The Roundup: Feds Stop Funding School, Library Internet and Phone Service » Urban Milwaukee
Michael Horne
The Roundup

Feds Stop Funding School, Library Internet and Phone Service

By - Oct 4th, 2004 12:00 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

Your telephone and internet bills include a line item called the “Universal Service Fee,” proceeds of which are intended to help provide internet and telecommunications systems for schools and libraries around the country through what is called the “E-Rate” program.

Since the program began in 1998, Wisconsin has been granted $175,000,000, of which $10,191,337 was received this fiscal year.

But two months ago, the federal grants stopped, with little if any warning or explanation, leaving the state’s libraries and schools wondering if their grant monies will arrive in a timely fashion – say, before the equipment they plan to install becomes obsolete, which, as you know, does not take long these days.

The suspension came after the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the program run by the nonprofit Universal Service Administrative Company, decided it must conform to Federal audit guidelines and tighter spending rules. The move came in consultation with the White House Office of Management and Budget, and took effect October 1st.

In Wisconsin, some $22 million remains in limbo, about two-thirds of the Internet and telephone communications budget for the state’s 426 school districts and 387 public libraries.

According to Bob Bocher, a technology expert for the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, “I was in Washington last week, meeting with Federal Communications Commission officials and it looks like we must wait at least until November to get the funds released.”

He said he told his suppliers around August that they would have to wait for the expected funds.

Bocher said the program had received congressional scrutiny, and an analysis of previous accounting methods for the program showed it was ripe for fraud, waste and abuse from the private providers, although he said there was no “direct connection” between fraud, waste and abuse and Wisconsin’s program.

The funds are allocated by communities to help schools and libraries to pay a percentage of telecommunications and Internet charges provided by private firms. The reimbursement rate is indexed according to the percentage of students receiving subsidized school lunches.

The reasoning behind that benchmark is that more impoverished areas, as measured by free lunch statistics, would most likely be part of the “digital divide” wherein the poor are less likely to have ready access to telecommunications and internet services.

“The part we are reimbursed is dependent on the school lunch participation. The good thing – and it is the only good thing about Milwaukee’s high rate of school lunch participation is that we are in the 90 per cent tier of reimbursements,” said Bruce Gay, the Technical Services Manager of the Milwaukee Public Library. When the program began, Milwaukee was reimbursed at 82 percent, he said.

Milwaukee Public Library has received 7 of its 8 grant requests this year, before the program moratorium was instituted, according to Gay. He’s waiting to see if he will receive approval for his outstanding item of $26,000 to provide an uninterruptible power supply for the Library’s server room. The city’s share of that would be $2,600.

The Library has already received funds for a $280,000 annual commitment to maintain the library’s wide area network, connecting the branch libraries with the central library; $20,000 for wiring and $2,000 for the bookmobile’s internet, Gay said.

Dealer in Forgeries Still at It

When James F. Kennedy, of 3910 Gregory Drive, Northbrook, Illinois, appears for motion hearings in Circuit Court Branch 10 before Judge Timothy G. Dugan on October 7th, it might be a good time to ask him if he has given up his bad habit of selling fake Picassos.

Milwaukeeworld.com was the first to report this spring that a load of fake Picassos had found their way into the city.

The fakes, which were called “laughable” by the experts at our advertiser American Conservators, Ltd., led to Kennedy’s arrest on one felony and thirteen misdemeanor counts. At issue were a number of “Picasso” drawings found by police in a search of Kennedy’s van after he tried to sell some in this city.

After the arrest, Kennedy was extradited to Indiana where he faced child support charges. Since that time, however, he has been spotted selling art work in a show in Omaha, Nebraska.

Last week a Michigan resident, Ethan Klump, from a Detroit suburb wrote to say that he had purchased some Picasso prints from Kennedy this July and August.

Although I told Klump there was virtually no chance the prints were legitimate, he says his preliminary research indicates they may be real.

How intriguing if they were real – why would a person sell fake drawings when he had original prints on hand? Why would he sell Picassos at art fairs in the Midwest out of a van, when the genuine articles are usually sold at reputable dealers in big cities, like Chicago, Illinois, an urb of Northbrook?

While Klump awaits an independent expert to verify his prints, he has heard from Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley who is prosecuting Kennedy on the charges.

Certainly selling fake Picasso prints (if, indeed they are fake) while awaiting trial for selling fake Picasso drawings (which, indeed are fake) would not seem to be an intelligent thing for Kennedy to do. One wonders if it might even violate the terms of his bail.

Downtown Action Council Meets

The 13th Annual Governor’s Conference on Downtown Revitalization and 2nd Annual BID Seminar meets Tuesday, October 5th at the Hyatt Regency Hotel from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The theme: New Visions for Downtown: Helping Communities Shape the Future of their Business Districts. Speakers and panel participants include Bob Greenstreet, the UWM School of Architecture and Urban Planning head and director of design for the City of Milwaukee, Einar Tangen, a force in the Historic Third Ward, and others too numerous to mention, including Jim Engle, director of the Bureau of Downtown Development and Coordinator of the Wisconsin Main Street Program for the Department of Commerce. According to the Main Street annual report for 2002-2003, every dollar of state investment in the Wisconsin Main Street program has generated $41.46 in returns. West Allis, West Bend and other non-west cities like Two Rivers, Marshfield and Pewaukee have seen success in the redevelopment of their downtowns.

City Website Improves

In one of the little distinctions that will paint former Mayor Norquist as a 20th century guy and new Mayor Barrett as a 21st century leader, we may point to the improvements in the city website that have been initiated under the current reign.

Although Norquist gave us such things as the city website itself and the wi-fi zones in certain downtown areas, the website remained somewhat stagnant, even as the technology for enhancements progressed.

