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Dems blast Walker plan to boost school funding; sno-mo accidents claim two; fire that kills alpacas has Colfax couple asking for help; more state news

A 22-year-old man from Bryant, a small town northeast of Wausau, died over the weekend when he failed to negotiate a turn while snowmobiling with friends near Iron River. Superior Telegram photo.

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker plans to increase state aid to public schools by one percent in the next two-year budget that he'll submit to lawmakers on Wednesday.

The plan would give schools an additional $276 million after a major cut of $834 million two years ago. Walker said Sunday that he would not raise the schools' state-mandated revenue limits, in order to avoid hikes in local property taxes but he proposed a series of aid increases - including incentives for schools and teachers based on the districts' new report cards which the state put out for the first time last year.

Democrats and teachers' union leaders said Walker's increases are not nearly enough. Mary Bell of the state's largest teachers' union said the governor "has no intention of supporting neighborhood schools."

Republican Senate Education Committee chair Luther Olsen said he wished Walker would have offered more money but it's better than no increase or another reduction. Walker proposed an extra $73 million for private schools that teach low-income kids with tax-funded vouchers. One report said he would expand the program for up to nine new districts.

The governor also wants $23 million more for charter schools and $21 million for special-needs kids to get private-school vouchers for the first time.

Lisa Pugh of Disability Rights Wisconsin said all public school kids with special needs should get more money, not just a select few. Pugh said Walker's plan would cause a major change in how special needs' youngsters are treated. She said it's an issue that should be debated separately, and not buried in the massive state budget.

Walker shared some details of his school voucher plans with the Associated Press Sunday, ahead of a full public announcement Monday.

Under the governor's proposed budget, the voucher program would be allowed in districts with over 4,000 students. At least two buildings in those districts must have grades of "D" or "F" in the state report cards that began last year. For years, the voucher program operated only in Milwaukee. Two years ago, it expanded to the Milwaukee County suburbs and Racine. Now, under Walker's plan, the Green Bay and Madison districts could qualify - along with Fond du Lac, Beloit, Kenosha, Sheboygan, Superior, West-Allis-West Milwaukee, and Waukesha.

Not all of Walker's fellow Republicans in the Legislature support such an expansion. Senate President Mike Ellis of Neenah says it's wrong for an entire school district to qualify for private school vouchers if it has just a couple of failing schools. He said it's possible that students from non-failing schools could take slots intended for low-income youngsters.

Both Ellis and GOP Senate Education chair Luther Olsen said they would oppose any expansion, unless residents in the affected districts agree to it in a referendum. Many in the public schools say the voucher program takes away too many students and their state aid - while Republicans say it gives poor children a better chance to succeed in life.

Bryant man killed in weekend snowmobile accident

IRON RIVER -- A 22-year-old man from Bryant was killed Friday as a result of a snowmobile accident.

The Bayfield County Communications Center received a report around 11:43 p.m. about the accident at the intersection of Fire Tower Road and Forest Road 242 in Iron River. The caller indicated the man had hit a tree and was unresponsive.

Iron River Ambulance responded to the scene and initiated CPR. The patient was transported by ground ambulance and met with an Ashland paramedic unit. Life-saving efforts were attempted but the man suffered severe traumatic injuries and died as a result of the accident.

The victim was snowmobiling with three friends and was second in line. He passed his friend and a short time later lost control while trying to negotiate the corner off Fire Tower Road onto Forest Road 242, striking a tree.

Responding to the scene was the Iron River Ambulance, Ashland Paramedic unit, wardens from DNR and Deputies from the Bayfield County Sheriff's department. His name will not be released at this time, pending notification of relatives.

Meanwhile, a search for a missing snowmobiler was suspended Sunday near Grantsburg, due to rough conditions on the St. Croix River. Authorities were told that the victim's machine hit a large patch of open water on Saturday night at the National Scenic Waterway - and he disappeared after being thrown from his unit. Pine County sheriff's deputies in Minnesota said the victim might have been swept downstream and under a pack of ice.

Rescuers found a snowmobile partially-submerged on turbulent open water - but there was no sign of the victim there. Officials said it was too dangerous to search the water. But officers from Pine County, Wisconsin's Burnett County, and the National Park Service began a ground-and-air search Saturday night. It continued yesterday - but it was suspended early in the afternoon due to problems with turbulent waters and rough terrain. The victim's name was not immediately released.

Ugly weather week ahead, NWS advises

Get ready for more slush-and-ice. The National Weather Service says a low-pressure system from the west will move into central Wisconsin Monday. The system will bring some more rain and freezing rain to most parts of the Badger State before it changes to all snow Monday night.

Forecasters say very light snow accumulations are expected in most of Wisconsin but the far north could three- to seven inches of lake-effect snow from Lake Superior by Tuesday night.

