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Neillsville district hit hard by flu -- familiar trend statewide; soggy weekend ahead; Packer fans warned of ticket scams, more state news

NEILLSVILLE -- One of every five public school students in Neillsville were home with the flu Wednesday.

Superintendent John Gaier said about 200 youngsters either stayed home or were sent home, as school officials tried to contain an outbreak of both stomach flu and respiratory flu. Some kids brought their illnesses to school and the Neillsville district called and e-mailed parents, urging them to keep their children at home if they show symptoms of headaches or sore throats.

The same message went on the district's Web site. Officials want kids to stay home until they have no fever or other symptoms for a full 24-hours without the use of medicines like Tylenol or ibuprofen. Parents are also encouraged to arrange flu shots for their children. Gaier said cleaning crews have been working late to sterilize the building. Neillsville is located about 25 miles southwest of Marshfield.

In Milwaukee, WTMJ-TV reports that over 1,200 people in Wisconsin have had hospital treatment for the flu in recent days.

In Milwaukee County, 8 of 11 city hospitals are diverting ambulances to other facilities because their beds and staffs are tied up with flu cases. Officials say the numbers of people hospitalized are double what they were a week ago. And the flu season is not expected to reach its peak for at least another couple weeks.

Milwaukee disease control director Paul Biedrzycki said the spike might have been caused by holiday gatherings where elderly people were exposed to the most prevalent flu virus in at least a decade. Other places are having the same problem. Eleven hospitals in Illinois are only accepting new patients who have life-threatening conditions and Boston's mayor has declared a public health emergency, after having 10 times as many flu cases as a year ago.

Biedrzycki says he knows of no flu-related deaths in Milwaukee but there could have been some, because autopsies are generally not performed on those who die from natural causes.

He says flu shots and Tamiflu are still available, and people should get vaccinated.

Brace for a soggy weekend, statewide

SULLIVAN -- It will not be lovely weather for a sleigh ride in Wisconsin this weekend. The Badger State is expected to lose virtually all of its snow cover, after a rain-storm goes through Thursday night and Friday.

Forecasters say the rain could get heavy Thursday night, especially in southern Wisconsin. Parts of the north could also get some freezing rain but no snow is in the forecast through at least Monday, except for a slight chance on Saturday morning. That's bad news for snowmobilers and for events like Winter Festival near La Farge. Organizers say cross-country skiing will probably be canceled, and sled-dog races will be weight pulls instead.

Shoe-shoeing is also in jeopardy at the Jack Frost Fest in Spooner. In Ashland, the annual "sleigh and cutter" event is expected to use wagons instead of sleighs. One event that won't be affected is the annual Eagle River Snowmobile Derby. Up to 5,000 spectators are expected for vintage sled races this weekend and the feature races are planned next weekend with crowds of up to 20,000 expected. Thursday's highs were expected to be around 40 statewide and portions of southwest Wisconsin could reach the low-50's by Sunday.

Packer fans warned to lookout for fake tickets

GREEN BAY -- Packer fans looking for playoff tickets not only have to watch for possible fakes - they also have to make sure nobody can steal the bar-codes on what they buy.

Sandy Chalmers of the state's Consumer Protection agency says the bar-code issue is a real problem. That's because those who buy from other individuals want to see the actual tickets online before they shell out the money. Also, Chalmers says people like to brag about snagging tickets by showing them off on social media, where again, thieves can help themselves to the bar-code numbers.

On Game Day, the first person at the gate with a particular bar-code gets in and if it's not the buyer, too bad.

Chalmers says any tickets that a person puts online should have the bar-codes covered up. Also, places like Craigslist have lots of fraudulent tickets for sale and even the most authentic-looking tickets can be fakes.

Chalmers says the best advice is to use the NFL's Ticket Exchange, or places like Stub-Hub which guarantee that the seats are valid.

The Packers would play the NFC Championship Game at home on Jan. 20th if they beat San Francisco on Saturday night, and Seattle wins at Atlanta on Sunday.

If the Falcons win, the conference title game would be in Atlanta against either the Packers or the 49'ers. This year's Super Bowl is in New Orleans on Feb. 3rd.

Walkie-talkie scare cuts short recess

PLOVER -- A walkie-talkie scare at an elementary school in Plover was much ado about nothing. Students at the Roosevelt School had a recess cut short on Monday, after aides heard somebody say on a walkie-talkie, "The fifth-and-sixth graders are on the playground. It's time to mix it up."

School officials didn't know if it was a threat or what but as it turned out, the comment was made by the principal of another school 3.5 miles away.

John Blader of McKinley Elementary in Stevens Point said he remembered making the remark to a custodian to pull a fire alarm, so a surprise fire drill could be started. Blader's remark came to light on Tuesday, when administrators in the Stevens Point district discussed the Roosevelt incident.

