Education
1:37 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

Detroit schools get $231M loan from state to help pay employees, vendors

DPS gets $231 million short term loan from state
User thinkpanama Flickr

The Detroit Public School district received a $231 million dollar loan from the state. 

The loan will help the district with "employee payroll and vendor payments," according to Steve Wasko, a spokesman for the district. He says the loan won't help with any of the district's long term financial problems:

  1. $327 million budget deficit.
  2. $161 million dollars in budget cuts if Governor Rick Snyder's proposed education cuts go through.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek filed a story for NPR about the district's $327 million budget deficit. Here's an excerpt:

With Detroit's public school district facing a $327 million budget deficit, the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager has proposed closing half the district's schools and putting up to 60 kids in a classroom.

Robert Bobb admits that his deficit elimination plan could be disastrous for students — he calls it "draconian" — but he may have no choice but to implement it.

In January, he gave the plan to the state of Michigan, warning that it's the only way for Detroit Public Schools to "cut its way out" of its deficit. The state's department of education says that's exactly what Bobb should do.

"We're working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations," Bobb said last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan's most staggering provisions: 60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools.

The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with regional ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Lots of Michigan districts take out short term loans in August to help pay employees and vendors because districts' fiscal year is out of sync with the state’s fiscal year. The Detroit Public Schools district borrows twice a year for cash flow purposes - in August and March.

Sports
1:33 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

Michigan high school player dies after winning shot

User shockmotion Flickr

The Associated Press and USAToday are reporting that a 16 year old Fennville student died last night after making a game-making layup. From the AP:

The Fennville Schools superintendent says the basketball player who died last night after making a game-winning shot was "the quintessential all-American kid."

It's still not clear what caused the death of 16-year-old Wes Leonard, who collapsed on the court after making a last-second layup in Fenville's 57-55 win over Bridgman. The victory capped Fenville's undefeated season.

Leonard fell to the ground after teammates and fans rushed the court. Rescuers performed CPR, but he was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

The junior was also the quarterback of the school's football team.

Grief counselors are on hand at the school today.

Health
1:28 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

MSU professors mapping 'urban food deserts'

Witherbees Market opened last year, bringing fresh produce to downtown Flint, Michigan for the first time in decades.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

‘Food deserts’ are a growing problem in Michigan cities. Two Michigan State University professors believe they have an idea that might help.

'Food deserts’ are created when local supermarkets close and there’s no place where people can walk to buy fruits, vegetables and other fresh food.

MSU professors Phil Howard and Kirk Goldsberry wanted to see how bad the problem is in Lansing. Goldsberry says he was surprised that large sections of the capitol city are ‘food deserts’. He says, in many cases, if you want fresh food, you must drive to Lansing’s suburbs.  

“The suburbanization of groceries has placed our best markets in commercially zoned in non-residential, automobile oriented areas.  Essentially geographically separating our best produce sections from our most densely populated neighborhoods.”  

The MSU professors have created an interactive map showing Lansing’s ‘urban food deserts’. They hope to create similar ‘food desert’ maps for Flint, Grand Rapids and other US cities.

Goldsberry says communities need to encourage more urban gardens and farmers markets to fill the gap in urban ‘food deserts’.

On the Radio
12:36 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

In case you missed it...

User cccpstorm Flickr

It's Friday. Time to take a look at a few radio pieces worth a second listen... or a first listen if you missed them.

Tough Lives

This past week, we caught several stories about growing up or living in a tough environment.

Andre Dubus III: "Townie" - The Diane Rehm Show

Diane Rehm talked to Andre Dubus III, best-selling author, about his recent memoir Townie.

Hearing someone talk about their memoir doesn't always make for radio magic, but I sat and listened to the entire interview with Dubus as he talked about his journey - going from a scrawny kid, to muscled brawler, to successful author.

From the Diane Rehm Show website:

In the 1970s, life along Massachusetts' Merrimack River was harsh and unforgiving. Jobs were scarce, neighborhoods were rife with drugs and violence, and hopelessness and despair prevailed. To survive amid such hardship, "House of Sand and Fog" author Andre Dubus III, built himself up from a scared, scrawny victim to a muscled street fighter who could defend his family and channel his anger at his absent father. Later on, Dubus found redemption through writing. He healed old wounds and forged a new life as one of America's bestselling authors.

In the interview, Dubus III talks about his rough and tumble childhood, touching on the difficulties facing single parents as well as issues surrounding bullying and empowerment, including Dubus's own vigilante-esque behavior in the face of would-be intimidators in his neighborhood.