The Weather Service has issued winter weather advisories from 6 p.m. Monday until the same time Tuesday in Vilas County, and until 10 p.m. Tuesday in Iron, Ashland, and Bayfield counties. It was mild early Monday, with temperatures in the 20's-and-30's in most of Wisconsin. Temperatures will drop after the low-pressure system goes through.

The forecast calls for highs in the teens Tuesday and Wednesday. Another storm system is due in on Thursday, with the possibility of several more inches of snow before it clears out on Friday.

Alpaca herd killed in Colfax area fire; couple seeks help

COLFAX -- Around 65 alpacas were killed Saturday night and early Sunday at the Rising Sun Alpaca Farm near Colfax, owned by Mike Schmit and Suzanna Lasee.

They told WEAU TV of Eau Claire that they've received lots of help - but they need food and water for the 45 animals that survived the blaze.

Firefighters from Colfax, Menomonie and three other departments helped extinguish the fire. Schmit lost a hand in a fireworks accident that was reported a week ago and the couple cannot keep up with the farm financially anymore.

Lasee told the TV station they want to sell the alpacas - and if they can't, they'd like to find another spot to place them.

Bad River tribe may have clout in shaping mining initiative

Wisconsin's Bad River Indians could have more power than a lot of people might think, in imposing regulations for a proposed mine upstream from their reservation. Two years ago, the federal EPA agreed to let the Bad River tribe near Ashland set up its own water quality standards. It also gives the tribe the authority to order pollution limits on anything outside the reservation that could come in and harm tribal waters.

UW Law School specialist Richard Monette says the Bad River's authority could be a "substantial obstacle" for the proposed mine but both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources say it's too early to tell.

The tribal water authority is nothing new; the Lac du Flambeau and Mole Lake tribes have long had the same powers. But they've been discussed very little in the state Legislature's debate over a proposed mining package, which would help Gogebic Taconite get approval for a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.

Tribal chairman Mike Wiggins told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his tribe will be "testing all over the place." Gogebic Taconite agrees it will have to comply. Tribal president Bill Williams said almost two weeks ago that the firm is studying its options, to guarantee that any water leaving the site will meet tribal limits - some of which are more stringent than what the state as a whole enforces.

Also, the Bad River is seeking authority to regulate air pollution in-and-around its reservation.

U.S. cheese imports up by 16 percent

More of our cheese is going overseas. The Foreign Ag Service said a record 573 million pounds of U.S. cheese was exported last year - an increase of 16-percent from 2011. The exports totaled just over five-percent of the nation's total cheese output.

Wisconsin is the nation's top cheese producer.

UW-Stevens Point adding nursing degree

STEVENS POINT -- UW Stevens Point says it will offer a new bachelor's degree program in nursing.

It will train registered nurses for leadership roles. They'll take classes both in-person and online plus a mix of the two. Sue Raab of UW Stevens Point says the new degree will help Wisconsin deal with the growing numbers of baby boomers who will need more care.

The nursing degree is part of UW-SP's Partnership for Thriving Communities' program. It's designed to help let the school respond to major needs in central Wisconsin.

Media investigation finds 23 percent of ambulances deficient

Gannett Wisconsin Media found that 23 percent of ambulances inspected in the last two years violated at least one state requirement. And that's after providers get a one-week notice that an inspector is coming.

Most violations are minor. Gannett said one of every 10 problems was for interior lights that were burned out, but of the nearly 1,100 ambulances inspected in two years, 19 of them had bad emergency brakes and others had inadequacies with medicines, defibrillator pads, and pediatric pads.

According to the Gannett review, seven ambulances in Wisconsin were told to stay off the roads until their problems were fixed and a provider in Waupun lost its state license for not making its required improvements.

Alcohol, weather contributed to death of UW-LaX student

LA CROSSE -- Authorities said alcohol and cold weather may have contributed to death of a 23-year-old U-W La Crosse student.

Neala Frye's body was found Sunday evening, after a search took place throughout the day just north of La Crosse in Onalaska. Frye was last seen at a bar on Saturday night, where she and another woman were planning a promotional event for a massage and tanning studio.

Family and friends began searching Sunday after she failed to show up for work.

Onalaska Police Chief Jeff Trotnic said her credit cards were found close to a railroad track near the bar. Frye's body was discovered about 300 feet from the track.

Milwaukee authorities seek to ID discarded body

MILWAUKEE -- Authorities in Milwaukee are trying to identify a body found in a Dumpster last night on the city's northwest side. A woman was taking out her trash when she found a decomposed body in a white sheet early last evening. Her sister called police, and officers will try to determine the victim's identity Monday.

The woman told WTMJ TV that she and her sister speculated on whether the body could be that of 22-year-old transgender rap artist Ebony Young - who's been missing since New Year's Day after an apparent internal gang dispute.

The Dumpster is about a mile-and-a-half from where Young went missing. Five people have been charged with her murder, although her body was never recovered.

Last week, police gave up looking for Young's remains in a landfill, after reports that Young's dead body was thrown into a trash bin and later hauled away.