Education
1:16 am
Sat December 10, 2011

Flint school board approves deficit elimination plan

An overflow crowd attended last night's Flint school board meeting on the district's $3.7 million deficit elimination plan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A divided Flint School Board narrowly approved a state mandated deficit elimination plan last night.   

The board first deadlocked whether to approve the $3.7 million deficit elimination plan. After being told the district would potentially lose some pending state funding, the board revoted on the plan and passed it.  

Linda Thompson is Flint’s school superintendent. She said the plan should help the district avoid falling under the oversight of a state appointed emergency manager. Maybe.   

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crime
9:43 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Meth production in Michigan changing

More meth "cooks" are mixing batches of the highly addictive drug in containers like 2-liter soda bottles.
robspiegel flickr

More methamphetamine cooks in Michigan are turning to what’s called the “one-pot” method, and they’re no longer just producing the highly addictive drug only in remote, rural areas.

Michigan State Police Lieutenant Detective Tony Saucedo said the drug can be made in something as simple as a two-liter plastic bottle, but he said the residue is just as dangerous.

"It creates chemical reactions, toxic fumes, it can cause fires," said Saucedo, who heads MSP's meth investigation team. "You’re dealing with acid and bases. So once they’re done with their meth cook, now you have this hazardous waste.”

Federal funding for meth cleanup was put on hold until the state completes a storage system for the waste.

Saucedo said Michigan spent more than $1 million on meth clean-up last year.

Auto
9:35 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

UAW local authorizes strike at Delta Twp. plant

GM's Delta Township Plant makes the Chevy Traverse.
© GM Company

UAW members in Lansing voted this week to authorize a strike at a General Motors plant.  

Local 602 reported tonight that 86 percent of its members voted to authorize a strike at GM'S Lansing Delta Township plant.

Union leaders say they hope the vote will encourage both sides back to the bargaining table.

The union and GM have been unable to reach an agreement on several workplace issues.

The plant produces the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave.

Politics
9:17 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Legislation targets payroll deductions for PACs

sushina flickr

The Republican-led Michigan House has passed a bill that would ban public employers from allowing paycheck deductions for political contributions.

It would reinforce a state Supreme Court decision made earlier this year.

Supporters say the legislation isn't anti-union. They say it’s about using government resources fairly.

State Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) says there's "a long list of private, politically oriented organizations who would love to have the elegance and access to employee deductions of public workers.”

Changing Gears
5:30 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Report: Developers trend toward repurposing shuttered auto plants

Inside the shuttered GM Wyoming Stamping Plant. A report finds around half of these old plants end up getting repurposed.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Of the 263 automotive plants closed across the country over the past three decades, nearly 49 percent have been repurposed, according to a Labor Department study released Thursday.

And the pace of redeveloping them has accelerated.

The New York Times reported today that, despite the fragile economy, developers have bought as many closed plants in the past three years – 32– as they did in the previous 26 years. Lower property values and a glut of plants on the market have contributed to the trend.

The repurposed plants have welcomed traditional manufacturers, and some of have been turned into housing developments, offices and research centers which has helped affected communities rediscover needed tax revenues, according to the study, which was authored by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research.

Regional differences influenced the fate of plants following their closures. Sites in the South and along the East and West coasts fared the best in finding new users, according to The Times, which said all 14 former plants closed in California and Texas were reused. In Michigan, the state hardest hit by closures, 43 of 105 have been revitalized.

Overall, 135 of the 263 remain vacant, including 24 that have been closed for at least two decades.

“They’re not all going to repurposed,” Jay Williams, executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, told the newspaper. “Not every community is going to find a pot of gold at the end of this pathway.”

Politics
5:19 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Michigan emergency manager law opponents optimistic

A leader of an effort to overturn the state’s emergency manager law says the petition drive is invigorated by news that legislative leaders are working on a back-up plan in the event the law is halted.

Brandon Jessup with Michigan Forward said he expects that halt will happen.

“I’m predicting success based on the amount of support we’ve received from across the state. Not just Detroit, but places like Traverse City, Cheboygan County, Grand Rapids, Benton Harbor – clearly – Pontiac, Saginaw, all across the state,” said Jessup.

Jessup said it’s good that lawmakers are revisiting the issue, but they need to do more.

