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Education
11:10 am
Fri April 15, 2011

Bike program sneakily teaches basic social skills

Ethan Alexander addresses the crowd
Eric Sweet

Riding a bicycle is a classic part of childhood. But plenty of kids don’t have bikes. One program in Kalamazoo teaches kids simple bike maintenance and at the end of the program, kids get their own bike. But the people who run the Open Roads workshop say the heart of the program is about teaching basic social skills.

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News Roundup
7:53 am
Fri April 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

New emergency financial manager powers to be used in Detroit?

The controversial new law that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more power could first be used in the Detroit Public School system.

Detroit Public School Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said he intends to use the law.

From the Detroit Free Press:

"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted," Bobb said, referring to a new law that gives emergency managers the authority to modify -- or terminate -- collective bargaining agreements. It was the first time Bobb had publicly indicated he intends to use the expanded authority.

This statement came after all teachers in the Detroit Public School system were sent a layoff notices yesterday. As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported, sending layoff notices to all the teachers is unprecedented, but final decisions on whose job will actually be cut have yet to be made.

Teachers, in the meantime, say they're prepared to fight Bobb's proposals - from the Freep:

"If he tries to modify the contract and back-door us on the issue of seniority, we are aptly prepared," said DFT President Keith Johnson, who also will receive a layoff notice. "We have already prepared our legal counter."

House fails to reject partner benefits

There weren't enough votes in the State House to reverse the Civil Service Commission's decision to allow health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees.

The benefits are scheduled to take effect this October.

Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta reported that Republicans say the decision "undermines 'traditional families' and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan."

Attorney General Schuette is looking into that last claim, and House Speaker Jase Bolger says he'll continue to look for other ways to block the benefits.

Flags at half staff today for Navy medic from Niles

Benjamin D. Rast was killed in Afghanistan. Flags around the state will be at half staff today.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of a 23-year-old Navy medic from southwest Michigan who was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The order is in effect for today.

The military says 23-year-old Benjamin D. Rast of Niles died April 6. He was assigned as a hospitalman to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

There will be a visitation today at Brandywine High School in Niles and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the school.

Education
9:31 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Detroit sends layoff notices to all its teachers

Elizabeth Albert flickr

Layoff notices are being delivered to each and every teacher in the Detroit Public Schools.

It’s an unprecedented move for the troubled school district. Hundreds of teachers have been issued notices in previous years. But Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb says the circumstances are different this time around.

"This year, because of our declining student enrollment, because of the possibility of some of our schools becoming charters, and of course school closures, we decided to send layoff notices to our entire membership."

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Politics
4:11 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Political Roundup

We’re getting a roundup of this week’s state politics with Susan Demas, Political Analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Republican state Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

This week Governor Snyder and GOP leaders announced they had come up with a tax deal. Demas says the biggest part of the deal is that they modified the pension tax, which was controversial.

If you are on a pension right now, if you are 67 and older you are not going to have to worry anymore, they have taken that off the table. If you’re younger than 67 you will be taxed more than you would have previously. But that means that instead of the almost $1 billion that was suppose to raised it will only raise $300 million. So to make up the difference we will see more budget cuts. And the income tax will stay at the 4.35% rate. It will not drop down to 4.25%.

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State Legislature
3:59 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

House effort fails to reject partner benefits

 State House Republican leaders failed to muster enough votes to reverse health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees. The new policy will treat unmarried employees with live-in partners the same as married employees, and it will apply to people in same-sex relationships. A two-thirds majority vote isrequired to reverse  the contracts approved by the state Civil Service Commission.

GOP lawmakers said the Civil Service Commission decision undermines “traditional families” and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan.

House Speaker Jase Bolger says he is looking for other avenues to block the new policy from taking effect October first.

"I’m going to continue to explore the legality of their decision. I believe they made an end run around the constitution. I’m not an attorney, but I’m going to consult with attorneys to see if something can be done about their illegal decision,” Bolger said.

Democrats say the Legislature should not rescind agreements collectively bargained with state employee unions.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has also been asked for an opinion on whether state employee live-in partner benefits violates Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

immigration
3:41 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Immigrant advocates ratchet up pressure on ICE to respond to harassment

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Advocates for immigrants are stepping up the pressure on the Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – to respond to allegations of harassment.

Late last month, Ruben Torres was driving home from work when he was stopped by an agent in an unmarked vehicle on the Lodge Freeway. He says he was not shown a warrant or given a reason for the stop. He says he was asked to show a visa and birth certificate.

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Politics
3:33 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Inkster Judge investigated for spending after audit

Judge Sylvia James is on leave while being investigated by the State Supreme Court

The State Supreme Court began the investigation of Judge James after frequent charges of financial mismanagement by Inkster city officials.

The state supreme court is investigating Inkster’s chief judge. An audit found several unusual expenses were paid for with court money. Judge Sylvia James has been placed on paid administrative leave because she could not explain why court funds were used to pay for travel, clothing, and other expenses.  Retired judge Vladimir Washington will take Judge James’ place.