Dubus III is charming and down-to-earth about topics which, one imagines, are very personal, and somewhat difficult to talk about. Not to be missed.

 

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Commentary
11:12 am
Fri March 4, 2011

Primary Problem

If you haven’t been traumatized enough by this seemingly endless winter and the governor’s budget proposals, I’ve got something that may really give you nightmares.

It’s presidential election time again. Now, you may be saying wait a minute. Wasn’t the last congressional election only four months ago? Well, yes. But the presidential election is next year, and the candidates are already out campaigning, though none of them are calling it that. I am aware that people who don’t know each other yet will meet, fall in love, and have babies before we finally get around to voting a year from November.

But presidents have a far longer gestation period. And one sure sign that the election season is on is that the leaders of our two great political parties are once again attempting to screw up the Michigan primary.

They’ve gotten pretty good at this, and last time, the Democrats managed to make themselves the laughingstock of the nation, by holding a primary that was both ruled illegal and invalid and which did not have a guy named Barack Obama on the ballot. 

Early indications are that they’ve learned nothing from their mistakes. Here’s the problem. For many years, the election calendar has worked like this. Iowa goes first, with a set of caucuses which pick that state’s delegates in January. Then, New Hampshire follows with the nation’s first primary election.

Then a couple other small states follow in February, and after that, the other states can do whatever they want. This is a good system, because it allows candidates without much money to be seen and tested in small states where you don’t need millions.

Iowa and New Hampshire are also now swing states that switch sides frequently in November. But Michigan party leaders are jealous. They want to go first. Last time they broke party rules and held a January primary which was a farce.

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Investigative
10:05 am
Fri March 4, 2011

State income tax on pensions

Seniors drawing pensions could be taxed under Governor Snyder's new tax proposal.
Flickr

When he presented his budget to the legislature, Governor Snyder explained part of the shared sacrifice would be taxing public and private pensions.  There is no state income tax on pensions right now.  The Governor noted, retirees still use government services.  He also said there are some retirees who are still working, paying the current 4.35% in state income taxes.  He said taxing pensions is a matter of fairness to people of retirement age who are still working.

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News Roundup
9:18 am
Fri March 4, 2011

In this morning's news...

News Roundup: Friday, March 4th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Slow and Slippery Commute

Freezing rain across parts of mid and southeast Michigan has led to a slow and sometimes dangerous commute this morning. There were numerous closures of lanes on freeways from Brighton to the metro-Detroit area. The National Weather Service in White Lake Township says the freezing rain is expected to change to rain by noon, the AP reports. A Winter Weather advisory is in effect for parts of the state. Temperatures are expected to reach the 40s today.

UAW President Blasts Snyder

Bob King, President of the UAW, says Governor Snyder’s budget proposal is an attack on workers, seniors and the poor in Michigan. “This governor has talked nicely, but these actions suggest he’s same agenda with every other Republican across this country" King said at a press conference yesterday. King says Snyder’s proposal to eliminate an income tax credit for the working poor, to cut the child care subsidy for low-income families, and to tax pensions are key examples, Sarah Hulett reports.

Asian Carp Legislation

Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region say it’s taking too long to come up with an action plan to stop the spread of Asian Carp. They are now calling for work on that plan to speed things up, Steve Carmody reports:

The US Army Corps of Engineers wants to spend the next five years developing a plan to keep the carp out of the Great Lake but that’s not fast enough for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years… we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible,” Stabenow said.

Recently, Illinois politicians have fought efforts to close canals linking Lake Michigan to carp infested waters near Chicago. But Illinois Senator Dick Durbin supports expediting a carp action plan, making its passage more probable.

Weather
7:11 am
Fri March 4, 2011

Freezing rain leads to slow morning commute

Freezing rain is wreaking havoc on roads in Southeast Michigan Friday morning
LisaW123 Flickr

Freezing rain has closed portions of some southeast Michigan freeways and made driving conditions dangerous for commuters.

The Associated Press reports:

...portions of Interstate 94, Interstate 75 and the Lodge Freeway (M-10) were closed early Friday morning in Detroit, while portions of the Southfield Freeway (M-39) in Dearborn and Interstate 96 in Howell also have been shut down... Several accidents have been reported.

The National Weather Service in White Lake Township says freezing rain is expected to change to rain by noon. High temperatures in the low 40s are expected.

The Michigan State Police has confirmed to Michigan Radio that as of 6:57 a.m. parts of Northbound 23 were closed as were parts of Northbound I-475.

