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Janesville voters face simultaneous referendums this fall


The two largest educational institutions in Janesville will ask the public to pay for referendum projects in November, and both say their needs are real.

The Janesville School District and Blackhawk Technical College approved adding referendum questions to the Nov. 3 ballot. The school district wants $22.5 million for capital needs and $37 million for operations, while the college seeks $32 million for educational improvements and a new building.

The final decision is up to voters, but leaders of both institutions say they realize the significance of the requests during a pandemic.

“It concerns us a lot,” BTC President Tracy Pierner said in an interview last month. “Our community probably has no appetite for tax increases, especially at this time, but then to ask multiple different referendum questions on a ballot is of deep concern.”

Assistant Superintendent Scott Garner said floating two school district referendums at the same time as the technical college might not be ideal, but both institutions have needs.

Those who live within Janesville School District boundaries likely live within the college’s boundaries. The BTC district includes much of Rock and Green counties.

The school district is asking voters to approve a $22.5 million capital referendum to improve and replace old operating systems such as boilers, as well as a $37 million operational referendum to counter declining enrollment and state aid.

If the capital referendum is approved, the result would be a $5 increase per $100,000 of equalized property value every year until the debt is paid off, which would take about 20 years, according to an estimate from Dan McCrea, the district’s chief financial officer.

Initial estimates for the operational referendum indicated school taxes would increase by $40 per $100,000 of equalized property value every year for four years. However, recent estimates shared at the Aug. 25 school board meeting show those numbers will be lower thanks to tertiary aid.

Instead, property owners would see increases of $39 per $100,000 of equalized property value in year one, $31 in year two, $29 in year three and $28 in year four. The referendum would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $127 over the life of the referendum, which is $33 less than initial estimates shared in a previous district survey, McCrea said.

Blackhawk Technical College’s referendum would add $32 million in improvements, including new training areas for multiple programs and a new educational building.

Janesville schools Superintendent Steve Pophal sits on the college’s board, which unanimously approved adding the referendum question Aug. 19.

For every $100,000 of equalized property value, a taxpayer currently pays $59 a year to BTC. If the referendum passes, that $59 per $100,000 would be bumped to $62 in the first year and stay at $62 in the second year before dropping to $61 in the third year and $60 in the fourth year.

The numbers are lower because the college’s district is so expansive.

Because the referendums overlap territory, some voters might decide to choose one institution over the other, Pierner said.

The problem with such a choice is that both institutions believe their referendums are needed, he said.

“We each have our needs, and do you delay, and to what end?” Pierner said. “I can’t speak for the school district, but I’m guessing it’s needed dollars for them to do stuff, and we feel ours are needed, too.”

Garner echoed Pierner’s assessment, saying the important thing is to let voters decide what they want and what they think is needed.

“I think it’s a community decision,” Garner said. “So what we can do is inform and let people know our needs, and if the community agrees, then that’s good. I don’t see it as competition (with the college).”

Workers prepare to hoist a Vietnam War-era Cobra helicopter into the air at the Janesville VFW post on Monday. The former gunship recently got a new coat of paint with shark’s teeth, reminiscent of the way crews painted them during the war. The crane later lifted it onto a new concrete pad and turned it so it faces the VFW building and away from its longtime overlook of the Rock River.

Kurt White of Janesville removes the Vietnam War-era Cobra helicopter from a lift that elevated the gunship so it could be spun around to face the VFW building. The former gunship recently got a new coat of paint with shark’s teeth, reminiscent of the way crews painted them during the war.

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UW System president feels ‘very strongly’ about opening campuses during COVID-19


While some other college campuses across the country have opened and quickly reversed course because of the coronavirus, Interim UW System President Tommy Thompson said Monday he feels “very strongly that we should open up.”

Thompson spoke confidently about the state of the system’s virus testing, saying: “We think our testing is probably the best of any university in the United States right now.”

He said the system is “doing everything we possibly can” to protect students, university employees and others connected to campuses.

“We feel very good about it,” he said of opening up campuses. “Yes, we should open up. Our colleges need (to be) opened up. Students want to come back. ... We feel very strongly that we should open up.”

Thompson answered questions during a virtual press conference Monday, two days before UW-Whitewater and other campuses are scheduled to begin the fall semester with in-person classes, virtual learning or a blend of the two.

UW-W has previously announced it will require masks and social distancing, request daily online health screenings and offer some testing for symptomatic students.

But later in the summer, the system said in an Aug. 6 news release that $32 million from the federal CARES Act shared by Gov. Tony Evers’ office will help “employ a robust COVID-19 testing regimen.”

Thompson also said Monday that students living in residence halls would be tested—and receive rapid results—at least every two weeks, but he was hoping to move that up to every week.

“It’s expensive, but we’re looking at that possibility,” he said.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Monday that UW-W is expecting dorms to be 87% full. Thompson said empty residence hall space can be used to isolate students who test positive.

