Kate Wells

Arts, Culture & Education Reporter/Producer

Kate Wells is an award-winning reporter covering cultural arts, education, and general news for Michigan Radio. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Morning EditionAll Things Considered, and Weekend Edition, as well as on WNYC, Harvest Public Media, KUT (Austin Public Radio) and in the Texas Tribune.

Kate got her start as an intern with New Hampshire Public Radio before heading out to the Midwest, where she covered the presidential caucuses for Iowa Public Radio and won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism. She joined Michigan Radio in 2012. Kate enjoys hiking, the Muppets, and cake in all forms.   

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Education
10:27 am
Fri July 11, 2014

So, how big is Flint schools' deficit? Depends who you ask

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint Community Schools says it's got a $20 million deficit ($10 million of which was only recently discovered, according to the district.)

But if you ask Lisa Hagel, Flint Community Schools owes another $8.6 million on top of that.

Hagel is the superintendent of the Genesee Intermediate School District, which is now suing Flint schools over allegedly misspending $8.6 million of countywide tax money.  

The money was supposed to go to the Genesee Area Skill Center for vocational training. Instead, it was blended into the general fund of the Flint Community Schools.

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Law
11:07 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

Central American children, if they come to Michigan, would stay just 2-4 weeks

Protesters placed flags in front of the high school, where a community meeting was held to address some of the rumors swirling.
Credit Alyse Guenther / Michigan Radio

Some 200 people and about a dozen media outlets stuffed into an airless high school cafeteria in Vassar, Michigan last night.

The small town of some 2,600 has been thrown into the center of the immigration debate during the past few weeks.

That's because a local juvenile center, Wolverine Human Services, is in talks to temporarily house as many as 120 of the unaccompanied Central American children flooding into the U.S.

And so far, Vassar appears very, very against that idea. 

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Politics & Government
5:02 pm
Tue July 8, 2014

Some Michiganders protest against unaccompanied minors coming here

Dozens of Vassar residents and people from out of town gathered in front of city hall Monday evening.
Credit Michelle Huan / Michigan Radio

Things got pretty heated in Vassar this week. But there's also a ton of misinformation out there.

Some of the chaos at the U.S. and Mexican border has made its way to Michigan.

About 75 protesters turned out last night in in the tiny, mid-Michigan town of Vassar, population roughly 2,600. 

That's where a juvenile center is in talks to potentially house some of the unaccompanied minors flooding into this country from Central America.

Michigan Radio's Kate Wells sent us this field report. 

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Law
4:31 pm
Mon July 7, 2014

Protests Monday night against migrant children coming to Michigan

Credit via Center for American Progress

UPDATE 10:49 PM 

Some 75 protestors and several police officers filled the front lawn of Vassar's city hall Monday evening.  

Even though officials say these kids would stay in the juvenile camp for housing and school while they're going through the asylum, or more likely, the deportation process, lots of people expressed concern about what it would mean for the town. 

"More crime," said Josh Barnes, of Vassar, when asked why he was worried enough to come out and protest.

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Law
4:34 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

More Michigan cities will vote on decriminalizing pot

That's a lot of pot.
Credit Prarie Plant Systems

In Berkley, activists say they've now turned in enough signatures to put decriminalization on the local ballot this fall. 

The city clerk says they'll know whether or not the signatures are valid by Thursday.  

Berkley is just the latest city to consider the issue.

Similar proposals are already on the August primary ballots in Oak Park and Hazel Park.

And the group behind the petitions, the Safer Michigan Coalition, says it plans to turn in another petition in Saginaw next week. 

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Politics & Government
7:01 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

Here's why Michigan is hiring the people who rolled out Healthcare.gov

Yes, Michigan is hiring a contractor who worked on Obamacare. But why?
Credit healthcare.gov
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Arts & Culture
10:58 am
Wed June 25, 2014

Theater community rallies to save beloved playhouse

A recent performance at the Performance Network Theater
Credit The Performance Network Theater

Michigan’s theater community took a hit a few weeks ago, when an iconic professional theater in Ann Arbor suddenly shut down.

Audiences showed up for the evening performance only to find a note on the door, saying everything was canceled indefinitely.

In a panic, the theater community rushed to come up with a plan, any plan, that could save it.

“When the locksmith showed up, the writing was on the wall.”

May was a busy month for Carla Milarch.

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Families & Community
5:00 am
Mon June 23, 2014

"Take on Hate" campaign targets anti-Arab prejudice in Detroit

Credit www.accesscommunity.org

Earlier this month there was the annual anti-Islam rally in Dearborn (although more cops than actual protestors showed up.) 

A few days before that, police investigated the burning of several Qurans outside a local Mosque. 

 And in February, an Arab-American man won more than $1 million dollars in a lawsuit over the religious and racial harassment he said he suffered at work.  

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Education
8:07 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

The guy with one of Detroit's toughest jobs is resigning

EAA Chancellor John Covington has resigned.
Credit The Broad Superintendents Academy

Let's do this MEAP style. Choose one of the following.

John Covington is:

A) an education visionary, brought in to turn around some of Detroit's worst schools using a model that lets kids learn at their own level, regardless of age or grade;

B) an overpaid, underperforming puppet of a state takeover of Detroit's schools;

C) It just depends on whom you ask. 

Right or wrong, the chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority is stepping down. 

Hired to fix Detroit's failing schools, amidst political turmoil 

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Politics & Government
4:04 pm
Thu June 12, 2014

Remember that plan for a part-time legislature for Michigan?

Capitol dome in Lansing.
Joe Dearman Flickr

Yeah, it's dead, and petition organizers partly blame what we are still talking about in Michigan: the freezing cold winter.

