Weather Forecast


As classes resume, officials ponder make-up days; rare 'Strad' snatched in strong-arm robbery; 11 more state briefs

None of Wisconsin's 424 school districts were closed Wednesday, even though students had to trudge through wind-chill factors in the minus-teens-and-20's. Schools in Algoma, Kewaunee, Luxemburg-Casco, and the Menominee Tribal district had two-hour delays -- but other schools around the state didn't even have that. Most schools were closed Monday and Tuesday after being closed for two days earlier this month due to the bitter cold. School officials are adjusting their calendars, to make sure they get their state-required 180 days of class time in. In Wausau, schools will now close for the term on June 12th instead of the 11th -- but summer school starts on the 16th, so there's not much of a cushion left there.

Other schools are canceling some other scheduled days off like the Friday before Memorial Day -- or perhaps shortening their spring breaks. Actual temperatures at seven this morning ranged from zero in the Milwaukee and Sturgeon Bay areas to 20-below at Sparta. Sunny skies and much warmer temperatures are predicted for today, with highs statewide in the teens-and-20's. Slightly warmer temps are forecast for tomorrow -- plus a little more snow.

Robbers target musician, rare $3.6 million Stradivarius

MILWAUKEE -- A 300-year-old Stradivarius violin was stolen in a robbery after it was played during a Monday night performance in Milwaukee.

This Stradivarius violin was made in Italy about 300 years ago. Photo courtesy

The Lipinski Stradivarius was on loan to Milwaukee Symphony concert-master Frank Almond, who performed with it at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

Police Chief Ed Flynn said Almond was walking to his vehicle afterward when a robber knocked out the musician with a stun gun, took the violin, and fled in a maroon or burgundy mini-van with a separate get-away driver.

Almond is still recovering, and he will not be on stage with the orchestra this weekend.

Flynn told reporters Tuesday that the FBI's art crimes' team is looking into the crime, along with the international police organization Interpol.

An article in 2008 valued the instrument at $3.6 million but Flynn said only a very small number of people would appreciate its value -- and it could not easily be sold for even a fraction of its worth.

The violin has a unique pattern on its back. It was crafted in 1715 in Cremona Italy. Its current owners are anonymous.

Polish violinist Karol Lipinski owned it in the late 1790's and 1800's, and her name stayed with it.

Officials said the instrument needs to be played to be preserved because of its wooden construction.

Almond once said it's a "finicky" violin that responds differently to various temperatures and humidity levels.

Politics swirl around President's Waukesha visit; lawmakers react to State of the Union address

WAUKESHA -- When a president comes to town, the local mayor is normally waving-and-smiling on stage but not Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima.

He plans to stay away Thursday when President Obama speaks at a General Electric plant.

Scrima says both Washington and Madison are more polarized than ever -- and he blames the Democrat Obama and Republican Gov. Scott Walker for not coming to the center and compromising.

Scrima also says a mayor should be non-partisan and he doesn't want to connect himself with either side. Scrima tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he has not participated in any events over the past four years when Walker and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan came to Waukesha.

He said he did appear at a school choice rally, not knowing Walker would be there.

Scrima has three challengers in a primary next month, but he denies it has anything to do with his decision not to greet the president. Mary Burke, the lone Democratic candidate for governor, has also bowed out of the Obama visit. Her spokesman says she'll be campaigning in western Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Democrats hailed, while Republicans huffed at President Obama's latest plans to reduce the gap between America's rich and poor.

During his State of the Union speech last night, the Democrat Obama said vowed to step around Congress and issue executive orders when necessary to narrow the nation's economic disparities.

House Republican Tom Petri of Fond du Lac said expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit would do more to help the working poor than the president's desire to raise the minimum wage -- which Petri said would reduce jobs and hurt the very people Obama's trying to help.

House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls said the president showed an "utter contempt" for Congress -- and he was not elected to rule by "executive fiat."

Meanwhile, Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin labeled it a "strong call for action to build a fairer economy, expand opportunity for everyone, and grow the middle class."

Madison House Democrat Mark Pocan said Obama is providing the opportunity we won't see until "our economy works for every American -- not just those at the top."

Obama announced his order for a $10.10-an-hour minimum wage for workers in future federal contracts. Obama also said he would use his powers to help low-income workers save for retirement.

The president called for an extension of the Earned Income Tax credit for low-wage families. Obama also renewed his pitch for immigration reform.

