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Schools jump on new flexibility to close ahead winter storm; former La Crosse bishop demoted at Vatican; 7 more Wisconsin stories

Predictions of the big winter storm blowing through Wisconsin Monday prompted the season's first school closings in western and northwest Wisconsin.

An early check showed closures at Boyceville, Cameron, Spooner, Durand, and Plum City. Bloomer schools were planning an early release for students with no morning-or-afternoon four-year-old kindergarten. All those schools are in a region that could get two- to seven inches of snow Monday, and up to 13 inches by the time the storm clears out Tuesday.

No school closings were reported as of 7:15 a.m. in far northern Wisconsin, where up to 10 inches are in the forecast by late Monday and up to 22 inches by late Tuesday.

This is the first winter that Wisconsin public schools have more flexibility to deal with the weather. The governor and Legislature agreed earlier this year to end the 180-day requirement for school terms -- however, schools must still follow their previous minimums for class-time hours.

Forecasters blame Typhoon Nuri for the big storm. The disturbance brought hurricane-type winds to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska over the weekend. Monday, it was pushing snow across Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and most of Wisconsin. When the storm clears out, Wisconsin will get cold temperatures.

Forecasters blame the typhoon for that as well, even though it's supposed to lose strength as it passes into the Bering Sea. Much of the U.S. could have temperatures way below normal this week.

Rhinelander's forecast calls for lows down to 3 degrees by Friday morning. Most parts of the north can expect single-digit lows later in the week, while Milwaukee will have lows in the 20's after getting little to no snow.

Walker continues to hint at 2016 presidential run

Gov. Scott Walker went on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, maintaining his national profile for a possible 2016 presidential run.

The Republican governor teetered again on whether he would serve his entire four-year term in Madison, something he appeared to lean toward in the weeks before voters gave him a second term last week. Walker repeated that his party needs to put up somebody outside of Washington, and he thought governors "make much better presidents than members of Congress."

He again cited Janesville House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan as the only exception to that.

Last month, Walker indicated he would step aside if Ryan -- the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee -- decides to run for president.

Walker said Republicans need to put forth a clear message to voters in order to win in 2016.

He also put in a dig against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, saying she embodies "everything that is wrong with Washington."

In response to Walker's appearance, the Democratic National Committee said it's glad he's speaking up for Republican governors. DNC press secretary Michael Czin wrote -- "The gubernatorial wing of the GOP is every bit as broken and dysfunctional as the congressional wing of the party."

Czin pointed to Walker's record of slow job growth in Wisconsin, high poverty in Texas under Rick Perry, and a state credit down-grade in New Jersey under Chris Christie.

Former LaCrosse bishop relieved of Vatican court post

Wisconsin native and former La Crosse Catholic Bishop Raymond Burke was removed over the weekend as the head of the Vatican's highest court.

Church leaders did not say why they transferred Burke to a ceremonial post as chaplain of the Knights of Malta charity group.

Saturday's move was not a surprise, as the conservative Burke has been highly critical of Pope Francis and his Catholic reform agenda.

The 66-year-old Burke recently said he'd be given a new post, but was not sure when.

He told a Spanish magazine in October that he compared the church under Francis to a "ship without a rudder." At a meeting of international bishops last month, Burke emerged as the main opponent to the leadership's effort to create a more welcoming attitude toward gay Catholics. Burke has had a long record of preaching conservatism.

He once questioned whether former Wausau Congressman David Obey and other Democratic Catholics should take communion because of their voting records on abortion.

Burke was born in Richland Center. At age 11, he moved Stratford, about 10 miles northeast of Marshfield.

Burke was trained as a Canon lawyer and was ordained in 1975. He served as the bishop in La Crosse for a decade ending in 1994 and he was later the archbishop in St. Louis before being named to the church's highest judicial body in 2006.

Final day for veterans to complete on-line survey

MADISON -- Monday is the last day that Wisconsin veterans and their families can fill out an online survey, to provide feedback on state- and federal benefits.

State Veterans' Affairs Secretary John Scocos says the information will help his agency target programs, services, and benefits to those who need them.

He cited a similar survey by the federal government two years ago, which showed that half of veterans did not know what benefits were offered to them, or where to apply.

