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Pete Wicklund / GREGORY SHAVER, FOR THE JOURNAL TIMES 

Attendees peruse the selection of bowls ahead of choosing their soup selections during the Empty Bowls 2019 fundraiser on Monday at Festival Hall, 5 Fifth St. The event raises money to feed the homeless in the Racine community. Since the Racine event was created in 1997, more than $250,000 has been raised in support of the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization and the Racine County Food Bank. Local students, artists, and citizens create one-of-a-kind handmade ceramic bowls; local restaurants and organizations prepare soups and breads and local volunteers and VIPs do the serving and cleaning duties. Additional photos from the event can be found on Page A7 and at JournalTimes.com.


Local
EDUCATION FUNDING
Evers budget would provide $4M more to Unified, would not solve deficit

Duff

RACINE — Gov. Tony Evers’ $83.5 billion state biennial budget proposal, released Feb. 28, would provide millions more in funding each year to Racine Unified School District. But even if passed in full, the budget likely would not solve the district’s own funding woes.

While Republicans in the Legislature have already promised to draft their own budget proposal for the biennium, Unified Chief Financial Officer Marc Duff is hoping the two sides can come together to finalize a budget quickly.

“I would encourage them, please find common ground as soon as possible,” Duff said. “It makes it very difficult to run a school district if you have no idea what your funding stream, what your impacts are.”

He added that a late budget also poses challenges to municipalities.

Any budget that provides increased funding would come as relief to Racine Unified as it stares down an estimated $10 million budget deficit for the coming school year.

Similarities

Duff is heartened by the similarities between Evers’ budget proposal and the recommendations to the Legislature by the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. The commission, made up of a bipartisan group of legislators and education stakeholders, was chaired by state Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay and state Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon. The commission’s final report, which includes recommendations for funding reform, was released in early January.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is not as optimistic as Duff about areas for compromise.

“We know in the next budget we will make a significant investment in public education, but it will probably be nowhere near Gov. Evers’ wishlist,” Vos said.

Evers’ proposal includes a $551 million net tax increase that Vos called “massive.”

“The Legislature is never going to do that,” Vos said.

Vos said he wants to see more money going into the classroom, instead of the public school system bureaucracy, and to provide incentives for cost-efficiencies within school districts.

The Evers budget proposal and the Blue Ribbon Commission do align on several proposals. Both call for the state to return to a previous commitment to two-thirds funding for public schools. Both also propose similar increases in funding for special education. The governor and the commission call for increasing state funding for special education to about 30 percent in 2020 and up to 60 percent in the 2021 fiscal year. Special education is currently funded by the state at about 25 percent.

An increase in special-education funding could make a huge difference for Racine Unified, increasing funding by at least $1.5 million in the coming year and up to $10 million in the following year.

“That would significantly reduce the general fund’s share of subsidy of the special education fund,” Duff said.

The district spends about $50 million per year on special education, Duff said, and its state aid is currently about $11 million. The district also receives some federal aid for special education.

“Because we don’t get enough aid for our special-education costs, we have our general fund support it, which means we’re taking money away from the classroom costs of regular education,” Duff said.

Last school year, Unified used $33.7 million out of its general fund to cover special education costs.

Students in poverty

Both the governor and the Blue Ribbon Commission call for more money to districts serving students living in poverty, which has the potential for a huge impact at Racine Unified: More than 60 percent of its students are living in poverty. The proposals differ in that the Evers plan would provide property-tax relief to the district, based on the number of economically disadvantaged students attending its schools, while the Blue Ribbon Commission recommends providing tax relief and additional funding to the schools.

Both proposals could eventually provide about $20 million, either in property-tax relief or in funding to the district.

With additional funds, the district could do things like provide more reading specialists to its schools, Duff said. This is meaningful as students living in poverty often fall behind their peers.

“We could have some significant opportunities here,” Duff said. “Let’s take advantage of this opportunity. Getting the job done sooner would be great for the students of Wisconsin.”

During a March 4 School Board meeting, Duff implored the Legislature to come together with the governor and pass a budget by July 1, when the new budget year is set to begin. Most eyes in the room that evening were on Bob Wittke, School Board president and representative for Assembly District 62.

Wittke answered that he thinks the Legislature, controlled by Republicans in both houses, will pass a budget by July 1, but could not say whether Gov. Evers, a Democrat, would sign it.

If a budget is not signed into law by July 1, municipalities and school districts would operate on funding levels in the previous budget.


Local
CALEDONIA
Caledonia Fire officials say more firefighters are needed, but it’ll be costly

CALEDONIA — The village has some decisions to make. Leaders of the Caledonia Fire Department believe 18 more firefighters need to be hired, but the cost of that would be in the millions and is more of a long-term goal.

For starters, Fire Chief Richard Roeder and Battalion Chief Jeff Henningfeld want to add six new firefighters. They said it would be the first time the department has actually increased its staff since 1999.

“The Village of Caledonia really has to decide: ‘How are we going to provide fire protection for ourselves?’ ” Henningfeld said at the March 4 Village Board meeting .

To get the ball rolling, Henningfeld and Roeder asked the Village Board for permission to apply for a federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant.