“I’m glad to see the Legislature start to do something, but they haven’t invited the community to come to the table to help draft the legislation, so once again this is another near-sighted attempt," he said. "Not really to solve the solution, to be a solution to the problem, but to thwart our attempts at democracy.”

Opponents say the emergency manager law gives too much authority to state-appointed officials, and robs people of the right to select their local elected leaders.

Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Ecorse, Flint and the Detroit Public Schools are all run by emergency managers.

Education
5:01 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Plan to lift cap on charter schools stalls in Michigan House

Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Momentum for a proposal to allow more university-sponsored charter schools in Michigan appears to have slowed in the state Legislature.

Some lawmakers and schools lobbyists said that’s because the measure does not require charter schools to prove their success.

Democratic state Representative Lisa Brown said the measure should include a requirement that charter schools meet performance standards before opening in Michigan.

“I’m for quality education and every child should have a right to high quality education. There’s nothing in this bill that provides that,” said Brown.

Ari Adler, a spokesman for state House Speaker Jase Bolger, disagreed. Adler said the majority of charter schools in Michigan have long waiting lists for student enrollment. And he said that’s a reflection of high performance.

“So obviously they’re doing something right or parents wouldn’t be lining up to take their kids there," said Adler. "But we are going to be looking at -- this year and well into next year -- quality education in Michigan and how that quality can be improved. And that would be at charter public schools, traditional public schools and all forms of education."

Opponents of eliminating the state’s charter school cap say a third of existing charters have poor performance records.

It’s unclear if the charter school bill will be approved before the end of the year.

Music
4:23 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Songs From Studio East: Red Tail Ring

Red Tail Ring in Studio East at Michigan Radio
Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

The duo Red Tail Ring goes back to traditional old-time music--because that’s what they love.

Michiganders Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo’s interpretation of Appalachian and folk songs come from their “strong connection to the outdoors and the natural world.”

Laurel is from the Upper Peninsula and Michael from the Kalamazoo area. The music they play is what you might call “backwoods music.”

“We’re modern people reaching back to older songs and traditions; we’re interpreters and explorers of older culture. Learning from the past is an essential aspect in art, and for us it’s been formative. It’s important to show how older words and melodies can be honored, not compromised, in reinterpretation, and that the world has been doing this since the beginning of time.”

This year they released two albums - the first - Middlewest Chant, is a collection of original songs.

The second album - Mountain Shout - is a compilation of traditional songs.

Red Tail Ring performed in Studio East, here at Michigan Radio, and we were all enthralled by the vibration of the fiddle and banjo--and the eerie harmonies that Laurel and Michael create together.

Here's their performance:

Environment
3:56 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Signs of a bigger deer harvest in 2011

Deer populations appear to be increasing slowly in the UP and the northern lower peninsula, according to Michigan DNR officials.
USDA.gov

Officials from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources say the harvest from the 2011 firearm deer season "appears to have increased slightly compared to the 2010 season."

From a Michigan DNR press release:

Experiences can differ widely even within regions, but DNR biologists estimate the harvest compared to 2010 was unchanged to up perhaps 10 percent across the Upper Peninsula, likely increased in the Northern Lower Peninsula by as much as 10 percent, and the southern Lower Peninsula appeared down 5 to 10 percent.

The statement said deer populations in the Upper Peninsula and the Northern Lower Peninsula are not as abundant as they were in the 1990's, but they seem to be increasing.

Occupy Movement
1:56 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Occupy Lansing leaves park, plans to continue activities

An occupier in Lansing on October 1. Protesters have broken camp in Lansing.
Peace Education Center Flickr

Occupiers in Lansing have become the latest group in the Occupy movement to pack up their camp for the winter. The Lansing State Journal reports that tents and other shelters have been cleared from Reutter Park in downtown Lansing.

More from the LSJ:

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Arts/Culture
12:29 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Attn young, classical singers: Aretha Franklin wants to hear from you

As we reported earlier this week, Aretha Franklin is searching for the next great opera singer. If you're 18-40 years old and classically trained, the Queen of Soul wants to hear from you:

"Some of the older classical singers like Jessye Norman, and Leontyne [Price], Barbara Hendricks...they are retiring, they’re not singing anymore, and I’d like to see some younger singers come along and take their place," explains Franklin.

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Auto
12:23 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Toyota could lose "world's largest automaker" title

Could Toyota lose its crown?
user danielctw Flickr

Toyota has sharply downgraded its expectations for what it will earn in the fiscal year that ends in March.