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Politics
3:29 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Tea Partiers rally in Lansing

A few hundred Tea Party supporters held a rally at the state Capitol. American flags and bright yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” umbrellas peppered the crowd at the rainy gathering. The group appeared more concerned with actions by the federal government than with the Republican-controlled state government.

Gail Goniwicha is a banker from Royal Oak. She says she likes the job Governor Rick Snyder is doing.

"I was very happy that he’s trying to get the unions to pay and do their fair share. I as a person contribute to my retirement and my medical every month, it comes out of my paycheck. I don’t believe anybody gets a free ride in the United States,” Goniwacha said.

Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette said he's pleased the group expects their elected officials to be frugal with taxpayers’ money:

"This is an important day because it’s part of the building blocks of a new Michigan. A new Michigan that has less taxes, less spending, less regulation, less government, and more freedom. And everybody here says let’s all work together to build a new Michigan that has more jobs, more paychecks and more freedom.” 

A few signs in the crowd called to stop the proposed bridge project between Detroit and Canada. Governor Snyder hopes to get that plan before lawmakers soon, but a House committee has omitted the proposed funding for the bridge from its version of the state budget.

Commentary
12:46 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Soaking the Poor

President Obama came under fire yesterday for proposing that the richest Americans pay a higher proportion of the tax burden, especially with deficits soaring out of control.

Republicans, some of whom are running for president, said this would hurt the economy‘s ability to create jobs.

They said this was just one more wrong-headed left-wing proposal to solve economic problems by “soaking the rich.”

Well, that’s a battle that will be fought out on the national stage, likely throughout next year’s presidential campaign and beyond.

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Education
12:12 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

DPS holds bidding conference for charter operators

DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb says the charter school plan will help put the troubled district in the black.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Charter school operators interested in turning around schools in Detroit attended a bidders’ conference to get more information about the application process.

As many as 45 Detroit schools could be taken over by charter operators over the next two years. Ahmed Saber is with Education Management Networks, which operates three charter schools in Detroit:

"There is a lot of uncertainty about the plan, and of course because of the speed that it came about, and trying to get it done soon. But maybe that’s what’s needed in a climate that’s bogged down in a climate with all the politics and all the red tape."

Detroit Public Schools hopes the charter plan will avoid having to shut dozens of schools, and help put the troubled school system in the black.

District officials say they’re looking for high-quality operators that have a proven track record – including 90 percent graduation rates and 75 percent proficiency on state math and reading tests.

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Education
12:10 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Monroe Public Schools sends layoff notices to entire teaching staff

All 343 Monroe Public Schools teachers received layoff notices this week.
en.wikipedia.org

All 343 teachers and 21 administrators in Monroe Public Schools received layoff notices this week.

The Board of Education took the step as it wrangles with a possible $5.5 million budget shortfall for the coming school year.

“We are a district that over the last five years has cut more than $15 million already," says district spokesman Bob Vergiels.  "We’ve been able to stay out of the classrooms so far, but with this particular budget that’s being proposed and debated now in Lansing, I don’t know if we can stay out of the classrooms.”

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Environment
10:25 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Health concerns after the oil spill (part 2)

The Kalamazoo River a few days after the oil spill last July.
Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan

Until last July, many people in Marshall had no idea an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners ran underneath their town.

Then, it broke. More than 840,000 gallons of thick, black oil from the Canadian tar sands poured into the Kalamazoo River.

“I think I can sum it up in one word and that is nightmare."

Deb Miller lives just 50 feet from the Kalamazoo River.

“The smell, I don’t even know how to describe the smell, there are no words. You could not be outside."

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Auto/Economy
10:05 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Ford expands F-150 truck recall

Ford has recalled its 2004-2006 F-150 pickups because of an air-bag problem.
autos.aol.com

 Ford is expanding a recall of its F-150 pickup.

The recall now includes nearly 1.2 million trucks because of an air bag defect and covers trucks from the 2004 through 2006 model years.

The company in February had agreed to recall more than 150,000 of the trucks.

But on Thursday,  U.S. safety regulators said that Ford will add to the recall because the trucks’ air bags can go off  unexpectedly and injure drivers.

Ford had resisted expanding the recall.

The F-series pickup is the top-selling vehicle in America.

Election 2012
9:37 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Fourteen Mich. U.S. House members to run again

U.S. Capitol Building
Crazy George Flickr

All but one of Michigan's 15 representatives in the U.S. House say they'll run for re-election in 2012, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

...according to an Associated Press survey of members this week and despite a coming redistricting process that in some cases could vastly impact the physical makeup of their districts.

The lone holdout in the delegation is Republican Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Livonia, who declined to provide a "yes" or "no" response to whether he would run again next year, saying only that he was focused on serving his constituents.

District boundaries will be redrawn based on U.S. Census counts, and Republicans who lead the state House and Senate control the process.

Michigan was the only state to lose population in the past decade and will drop one of its congressional seats.

Economy
1:01 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Sen. Levin accuses mortgage lenders of "greed and deception"

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, (D) Michigan
Photograph courtesy of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin's office

A new report lays the blame for much of Detroit’s foreclosure problems at the feet of one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders. 