Walker pursues dismissal of reinstated teacher

MIDDLETON -- Gov. Scott Walker wants the state to revoke the license of a teacher who was reinstated by an arbitrator, after getting fired for downloading porn at school.

Andrew Harris' union successfully challenged the firing -- and the Republican Walker said it was a good example of why his Act 10 union bargaining clamp-down was necessary.

The Middleton-Cross Plains School Board put Harris back to work on Monday, after the State Supreme Court refused to consider overturning the arbitrator's decision to reinstate him. The union said the termination was too harsh, saying Harris' colleagues also looked at porn at school and only got suspensions and warnings.

In a letter to state Superintendent Tony Evers, Walker said he heard from concerned parents, and concluded that the arbitration process "failed the school district and the students." The governor said it appeared that the Harris case qualifies under a clause that gives the superintendent the ability to revoke a teaching license for immoral conduct.

Harris' attorney, William Haus, said it's no more of Walker's business than anybody else.

Haus told the Associated Press -- "My guy made a mistake. He shouldn't have done what he did. That doesn't mean he should get hung from the highest tree."

Supreme Court to hear voter ID challenges MADISON -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 25th on a pair of legal challenges to the state's photo identification law for voting.

The justices said Tuesday they would hold a joint appeals' hearing, after two Dane County court rulings struck down the 2011 law.

The League of Women Voters and Milwaukee's National Assocation for the Advancement of Colored People both won separate lawsuits challenging the ID requirement at the polls.

The state appeals court in Madison later ruled that the law was constitutional in the League's case.

In both instances, the circuit judges said voter ID caused too much of a burden for the poor and the elderly.

The state insists the law is needed to fight voter fraud. The Wisconsin ID law was used only once, in the February 2012 state and local primaries, before it was shut down. A federal court is also deciding two other challenges.

House could vote Wednesday on revised Farm Bill

WASHINGTON D.C. -- The U.S. House could vote as early as Wednesday morning on the compromise five-year package of federal farm programs.

La Crosse Democrat Ron Kind says he's leaning toward a no vote. He says it might be an expensive proposition, noting that direct payments would shift to other subsidy programs.

Kind also said nothing was done to stop billionaires from getting farm subsidies -- something he calls "real abuses." And like other Democrats, Kind is against the one percent cut for food stamps that's in the package.

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation supports the compromise. Group president Jim Holt says the total package includes far fewer direct subsidies.

Wisconsin dairy farmers will see their price supports replaced by a voluntary insurance program, in which government payouts occur when margins fall below various levels that farmers choose. U-W Madison dairy policy analysis director Mark Stephenson says farmers will have to do their homework, and every situation is different -- but with high margins expected this year, it might be beneficial to choose the lowest-cost coverage.

House Ag chair Frank Lucas says he understands criticisms of the dairy provision -- but he stresses there are no production limits, and farmers are protected in the end.

Proposed Wisconsin tax cuts slightly larger than first announced MADISON -- The proposed Walker tax cuts would be higher than the governor claims.

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau agreed Tuesday that Gov. Scott Walker's plan would reduce local property taxes by an average of $101 this year. The bureau also said the governor's plan would wipe out an increase of $31 that was planned for the typical December tax bill. So the property tax cut would actually be $131 for a home assessed at $151,000.

Also, the Fiscal Bureau said Walker's proposed income tax cut would amount to an average of $46 -- making the total tax cut $177.

The cuts represent just over half of a surplus in the current state budget that's projected to be almost $1 billion. Lawmakers are expected to act in the next few weeks.

Democrats and some Republicans say they're more concerned about eliminating an expected deficit at the start of the next budget in mid-2015. The Fiscal Bureau says the structural deficit would be $807 million -- $99 million more than before the tax cuts were proposed.

Meanwhile, the state Revenue Department has unveiled new income tax withholding tables for employers to adopt by April 1st.

Walker does not need legislative approval to adjust the withholding tables -- which he says would put more money in workers' pockets now instead of next spring as part of people's tax returns.

Wausau council vote still permits bartender tippling

WAUSAU -- The Wausau City Council has voted for a second time to join a handful of other Wisconsin cities that make sure bartenders don't get as drunk as their customers.

The council voted 8 to 2 Tuesday evening to override a veto from Mayor Jim Tipple -- who claimed that the aldermen rammed through the measure without input from the affected bars.

