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Task force unlikely to suggest sweeping changes for rural school funding; 'robo call' bill still in-play; more Wisconsin news

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MADISON -- 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

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Instead, residents 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 "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.

Voters in the Ellsworth School District recently rejected a $29 million building referendum and a request by district officials to exceed the state-imposed operating levy by $800,000/year for the next three years.

In April 2011, voters had approved a three-year pact which gave school officials up to $1.3 million in extra operating funds each year, expiring at the end of the 2014 school year. The district used only about $500,000 of the funds each of the first two years and about $700,000 this year, the Pierce County Herald reported recently.

It was estimated passage of the referendum would have raised taxes on a $100,000 home by $119 per year.

Ellsworth Superintendent Barry Cain said in an interview before the vote, that if the levy override question failed, the district would be facing $800,000 in cuts next year and up to $1.3 million for the 2016-17 year.

The task force, chaired by Swearingen and with Rep. Fred Clark (D-Baraboo) as vice-chair, held hearings in rural communities across the state, including Pepin.

of the task force. Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced today the formation of a Speaker’s Task Force on Rural Schools. The Speaker has asked Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-The

Among the group's assignments were to try and create partnerships among school districts; explore new avenues to share innovations, efficiencies and best-practices; addressing future transportation needs; map out strategies for long-term financial stability; develop tactics for handling declining enrollment; and maximize opportunities to incorporate advanced technology.

Bill would end political 'robo calls' to those on do-not-call lists

MADISON -- 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 DePere 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.

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 "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.

Contentious appointment dogs Milwaukee Co. sheriff

MILWAUKEE -- County Sheriff David Clarke is defending his recent promotion of an officer who was suspected of committing misconduct a year and a half ago. Nancy Evans became the head of security at Mitchell International Airport.

That was after prosecutors decided last year that Evans did not benefit personally, when she awarded thousands of dollars in no-bid flooring contracts to a company run by her extra-marital boyfriend.

Reports said the work was sub-standard and could have been done better and faster by Milwaukee County employees.

The deputies' union filed suit recently, alleging that Clarke illegally promoted Evans while repeatedly passing over a white male candidate. Clarke calls the lawsuit sexist and frivolous.

Handgun discharge shoots owner in leg

WAUSAU -- 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 a.m., Saturday. Officials say they will not seek charges.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Warmer weather doesn't lessen water woes

With temperatures forecast to approach 50 on Monday, it might sound silly to have to keep running your water non-stop 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 six to seven feet of frost underground and despite all the melting snow, the frost is not going anywhere for a while. Donner says people will 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.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

River Falls, Muskego women's names hijacked by pirate jersey site

Scammers used the names of two Wisconsin women to set up Internet sites that fraudulently sell pro football jerseys.

The Better Business Bureau said one woman in River Falls and another in Muskego are being asked by customers why they haven't received the jerseys they ordered.

Neither woman had any idea what was going on and they did not know that foreign scammers used their names as contacts for buyers.

The Web sites offer top of the line Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys jerseys for just $89.99, a fraction of the normal $240 cost.

The Bureau's Kimberly Hazen told WISC-TV in Madison that shoppers are told to contact the two women, who had their home addresses posted.

Hazen said the site should have raised red flags for shoppers, because it's riddled with bad grammar and spelling and it only asks for a billing address for credit card purchases.

Hazen said too many people looked past that, and they never realized the deals were too good to be true.

The two victims have contacted both local and federal authorities. Hazen said there was nothing they could have done to avoid being used like this.

Two dead after SUV strikes pole

BELOIT -- Authorities continue to investigate a sport utility vehicle crash that killed two people north of Beloit.

The accident happened just after 3 a.m., Sunday on Highway 51.

Beloit Town Police said the SUV was going south when it lost control and hit a utility pole. Both persons in the vehicle died at the scene.

Toddler found dead, mother overdosed in Milwaukee home

MILWAUKEE -- A woman is under arrest after her 14-month-old son was found dead in a home.

A relative asked police to check on the two early Sunday afternoon. An officer found the toddler unresponsive, and his 36-year-old mother was semi-conscious after she apparently tried overdosing on pills.

Rescuers were able to revive the mother, but they could not save the youngster. He died at the scene.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office will perform an autopsy to determine how the boy died.

Funeral set for Marshfield grocer who resisted teen thug

MARSHFIELD -- Funeral services will be held Tuesday 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.

Last July, Wolf 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.

Cordell Ellingson, 18, 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.

VA employees implicated in drug-possesion case

MILWAUKEE -- Four nursing employees at the Milwaukee veterans' hospital are due in court March 27th, after they allegedly sold prescription pain-killers to each other.

An investigation began last December, after a co-worker at the Veteran's Administration hospital reported seeing a licensed practical nurse and three nursing assistants exchanging medications.

Milwaukee County prosecutors said the four transferred and sold oxycodone and Percocet pills among each other for several months.

State felony charges were filed over the weekend against Jermaine Cohill, 38; Ryan Driscoll, 35; Yvette Wright, 46; and Alicia Ojeda, 27. The charges are related to illegal narcotics possession.

Lead tackle banned from three Vilas County lakes

EAGLE RIVER -- Lead fishing tackle will not be allowed on three northern Wisconsin lakes starting next month. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says anglers on lakes Pallette, Escanaba, and Nebish in Vilas County cannot use tackle smaller than an inch which contains any lead.

The DNR is conducting research on the three Vilas County lakes, and they want to prevent loons and other birds from eating small pieces of lead.

Officials will ask anglers on all three lakes to fill out surveys about their usage of non-lead tackle.

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