News

Pages

Education
8:12 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Enthusiasm and questions about Detroit charter schools proposal

Robert Bobb, Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools

The man in charge of the Detroit Public Schools’ finances has put forth a plan that would turn some of the district’s worst schools into charter schools.

Robert Bobb presented his “Renaissance Plan 2012” to the Detroit Board of Education over the weekend.

The plan calls for turning 41 of the district’s remaining 142 schools over to charter operators. District spokesman Steve Wasko says it would allow the district to move at least $75 million in expenses off its books.

“This is an alternative that would allow the Detroit Public Schools to shed all of the operating costs of the identified schools, to be borne by an outside management company or charter operator.”

Wasko says Bobb will identify those schools and open up the application process later this week.

Skeptics question whether the amount of money the plan saves would make up what the district would lose in state per-pupil funding. David Arsen, Professor of Educational Policy at Michigan State University, says it’s not quite clear how the plan would save so much money.

“If the 41 schools are converted to charters, DPS would avoid its current operations expenditures on those buildings. On the other hand, the district would also lose nearly all of the state funding it currently receives for educating the students in those schools.”

The State Department of Education would have to sign off too, because the proposal would change the deficit elimination plan the state ordered Bobb to implement.

Bobb says his proposal would still advance the deficit elimination plan, while avoiding what he calls “draconian” measures, such as shutting down half the district’s remaining schools.

Read more
Politics
6:04 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Snyder stands by budget plans in face of protests

Teachers protest in Lansing on February 26th, 2011.
mea.org

Senior citizens and union members are expected to rally tomorrow at the state Capitol to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s budget plans.

Seniors are taking aim at the governor’s proposal to start levying the income tax on pensions.

Michigan is one of four states that does not tax pensions.

Seniors say it’s not fair to tax pensions at the same time Snyder wants to reduce taxes overall on businesses.

But the governor says seniors who use state services and can afford to pay should share the tax burden:

"Because our population is continuing to age and we want a simple, fair tax system.

The idea here is lower-income people, whether you’re a senior or not, hopefully you’re not going to pay any income tax and we’ve structured the system to do that.

For people with higher incomes, we want something that’s simple, fair, and efficient," says Snyder.

The governor says he is open to compromise on details of his budget, but overall he stands by his plan. 

Governor Snyder has also called for cuts to public schools, local governments and state employee compensation.

State employee unions say budget plans that require them to take cuts while Governor Snyder’s department directors earn as much as $250,000 a year are not fair (that's how much Snyder's Budget Director, John Nixon, makes).

Stephen Reck is with SEIU Local 517M – a union that represents state workers:

"Now, I’m not saying the new director isn’t worth $250,000.

If you’re going to attract and retain good people, you’ve got to pay them a fair wage, and that goes for state employees whether an engineer, a scientist, a clerical worker, or a budget director, but be consistent and that’s all we’re asking."

In addition to the seniors and unions expected to protest tomorrow, another rally is planned for Wednesday by a group calling itself  "Working Michigan."

Artprize 2011
5:14 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

ArtPrize hopes to attract more performance art in 2011 contest

ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos hopes having St. Cecilia Music Hall as a venue will attract more musicians to consider entering.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Business owners who want to serve as a venue for ArtPrize this fall can now begin registering. The winner of the art competition is decided by the voting public who visit the event in downtown Grand Rapids. The top prize is $250,000.  

ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos says this year they’re opening the historic St. Cecilia Music Center to host more than two dozen performance pieces. They’re hoping to attract more musicians and dancers to enter the contest.

“ArtPrize has already been open to all these things. The difference is with St. Cecilia coming on we’re being a little more intentional about trying to create a very specific space for it and draw more attention to it.”

St. Cecilia Music Hall opened its doors in 1894. The classically styled gold trimmed music hall will welcome all sorts of performances during ArtPrize this year. The music hall will have listening stations to hear the contestants – in addition to the live performances.

“There have been dances and performance art pieces that have been a part of ArtPrize the first two years. And we see that continuing. We just wanted to continue to press the envelope.”

Artists can begin registering in four weeks. ArtPrize runs from late September through early October.

Education
4:36 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Michigan AG files brief in support of former EMU grad student

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
Photo courtesy of Michigan's Attorney General office michigan.gov

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a brief against Eastern Michigan University, alleging the university violated a student’s civil rights. 

Julea Ward was a student in EMU’s masters program for counseling. When she refused to counsel gay students because she’s morally against homosexuality, she tried to refer them to another counselor.