Unlike other cities which mandate absolute sobriety for bartenders, Wausau's ordinance lets bartenders join in on the drinking a little bit, up to a .04 blood alcohol level. That's half the state's limit for drunk driving.

Supporters said the measure's needed so bartenders can monitor their customers, and prevent them from driving away drunk.

Council President Lisa Rasmussen took issue with the mayor's claim that the proposal didn't get public input. She said it went through the same process as other measures. Rasmussen also noted that neighboring Weston would have considered the same limit this week, but that meeting was called off due to the cold weather.

Mayor Tipple says it's possible the measure could come back to the Wausau council for further review.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Kindergarten phy-ed considered to help curb child obesity MADISON -- A public hearing was to be held Wednesday on a bill to make Wisconsin kindergarten through fifth graders get at least 30 minutes a day of physical education. The Assembly's Children & Families committee was to take testimony Tuesday morning on the proposal from Green Bay Republican Chad Weininger.

It comes on the heels of new studies which indicate one of every four Wisconsin children are obese or overweight. Almost a dozen lawmakers from both parties have signed onto the bill.

A number of health-related groups support it, including the state's Public Health Association and the American Cancer Society.

Wisconsin has not had a daily physical education requirement for its public schools since the late 1980's. Kids are now required to get phy-ed three times a week, and the time requirements are not specified.

Exposure likely killed woman, 87

MILWAUKEE -- An autopsy was to be performed Wednesday on an 87-year-old Milwaukee woman who may have died from this week's cold spell.

The county medical examiner's office said the woman fell in her back yard, after she apparently returned from a store.

She had a body temperature of just 37 degrees after she was found dead around 3:30 p.m., Tuesday -- when the wind-chill in Milwaukee was around 20-below.

Mourners gather to remember fallen Purdue student

MILWAUKEE -- Hundreds of people filled a church in West Bend last night to mourn the death of Andrew Boldt, the Purdue University student murdered in a classroom last Tuesday.

School president Mitch Daniels and Boldt's fellow engineering students traveled from the West Lafayette Indiana campus to attend the service, held at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church.

Daniels said that as he learned about the 21-year-old Boldt and his family, he realized that America does not have any finer people.

The president of Milwaukee Marquette High School, where Boldt graduated in 2010, attended the service along with numerous teachers and friends.

Purdue said yesterday it would bring in counselors and therapy dogs on Friday for a "Day of Healing" in the wake of Boldt's murder, allegedly committed by fellow student Cody Cousins. The therapy dogs will be from Indiana's K-9 Assisted Crisis Response Team. It was found that dogs helped comfort college students after the deadly campus shootings at Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, and Alabama-Huntsville in recent years.

Trial underway in family theft case A trial was scheduled to begin Wednesday for a central Wisconsin man accused of cashing his missing mother-in-law's Social Security checks for 33 years.

Ronald Disher, 72, of Almond is facing Portage County charges of identity theft, theft by fraud, forgery, and mail fraud for allegedly stealing $175,000 in benefits intended for Marie Jost.

He's also charged with reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct for allegedly attacking a sheriff's deputy who searched his home.

Disher also faces a count of battery by prisoners. His trial is scheduled to run through Friday in Stevens Point.

Disher, his wife Delores, and her brother Charles Jost were all accused of cashing Social Security checks that kept coming for Marie Jost -- even though she's been missing since 1988 and is presumed dead.

Charles Jost was found innocent-by-insanity in the case, and a judge is scheduled to decide Feb. 17th where he'll be placed for mental health treatment.

Delores Jost had four criminal charges dismissed last year, after she had a stroke and was found unfit to stand trial.

Alleged dog-abuser brought to justice

STEVENS POINT -- A central Wisconsin man is due back in court on Monday, after he skipped out of an earlier court appearance and was re-captured.

Cody Phillips, 26, is accused of killing his dog with a hammer. Portage County authorities took Phillips into custody without incident Tuesday at his Bancroft home. He was released later, after his $500 cash bond was re-affirmed. He had posted the bond after he was charged last Friday.

Prosecutors said Phillips was sick of his blue-tick coon-hound Clyde defecating in his home. He told officers his wife might come back if he got rid of the pet. Clyde was later found in a ditch with a broken jaw and several blows.

Phillips is charged with a felony count of fatal animal mistreatment.

A pre-trial conference and initial plea hearing in the case are scheduled for Feb. 10th.

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.