Toyota expects a net profit of $2.3 billion for the fiscal year. That’s less than half the profit it predicted in August.

The automaker is blaming a strong yen, which makes its vehicles less competitive on prices, outside of Japan.

It’s also blaming recent heavy flooding in Thailand, which disrupted the distribution of auto parts.

Commentary
11:56 am
Fri December 9, 2011

The Education Disconnect

Michigan Radio has been sponsoring a set of public forums designed to bring experts on various issues together with the public in an informal, non-threatening way, a series called “Issues and Ale.“ I moderated one earlier this week that focused on education, held at the Wolverine Brewing Company in Ann Arbor. I was doubtful how many people would actually show up. This was on Tuesday night in what is really early winter, with the holidays approaching. To my surprise, however, before the evening was over it was standing room only, with people packing the hall.

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Education
11:36 am
Fri December 9, 2011

Muskegon Heights school board asks for an emergency manager

Muskegon Heights High School. The Muskegon Heights school board is asking for an emergency manager appointment.
Muskegon Heights School Board

Update 11:36 a.m. The Muskegon Heights School Board plans to take the unusual step of asking for a state takeover. And they say they want Marios Demetriou, a Deputy Superintendent at the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, to be the person who servers as their emergency manager. 

The school district has a deficit of around $9 million, and it’s growing. The board blames rising expenses, funding reductions, declining enrollment, and soaring health care costs as reasons for its problems. The Muskegon Heights Superintendent, Dana Bryant, has decided to "give up his job" to "help with financial relief efforts." He'll retire at the end of the year.

The Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Superintendent, Dave Sipka, will act as interim Superintendent for Muskegon Heights in the meantime. If one is appointed, an emergency manager could change or end union contracts to reduce the district’s deficit.

Doug Pratt, with the Michigan Education Association, said employees in Muskegon Heights have made sacrifices, and more concessions are not the answer. “The issue really is the fundamental lack of adequate funding from Lansing, especially when you look at the most recent cut of a billion dollars from public education that the legislature enacted earlier this year,” said Pratt.

Even though they’re asking for one, an emergency appointment wouldn’t come right away. A financial review would have to be performed before an EM is appointed. The Michigan Department of Education says they have not received the official request from the Muskegon Heights School Board yet, but they’ve been notified the request is coming. Michigan Department of Education spokeswoman Jan Ellis said the state has had “great concern over the financial stability of Muskegon Heights for quite some time.” She said the Muskegon Heights deficit has grown from $800,000 to around $9 million in the last 5 years. “Their ability to repay that debt or balance their budget becomes harder and harder, just like it would with everyone’s personal budget, if they got further and further in debt,” said Ellis.

The Muskegon Heights School Board has asked for an emergency manager to run the school district.

Thursday, December 8, 11:36 p.m.

In a statement, Muskegon School Board President Avery Burrel said,

"This is the first step in a long process of rebuilding our district's operational future. With the loss of Dr. Bryant's leadership, and the load of debt we are under, my fellow board members and I felt we must set aside our personal pride and ask the State and MAISD for help. Our children are counting on us to do so, and the future of our district depends on our actions today."

9:49 a.m.

Most school districts or cities work to avoid an emergency manager appointment, but the Muskegon Heights school board is practically begging for an emergency manager.

The Muskegon Chronicle reports the school board owes more than $900,000 to the state retirement system.

From the Muskegon Chronicle:

The school board in a surprising move Wednesday voted to ask that Marios Demetriou, the deputy superintendent for the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, be appointed the district's emergency financial manager.

It also eliminated the superintendent's position, accepting the Dec. 31 retirement of Superintendent Dana Bryant, who in a statement said that considering all the other job losses in the district “I need to be man enough to give up my own job to help with the financial reform efforts.”

There are five emergency mangers operating in the state today.

With other school districts and cities in financial distress, more are likely to be appointed.

Ford recall
10:55 am
Fri December 9, 2011

Ford recalls some Fusion, Milan models

Ford has issued a recall for two of its models because of wheel problems. The recall includes more than 128,000 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan models from 2010 and 2011. Ford says only cars with 17-inch steel wheels are affected by recall.