EMU says she violated the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, and removed her from the program. Ward sued EMU in 2009 for violating her constitutional rights.

A federal court in Detroit dismissed the case saying EMU did not discriminate against Ward. Now the Michigan Attorney General’s office is filing an appeal on behalf of Ward.

John Selleck is with the AG’s office. He says this case "would set a standard going forward for other students who have religious objections in any Michigan college case going forward. We think that was a very important reason for us to get involved."

Read more
Budget Protests
4:21 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Protests to continue in Lansing tomorrow

User P.E.C. Flickr

More protests are planned to take place at the state Capitol tomorrow. From the Daily Tribune:

Opponents of the proposed tax on pensions plan to rally at the state Capitol from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, with speakers between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

"We don't think it's fair the governor increases tax on seniors and the poor while giving breaks to business and cutting services," said Mark Horbeck, of AARP Michigan, a sponsor of the rally. "Seniors and the working poor are going to be asked to pay more taxes. What do they get in return? Less services and a business tax cut."

Other groups expected to attend include the Michigan League for Human Services and the state employee retirement association, as well as lawmakers from both parties, said Horbeck, though he declined to name the lawmakers.

AARP is one of the sponsors of the rally, but the rally was really the brainchild of Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, a General Motors retiree who launched a Facebook page to protest the proposed tax.

She says she launched the Facebook page as soon as the governor made his budget proposal to the Legislature last month. Other efforts include passing out fliers of the upcoming rally.

Taxing her pension, Woodward says, could force her to choose between her home and her car.

State Sen. John Pappageorge  R-Troy, sits on both the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will deal with both Snyder's tax proposals and spending plans.

He says it's too early to tell whether taxing pensions is an idea that will eventually pass the Legislature.

"There's not sufficient support yet because we haven't had a chance to dig into it yet and see if we like it as is or if we can improve on it," Pappageorge said. "The point is it's just a little too early. You can't just look at pensions, you have to look at the whole picture and see if we're doing this as fairly as possible."

The protest comes just days after the legislature added a $100 expenditure item to the governor's tax code bill, thereby making it impossible for Michigan voters to repeal.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that legislation that included expenditures was immune to repeal by voters.

Economy
3:33 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Japanese crisis raises questions about future of nuclear power

(Flickr Simon Strandgaard)

The nuclear accidents in Japan have raised questions about the future of about 20 planned new nuclear power plants in the U.S, including one in Michigan. 

DTE’s proposed Fermi 3 nuclear power plant has the potential of helping Michigan meet its future energy needs, as well as its construction generating billions of dollars for the state’s economy. But like 19 other proposed nuclear projects, its future appears murky in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis. 

A DTE spokesman says it’s “way too early” to speculate on how the events in Japan may affect the utility’s application for Fermi 3. 

Joseph Sindoni is with the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group.   Sindoni says  “Until we understand clearly what’s occurred at Fukashima (Daiichi) nuclear power plants and any consequences, it’s difficult to speculate about the long-term impact.”  

Plans for new nuclear power plants all but dried up after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and it was only recently that interest in developing alternative energy sources renewed interest in nuclear power.

Economy
3:23 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Study: Grand Rapids, Detroit among Top 20 hardest hit by recession

The Grand Rapids metro region, like many places in the U.S., was hit hard by the recession.
Steven Depolo Flickr

A new study by the Brookings Institution shows the Grand Rapids and Detroit metro regions are in the top 20 hardest hit by the recession.

The study measures how deep the recession hit the top 100 metro regions in the United States.

It also looks at how strong the recovery is for those cities.

Jennifer Bradley co-directed the study in the Great Lakes region:

"It's not just about a particular city or a particular suburb. These places are economic units. They're rising and falling together and they will come out of the recession, or not, together."

Bradley says Grand Rapids and Detroit lead the nation in keeping their unemployment rates from spiking even higher, but it's unclear why:

"It could be more people are getting jobs. It could be more people are leaving the workforce altogether. It could be more people are leaving the region all together."

There is a lot in the study that’s not surprising.

It shows most metro regions near the Great Lakes had a weak economy before the recession, mainly because of job losses as the auto industry declined.

Bradley says business and government leaders in metro regions need to work together to strengthen their chances of recovery.