Since Barrett took office this spring, many improvements to the website have been made, including e-notification of city meetings, improved access to Common Council agendas, website redesign, and this week the new “My Milwaukee Home.”

The new site includes property information, street parking restrictions, permit application information, the address of nearest public schools (and charter and choice schools), the nearest fire station, polling places, names of elected officials and other stuff, including maps.

The information is found in the “Get Property Information” link on the city’s website, and getting property information is easier than ever. The site provides a pull-down menu of street names, which is helpful for those of us who are not quite sure how to spell “Kinnickinnic”, Kiehnau or Kaul.

Also, if you do not enter an address exactly correctly, the website will automatically give you results for neighboring addresses rather than tell you to go to hell and start over again.

The enhancements to the property information will continue, according to Randy Gschwind, of the city’s Information and Technology Management Division. Next up: changes to Map Milwaukee, a Geographic Information System adjunct to the city’s website.

See for yourself at www.Milwaukee.gov/MyMilwaukeeHome.

Pabst City Extortion

The owners of Pabst Brewing Company – and nobody is quite sure who they might be, (The firm was left to the City of Hope, a charity, which apparently still owns it) – have asked a Federal Court to award the firm $250,000 for the use of its name at a real estate development planned for the former site of the brewery.

The suit claims the developers of the brewery site, including Wispark and the Ferchill Group of Cleveland, do not have the right to use the company’s trademarked name.

What nerve!

Perhaps the shadowy owners might also like to sue the City of Milwaukee and collect some royalties on W. Pabst Avenue, named after the founder of Pabst Brewing Company, Captain Frederick Pabst. The city gave the short street its name in 1889, some years before the brewery won its famed “Blue Ribbon,” and in fact before the brewery had even assumed the name “Pabst.” (It was known as “Best Brewery at that time.) Captain Pabst died in 1904 at 67.

So here’s the deal, Pabst – you owe the City of Milwaukee royalties for letting you use the name of our street for your crummy brewery for over a century. And while you’re at it, return the beer steins you heisted from the Milwaukee Athletic Club!

There is also a Pabst Avenue in the City of Cudahy, so maybe we’ll have to share the royalties, but this might complicate things if the Patrick Cudahy meatpacking company decides to collect money from the city for using its name all these years.

Marsupial Bridge Update

The Holton Marsupial Bridge will be delayed several months from its proposed spring opening due to problems with steel, we are told. According to Lynn DesJardins of the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works, the “job was on hold.” There were some fabrication and design issues she said, which were identified by Lunda Construction, of Black River Falls, the contractor for the pedestrian bridge that is proposed to span the Milwaukee River between the Brady Street area and the “Beer Line ‘B’” neighborhood. (The bridge will run beneath the Holton Viaduct, roughly from Trocadero on the east to Lakefront Brewery on the west.)

Steel, which is in short supply these days, was delivered last week, DesJardins said, and is located in the staging area north of the Commerce Street brewery. Work is underway on the cable stay portion of the project. Work will continue through the winter, thanks to the Holton Viaduct being an impromptu roof for the workers.

Certain aspects of the work, like painting, cannot be performed during cold weather, which is upon us already. It is nice to know the job is back on track. (See our Marsupial Bridge section on www.milwaukeeworld.com for more information, and plans for the project.)

News fro the Lower East Side

Alderman Mike D’Amato called to say refinements are still being made in the plan for the proposed Conservation District Overlay for the East Village neighborhood, the cramped 19th century village bounded roughly by Brady Street, N.Warren Ave., N. Humboldt Avenue and the Milwaukee River.

The plan has a number of controversial points, including a provision that the generally narrow lots there (22 feet or so) may not be divided or (more likely) combined.

The intent of the district, championed by D’Amato and neighbors Carl and Shirley Ferguson, has engendered much talk in the neighborhood of mostly Polish Flats and other humble buildings. Signs opposing the district have sprouted up throughout the neighborhood.

D’Amato says once the plan is finalized it will go before the City Plan Commission. No date for the meeting has been set, but it should be a doozy.

Jim Glynn’s Birthday

Jim Glynn, who spent decades in Milwaukee as one of its best known musicians, teachers and radio personalities, tossed his wheelchair in the back seat and headed out to Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago to live in that hip city.

He’s back in Milwaukee (“the flypaper of the universe”), with the same upbeat outlook on life he long has shared with others.

Saturday, October 2nd a “Celebration of Life and Birthday Party” was held for the 64-year old Glynn at the Quaker meeting House, 3224 N. Gordon Place.

Dick Yahr, Joseph Beni, Reggie Finlayson, Jack Grassel, Carol Hale, Steve Glynn, Bob Ivens, Bob Stefaniak, and hundreds of others attended the party.

Glynn has moved to a new condominium in St. Francis. Unfortunately, he says he has a form of cancer which may be fatal. This has not proven to be an impediment to the dauntless Glynn who, since his return, has dined at Watermark, listened to music at Club 728 (where Halle now runs the show, thank goodness after all the disasters that place on Brady Street has endured) and took a tour of Trocadero, new since his departure.

More Interesting News

Construction has begun on the Park Terrace Project, a $14 million, 37-unit project of Vetter Denk Architecture located on the Beer Line ‘B’ redevelopment area on property formerly owned by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. … David Riemer, the polymath who was Mayor Norquist’s Chief of Staff, organizer of many social projects and general brain, not to mention failed candidate for County Executive, has resurfaced.

“Beginning this month, I’ll be heading up a major health care project in Wisconsin designed to increase the number of insured persons and lower the growth of health care costs,” he writes friends. The New Hope project will coordinate his activities, funded by a grant from the Argosy Foundation and the Brico Fund. …

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us