“We’ve been scraping and scrounging for the last 10 years,” Roeder said. “Let’s take the big step now. Let’s increase our staffing.”

Becoming SAFER

Six years ago, Caledonia’s application for a SAFER grant was successful. That money allowed the village to hire two firefighters to keep its roster numbers at current levels of 39 firefighters, Henningfeld said.

This time around, the grant would pay for 70 percent of the wages/benefits for new hires for the first two years, and then 35 percent for year three. The municipality would have to cover the rest. The Village Board must then decide whether or not to create permanent positions for those firefighters when the grant expires.

Henningfeld estimates that the cost to taxpayers would be between $150,000 and $160,000 for each of the first two years, and a little over $400,000 in year three. If the six firefighters are retained after the grant’s expiration, the village’s cost would be “Somewhere north of $600,000” yearly, Henningfeld said.

“$600,000 in four years? We’ve got to do some long-term planning if we’re going to do this,” said Trustee Lee Wishau.

Protecting Caledonia

The main reason Henningfeld and Roeder provided for needing more firefighters was so that the village could become self-reliant.

As communities in southeast Wisconsin continue to grow, fire departments are anticipating increased demand for services, while still being expected to keep response times low.

National Fire Protection Association standards call for 15 firefighters to respond to every structure fire. Henningfeld said that the village never has 15 firefighters on duty at any one time. So other departments — primarily South Shore, as well as Oak Creek — are called in to augment initial staffing.

South Shore Fire Chief Robert Stedman said that his department will never ignore a call from Caledonia.

“We’ve had a partnership with Caledonia for 20 years. We just deal with it like everyone else,” Stedman said.

Caledonia and South Shore share a firehouse on Northwestern Avenue in the Franksville area.

Despite that partnership, Roeder doesn’t want to rely on another department to protect Caledonia. If a major fire breaks out in another municipality or there’s some other extreme circumstance, the village could be left waiting.

“Our neighbors are going to get busy,” Henningfeld said. “Unfortunately, I don’t know that we can ever staff this fire department 100 percent to accommodate all of our calls, all of the time. But we need to start looking at how to do it most of the time.”

Getting more staff will provide other challenges. For example, Station 12, located at 6040 Douglas Ave., which primarily serves the village’s east side and the neighboring villages of Wind Point and North Bay, is not big enough to easily fit many more personnel.

“In the short-term, it is going to be uncomfortable working and living in that firehouse … At some point the village is going to have to look at relocating some fire stations,” Henningfeld said. “There are going to be some growing pains.”

Priorities

Trustee Kevin Wanggaard said that he agrees with Henningfeld and Roeder: The village needs more firefighters.

“If there’s more buildings here, or the potential for more buildings, staff is going to have to increase to cover that size anyway,” he said. “We have to address it incrementally.”

Trustee Jay Benkowski fears if the board doesn’t act, then the village could be liable for inadequate responses by its understaffed fire department.

“We are substandard,” he said.

But where would the money come from?

The 2019 budget doesn’t have those added wages budgeted in, even if the village gets SAFER money. No one would be hired until September under the grant, according to Henningfeld, so Caledonia would only have to pay three months’ wages for six personnel in 2019.

Trustee Fran Martin acknowledged that taxes may have to be raised to fund additional staffing. And Wishau suggested that adding part-timers to the existing department staffing could save money while also filling in gaps.

The possibility of reworking contracts with the villages of Wind Point and North Bay for fire protection was also discussed by the board.

Hiring new firefighters could lead to some savings in reducing overtime wages. Combined over the last two years, the village has gone approximately $300,000 over-budget in firefighter overtime, Caledonia Assistant Administrator Toni Muise pointed out.

Henningfeld said that raising ambulance fees, currently set at $600 per trip, could be a good idea; Benkowski agreed it was worth considering. Caledonia would then be following the lead of South Shore, which is trying to raise its fees to $1,000 minimum per trip.

Not to mention, if Caledonia increases its staffing, it won’t have to call other departments as often, thus keeping ambulance-fee revenue within the village.

Roeder said that a lot of the new money coming into the village is being directed toward business-friendly tax-increment districts, which could leave emergency services languishing for funding increases.

“If we keep building in TID districts or we keep creating TID districts, none of that money comes back (immediately) into the operational budget of the village,” Roeder said. “It makes it very difficult for you all (the Village Board) to keep people on to protect all this stuff we’re building.”

Rescue squad preaches 'Teamwork' during icy conditions

TOWN OF BURLINGTON — Melting snow and freezing temperatures created danger for drivers and emergency personnel on roads across southeast Wisconsin Thursday. But teamwork, from emergency personnel and civilians, helped ensure safety, and even saved a life.

Another meeting set

Henningfeld and Roeder are scheduled to return to the Village Board for a special meeting at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 12.

Before voting to allow Fire Department administrators to submit an application for the SAFER grant, the Village Board agreed at its March 4 meeting that more information is necessary. Specifically, Martin requested more exact estimates about the taxpayer cost of new hires.

The grant application is due March 22.