Budget Protests
2:31 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Ann Arbor rally one of many against state budget

Brit Satchwell says proposed budget cuts will hurt students
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Update 2:31 p.m.:

A spokesperson from the Governor’s office responded via email with the following:

"The proposed budget and tax plan is based on fairness and preserving core safety net services – while improving and strengthening our economy so ALL can prosper and benefit."

2:06 p.m.:

A handful of people gathered in Ann Arbor on Monday to speak against Governor Snyder’s proposed budget for an event organized by Progress Michigan, a progressive organization. The speakers included union representatives, city officials, and individuals.

Lois Richardson is Mayor Pro-Tem of Ypsilanti and voiced criticism of the budget. She says cuts to revenue sharing and historic tax credits will devastate Ypsilanti and other cities. Richardson says the changes will affect everyone in the state of Michigan, not just those who relied directly on the funding.

Brit Satchwell is the President of the Ann Arbor teacher’s union. He says students will feel the cuts the most:

“I’m a sixth grade math teacher and I’m here to tell you, the kids don’t get a makeover year. You don’t get to do sixth grade again because the adults messed it up.”

Satchwell also said school districts like Ann Arbor have already been cutting their budgets for the past few years.

This was one of several events held across the state in preparation for a protest scheduled for Wednesday at the Capitol.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio News

Sports
1:54 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Young Guns: State House committee may vote to eliminate minimum hunting age

(mountlebanonlouisiana.com)

The State House Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation committee tomorrow will consider legislation to allow young children to hunt in Michigan.  Michigan currently allows children as young as 10 to hunt with a bow and as young as 12 to use a firearm to hunt deer. 

Peter Pettalia is a state representative from Presque Island in northern lower Michigan.  His bill would eliminate the age limit, as along as the young hunter has an adult with them.  

“It gives parents the right to determine when their children are ready in their eyes to safely hunt.   So myself, if I have a grandchild I believe could carry a weapon to hunt, it gives me the opportunity to decide that.”

Pettalia says allowing children to take part may help reverse the decline in the number of hunters in Michigan.   

“We have thousands, hundreds of thousands of acres of huntable land, yet we have the worst hunter recruitment rate in the nation and dwindling hunter retention numbers.”  

Pettalia says he doubts allowing young children to hunt with their parents or adult mentors will increase hunting accidents.   

What's Working
12:44 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Helping prisoners adjust to life after release

Tim Pierce, Los Gatos Creative Commons

This Monday, Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley sits down with Mary King as part of our year-long “What’s Working” series. King is the community coordinator in Washtenaw County for the Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (MPRI). The MPRI aims to increase public safety and reduce crime and recidivism by providing supportive services to citizens recently released from prison. The services provided include assistance with locating housing, employment, substance abuse treatment, transportation, and mental health treatment.

In addition to helping released felons get back on their feet in their communities, Ms. King says the MPRI can produce financial savings for the state by reducing the number of prisons in Michigan. While there are many factors that contribute to fluctuations in the prison population, King says recently there has been a substantial decline in the recidivism rate in Michigan, thanks in part to the MPRI.

“What we do know is that returns to prison for people who have been released – which used to be about one for every two people that were released from prison were back within two years – that number has gone down to one in three.”

Before the MPRI came about, King says different agencies worked in local communities throughout the state to connect returning citizens with services they needed. Unfortunately, these localized efforts often lacked both communication with one another and an understanding of what services were most effective to reduce recidivism, says King.

Read more
Science/Medicine
11:47 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Michigan: Testing for radiation since 1958

Hand held Civil Defense Geiger counter
(Flickr spike55151)

The state agency charged with monitoring radiation at Michigan’s three nuclear reactors has so far not recorded any increased radiation coming from Japan. Japan’s troubled nuclear reactors might be a half a world away, but it wouldn’t be the first time a nuclear accident overseas had an effect on Michigan. 

The state of Michigan has been monitoring radiation levels since January of 1958. Ken Yale is the acting chief of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Radiological Protection Section. His office monitors radiation levels at Michigan’s three nuclear plants (Fermi 2, DC Cook and Palisades). He says the last time his office recorded abnormal radiation readings was back in the mid-1980’s, at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine.

Experts do not expect a ‘Chernobyl’ level of radiation release from the Japanese reactors, due to improved containment technology.

Commentary
10:57 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Saving Newspapers

It’s hardly a secret that newspapers aren’t doing very well these days. Over the decades, they’ve been gradually replaced as the nation’s universal mass medium by television.