State Legislature
6:41 am
Fri March 4, 2011

Marijuana Clubs come under fire in state Senate

Medical Marijuana
Troy Holden Flickr

People with medical marijuana cards may soon be unable to smoke together in their support groups. A bill approved by a state Senate committee would prohibit so-called “marijuana clubs” or bars.

Republican state Senator Rick Jones says people who gather to smoke marijuana away from their homes could easily become a danger on the roads to other drivers.

 “There’s really no good reason for people to gather and consume marijuana. If somebody really needs to know how to use it, their care provider can go to their home and teach them. They don’t need to gather in a bar-like atmosphere.”

Medical marijuana supporters say the bill is a continued attempt by lawmakers to add rules to the constitutional amendment approved by voters. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act was approved by voters by a wide margin in 2008.

Greg Pawlowski is a representative of medical marijuana support groups. He told lawmakers that regulation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is an attempt to stifle the voices of patients. 

 “I applaud you so much for taking the time to talk to us, but now you need to hear what we have to say, and not talk amongst each other that we’re wrong. Because this is not an issue of being right or wrong, this is a human issue. I should not have to be a second-class citizen and have to have a patient card.”

Politics
8:30 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

UAW president rips governor, says policies are attack on middle class

Bob King, President of the UAW, says Governor Snyder's policies are an attack on middle class
Pobrecito33 Flickr

The fight over workers’ rights in Wisconsin and Ohio has become familiar fodder for news stories in recent days. But labor leaders in this state say Republicans in Michigan are just as hostile to unions.

UAW President Bob King says you need look no further than Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal to see an attack on workers, seniors and the poor.

King says Snyder’s proposal to eliminate an income tax credit for the working poor, to cut the child care subsidy for low-income families, and to tax pensions are key examples.

"This governor has talked nicely, but these actions suggest he’s same agenda with every other Republican across this country," King said at a press conference today.

King says Snyder has also made some anti-union moves.

He says the Snyder administration is undermining bargaining rights for home health and day care workers. And Snyder supports legislation that would allow emergency financial managers to set aside union contracts, and suspend collective bargaining in troubled cities and school districts.

Detroit
4:42 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

State Police ask for warrant in Aiyana Jones shooting

Aiyana Jones

The Michigan State Police have asked the Wayne County Prosecutors office to issue an arrest warrant in the Aiyana Jones case.

A Detroit Police officer killed seven-year-old Aiyana Jones last May, as a police team raided her family’s home looking for a murder suspect.

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Education
4:19 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Detroit Public Schools brace for "draconian" cuts

Robert Bobb, Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

In Detroit, the school district is grappling with a $327 million dollar budget deficit. That’s led the district’s state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, to put forth a deficit elimination plan that would close half the district’s schools.  

Bobb himself calls the deficit elimination plan “draconian.” In January, Bobb gave it to the state of Michigan, warning it was the only way for the Detroit Public Schools to in his words “cut its way out” of its deficit.

The State Department of Education says that’s exactly what Bobb should do.

“We’re working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations.”

That was Bobb’s cautious take on the subject last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan’s most staggering provisions—60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools. The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with “regional” ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Word of the huge cuts is just trickling down to everyone. Maddie Wright found out when she attended a workshop at the Marcus Garvey Academy on Detroit’s east side. Wright, who’s raising a grandson in the seventh grade, says she doesn’t like the idea of less individual attention for kids—especially in subjects like math, where she struggles to help with homework.

“The way he’s doing it…I don’t know anything. So the only somebody who can help him is some of those younger teachers, that’s been there. Because I can’t.”

Bobb has proposed another alternative. That’s to put the Detroit Public Schools through a bankruptcy process similar to what General Motors did. It would allow the system leave much of its debt behind, and emerge with a new balance sheet.

Detroit State Representative David Nathan, a Democrat, says he’s all right with the bankruptcy option.  But he says state officials have told him that even talking about it will hurt the state’s bond rating.

“We should allow the district to do that. And we should not sacrifice the kids of the city of Detroit to save a bond rating for the state. Those are MY children in that school district.”

But the state’s Education Department nixed that option. State Republicans are also pushing legislation that gives state-appointed financial managers broad powers, including the right to throw out union contracts. Democrat Nathan says he’s working on a compromise bill that would avoid both bankruptcy and the worst cuts.

