Wednesday State News Briefs: UW-Milwaukee to become first school in UW system to offer flexible degreesWisconsin News
-- W-Milwaukee will become the first four-year school in the university system to offer flexible degrees – and the two-year UW Colleges will provide general and liberal arts courses in the new format.
MILWAUKEE - UW-Milwaukee will become the first four-year school in the university system to offer flexible degrees – and the two-year UW Colleges will provide general and liberal arts courses in the new format.
The concept was first announced a few weeks ago – and the first campuses to take part were announced this morning by the UW System. The flexible degree program is designed to let non-traditional adults get credit for what they’ve learned in life – and to work at their own pace for whatever else they need to complete their degrees. It’s one of several efforts by the UW to increase the percentage of Wisconsinites with college degrees. Currently, 26-percent of state adults have diplomas, two-percent below the national average. But Governor Walker said the new program is not intended to make the UW a quote, “degree factory.” He said the main goal is to give non-traditional learners another chance to complete degrees they started earlier, but never finished for some reason. UW System President Kevin Reilly calls it a “new direction in American higher education,” and he says Wisconsin is at the forefront of it. The UW has asked for three-million dollars in the new state budget to start up the program in 2013. Walker promised the money would be provided. The new degree programs will be offered mainly online. The first ones will deal with some of the areas in which skilled workers are needed the most – like health care, business, and information technology.
A new report shows that average home prices in the U.S. rose by one-point-two percent in the second quarter of the year, compared to the same time in 2011. But Fiserv Case-Schiller of Brookfield said home prices in Metro Milwaukee kept falling during that period, by two-point-two percent. And the company predicted that home prices would drop another one-point-four percent by the second quarter of next year, before rebounding later in the year. Fiserv Case-Schiller said the nation had the first year-to-year increase in home prices since 2006 – and the impact of the 2010 federal stimulus tax credit was not included in the figures. The report said the markets which suffered the most from the Great Recession had some of the biggest recoveries in home prices over the last year. Phoenix had a second-quarter increase of 14-and-a-half percent, and Detroit’s prices jumped 11-point-six percent.
A maintenance shop for farm equipment was destroyed in a fire at the Gavilon Grain Elevator in Avalon, near Janesville. Authorities said today that the fire was discovered in a corner of the building, close to a rail car that was filled with ammonia. The blaze was reported about eight last night. Highway 140 was closed for a time, and people in 20 nearby homes were evacuated for an hour-and-a-half. One firefighter injured a knee. About five dozen fire-fighters from a number of area departments helped battle the blaze. The cause remains under investigation.
A Delta Air Lines flight from Milwaukee to Detroit was held up this morning, after a passenger found a live shotgun shell in his seat. According to the Milwaukee County sheriff’s department, the man notified the flight crew at 6:45. And all the passengers on the plane were shuffled back to the terminal at Mitchell International, where they went through a second security screening. Nothing suspicious was found during the second screening. A sheriff’s K-9 unit also went through the aircraft and found nothing. The passengers were then allowed to re-board. Delta said the flight was delayed about an hour, but it finally landed in Detroit at 9:55.
A judge says it’s not true that the John Doe probe into Governor Scott Walker’s former Milwaukee County aides is about to end. Retired judge Neal Nettesheim, who’s overseeing the investigation, tells the Associated Press it’s not complete – and it remains open. Yesterday, Walker told the Dairy Business Association that he hoped the two-year-old John Doe probe would be over by the end of the week. He told reporters he did not have inside knowledge of its progress – but he had a general feeling it was winding down. Nettesheim, a retired Waukesha County circuit judge, says it’s “pure conjecture” that the probe may be winding down. So far, five of Walker’s former aides and associates from his days as the Milwaukee County Executive have been charged with various crimes. Former deputy-chief-of-staff Tim Russell is scheduled to enter pleas tomorrow, after striking a plea deal with prosecutors on charges that he embezzled 20-thousand dollars from a program that salutes Wisconsin veterans. Ex-Veterans Service Commissioner Kevin Kavanaugh will be sentenced December seventh for stealing over $40,000 from the same program. Former railroad executive William Gardner got two years of probation for exceeding allowable campaign donations to Walker. Ex-Walker aides Kelly Rindfleisch and Darlene Wink were convicted of illegally campaigning during their county work hours. And Russell’s domestic partner was charged with a child enticement incident which prosecutors turned up during the John Doe. A trial in that case is set for late January.