Newspaper’s biggest economic blow came, however, with the flight of advertising revenue to the Internet. This, combined with an ever-more busy public bombarded by more and more media choices, has badly wounded what was once a thriving industry. And, left us in danger of being dangerously uninformed as well. Ann Arbor, for example, no longer has a daily newspaper at all.

The problem is perhaps most acute in Detroit, where, twenty-five years ago, the Detroit News and Free Press sold a combined total of one point three million newspapers every day.

That number has declined ever since. Audited figures show that as of last September, they were down to a combined circulation of less than four hundred thousand, a number that has dropped further since then.

To save money two years ago, Detroit’s newspapers embarked on an experiment in which they would deliver the papers only three days a week, and asked consumers to read them online or go to the store and buy it the rest of the week. This really hasn’t worked.

Read more
Arts/Culture
10:14 am
Mon March 14, 2011

AnnArbor.com lays off 14 employees

AnnArbor.com replaced the 174-year old daily Ann Arbor News in 2009
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

Update March 14th, 10:14 a.m.

Tony Dearing is AnnArbor.com's chief content officer. He posted a comment over the weekend on AnnArbor.com about the layoffs. Here's what he wrote:

While personnel issues are an internal matter and we don't discuss them publicly, I can confirm that we reorganized our newsroom this week to put our focus more squarely on local news coverage. As a new organization, we have tried a lot of things. Now that we are well into our second year, the community has told us very resoundingly that what it wants most from us is hard news coverage, particularly in the areas of government, education, police, courts, health, the environment, University of Michigan sports, and business. These areas of coverage account for all but a tiny percentage of our readership and revenue. Meanwhile, we also have put a lot of effort toward other things -- including lifestyle topics like Passions and Pursuits, The Deuce, Homes and some areas of Entertainment coverage -- that our community has shown much less interest in, and we are scaling back in those areas.

We have made tremendous progress since we launched, and we continue to be very happy with the growth we're seeing in audience and revenue. But from the beginning, we said that we would be shaped by what the community wants, and the community wants us to focus more sharply on local news reporting. We have repositioned ourselves to throw our energy and resources into our local news coverage and that is how we will operate moving forward as we continue to grow.

Read more
Economy
9:44 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Buy Detroit effort hopes to spur city's economy

Jennuine Captures Flickr

Three major Detroit institutions are looking to leverage their spending to give a boost to the city’s economy.

Henry Ford Health System, the Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State University are all part of an initiative to revitalize the city’s Midtown area. And the “buy Detroit” campaign is part of that.

So far, the three institutions have shifted about $400,000 to Detroit businesses, says Lisa Prasad is with U3 Ventures, a firm that's helping with the project. 

"The number may be very small at the moment compared to their overall procurement, but we think the growth will be exponential once we really get it institutionalized."

Prasad says food is one thing all three institutions have been able to buy more locally.

Combined, the university and health systems spend $1.6 billion a year.

News Roundup
8:11 am
Mon March 14, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, March 14th, 2011

Protests Scheduled Over Snyder Budget

Groups across the state are planning protests today over Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal. Demonstrations are planned for cities including Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Ann Arbor. Protestors will include state workers, small business owners, and retirees, the Associated Press reports:

A press release issued by the liberal group Progress Michigan says Snyder's proposal is "an attack on Michigan families and their future." Snyder says his budget represents "shared sacrifice" and puts Michigan on the path to a better future because it solves the state's budget ills. His $45.9 billion proposal includes spending cuts for schools and would eliminate many personal tax breaks while slashing business taxes. The state is facing an estimated $1.4 billion shortfall.

Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami Threaten Car Exports

Some car plants in Japan remain closed as a result of last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami.  Japanese carmakers say it’s too early to know if the disaster will hurt their exports to the U.S., Tracy Samilton reports. Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Honda suspended most of their operations in Japan after the disaster.

March Madness

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament bracket was released yesterday. Seven Big Ten teams made the cut. No. 8 seed the University of Michigan will play No. 9 seed Tennessee on Friday. Michigan State University earned a No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 seed UCLA on Thursday. Oakland University also made the tournament. Oakland will play the Texas Longhorns on Friday.

Education
7:44 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Governor Snyder to deliver Spring Commencement address at the University of Michigan

Governor Rick Snyder delivering his inaugural address, January 1st, 2011
Corvair Owner Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver the main address at the University of Michigan's Spring Commencement this year. The governor will also receive an honorary Doctor of Law degree. From the University Record

Snyder was inaugurated as Michigan's 48th governor Jan. 1. Honorary degrees for Snyder and five additional recipients have been recommended for approval by the Board of Regents at its March 17 meeting.