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Sports Commentary
4:11 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Earl Boykins: The little guy that outlasted them all

Earl Boykins with the ball when he played for the Denver Nuggets. He now plays for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Jeramey Jannene Flickr

Eastern Michigan University had a very strong basketball team in 1996.

The Eagles were so good they stunned the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA tournament, 75-60.

They had nation’s second-leading scorer - and their program listed his height at 5-foot-8 inches.

This, I had to see. 

I watched Earl Boykins and his teammates torch Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Ball State.

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Auto
2:56 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Eight-legged creepy crawly forces Mazda recall

Cheiracanthium mildei, a.k.a. the yellow sac spider, had no comment on the Mazda recall.
wikimedia commons

Mazda is recalling around 50,000 cars after they discovered a certain kind of spider can cause problems in the cars' fuel systems.

CNNMoney.com says the yellow sac spider is the culprit.

The insect can crawl into the fuel system's vent line, weave a web, and cause a restriction that may eventually lead to a leaking fuel tank. A leaking fuel tank is not ideal.

From the recall page at the U.S. Department of Transportation:

Remedy: dealers will inspect and clean up the canister vent line, and install a spring to prevent this type of spider from entering the vent line. This service will be performed free of charge. The safety recall is expected to begin on or before March 25, 2011.

Owners may contact Mazda customer assistance center at 1-800-222-5500.

The recall is for Mazda6 vehicles manufactured from April 8, 2008, through February 8, 2010.

CNNMoney.com says no fires have been reported yet:

There have been 20 reported cases of spider infestation in the Mazda6 -- all have been in cars with 4-cylinder engines, none with V6's. No actual fires are known to have been caused by the spiders, according to Mazda's letter.

No word on what the spider might be looking for in the Mazda's vent line.

Asian Carp
2:50 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Michigan lawmakers to introduce Asian carp legislation

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Congressman Dave Camp plan to introduce Asian carp legislation
Kate.Gardner Flickr

Update 2:50 p.m.:

Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region say it’s taking too long to come up with an action plan to stop the spread of Asian Carp. They are now calling for work on that plan to speed up. 

Asian Carp have spent the past few decades slowly spreading throughout the Mississippi River watershed.   The invasive carp have destroyed indigenous fish populations from Missouri to Illinois.   One was caught last year just a few miles downstream from Lake Michigan. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers wants to spend the next five years developing a plan to keep the carp out of the Great Lakes.   Not fast enough for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years…we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible.”  

Recently, Illinois politicians have fought efforts to close canals linking Lake Michigan to carp infested waters near Chicago.   But Illinois Senator Dick Durbin supports expediting a carp action plan, making its passage more probable.   Though Durbin’s involvement also hints closing canals will not be part of the plan.  

 Stabenow  says she doesn’t know how much it will cost to ‘separate’ the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed.    But she says Asian Carp could cost the economy of the Great Lakes billions of dollars if they are not stopped.   

11:01 a.m.:

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp plan to introduce legislation to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through Chicago-area waterways, the Associated Press reports. Stabenow and Camp will hold a news conference today to discuss their plans. The AP reports:

Stabenow and Camp previously sponsored bills that would have forced closure of shipping locks near Chicago that could provide access to Lake Michigan for the invasive carp. Those measures failed.

The House recently rejected Camp's effort to attach a lock closure amendment to a federal spending bill.

Michigan and four other states are suing in federal court to close the locks. Chicago business interests say doing so would damage their local economy and probably wouldn't do much to stop the carp anyway.

Arts/Culture
2:36 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Kalamazoo art attracts patrons & business

Taking in some art in Kalamazoo
Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo

Restaurants, businesses and galleries will showcase local art in downtown Kalamazoo at the city's monthly art hop. It happens on the first Friday of the month. (This month the gig runs from 5-9 pm.)

Colorful paintings will hang on the walls of businesses and galleries, musicians will be playing inside and outside, and restaurants feature special menus for the evening.

Beth McCann is with The Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo. She says art hop is about showcasing local talent. But she says it’s also a great economic development tool.

 “We hear it coming back from the artists themselves, because obviously they sell their art. So we hear a lot of positive feedback from artists. And we also hear it from the business community that this is a night they count on for sales.”

McCann says so far, several nearby towns have picked up on the art hop idea including Paw-Paw and Plainwell. Normally there are 20 places to visit during art hop. But the March event is a super-sized version and 51 sites will have art on display.