Scocos calls that a "tragedy." He tells the Wisconsin Radio Network that veterans should be able to use the benefits to which they're entitled, and it's up to officials to help them in any way possible.

Scocos says his agency reaches out to veterans at job fairs and other methods. He says it's important that veterans know about benefits which relate to education, health care, nursing facilities, and more.

The confidential survey can be found online at www.wisvets.com/survey.

Mother of controversial voucher program dies

MILWAUKEE -- Private school vouchers are such a partisan issue in Wisconsin, that many folks might not believe that a Democrat made them possible.

Former Milwaukee Representative Polly Williams did just that. She died Sunday at age 77. The medical examiner's office did not release a cause of death.

Williams spent three decades in the state Assembly before she retired in 2010. She also started the African-American Education Council, which gave black residents more of a say in efforts to reform the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson was trying in the 1980's to approve tax-funded private school vouchers when Williams drafted her own plan which failed to pass the Legislature. She gave it another try in mid-1989.

Another lawmaker proposed the bill that finally passed, but national experts said it had many of the features that Williams first proposed.

When she retired, Williams told the Journal Sentinel many people thought she was siding with conservatives but that was not her intention. She said her only goal was to give parents more of a say about the education their kids were receiving.

The state provided vouchers for low-income Milwaukee kids to attend private schools for about two decades until Republicans took the program statewide on a limited basis in 2013.

GOP leaders want to expand the program in next year's state budget.

Acreage at high risk for erosion now visible on-line

MADISON -- Residents who want to know which properties are most likely to have agricultural runoff, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources now has the information on its web site.

The site includes new software that combines years of crop- and soil data with topographic data to create detailed maps.

Those maps can show where rills and gullies might carry agricultural nutrients from fields toward bodies of water. The software is called the Erosion Vulnerability Assessment for Agriculture Lands, or EVAAL.

Officials say it can help farmers, county conservationists, nutrient management planners, engineers, and research deal with local runoff pollution.

Read more about the program here: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/nonpoint/evaal.html.

Evening vigil honors child killed on grandfather's lap

MILWAUKEE -- Several hundred people attended a candlelight vigil last night at the house in Milwaukee where five-year-old Laylah Petersen was shot to death.

Her father Robert told the crowd that its support would help the family make it through. Some speakers urged people to call police if they knew anything about the shootings.

Police Chief Ed Flynn said two people fired around a dozen bullets at the home of Laylah's grandparents last Thursday evening, for no apparent reason. She was sitting on her grandfather's lap watching TV with a sibling at the time. Suspects are still being sought.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives put up a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

On Saturday, Flynn said Laylah's heart was donated to another youngster.

Search continues for Mississippi boater, presumed drowned

LA CROSSE -- A search was to resume Monday morning for the body of a missing boater in the Mississippi River near La Crosse.

Authorities in Winona County, Minn. said the man went fishing around 11 p.m., Saturday.

His boat apparently hit a roller gate at Lock & Dam 7 at Dresbach, Minn., just northwest of La Crosse.

The victim was a 27-year-old man from Onalaska. His name was not immediately released. His life jacket was found Sunday near the roller gate, and his boat was recovered about three-quarters of a mile downstream.

Winona County sheriff Dave Brand quoted the man's family as saying he liked going fishing late at night.

Rescue crews from both Wisconsin and Minnesota have been looking for his body.

Madison's isthmus makes for microclimate near Capitol

MADISON -- Downtown Madison is warmer than other parts of town and it's not because of the political hot air from the State Capitol.

UW researchers have found that the city's isthmus -- a thin stretch of land between two lakes where the Capitol is located -- is up to 7 degrees warmer on an August night than in Madison's outlying communities. During the day, the isthmus is three degrees warmer on average. Two UW professors say the so-called "urban heat island" is typical of what we can expect in mid-sized American cities, as their populations grow and new development occurs.

Madison professors Jason Schatz and Chris Kucharik wrote in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology that urban growth can magnify global temperature trends in the places where most people live. Schatz and Kucharik gathered weather date from over 150 sensors in Dane County, which recorded temperatures every 15 minutes from April of 2012 through September of last year.

The trend surprised at least some downtown Madison residents.

Peter Alchuter told the Wisconsin State Journal he was surprised there's not a cooling effect from Lakes Mendota and Monona, which hug each side of the isthmus.

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