It is customary for the university to extend an invitation to a newly elected governor to receive an honorary degree and provide the commencement address. The university community is honored that Snyder was able to accept the invitation and looks forward to his address, President Mary Sue Coleman says.

"As a Michigan alumnus and the state's chief executive, Governor Snyder is uniquely positioned to tell our graduates about the challenges and rewards of leadership. We look forward to his message, and to presenting honorary degrees to the exceptional individuals who will join us in celebrating the Class of 2011," Coleman says.

From U-M, Snyder obtained a bachelor's degree in general studies in 1977, a Master of Business Administration degree in 1979, and a Juris Doctorate in 1982.

The University's Spring Commencement will take place April 30th at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Offbeat
7:04 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Fake Twitter account for Michigan budget director

A fake Twitter account has been made for Michigan Budget Director John Nixon. The FakeJohnNixon account started last week and has already posted almost 150 tweets. The Associated Press reports:

The fake account notes that Nixon is Michigan's highest-paid state employee and is consuming Michigan's economy "one big gargantuan bite at a time." It adds, "Just call me Budget Crunch."

A spokesman for Nixon says the budget director "has a great sense of humor" and realizes the tweets aren't to be taken seriously.

There's also a FakeRickSnyder Twitter account on Gov. Rick Snyder with fewer posts.

State Legislature
6:48 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Protests to continue at state Capitol

Protests are expected to continue at the state Capitol this week as lawmakers debate local takeover bills
Thetoad Flickr

More protests are expected this week at the state Capitol as lawmakers continue to debate new rules for cities and school districts that run into trouble paying their bills.

The controversy is one of the first big showdowns between Republicans and Democrats this year over government reforms.

Unions and Democrats have pretty much given up on trying to stop the measures. They’ve turned their efforts to limiting its scope to protect bargaining rights, as well as cap emergency manager salaries, and require them to periodically meet with the public – so far without any luck.

Doug Withey is a Teamsters bargainer.

“Every community in the state, every governing body has an open meeting. Have the public involved with that. Nope. Not reasonable. Vote it down.”

But Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville say an emergency takeover would be the last option after all else has failed.

“The intent of the legislation is to get into an emergency situation and fix it before it becomes a catastrophe.”

Governor Rick Snyder says his goal is not more state takeovers.

 “Anytime you have an emergency manager come in, that’s a failure point. The best answer is to put in a better early-warning system – to figure out how to work with communities before they reach the point of needing a financial manager because a lot of things can be done in those earlier stages to avoid the issue and that’s the best answer.”

Right now, Richardville, Governor Snyder and Republicans have the numbers they need in the Legislature to prevail.

March Madness
6:45 am
Mon March 14, 2011

U of M, MSU, and Oakland University make NCAA tournament

The University of Michigan basketball team plays Bryant, December, 2010
Cseeman Flickr

It’s time for March Madness, which means the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament begins this week.

Seven Big Ten teams made the cut.

No. 8 seed the University of Michigan will play No. 9 seed Tennessee on Friday. Michigan State University earned a No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 seed UCLA on Thursday.

Oakland University also made the tournament. Oakland will play the Texas Longhorns on Friday.

medical marijuana
6:28 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Safe under medical marijuana laws, and driving laws?

Is it against the law for medical marijuana patients to drive if they've smoked earier that day?
Craig Finlay Creative Commons

Michigan’s medical marijuana law allows people to use the drug, but motor vehicle laws forbid driving with any marijuana in your system. The legal battle could head to the State Court of Appeals.

Rodney Koon was pulled over for speeding a little over a year ago. Officers in Traverse City found a pipe in his pocket so he showed them his medical marijuana card. The Traverse City Eagle-Record says Koon was charged with driving under the influence of a schedule one controlled substance (others include ecstasy, heroin, and LSD) after a drug test revealed he had marijuana in his system.

A county judge ruled the state’s medical marijuana law protects Koon from prosecution. He said prosecutors need to have more solid evidence a driver is impaired while driving. State driving laws say people can’t drive with even a trace amount of schedule one controlled substances in their system.  

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is supporting the Grand Traverse County Prosecutor’s appeal to the State Court of Appeals. He says Koon isn’t “being prosecuted for using marijuana, but for driving shortly after using it.”

Pages