In 2003, Washington Mutual Bank’s CEO said he wanted to turn his bank into “the Wal-Mart of Banking."  His plan was to focus on low and moderate income borrowers deemed “too risky” by other lenders. 

By 2008, federal regulators seized Washington Mutual and the company filed for bankruptcy protection. 

What happened? 

Washington Mutual had taken major losses in the subprime loan market.  Its subsidiary, Long Beach Mortgage Corporation was for a time the second biggest subprime mortgage lender in Detroit.  Between 2005 and 2007, more than half of those loans ended in foreclosure.

Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin says Washington Mutual’s subprime loan practices “devastated” neighborhoods and families in Detroit.  At the end of a year long investigation, Levin’s released a report blaming reckless lending and lax federal oversight for the near collapse of the nation’s banking system in 2008.

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Economy
1:00 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Home foreclosures inched higher in Michigan last month

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The number of home foreclosures in Michigan inched higher last month. One in every 311 homes in Michigan received a foreclosure noticed in March. The number of foreclosures was up about 4 percent from February.

Michigan had the nation’s fifth highest home foreclosure rate in March, behind Nevada, Arizona, California and Utah.     

Daren Bloomquist with Realty Trac says mortgage holders are starting to send more initial foreclosure notices and repossess more homes in Michigan. Bloomquist says an improving economy is the only way to reduce future foreclosure notices in Michigan. 

 “The more the economy improves and jobs improve during the next couple months the less we’ll see that huge spike in foreclosure numbers down the road.”  

While March’s foreclosure numbers rose slightly, overall Michigan’s home foreclosure numbers declined during the first three months of the year.

Environment
3:33 pm
Wed April 13, 2011

Michigan ecologists want new strategies to manage zebra mussels in Great Lakes

Zebra mussels continue to cause problems forecosystems in the Great Lakes
United States Geological Survey

Ecologists from the University of Michigan say invasive zebra and quagga mussels are causing dramatic changes to the ecosystems in northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Their report says action must come soon to stop the spread of the mussels in the Great Lakes.

Donald Scavia  is the Director of the University of Michigan Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute. He's one of the authors of a new report that says the changes are happening quickly and require more attention than they are getting now:

“Our management strategies need to be able to be reviewed and modified every couple of years rather than every couple of decades.”

Scavia said the zebra mussels make it difficult to predict the conditions of the Great Lakes from year to year.

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Education
3:33 pm
Wed April 13, 2011

Educators developing "next generation" of tests for Michigan students

Michigan's new English and Math tests will be rolled out in 2014
jdurham morgueFILE

Education professionals from around the country met in Louisiana this week to talk about the “next generation” of student assessment tests.

More than 30 states – including Michigan – are part the Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition, which received $176 million from the federal government to develop these new tests.

The online English and Math tests will be rolled out in 2014. The state will still use the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) and Michigan Merit Examination (MME) to test students in science and social studies, as well as students with cognitive disabilities.

Joseph Martineau is with the Michigan Department of Education and was the the National Council on Measurement in Education conference in Louisiana.

He says the new tests will not just be “end-of-year” high stakes tests. He says there will also be "interim assessments throughout the year so that people can track the progress of their students."

Martineau calls the tests "game changers" because of their focus on higher-order thinking skills:

"Things like analyzing data or synthesizing something to create an argument, or doing a project that requires you to do some problem solving while you’re doing the task. Things like that that are typically costly for us to create on a test."

The new tests will be for Michigan students in third through eighth grade, and eleventh grade.

Pilot testing will begin in 2012.

Sports
3:18 pm
Wed April 13, 2011

MSU player receives probation sentence for Aspen brawl

A Spartans footballer has been sentenced to a year on probation and a fine for his role in a bar fight last month.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

Michigan State tight end Brian Linthicum was sentenced Tuesday to one year of probation in connection with a March 10 arrest in Aspen, Colo., according to Pitkin County Court records.

Linthicum, who will be a senior and possible starter in the fall, accepted a plea deal without appearing in court, knocking misdemeanor third-degree assault and eluding-police charges down to misdemeanor harassment.

He must take an anger-management class (at least eight hours), perform 40 hours of community service and pay $100, plus court costs. According to a court clerk, other conditions are that he cannot be arrested nor drink excessive amounts of alcohol. A review hearing for which Linthicum must be present is set for Oct. 11.

 Max Bullough, a Michigan State linebacker, was also charged in the incident. His hearing is set for Tuesday.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Economy
2:27 pm
Wed April 13, 2011

Michigan's jobless rate held steady in March

Khalilshah Flickr

One in 10 people in Michigan are out of work and looking for a job. The state's March unemployment rate was 10.3 percent. That's almost unchanged from the February rate of 10.4 percent. But it's a full three points below the March 2010 rate of 13.3 percent.

Michigan added 79,000 jobs over the past year, mostly in temporary help, IT, and the auto in industry.

Improvements in the unemployment rate have been modest so far this year, but reflect real job gains and not people leaving the workforce.

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