Still, there’s no guarantee Caledonia would even receive the federal funds if it applied for the grant. Henningfeld likened the situation to “a lottery ticket.”

“It’s the way the wind blows in Washington,” he said. “There is no such thing as a guaranteed handout.”

In 2018, Congress approved nearly $350 million for SAFER grants.


Morry Gash 

Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez scores as Milwaukee Brewers' Orlando Arcia looks for the ball during the fourth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, in Milwaukee. Baez scored on a ball hit by Anthony Rizzo. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)


Evers


Crime-and-courts
What’s Your Story?
Racine sexual assault survivor hopes to pave the way for others

RACINE — A Racine woman is stepping out of the shadows in the hopes that she can help other survivors of sexual assault.

Jennifer Bucholz was just 15 years old when was sexually assaulted by Michael W. Fink, who is now 51. Fink was charged with Bucholz's assault in 1986. In 1994, Fink was convicted of molesting two female babysitters and sentenced to 14 years.

Nearly 20 years later, in 2013, Bucholz experienced the shock of her life. As she was sitting at home scrolling through Facebook, she came upon a post from friend about the release of a violent sex offender being placed in the community.

Much to Bucholz’s surprise, she found herself staring at a picture of Fink, who was being released to the public and moving into a home right around the corner from her.

“I was terrified,” Bucholz said. “Once I was able to calm down, I opened the phone book and started making calls.”

Bucholz was able to stop her offender’s release into the nearby home, but she was upset by the entire situation.

“The state victimized me more than my offender did,” Bucholz said. “If this has happened to me, how many other people had it happened to?”

Now, Fink is preparing to be released again. Bucholz said she is more prepared since she has started helping others in recent years and become an advocate.

Survivor, not victim

Bucholz said the 2013 release incident left her wanting to help others.

“If I help one person and make it easier on them than it was on me, it would be worth it,” Bucholz said. “I had two choices: I could let this incident take me in a downward spiral and let this monster continue to have something over me. (Instead) I decided it was time for me to take back my life. And I needed to do something about it.”

Since 2013, Bucholz has volunteered at Sexual Assault Services of Lutheran Social Services, 1220 Mound Ave. She helps with the organization’s 24-hour crisis line, talking to survivors of sexual assault and responding to the hospital when a survivor shows up at the emergency room and sitting with patients and walking them through the process.

“I will volunteer there forever. It has been healing,” Bucholz said. “Before 2013, I always said I was a rape victim. I wasn’t a victim, I was a survivor.”

In 2018, Bucholz was awarded the Volunteer Center of Racine County’s Health Services Award for her work at the organization. She also received the Star of Hope in 2018 from Sexual Assault Services for his work there.

“The fact that volunteers like Jennifer are willing to use their time, well, it’s invaluable,” said Samantha Sustachek, program supervisor for Sexual Assault Services of Racine. “The value our volunteer advocates bring, you just can’t even measure it. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without volunteers.”

Changing the laws

Bucholz also was instrumental in the changing of laws affecting sex offender placement and procedures. After speaking with state and local officials, Bucholz found out that the City of Racine did not have an ordinance regarding where a sex offender could be placed.

Working with her alderman, Bucholz helped get an ordinance passed in April 2013 stating that sex offenders cannot live fewer than 1,000 feet from anywhere children congregate, such as churches, pools, parks, schools, libraries and day care centers within the City of Racine; although the ordinance has been slightly amended in recent years to give offenders some additional places they can live.

Bucholz didn’t stop at the city level. She also pushed for passage, in 2015, of Assembly Bill 497, a bill that tightens residency requirements for sexually violent persons on supervised release. It was signed into law on Feb. 29, 2016, by former Gov. Scott Walker.

The bill requires those labeled as violent sex offenders and committed to the care of the Department of Health Services to request a written recommendation of law enforcement in the proposed area’s jurisdiction.

It also limits where a sexually violent person who has committed crimes against children, or elderly or disabled people, may be placed.

In addition, the state also changed procedures regarding sex-offender releases, ensuring that those who are affected are notified when an offender is released.

Upcoming release

Fink was later taken back into custody in 2015 after reportedly violating the conditions of his release. He reportedly had alcohol, contact with a felon and an unapproved sexual relationship with an adult — all of which were prohibitions. Fink also was accused of illegally tapping into cable, and a child’s sock was reportedly found in his laundry.

In February, the court determined that Fink was “making significant progress in treatment and will continue to do so on supervised release,” online records show.

Fink was approved for supervised release, for which DHS is expected to provide a plan, within 180 days. A status conference on his case is scheduled for March 22 in Racine County Circuit Court.

Even with Fink up for release soon, Bucholz said she is not no longer afraid. “I went public, but kept my identity hidden up until now because of fear of my offender, because he had threatened to harm me in the past when he got out. But I’m never going to stop fighting for survivor rights.”

Anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault can call 262-637-7233 (SAFE). A volunteer is available to answer the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

To volunteer at Sexual Assault Services of Racine, call Volunteer Coordinator Annabelle Bustillos at 262-619-1634. For donations, call Program Supervisor Samantha Sustachek at the same number.


Bucholz


Roeder