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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: New Assembly bill to expand charter schools across state, make them independent

MADISON - Wisconsin's charter schools would become independent and non-unionized, under a new bill introduced by six state Assembly Republicans.  

The measure would create an authorization panel to approve charter schools statewide which would be run separately from local school boards.  Charter schools specialize in various subject areas and employment fields -- and most of the 200-plus charters are now run by public school districts.  The GOP bill would eliminate the charter designation from those schools, although they could still operate as magnet schools.  Charter school students could live anywhere in the state, instead of their home districts as required now.  And private charter operators could open new locations if their schools demonstrate high performance.  State Senate Education Committee chairman Luther Olsen of Ripon says the bill includes everything he'd like to see -- but he's not sure if there are enough votes to pass it in the current session.  Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said charter school reform is one of his main priorities, but he wants to approve something the state Senate would pass.  Public school unions are blasting the measure, saying it would dismantle the successful charters that have been formed -- and the traditional schools would lose state funding as students leave.  Some independent charters are currently allowed, but only in the Milwaukee region. Sponsors of the new bill are Republicans Joel Kleefisch of Oconomowoc, Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield, Don Pridemore of Hartford, Rob Hutton of Brookfield, Joe Sanfelippo of West Allis, and Joan Ballweg of Markesan. This group, other than Ballweg, represents Milwaukee area suburban Assembly districts.


Wisconsin's rural schools will take center-stage at the State Capitol today.  A task force created by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) will hear ideas about ways to keep rural schools viable amid rising costs and declining enrollments.  State public school Superintendent Tony Evers will appear before the panel, along with Jerry Fiene of the Rural Schools' Alliance and representatives of school administrators, a technology group, and the state's largest teachers' union.  Vos asked the panel to consider a variety of proposals.  They include new partnerships among rural districts, the most efficient way to deal with drops in enrollments, and strategies to stay viable financially in the long run. 


About 60 passengers escaped injury yesterday, when an incoming plane slid off a taxiway and into the snow at Madison's airport.  Kim Jones of the Dane County Regional Airport said Delta Flight-385 from Minneapolis had just landed around 4 p.m., and was taxiing when it left its paved runway.  Passengers were removed from the Boeing 737-800 aircraft, and taken to the terminal.  The airport was closed for about an hour, so a second runway could be cleared.


A test vote was scheduled in the U.S. Senate today on the federal budget deal brokered in part by Janesville House Republican Paul Ryan.  Wisconsin Senate Republican Ron Johnson of Oshkosh has joined several conservatives in supporting the two-year package. Their votes are expected to carry the bill over the hurdle of a filibuster sought by minority Senate GOP leaders.  Johnson has said he favors the idea of having stability in the budget process, avoiding more possible government shutdowns and periodic votes on continuing appropriations.  He did say there are problems with the measure, but no one in Congress says it's perfect -- not even Ryan, who calls it the best Congress can do amid the divided government.  The deal takes away $45-billion from the automatic spending cuts from last spring, freezing spending levels for 2015 and cutting the deficit by $23-billion over the next decade.  Critics say a future Congress could wipe out the savings, because of them come near the end of the 10-year period.


Wausau area U.S.  House Republican Sean Duffy is about to become a father for the seventh time.  His wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, announced the news this morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.  She also talked about the GOP's efforts to reach out to Hispanic voters like her.  Campos-Duffy also discussed her book "Stay Home, Stay Happy -- Ten Secrets to Loving At-Home Motherhood."  It's no surprise that the Duffy's baby announcement was made on cable television.  That's where they met, after both appeared on MTV's "The Real World."  The couple now lives in Weston, just east of Wausau.


The Iron County Board has again delayed the removal of a tribal mining protest camp from county forest land.  The matter was taken off the agenda for tonight's County Board meeting in Hurley.  Clerk Mike Saari said the county's insurance company wanted up to 30 days to review the issue before the Board does anything.  The camp has had up to 30 wigwams with members opposed to the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine nearby.  In July, the Board's Forestry Committee recommended civil and criminal charges against members of the Lac Courte Oreilles Indian tribe, for keeping their camp on county forest land longer than their permit called for.  At the time, supervisors decided to negotiate with the tribe.  Last week, the forestry panel called for an eviction of the site. The tribe's Paul DeMain said the camp is doing valuable research -- and Lac Courte Oreilles members are exercising their centuries-old treaty rights to hunt and gather food on off-reservation lands.  Saari said the proposed eviction could come up in January.


Wisconsin is building up some good snow cover, even though most places have not opened their snowmobile trails yet.  Travel says trails are open in eight counties in the far northwest, but not all are groomed.  Other counties plan to open their trails soon.  Jerry Vetterkind, who heads the Associated Snowmobile Clubs of Eau Claire County, says lots of riders are anxious to get going.  He tells WQOW-TV he's getting lots of calls asking why there's a holdup.  Vetterkind says conditions are marginal at the moment.  His group expects to decide tonight when the Eau Claire County trails will open.  The National Weather Service reports 10-inches of snow cover at Saint Germain in Vilas County and Summit Lake in Langlade County.  Wausau has almost nine-inches of snow on the ground.  A low pressure system brought 1-to-3 inches of snow to most of Wisconsin yesterday afternoon and evening -- and another system brought another dose of light snow overnight and this morning.  Gile in Iron County had over three-and-a-half inches in the past 24 hours.  Spooner and Stratford had just over three inches.  Park Falls had three.  The next snow is due in tomorrow in northern Wisconsin.  Highs are expected to be in the 20's the next couple days.  It could get above freezing on Thursday in southern Wisconsin, with a slight chance for light rain or freezing drizzle in the south and more light snow in other places.


