- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Wisconsin State Journal, Oct. 21

DNR board right to end social dinners

Public decisions - such as whether to allow snowmobiling at a state park - should be made at public meetings.

They shouldn’t be hashed out and all but decided at a private dinner the night before a public vote.

So it’s good to see the state Department of Natural Resources ending its troubling practice of holding dinners for members of its Natural Resources Board on the evenings before board meetings. The risk and appearance of secret deliberations were too great to continue these social gatherings, which the public wasn’t invited to attend.

Hobnobbing over food and drinks the night before voting creates too much potential for board members and DNR staff to discuss and tally votes behind closed doors - in violation of the state’s open meetings law.

That’s what opponents of snowmobiling in Blue Mound State Park, about 30 miles west of Downtown Madison, feared had occurred at a board dinner last January.

Former Blue Mound State Park superintendent Karl Heil and Blue Mound resident Kenneth Wade filed a complaint this fall with the Dane County District Attorney’s Office alleging a violation of the state’s open meetings law. The complainants alleged that DNR staff had polled Natural Resources Board members on their positions prior to a Jan. 27 vote. And according to an email, DNR staff planned to attend the board’s dinner on the eve of the meeting to answer questions and head off opposition. About 215 people had sent in public comments against snowmobiling at the park, which hadn’t been allowed there since the early 1990s.

Cross country skiers, mountain bikers and other park users who wanted to preserve the park’s modern tradition of catering to “silent sports” felt their opposition to the change had been undermined at the board’s dinner meeting. The DNR didn’t notify the public about the time and place of the dinner, so the public couldn’t attend. And the day after the dinner, the board voted to approve a new park master plan that included a snowmobile trail.

Whether or not snowmobiles are a good fit for Blue Mound park, all sides of the issue deserve an open and fair process with generous opportunities for input.

The DNR’s decision to halt the dinners will help restore public trust. So will revisiting the snowmobiling issue to ensure proper transparency by the board.

Congratulations to the DNR for getting this right in the end.


The Journal Times of Racine, Oct. 23

WIAA sports seasons should stay put

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association has a reputation of being a little hidebound when it comes to listening.

For proof of that, we have only to look to events earlier this year when it suspended a Hilbert High School student athlete for a tweet criticizing the private organization that dictates high school sports rules for its rule on student chanting.

You remember that, of course, the WIAA issued a list of student chants at sports that were banned because they would be disrespectful to the other team. Among them were such longtime crowd favorites as “airball,” ”scoreboard” and “you can’t do that.”

So it was a bit surprising this month when it came to light that the WIAA was putting forth a survey question to member schools to get their input on a variety of changes to high school athletics - including a proposal to switch seasons for three girls’ sports.

The proposal is to move girls’ soccer from spring to fall; move girls’ swimming from fall to winter; and move girls’ tennis from fall to spring.

The changes would make those girls’ seasons coincide with the boys’ seasons in those sports.

That, of course, would result in a nightmare of scheduling problems for many schools not only for practice and game-day facilities for swimming pools, tennis courts and soccer fields, but also for coaching and referees.

Area school officials were quick to point that out.

“Most of our schools don’t have enough space … only have four tennis courts and it’s hard enough to do one season, let alone boys and girls at the same time,” said David Pettit, athletic and activities director for Union Grove High School.

At Case High School, boys and girls swimming coach Frank Michalowski said that the three comprehensive high schools only have six-lane pools and doubling up boys and girls in the same season would require an eight-lane or 10-lane pool.

“It’s not going to work out,” he said.

The changes could also result in a shortage of referees in some sports like soccer if boys and girls both compete at the same time of year, according to Sandy Freres, athletic director at The Prairie School.

All of which begs the question: Where did this come from?

A WIAA official said the survey question came from a parent at an unidentified school who wanted the change to allow a student to compete in two different sports. Normally, the official said, the WIAA wouldn’t take up the request if it came directly from a parent, but this request for the survey question came from the member school district.

“The parent made the request to the member school who made the request to us,” the WIAA official said.

It was probably nice that the WIAA “listened” to the request and dutifully put it on the member-school survey, which will be made public in November.

The student at the unnamed school district is not the first one in the state to have to make a decision on doing one sport or another - many student athletes have to choose among competing interests when sports seasons coincide and have had to do so for years. Before the WIAA advances this request, it might want to look at the fiscal impact the facilities and scheduling demands would place on schools.

This seems to us to be a case of the tail wagging the dog. Hopefully, the WIAA member schools being surveyed will put an end to that.


Kenosha News, Oct. 23

Closing the graduation gap

It’s very bad news that Wisconsin’s graduation gap between black and white students is the largest in the country.

However, it is encouraging to know that gap can be reduced. Kenosha schools have demonstrated that.

Statewide, 92.9 percent of white students graduate from high school in four years, while the four-year graduation rate for black students is 64 percent.

In the Kenosha Unified School District, the four-year graduation rate for white students is 92.2 percent while the same rate for black students is 76.5 percent. The difference, 15.7 percentage points, is significantly lower than the state gap of 28.9 percentage points.

Kenosha has made significant progress closing the black-white graduation gap, but that has not been the case statewide.

As recently as the 2011-12 school year, the gap in the Kenosha school district was 22.7 percentage points. The rate for black students then was 64.5 percent and for whites, 87.2 percent.

There’s no question there has been a concerted effort made to close the gap.

Here’s one example: Principals, teachers and families in the district were given “student-teacher relationship tool kits” that suggested strategies to help minority students excel in school. The kits include a 14-page guide describing practices that have worked well in district schools and an eight-page kit that focuses on families and community.

Those kits included research-based strategies on topics such as classroom culture, relationship building, acknowledging student accomplishments and “culturally responsive teaching.”

The kits were the product of the district’s Diversity Task Force, a 40-member group of principals, teachers, administrators and community members.

Other ways the district is trying to reduce the graduation gap: New student groups that encourage confidence and role modeling and making Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support a district-wide program. This is a strategy, used for several years at some schools, to reward positive behavior rather than punishing bad behavior.

The district has also ramped up its efforts to improve attendance, stressing the importance of being in school every day.

If Kenosha continues to make the same kind of progress in the next few years as it has made since 2011, it won’t be long before the black-white graduation gap is insignificant.

More Kenosha Hispanic students are graduating in four years, as well. In 2011, the graduation rate for Hispanic students was 71.9 percent. In the latest report, it was 84.6 percent, a gain of 12.7 percentage points

Statewide, the gain in the same period has been only 3.2 percentage points, from 74.3 percent to 77.5 percent of Hispanic students graduating in four years.

Clearly Kenosha is doing better at closing the graduation gap than the rest of the state, and the effort appears to be helping everyone. The graduation rates for white, black and Hispanic students here are rising.

The rest of the state should start paying attention. Schools here are doing something that works.

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