More from Jonathan Oosting from MLive:

Chairman Norm Kammeraad said an unusually cold winter made it difficult for the group to collect 322,609 (signatures) by July 7 in order to put a constitutional amendment on the fall ballot.

"Every time we hit the field with these things, we were overwhelmed by people who wanted to sign them," Kammeraad said Tuesday evening. "It was just phenomenal. Problem is, we couldn't get organized enough because of the weather."

Kammeraad, the chair of the Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-time Legislature, also blamed "elite Republicans" for coming up short.

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Education
5:09 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Flint school district lays off 250 staff

District administrators say they're running out of options.
Credit Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Flint school district is sending out some 250 pink slips this week.

They're laying off non-classroom staff, from janitors to secretaries to school safety workers. 

 Administrators say they have no choice: they're coming up against a state deadline to eliminate the district's $10 million general fund deficit. 

Now the district will look to outsource those positions through a private company.

Karon Grubb is a secretary in the administration office.

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Education
9:06 am
Thu June 5, 2014

Detroit high school for pregnant teens is closing – this time, for real

The Catherine Ferguson Academy serves pregnant and parenting moms in high school.
Credit Catherine Ferguson Academy

It's kind of heartbreaking. 

The Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit is closing at the end of this month, due to low enrollment and financial trouble.

That's the announcement from the Wayne RESA, the intermediate school district that held the school's charter, and the whole thing feels like deja vu.

A beloved school repeatedly finds itself on brink of closure    

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Transportation
3:33 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Small businesses say higher gas taxes would hurt their bottom line

Paying more at the pump would hurt small businesses, critics say.
Credit user futureatlas.com / Flickr

If there's one issue uniting Michigan's old and young, Republican and Democrat, it's the need to fix our crumbling roads.

Things are so bad, state legislators are even considering hiking the gas tax.

But critics say small businesses will struggle if they have to pay any more at the pump.

Charlie Owens is with the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

He says he's hearing from Michigan companies that are worried about higher gas prices right now, considering the minimum wage just went up, and the economic recovery is still fragile.

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Arts & Culture
5:11 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

Artpod looks at autism and art therapy

Credit user blwphotography / Flickr

Check out this week's edition.

This week in ArtPod, we look at the "great wave" generation of young adults and children with autism. 

We spent a few days on a film set where those teens and adults are learning job skills, social interaction, and how to walk back on set after a small breakdown. 

Then we visit a children's hospital that's using art –murals, patient portraits and more – to help parents and kids navigate the stressful, chaotic experience. 

You can also check out ArtPod in iTunes.

Arts & Culture
10:45 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

A film set, where adults with autism learn job skills

Director John Martin works with autistic adults on set.
Credit Rebecca Wilbanks, photo and makeup credit

Life on a film set where the editors, writers, and actors all have autism.

The“great wave” of kids with autism is growing up.

That’s what experts are calling this generation, since more than 80% of people diagnosed with full spectrum autism are under 21.

In Michigan, about 16,000 kids are eligible for special education services, according to a state report.

But when those kids grow up, the same report says, the state doesn’t have nearly enough services to help them get jobs or transition to adult lives.

That’s why one program in Rochester is giving young adults with autism the skills to get a job in an unusual way: by training them in the movie business.  

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Education
6:16 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Detroit may have to close 26 schools

Credit MDE

Detroit Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski (say "stroh-dow-ski") wants you to know that administrators get it: Nobody likes closing schools. 

"We look at a school as the anchor or the center of a  neighborhood. And for us to take it away could do some serious damage, and we don't want to do that," she says.

But they do have a $120 million deficit this year.

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Education
5:28 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

Activists don't want another private charter school company running Muskegon Heights

Credit Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

If you've got a charter school management company and you'd like to run the chaotic, broke school district of Muskegon Heights, today is your last day to submit a bid.  

That's because the school system's emergency manager recently announced a mutual split with their previous contractor, a company called Mosaica Education.

Mosaica was losing money.

And it was getting a lot of flack for hiring teachers without proper certification (which earned the district state fines) and not delivering all the required special education services. 

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Economy
5:38 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Yes, Detroit is still shrinking, but much more slowly

Credit Shawn Wilson / Wikimedia Commons

Let's start with the good news from today's census numbers.

Michigan is growing overall, up to about 9.9 million people.

That's two straight years of growth for the state, a welcome uptick after seven years of declining population.

And some of that growth is in areas you might expect: Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and their suburbs.

Detroit itself, however, is still shrinking. It's down 10,000 people from the previous year, with just under 689,000 people now.

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Education
12:20 pm
Fri May 16, 2014

Ads aimed at future students claim "Michigan has a rape problem"

Ads like this one appeared on Facebook.
Credit UltraViolet

"University of Michigan has a rape problem. Find out more before you decide."

"Accepted to University of Michigan? You should know about its rape problem."

Those are the Facebook and mobile ads seen recently by some prospective Michigan students and their parents.

They ran during the critical weeks when students have their acceptance letters and are deciding where to enroll.

“This is information a lot of colleges have been trying to hide.”

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Arts & Culture
1:15 pm
Mon May 12, 2014

Childrens hospital uses art to help parents, patients

Zander, 15, had a brain tumor removed back in January. He's doing great now, and is raising money to put more art in the children's hospital.
Credit Kate Wells

You can hear the full story that aired on "Morning Edition" above.

Felicia McMillon and her husband are the kind of people who do not like hospitals. 

"My family, we really don’t do too well with hospitals,” she says, standing in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit of C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor.

And that was before they gave birth to their first child, Elijah.

He was born a month early with an intestinal infection. He’s now in his fourth surgery.

Read more

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