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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Legislators discuss increased funding for rural schools

The head of a task force that's studying Wisconsin's rural schools says he's surprised at how much they've been stripped to the bare bones. Still, Assembly Republican Rob Swearingen of Rhinelander does not expect his panel to suggest a major financial overhaul when its report comes out during the next month. Instead, you might see proposals to give more state aid to districts with the highest busing costs over large land areas -- or perhaps helping more of the smallest schools get aid in places where state funding is limited due to high property values. Wisconsin imposed revenue limits on its public schools 20 years ago, as Republicans tried to rein in what they called out-of-control school taxes. They allowed local voters to approve taxes above the revenue limits -- and those referendums have had mixed success over the years. Swearingen told the Associated Press the task force was looking to find cost savings for rural schools but he found that quote, "Referendums are just tearing these schools apart." Jerry Fiene of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance said 80-percent of revenue cap referendums are held in the smallest districts -- although 80-percent of Wisconsin districts are not rural.


With temperatures approaching 50 today, it might sound silly to have to keep running your water 24-7 to keep the pipes from freezing. But officials say it's still a very real concern, as the underground frost continues to be deeper than the water pipes. In Weston, just east of Wausau, Public Works Director Keith Donner says there are still 6-to-7 feet of frost underground -- and despite all the melting snow that you'll see today, the frost is not going anywhere for a while. Donner says you'll know when the frost disappears, as soon as the melting snow seeps into the ground -- and that might not happen until mid-April. Communities throughout Wisconsin asked residents to run tiny streams of water 24-7, amid the coldest winter in almost two decades. Officials say it's cheaper than having to fix numerous frozen pipelines. Under state law, residents who are told to constantly run their water do not charged for the extra usage. They'll get billed according to their previous averages.


Wisconsin will lose a lot of snow during the next two days, as temperatures could surpass 50-degrees for the first time this year. All that snow has to go somewhere -- and the National Weather Service is telling cities along the state's numerous rivers to start preparing for floods. Senior hydrologist Steve Buan says actual flooding is still some time away -- but if the snow-melt happens too quickly, there could be some pretty big floods. Wisconsin never had its traditional January-February thaw, which means our heavier-than-normal snow is still sitting on ground that has up to eight feet of frost in some places. Also, there's still heavy ice on many waterways. Lake Michigan set a new record during the weekend for ice cover. Almost 93-point-three percent of the lake was covered with ice on Saturday, breaking the old mark of 93-point-one set in 1977. Buan says there's a potential for heavy ice-jams during the spring melt -- and it might cause floods in unexpected places. State officials have asked farmers not to spread manure this week, to avoid run-off. Forecasters say today will be the warmest day of the week, with highs close to 50 statewide. Light rain and sleet are due in tomorrow, with temperatures about ten degrees cooler. A colder day is in store Wednesday before the mercury goes back up to the 30's-and-40's by the end of the week.


Funeral services will be held tomorrow for Marge Wolf, the Marshfield grocer who foiled a hold-up last summer by offering a would-be robber candy instead of cash. The 97-year-old Wolf died Friday, less than three months after retiring and closing the neighborhood store she ran for 57 years. She was best known for selling candy and other treats to generations of nearby school kids. That was until last July, when she made national news after a 13-year-old boy tried robbing her store at knife-point -- and he ran off after Marge only offered him Tootsie Rolls. 18-year-old Cordell Ellingson of Arpin is scheduled to go on trial March 25th, after he allegedly organized the purported heist. The 13-year-old was referred to juvenile authorities.


A last-minute push is being made to end political robo-calls to Wisconsinites who are on the do-not-call list for telemarketers. With the current session in its final month, Assembly Republican Andre Jacque of De Pere says the bill is closer to being approved than in previous years. That's because almost 30 lawmakers from both parties have co-sponsored the ban. And their voters are complaining more loudly about the numerous calls they get from candidates and their supporters at election time. Political calls are exempt from the no-call list, but they get lots of complaints from those on the receiving end. Assembly Democrat Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh said many people viewed all the robo-calls in the last major election as quote, "little more than harassment in their own homes." Some folks reported getting a dozen calls a day in 2012. Madison attorney Mike Wittenwyler says political speech is harder to regulate than commercial speech under the First Amendment. Constitutional concerns were raised under previous attempts to ban political robo-calls, but Jacque says the current Wisconsin bill is the same as those in other states which have been upheld in court. Six states effectively ban political robo-calls to those on do-not-call lists.


A north central Wisconsin man is recovering from a freak shooting incident at his home during the weekend. Authorities said the 52-year-old Gleason man threw a bag on his bedroom floor with a loaded pistol inside. When it hit the floor, the 38-caliber Derringer went off -- and it wounded the man in one of his legs. He was taken to a Wausau hospital. His condition was not immediately disclosed. The incident happened around 2:30 Saturday morning. Officials say they will not seek charges.


Authorities continue to investigate an S-U-V crash that killed two people north of Beloit. It happened just after three yesterday morning on Highway 51. Beloit Town Police said the S-U-V was going south when it lost control and hit a utility pole. Both persons in the vehicle died at the scene.


Wisconsinites have three weeks to get their dogs and cats licensed for another year. The deadline is March 31st, and those who don't comply could pay dearly. Last year, Wausau increased its late fees for pet owners who are caught not registering. Those penalties are three times what it would have cost, had those owners licensed their pets on time. Wausau City Clerk Tony Rayala says it's a public health concern. He says licensing encourages folks to get annual rabies shots and check-ups for their dogs and cats. Many communities offer online pet registrations, while others must pay visits to their local municipal centers by the end of the month.