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Changing Gears
1:41 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

High-tech dummies help educate health care students (Part 2)

Second year nursing students Travis Pierce, Shelby Feldpausch, Staci Pierson (kneeling), Jennifer Meaton, Ashley Neybert and Jamie Hill. And of course, Mr. Pointer, center.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

The country is facing a nursing shortage, but schools in our region can’t keep up with the demand for nursing education.

As we reported in our first story, that’s partly because there are a limited number of clinical settings where student nurses can work with patients.

Now, to augment the clinical experience, some nursing programs are enlisting the help of a newfangled dummy, wired with smart technology.

Actually, calling these high tech mannequins “dummies” might be a bit insulting.

Forget those passive plastic torsos you’ve seen in CPR demonstrations. We’re talking about high fidelity mannequins, remotely operated by IT guys with headsets and laptops.

Larissa Miller runs the nursing simulation program at Lansing Community College. She can wax poetic about the virtues of the school’s simulated man.

“Our mannequin can shake,” she said, “which is great, we make him have a seizure right in the bed. He can sweat and it starts pouring down his face. He blinks, he breathes, he has pulses…”

He talks. And his female counterpart can even give birth. Miller has been a nurse for 19 years and she says the technology is exploding, "simulation is absolutely one of the fastest paced things I’ve ever watched in education," she said.

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Sports
12:25 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Detroit's economy could take a hit from an NFL lockout

Detroit Lions play Green Bay Packers at Ford Field (photo taken on November 22, 2007)
flickr

The city of Detroit could face an economic hit this fall if the National Football League and its players don’t agree on a new contract.  How big an impact is not clear.  

The current contract between NFL owners and the players association expires at midnight.   Without a deal, Ford Field in Detroit will sit empty during the Lions scheduled pre-season and regular season home games this fall.

A study commissioned by the players association says $20 million is spent on average in NFL cities during regular season home games.  In some cities, much more is spent.  The Christian Science Monitor reports small businesses may pay a big price. 

Jesse David is a senior vice president with Edgeworth Economics, the company that did the study.  David admits people will probably spend money on some form of entertainment, whether or not they go to a game, but they may not spend it in Detroit.  

“It may be that someone else, somewhere else sees their income go up…but there’s still going to be an effect on a group of people.”

Even if they miss tonight’s deadline, NFL owners and players still have several months before games will have to be canceled or rescheduled.

Investigative
12:21 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Eliminating business tax credits

Alan Cleaver Flickr

Update 12:21 p.m.

The State of Michigan will have to honor some tax credits for years to come because of contractual obligations.  In a speech today, Governor Snyder indicated over the next four years, the state was on the hook for $2-billion dollars in credits.  About $500-million of that is in next year's budget. 

March 2nd, 8:23a.m.

Governor Snyder says his approach to taxes in Michigan is “simple, fair, and efficient.”  One way the Governor wants to make the tax structure more fair is by eliminating all tax credits for business.  It’s a controversial move which surprised many people in Lansing.

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Environment
12:12 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Enviros want to replace Ohio nuclear plant with wind, solar energy

The edge of the cooling tower at the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ohio.
Kim Phillips Flickr

A coalition of environmental groups wants to stop a nuclear power plant in Ohio from renewing its license.

The operating license for the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio runs out in 2017. By that point, the plant will be 40 years old. First Energy, the company that owns the plant, wants to renew the license for another twenty years.

That’s the last thing Michael Keegan wants. He’s with the environmental group, Don’t Waste Michigan. Keegan and others went before a panel to challenge the license renewal:

"We have solar, wind and in combination we have replacement power available now which can be put in place prior to 2017."

Reporter Tom Henry with the Toledo Blade was at the proceeding and filed a story. Here's an excerpt:

The first half of the proceeding was focused on projections for wind power, solar power, and a combination of the two as possible offsets for nuclear power. The afternoon was devoted to a FirstEnergy document known as a Severe Accident Mitigation Analysis, one in which utilities are obligated to show how they would respond to dangerous nuclear scenarios.

Arguments in favor of renewables appear to rely on the viability of harnessing wind, solar, and other sources for later use through a technology known as compressed air energy storage, judges said. [Adam] Polonsky [of Washington-based Morgan Lewis Counselors at Law, which has represented FirstEnergy on nuclear issues for years]  conceded it has potential and should be explored.

"But that doesn't mean it is a reasonable alternative to a 908-megawatt reactor," he said, referring to Davis-Besse's generating capacity.

The panel now has to decide whether the environmental groups can move forward with their petition to intervene.

To date the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to deny a license renewal, though several applications are still pending.

In Michigan, the license for the Fermi II Nuclear Plant is good through 2025.

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