Afghanistan
10:37 am
Fri December 9, 2011

Flags lowered for Jackie Diener II, a Boyne City High School grad

A U.S. Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Pvt. Jackie L. Diener II. Diener was from Boyne City. Flags in Michigan are being lowered today in his honor.
mortuary.af.mil

A young Army soldier from Boyne City died in Afghanistan last month (November 21) - just two months into his deployment.

U.S. Army Pvt. 2nd Class Jack Lee Diener was 20 when he was killed by small arms fire in Kandahar province.

Diener graduated from Boyne City High School in 2009.

Flags in Michigan are flying at half staff today in his honor.

In Boyne City, flags were lowered the day the town heard of his death on November 22.

From the November 22 PetoskyNews.com:

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Station News
9:37 am
Fri December 9, 2011

We're experiencing technical problems with our website

Since yesterday morning, we've been experiencing intermittent problems with our website.

NPR Digital is working on the problem and hopes to have them resolved soon.

In the meantime, if you're trying to to make a year-end pledge to the station and having difficulty connecting online, please call our pledge line at 888-258-9866.

Thank you for your patience.

News Roundup
9:13 am
Fri December 9, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

In wake of petition drive, emergency manager law being revamped

Lawmakers say they're trying to avoid "chaos" by retooling the state's emergency manager law (Public Act 4). A petition drive could put the question of whether or not to keep the EM law in front of voters next November. If petition drive organizers are successful, the law could be suspended until that vote takes place.

More from the Detroit Free Press:

State Treasurer Andy Dillon told the Free Press he has encouraged legislative leaders to rewrite the law. The alternative, he said, is "a pretty confused situation" if the law is suspended. State Rep. Fred Durhal, D-Detroit, said passing a new law to counter a voter repeal effort would be "a slap in the face to the Legislature and to the people." If the law is suspended, Gov. Rick Snyder said he believes Michigan would revert to a weaker emergency manager law from 1990, but there's no guarantee the courts will see it his way.

Detroit Mayor Bing reports progress with unions

Detroit could be the next city in line for a takeover by a state-appointed emergency manager. Detroit leaders say they're working on the city's financial problems to avoid a takeover. In a radio interview this morning, Mayor Bing said progress is being made with the city's unions.

From the Detroit News:

In an interview with WWJ-AM (950), Bing said he's asking the city's unions for reduced wages and reform to pension, health care and work rules because "that's where we can get the most flexibility and savings." "Yes, we're making progress," Bing told WWJ's Vickie Thomas around 7:30 a.m. "I think the unions understand at this point that they've got to be part of the solution." The expected number of citywide layoffs — about 1,000 — hasn't changed since Bing gave a televised address to the city last month. He doesn't know which departments the city will hit first, but public safety will be last on the chopping block.

Protesters tell Congressman to extend unemployment benefits

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported on about three dozen picketers outside of Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers Lansing office:

They were there to draw attention to a deadline looming at the end of the month. 66,000 Michiganders may lose their unemployment benefits in January if an extension is not passed.   

Protester Ronnie Rosner says this is a bad time to let unemployment benefits to expire.  

“When the price of food…gas   and other necessities are going up …when people can not afford to buy goods and services…our whole economy suffers," says Rosner.   

Congressman Rogers’ office issued a written statement …expressing support for extending unemployment benefits.   But he says… as important…is the need for policies promoting economic growth.

Flint
5:15 pm
Thu December 8, 2011

Flint's emergency manager tightens his grip on city finances

Flint emergency manager Michael Brown
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Flint’s emergency manager is taking further steps to bring the city’s finances under control.

Michael Brown’s been on the job as Flint’s emergency manager for a week. His first steps to lift Flint from its ‘financial emergency’ were to fire a half dozen top city employees and eliminate pay for the city’s elected officials. He says that alone should save the city a million dollars.

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Economy
5:10 pm
Thu December 8, 2011

Union groups protest looming unemployment benefits deadline

Protesters stand outside the Lansing office of Michigan Republican Congressman Mike Rogers
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Union members and others picketed outside the offices of Michigan’s Republican congressmen today to protest the lack of a deal to extend unemployment benefits.

About three dozen protesters waved signs at honking motorists outside Congressman Mike Rogers Lansing office. They were there to draw attention to a deadline looming at the end of the month.

Sixty-six thousand Michiganders may lose their unemployment benefits in January if an extension is not passed

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