One of the state Assembly’s most conservative Republicans is planning to run for state public school superintendent next spring. Hartford lawmaker Don Pridemore filed a registration statement today with elections’ officials. He’s the first possible challenger to Tony Evers, who was first elected four years ago. Pridemore did not immediately comment on his impending candidacy. The 66-year-old Pridemore is ending his fourth two-year term in the Assembly, and was unopposed this month for a fifth term. If he loses the spring election, he does not have to give up his Assembly seat. The 60-year-old Evers was the top assistant superintendent before voters elected him to the top spot in 2009. Pridemore had criticized Evers at that time. Pridemore supported the law which almost eliminated most public union bargaining – something Evers opposed. And Pridemore went further, suggesting that Wisconsin become a “right to work” state in which private sector employees would not have to pay union dues. Recently, it was learned that Pridemore was one of nine Assembly Republicans who promised a Tea Party group that he would try to pass a bill to arrest federal officials who attempt to administer the Obama health reform law in Wisconsin.
Six of every 10 young people who have the AIDS virus don’t know it – and just one-of-every-five sexually-active high school students have been tested for HIV. That’s according to a study in Milwaukee and other selected U.S. metro areas. The Centers for Disease Control announced the results yesterday, saying that a-thousand young people a month are getting infected with the virus that causes AIDS. And after 30 years of fighting the disease, CDC director Thomas Frieden called the situation unacceptable. In Wisconsin, only three of every 100,000 residents have HIV, which is about the same as the national average. But Milwaukee County has 22 infected residents for every 100,000 and 90-percent of those cases are in the city of Milwaukee. Officials said three-fourths of new HIV cases involve sexual contact between males, and 20-percent come from heterosexual activity. Younger gay black males have had their biggest increase in HIV cases – 218-percent over the last decade. AIDS used to be considered a death sentence when it was first discovered in the 1980’s. But while doctors say it’s now treatable, officials say HIV is an expensive disease that can never totally be cured. The study showed that a single patient will have $400,000 in related medical care throughout the person’s lifetime.
The Azana Salon-and-Spa in Brookfield will re-open on Saturday, almost six weeks after a shooting spree there which killed three women and wounded four others. Owner Tami Gemmell says she’s had a roller coaster of emotions since the October 21st massacre. She changed the interior of the salon to highlight a memorial to the victims, and to honor those who work there. Radcliffe Haughton opened fire and killed his estranged wife Zina and two others before turning the gun on himself. The Haughtons lived in Brown Deer, where police were called to their home 20 times over the last decade to handle various domestic abuse incidents. Gemmell said she’ll spend the rest of her life as an advocate for victims of domestic violence.
Governor Scott Walker held the first of his listening sessions yesterday on what he should propose in the next state budget. The Republican Walker told almost 40 employees at ACE Marine that his general priorities for the next two years are to cut taxes, create jobs, improve transportation, and boost education and workforce training. Over a dozen people asked questions about things like prescription drug costs and employee apprenticeship programs. One asked what Walker would do to get opposing Democrats on his side – and Walker responded that his budget plans are things that both Republicans and Democrats alike could support. But the Senate’s incoming minority leader, Milwaukee Democrat Chris Larson, questioned whether the state has enough of a budget surplus to pay for tax cuts. Larson said that if the deep school aid cuts from 2011 remain in place, then income tax cuts would be a quote, “non-starter.” But if Senate Republicans vote as a bloc like they’ve done on most issues over the past two years, Larson and his fellow Democrats won’t have enough votes to stop them. Larson also criticized the governor’s listening sessions, saying they’re not open to the general public.