Workers checked to see if Roosevelt's walkie-talkies could pick up McKinley's signal from a distance and they could.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Walker expected to propose training help for thousands of open jobs

MADISON -- Business leaders expect Gov. Scott Walker to propose state funds to train workers for thousands of open jobs.

The state currently gets federal job-training funds in a host of programs that often duplicate each other but Wisconsin has never devoted its own tax money to job training and Competitive Wisconsin proposes $100 million to train workers for an estimated 35,000 jobs that are going unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants.

Walker has promised to address the "skills gap" in his budget proposal next month but he's given no details. On Wednesday, Competitive Wisconsin held a conference on the subject in Milwaukee. Director Bill McCoshen said state leaders are recognizing that new approaches are needed and he sees a consensus toward creating a so-called "talent council" - a body that would coordinate training programs, and connect them with employers' present-and-future needs.

McCoshen, once state Commerce secretary under Tommy Thompson, also says the state should consolidate its workforce and economic development agencies, so all related programs are under one roof. He says Minnesota does the same thing, and it's doing a great job.

State Senate Finance co-chair Alberta Darling said she expects Walker to propose funds to close the skills gap but she could not predict how much. Darling also school curricula should be revamped. She said Wisconsin's universities and tech schools are excellent but "They are not really hitting the mark."

Meanwhile, Walker has told minority Democrats that he'll discuss their concerns as the new two-year session goes on. The Republican Walker spent about 15 minutes with Assembly Democrats Wednesday.

They asked about his willingness to address gun violence, re-do the state aid formula for public schools, and create a fairer redistricting process. They also asked Walker about his commitment to Wisconsin agriculture, and whether he'd make lighting in state buildings more energy efficient.

Walker said he would address those issues as he prepares his state budget request that he'll deliver to the Legislature next month and he especially encouraged the 14 newly-elected Assembly Democrats to meet with him often during the session.

Walker and majority Republicans teamed up to approve a number of controversial bills in the last session with little-or-no Democratic input. This time, GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has vowed to be a better listener to the minority but Republicans still have the votes to pass anything they want.

Quad Graphics will shutter Iowa plant

SUSSEX -- Wisconsin's largest commercial printing company says it will close a plant in Dubuque, Iowa.

Quad Graphics blames changes in the industry, including a new popularity of E-books. Dubuque's production will be moved to Quad's other U.S. plants. The Dubuque plant has been on the down-side for months. Twenty-four jobs were cut last May, and the firm said in August it would eliminate up to 60 jobs by the start of 2013.

The closing affects 215 workers but it's not clear whether those jobs will be offered at other Quad plants. Quad-Graphics is based in Sussex.

Mukwonago won't relinquish Indian name, logo

MUKWONAGO -- The Mukwonago School District says it will not follow an order from a state appeals court to change its Indian team name and logo.

A circuit judge had ruled that Mukwonago did not have drop its nickname the "Indians," saying a state education official was biased in ruling that the name and logo were discriminatory, but last week, the Second District Appellate Court said two parents did not have the legal standing to challenge the decision from the Department of Public Instruction. The court also told Mukwonago to drop its Indian name and logo, as required by a 2010 state law. The law allows anyone to file a complaint with the DPI and if the agency finds that a nickname is discriminatory, the affected school board must drop it or face expensive penalties.

Mukwonago Superintendent Paul Strobel says his district has no plans to change its 80-year-old name and logo and school officials have asked Republican state legislators to repeal the law, while the parents seek to have the Appeals Court decision overturned.

Assembly Republican Steve Nass of Whitewater is considering a bill to either repeal the mandate or make those who file complaints prove that a student was actually discriminated against because of a nickname or logo.

Barbara Munson, who's with the state's Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force, said people need to respect different cultures and she's upset with Mukwonago's stance.

First death attributed to 'Mexxy'

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County has recorded its first death from a designer drug called methoxetamine or "Mexxy" for short.

Douglas Peters, 23, was found dead May 6th, after he passed out during a party at the home of a disk jockey in Milwaukee.

The county medical examiner has just now attributed the death to Mexxy. It's a powder that can be injected, swallowed, or snorted and it's generally legal to buy and use since it's uncontrolled in the U.S.

Crashes claim lives in Milwaukee, Antigo

A crash on a Milwaukee County freeway Wednesday killed a 75-year-old woman. Sheriff's deputies said her vehicle left the eastbound lanes of Interstate 43-894 and struck a tree around 1:30 p.m. near the southwest edge of Milwaukee. The accident caused traffic to back up throughout the afternoon. The victim's name was not immediately released.

Meanwhile, an Antigo woman killed in a Waupaca County accident was identified Wednesday as 45-year-old Carrie Oreskovic. The State Patrol said her sport utility vehicle was going north on Highway 45 near New London on Tuesday, when it collided head-on with a semi-truck.