanglements of his predecessors and has struggled to bring troops home, despite ongoing threats.

“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” Shanahan said. “The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests.” He added that the U.S. will continue to adjust troop levels as needed.

The troop decision comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials reached out to leaders in Asia and Europe to convince them that Iran was behind the alleged attacks on ships in the Middle East. The Pentagon released new photos intended to bolster its case that Iran was to blame.

The images, many taken from a Navy helicopter, show what the Pentagon said were Iranian forces removing an unexploded mine from the side of the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman.

Officials last week said the move appeared to be an attempt to remove forensic evidence from the scene of the attack. But it’s not clear if examination of the mine would have made it definitively clear that the device was planted by the IRGC.

The Trump administration also finds itself in the awkward position of demanding that Iran comply with a nuclear accord that the president has derided as the worst deal in history.

Iran announced Monday it would break a limit on uranium stockpiles established by a 2015 agreement with world powers that was intended to restrict the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of international sanctions.

Trump withdrew from the agreement, signed by his predecessor, and reinstated punishing economic sanctions, resulting in sharply rising tensions that deteriorated further with Iran’s warning that it could soon start to enrich uranium to just a step away from weapons-grade levels.

That put the State Department in the position of defending the limits set by the 2015 deal that was so maligned by Trump and his national security team.

“We continue to call on the Iranian regime not to obtain a nuclear weapon, to abide by their commitments to the international community,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Ortagus said Iran’s uranium announcement amounted to “extortion” and a “challenge to international norms,” as well as to the 2015 agreement known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“It’s unfortunate that they have made this announcement today,” Ortagus said. “It doesn’t surprise anybody, and this is why the president has often said that the JCPOA needs to be replaced with a better deal.”

Supporters of the deal blamed the Trump administration for Iran’s provocative announcements, saying they were entirely predictable given the renewed U.S. pressure.

“While Iran’s frustration with Trump’s reckless and irresponsible pressure campaign is understandable, we strongly urge Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal,” the Arms Control Association said in a statement. “It remains in Iran’s interests to abide by the limits of the agreement and to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s more intrusive monitoring and verification.”

Iran has shown no willingness to negotiate another deal and vowed not enter into talks with the United States while the administration maintains its “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions.

Administration officials are grappling with whether to press the remaining parties to the deal, including Britain, France and Germany, to demand that Iran stay in compliance. They must also consider if such a stance would essentially concede that the restrictions imposed during the Obama administration, while short of ideal, are better than none.

Under the deal, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 660 pounds of low-enriched uranium. Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s atomic agency, said it would pass that limit June 27.

A senior U.S. official said the administration is most concerned about any violation of the deal that would reduce the breakout time Iran would need to produce a nuclear weapon. The deal aimed to keep the breakout time at one year.

The official said certain violations, while they should be not accepted, would not necessarily reduce that time. But other violations, such as enriching uranium to 20%, should be addressed immediately if they occur, the official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said it would be up to the Europeans to decide if Iran was in violation of the deal and whether to initiate a dispute resolution mechanism that could bring the Iranians back into compliance.

A cold man shivering and burying his face into his sweater. A great concept for HVAC.