State Dem candidates use Merrill elementary school to attack Walker on education; district says declining enrollment, not governor's actions, led to need for referendumSubmitted: 09/05/2018
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter

State Dem candidates use Merrill elementary school to attack Walker on education; district says declining enrollment, not governor's actions, led to need for referendum
MERRILL - Top state Democrats used Merrill schools in a bold attack on Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday.

At the Merrill press event, they said Walker's education policies put two district elementary schools on the brink of closure.

But the district says those claims aren't quite true.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning said Merrill's Jefferson Elementary School was put in jeopardy by Walker.

"Clearly, Scott Walker's plan is harming education," Laning said. "The school that is right behind us here was almost a casualty of his plan."

It's true Jefferson Elementary would have closed if a spring 2018 referendum in Merrill had failed. That spending referendum easily passed, and Jefferson stayed open.

But was it fair to pin the tight situation on Walker education cuts in the early 2010s?

Merrill Superintendent Dr. John Sample says enrollment numbers, not moves by the governor, led to the referendum.

"Our referendum was based on our numbers. Our enrollment is declining," said Sample. "For us to be able to maintain the quality service that we provide our students, and, inevitably, our parents, we were looking at a referendum."

He agreed when asked if Wednesday's Democratic comments were tied to politics, not facts given by the district.

"We were continuing to decline," Sample said. "That was the primary purpose for us going to referendum."

Mandela Barnes, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, also spoke at the event.

Asked three times, he wouldn't say whether the campaign had contacted Merrill schools to ask whether Walker's policies had forced its referendum.

"Merrill, like so many other school districts, have had to go to referendum because of declining state aid," Barnes said.

Sample said the Democratic campaign didn't even tell Merrill schools it would be holding a press event in front of Jefferson Elementary.

A Democratic staffer took Laning away before we could ask her questions on camera.

The Democratic campaign also stopped at schools in the Green Bay and La Crosse areas on Wednesday. It said the tour visited districts forced to go to referendum because of Walker's cuts to education.

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MADISON -  The Wisconsin Supreme Court will take over the appeal in a second lawsuit challenging Republican-backed laws passed in a lame-duck session to restrict the powers of the newly elected Democratic governor and attorney general.

The decision Friday bypasses the state Appeals Court in the case involving the Service Employees International Union Local 1 and other unions. They're arguing the laws passed last year to limit some of the powers of Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul violate constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

The State Journal reports the conservative-led court said Friday the state's interests "would be best served by the appeal bypassing the court of appeals."

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Co-owner Will Roffers had a busy Saturday morning.

"I would say we're probably in the twenties at this point an hour and a half in," said Roffers working on a guitar inside Northland Music Center in Rhinelander.

He and his co-workers have been re-stringing guitars and recycling the old strings.

It's part of string company D'Addario's international effort to keep highly-recyclable metal guitar strings out of the landfill. 

"The amount of strings that go in the garbage is phenomenal so this is really taking a dent out of that," said Roffers.

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The driver was reported to be outside of the vehicle which was on fire before firefighters arrived.

Emergency crews remained on the scene for about one hour.

The Pink Lake Fire Department responded after being dispatched at 3:30 a.m.

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Kopper resigned in December after her husband, Alan "Pete" Hill, was banned from campus. The university released its 18-page investigative report and about 850 pages of attachments on Friday in response to an Associated Press open records request.

UW spokesman Mark Pitsch said in a statement that President Ray Cross advised Kopper to resign after he was briefed on findings of the report in mid-December. Pitsch says: "The report speaks for itself."

The investigation found no evidence that Kopper knew about or facilitated the actions of her husband, even though his behavior was "pervasive and well-known."

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Executive director of the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce Lauren Sackett said it's a great opportunity for locals to try new flavors.

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