Bank officials say part of the $150,000 that a computer hacker stole from a school payroll in western Wisconsin has been recovered. Stanley-Boyd school officials said they sent their payroll funds to Madison’s Anchor Bank last week as usual – and the bank later reported that the payroll recipients were modified. One school official blamed the bank at first, saying the data was accurate when it left the school facility. But Jennifer Ranville of Anchor Bank said there’s no evidence that its systems were compromised. The FBI is trying to get to the bottom of what happened. Ranville said the bank worked with school officials to make sure the district’s 150 employees were paid on time, but she could not go into details as to how it happened. Ranville said the bank was also helping the school employees start new accounts, since the hacking exposes them to possible identify theft. And she said no other Anchor Bank accounts were affected by the incident. In a statement, the Stanley-Boyd school district said it’s working with the bank to make its money transfers more secure. And if all the stolen money is not recovered, the district’s liability insurance will cover it.
The head of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation said the gun deer hunting season created more success and more positive attitudes by hunters. George Meyer said the deer population had obviously increased. And he said there was a different tone from recent years, when hunters complained about the way the DNR managed the herd. The state issued preliminary figures yesterday, showing that almost 244,000 deer were shot during the nine-day gun season that ended Sunday. That was up seven-point-seven percent from a year ago. And the buck harvest was up 12-percent. The numbers of hunters rose, too, thanks to a lower-priced license for first-timers. About 29,000 new hunters took advantage of that – and the total of 633,000 deer licenses was up two-percent from a year ago. At least seven people were shot in hunting accidents, but that was down from the average of nine over the past decade. One hunter near Superior was killed by a partner who mistook him for a deer. Another hunter was found shot to death at Fort McCoy, and the Army was still investigating at last word. Still, the DNR said hunters had a lot to be proud about. The agency did more to reach out to hunters this year, by scrapping the much-criticized Earn-a-Buck program, and stressing the deer hunt’s traditions. In announcing the harvest totals, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp praised those who were quote, “out connecting with the land.” She said the hunt is all about fun, family, friends, and traditions – and besides the harvest, the season also generated new stories for those folks to share.
Parts of Wisconsin have not seen any snow yet – but a nice photo of icy tree limbs can be seen on the state’s travel Web site, plus early condition reports for winter activities. The Snow Conditions Report was the most popular feature a year ago at Travel Wisconsin.com, with over 773,000 viewers. It’s back, with over 130 locations about to update their conditions for skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. Parts of far northwest Wisconsin received 15 inches of snow during the Thanksgiving weekend. Polk County didn’t get as much, but the Trollhaugen Ski Area is open at Dresser with the help of man-made snow. Other areas in northwest and far north central Wisconsin say they’ll have winter recreation soon – but not yet. State tourism officials say reporters in all 72 counties will report their snow conditions at least once a week at Travel Wisconsin.com, once the winter really gets going.
An agency that serves 29 school districts in northwest Wisconsin is still in the running for the latest round of federal education funds. The Cooperative Educational Service Agency Number-10, based in Chippewa Falls, is the only Wisconsin group which made the final round for the next “Race to the Top” grants. There are 61 finalists. And the U.S. Education Department is expected to award up to 25 grants by the end of the year, ranging from five-million to 40-million dollars for the first four years of their projects. The newest competitive grants are designed to create more personalized education for youngsters – and to encourage schools to develop tools that can better meet student needs. Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, and Beloit also applied for the money – but they did not advance in the national competition. The Chippewa Falls agency provides a host of services to school districts that range from staff training to public relations.
The Holiday Train will start heading toward Wisconsin today. This is the 14th year that the Canadian Pacific Railroad has decorated a train filled with holiday lights and decorations, with box-car entertainment at 50 stops in its U.S. service territory. Those who attend the events are urged to bring food and cash donations to help the hungry in their communities. And this year, the Canadian Pacific will donate a matching amount to the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The Holiday Train is in Scranton, Pennsylvania today, and will arrive in Wisconsin on Dec. 8 with stops in Milwaukee, Hartland, and Columbus. On the ninth, the train will hold events in Portage, Wisconsin Dells, Mauston, Tomah, Sparta, and La Crosse before going into Minnesota. A similar train has about 100 stops in Canada. Since it began in 1999, the Canadian Pacific says the Holiday Train has raised almost six-and-a-half million dollars, and 2.6 million pounds of food in both the U.S. and Canada.