Could you imagine winning a billion dollars?  It might happen if nobody wins the Mega Millions jackpot tonight or Friday night.  Yesterday, the pot grew by another $36-million due to ticket sales that have gone through the roof.  The top prize for tonight is now $586-million.  Wisconsin players have been sharing the Mega Millions' fever, but not with a lot of success.  Nobody from the Badger State won more than five-thousand dollars in the most recent game last Friday night.  Still, 133,00 Wisconsin players won something -- almost five times as many winners as the week before.  Officials say the jackpot might go up one more time before tonight's drawing.  By then, the lead director for Mega Millions -- Paula Otto -- says about 70-percent of the $259 million possible number combinations will be on somebody's tickets.  That means there's around a 30-percent chance that nobody will win the top prize tonight.  Otto says two more rollovers could raise the jackpot to a billion dollars on Christmas Eve.  The current jackpot is the fourth-largest in U.S. history, and it's not far from the world-record lottery prize of $656-million in a Mega Millions' drawing in March of 2012.  The game changed its number combinations in October to make it harder to win the top prize, but easier to win any prize.


Wisconsinites are more generous than most in donating their time to improve their communities.  New rankings released yesterday show that Wisconsin had the nation's eighth-highest percentage of residents who volunteered for something last year.  The Corporation for National-and-Community Service said an estimated 36-percent of Badger State adults were volunteers -- higher than the national norm of 25-percent.  The group said Wisconsin volunteers served for an estimated 165-million hours in 2012. Corporation CEO Wendy Spencer said Wisconsinites should be proud of what she called their "strong leadership in volunteering."  She said volunteers enrich their communities, connect with their neighbors, and use their talents for the common good.  Nationally, about 64-and-a-half million American adults volunteered for almost eight-billion hours.  If you were to buy those services, it would have cost around $175-billion.


A man shot-and-killed by a police officer in Green Bay has been identified as 63-year-old Darold VandenHeuvel.  Police said he showed up at his estranged wife's apartment complex early yesterday, even though a judge ordered him to stay away from her.  The woman called 911, and two officers responded.  Officials said they found VandenHeuvel carrying a handgun, and one of the officers shot-and-killed the man.  Police have not said whether VandenHeuvel pointed his weapon at the officers or fired any shots.  The shooter's name was not immediately released.  He's a four-and-a-half year veteran of the Green Bay police force, and he's been put on administrative leave for now.  Police say they'll submit their findings to Brown County prosecutors.  An autopsy for VandenHeuvel is planned for today.  


A tentative plea deal has been reached for a north central Wisconsin woman accused of trying to kill four-of-her-six kids, so they wouldn't feel the pain of her impending divorce.  Attorneys on both sides told a Taylor County judge yesterday they reached an agreement on a possible conviction for 37-year-old Heidi Mann of Rib Lake.  Details were not released.  A plea-and-sentencing hearing will be scheduled.  Back in July, Mann claimed she was insane when she allegedly killed her four youngest kids, ages 3, 5, 8, and 11.   Prosecutors said Mann tried to asphyxiate the youngsters by placing them in an SUV for two hours in a closed garage with its engine running.  All four children survived.  The incident happened in March, but sheriff’s investigators said they were not made aware of it until June.


A one-million-dollar bond was set yesterday for a Neenah man accused of killing another man at a nightclub in downtown Appleton.  28-year-old Chong Lee appeared in Outagamie County Circuit Court on charges of first-degree intentional homicide, and illegal gun possession as a convicted felon.  Prosecutors said Lee walked into the Luna Lounge earlier this month, shot-and-killed 25-year-old Joshua Richards of Green Bay, then left the bar a few seconds later.  An autopsy showed that Richards was shot in the head.  Lee reportedly told friends he shot Richards at point-blank range, then went to a second Appleton nightclub and disposed of the gun.  One prosecutor called the shooting an "execution," and said a high bond was needed because Lee was connected with a street gang.  Lee's criminal history was also mentioned.  Over the past decade, he's been convicted of sexual assault and a pair of burglaries.


A Racine County man is among six people accused of running a multi-million dollar securities' fraud ring in Las Vegas and Zurich Switzerland.  Federal prosecutors said James Warras of Waterford was arrested Friday in Wisconsin.  That was the same day Joseph Micelli and Antony Brandel pleaded innocent to 24 charges in federal court in Las Vegas.  Those counts include conspiracy, wire fraud, and securities fraud.  The other three suspects are still being sought.  They are Sean Finn of Whitefish Montana, and Martin Schlaepfer and Hans-Jurg Lips, both of Zurich.  The six allegedly used Switzerland's Malom Group and the Nevada firm of My Consultants to defraud investors of millions-of-dollars over the past four years.