The university with campuses in Whitewater and Janesville has a COVID-19 dashboard posted online to give updates on case counts each week, broken down by students, employees and “other.”

There are no cases listed for the week starting Monday, but the dashboard says there were five COVID-19 cases among students and one employee last week.

There were 12 cases in the student body and six among employees since March, according to the dashboard.

UW-W Chancellor Dwight Watson on Aug. 17 also announced an employee at its children’s center tested positive for COVID-19 and that the specific classroom where that employee worked would close until Aug. 28.

Thompson, the former Republican governor and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush, touched on other topics, including some described below.

  • Thompson said they did not see how if at all enrollment would have changed if they decided to keep schools online only. UW-W credited declining enrollment as a substantial factor in why, before the pandemic reached Wisconsin, the university needed to make millions in budget cuts.
  • The system did not have a set data point where Thompson said they would close down all the campuses statewide. He was hoping if they did have to make closures, it would be limited to one or two campuses or one or two dorms.

Responsibility for keeping the pandemic in control is not only on students, Thompson said, but also on bars and restaurants. He said he asked chancellors to speak with local bar and restaurant owners, and last week he shared a letter also signed by leaders from the Tavern League of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association that asked bar and restaurant owners to enforce mask mandates and encourage distancing.

Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 1, 2020

George William Buchholz Jr.

Dorothy M. Boltz

James P. Chrislaw

Helen M. Cooper

James T. Dooley

Aleta Joyce “Lee” Fazel Brockman

James E. Hessenauer

Ellery A. Hitchcock

Susan K. Laack

Melissa “Missy” Lee

Della Mae Lobrano

Marlene Meinert

Bernard M. Meyer

Judith Ann Miller

Joseph H. Nash

Kyle S. Reed

Danille S. Reiff

Alta May Steinke

Mary Dell Williams

Wisconsin Republicans take no action on policing bills


The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature took no action in a special session Monday called by the state’s Democratic governor to pass a package of bills on policing policies just over a week after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back.

Republicans started the session and recessed in both the Senate and Assembly in less than 30 seconds. That satisfied requirements of the law that they meet, even though almost no lawmakers were present. It’s a tactic Republicans used in November when Gov. Tony Evers tried to force them to take action on gun control bills.

Republicans kept the session open rather than adjourning it, which means they could take action at a later date, although there are no signs they plan to do anything soon.

“Their silence on this issue, their inaction on this issue, sides with white supremacists,” said Democratic state Rep. David Bowen, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, at a news conference Monday urging Republicans to pass the bills.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, on the same day Evers called the special session, said he intends to convene a task force on “racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety, and police policies and standards.” Vos on Monday decried the special session as “divisive and partisan politics” and instead said the task force, to be chaired by a Republican who is white, was “an opportunity to bring people together to find solutions.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who is running for Congress, said that combined with GOP bills related to policing, “there will be dozens of proposals that the Legislature will work through in the coming months.” Last week, Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, a retired police officer and one of Evers’ loudest critics, proposed that state aid be cut to any community that reduces police budgets.

Evers decried the inaction, saying the people of Wisconsin don’t want another task force or more delays.

“It’s disappointing that there’s no sense of urgency from Republicans, and it’s a letdown to all the people who are asking us to lead,” Evers said.

The country’s attention has been focused on Wisconsin following the Blake shooting and the killings two days later of two people by a 17-year-old from Illinois who faces charges of first-degree homicide. Blake’s family said he is paralyzed from the waist down.

The state Department of Justice is investigating the Blake shooting. The department said officers were responding to a domestic dispute and that Blake did not stop after Tasers were used on him. Kenosha police officer Rusten Shesky shot Blake seven times in the back as he tried to get into his vehicle. The Department of Justice has said a knife was discovered in Blake’s car, but they haven’t said if he was carrying it when officers encountered him.

On the third night of violence after the Blake shooting, authorities say teenager Kyle Rittenhouse intentionally killed two protesters. Since those shootings, the marches and demonstrations in Kenosha have been peaceful.

President Donald Trump plans to visit Kenosha today, raising fears among some that his visit could reignite unrest. Evers has asked him not to come. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke with Blake’s family last week.

Evers first unveiled the package of policing bills in June, shortly after the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. But he called the special session with 24 hours after Blake’s shooting, trying to force the Legislature to take action.

The Legislature hasn’t met in over four months.

The bills Evers wants the Legislature to take up would do a number of things, including ban the use of chokeholds by police and no-knock warrants, create statewide standards for police use of force, require police officers to annually complete at least eight hours of training on use-of-force options and de-escalation techniques, and require every law enforcement agency to have a use-of-force policy and make it publicly available online.

While Evers has tried to use Blake’s shooting to force action from the Legislature, his opponents have criticized his response to unrest in Kenosha, saying he didn’t act quickly enough to quell the violence that resulted in dozens of businesses being burned to the ground, suffering millions of dollars in damage.

A woman from Burlington began a petition drive last week to recall Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes from office.

Tony Evers