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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.

Sports
12:01 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Former Red Wing hockey player suffered from brain trauma

Researchers are finding more evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in athletes involved in contact sports.
Derek Hatfield Flickr

Bob Probert was known as an "enforcer" in the game of hockey. The guy who had your back.

If an opposing player started something, Probert was there to exact a penalty on the other player with his fists.

He played in the NHL for sixteen seasons, including a long stint with the Detroit Red Wings.

Probert died last year at the age of 45 after suffering chest pains.

The New York Times published a piece this morning on the discovery that Probert suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) - a brain trauma disease that has also been found in many former NFL players.

After learning about CTE, Probert told his wife he wanted his brain donated to researchers.

Probert's widow, Dani Probert, is quoted in the Times article:

"I remember joking with him, ‘Wouldn’t your brain make a nice specimen?’ ” she said. “He started questioning whether he would have it himself. He told me that he wanted to donate his brain to the research when he died. Who would have thought that six months later it would be happening?"

His brain was donated after his death last year.

Researchers at Boston University said they found evidence of CTE in Probert's brain.

One of the researcher's noted they couldn't isolate where Probert's exposure to head trauma came from:

“How much is the hockey and how much is the fighting, we don’t really know,” said Dr. Robert Cantuco-director of the Boston University center and a prominent neurosurgeon in the area of head trauma in sports. “We haven’t definitely established that the skills of hockey as a sport lead to a certain percentage of participants developing C.T.E. But it can happen to hockey players, and while they’re still relatively young.”

Probert's wife believes it came from all the checking and hits in the game itself. She did note that in his last years, Probert did show signs of "behavior uncharacteristic to him, especially memory loss and a tendency to lose his temper while driving."

Wherever the brain trauma came from, the NHL will likely take a closer look at protecting its players, the same way the NFL has been creating new rules to cut down on head trauma in its sport.

If they're successful in better protecting their players, the sports have reporters from the New York Times to thank.

Times reporters, like Alan Schwartz, have been exposing the effects of head trauma in sports for the last several years.

Environment
11:43 am
Thu March 3, 2011

The do-it-yourself snow and ice test

Matt Grocoff says icicles are pretty, but they are also a bad sign that your roof could be suffering water damage, drip by drip.
Photo by Matt Grocoff

In the winter... there’s a quick and easy way to find out where your house is leaking energy... just by looking at your roof a day or two after a good snow. Greenovation.tv’s Matt Grocoff invited me along on what he calls a drive-by energy audit.

Here's what to look for:

  1. Icicles are pretty... but they're a sign that your attic needs more insulation. Heat from your house is escaping and melting the snow.
  2. If you have ice clogging your gutter, it can cause damage to the gutter... and ice can get underneath your roof shingles and damage your roof.
  3. You can use a roof rake to clear snow from your roof... but it's just a short-term fix. A better solution is to check out the non-profit group Michigan Saves to find a qualified contractor, who can come out and perform an energy audit and find your home's leaks and advise you on how to fix them so you can save energy and money.
Politics
11:32 am
Thu March 3, 2011

Snyder: 'I knew the honeymoon would end'

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder defended his budget proposal in front of a group of Detroit business and civic leaders this morning.

The governor wants to get rid of the tax breaks Michigan gives certain industries, and replace them with smaller pots of money that would be issued as grants.

Snyder told the crowd Michigan has been offering tax incentives to certain businesses for years because its tax system is broken. And he says he’s been talking about his plan for fixing it since he was a candidate.

"People kept going around Lansing and saying: 'Well, he did what he said he was going to do.' And it was like that was a surprise."

Snyder says his proposal is more transparent, accountable and honest than what the state does now.

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Commentary
11:08 am
Thu March 3, 2011

Unpopular Stands

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively overturned a Michigan law -- and undoubtedly angered and outraged the vast majority of the nation’s citizens.

The nation’s highest court said that the obnoxious protests that members of the Westboro Baptist Church stage at military funerals are fully protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Chief Justice John Roberts decreed that our nation’s fundamental commitment to free speech requires full protection of, quote “even hurtful speech on public issues.”

Now if you need reminding, the Westboro Baptist Church is a small group from Topeka, Kansas that mainly consists of the members of one large extended family. They believe homosexuality is evil and America deserves divine punishment for tolerating it.

Accordingly, they’ve been traveling the country picketing at military funerals, waving signs that say things like “God Hates America,” “God Hates Fags,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

Somehow, they believe our war casualties are fitting punishment for tolerance.

Michigan passed a law five years ago that was squarely aimed at the Westboro group. It essentially prohibited any such conduct within five hundred feet of a funeral.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling essentially makes it all but certain that the Michigan law will be struck down as unconstitutional, if prosecutors attempt to use it.  Now ever since the 1960s, conservatives have often complained that out-of-touch liberals on the nation‘s highest court were improperly distorting the Constitution.

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Auto
9:47 am
Thu March 3, 2011

Howell auto parts plant fire

Investigators are picking through what’s left after a fire heavily damaged an auto parts plant in Howell on Wednesday.  Dozens of firefighters from six different Livingston County communities joined forces to battle the blaze at the Magna Atreum auto parts plant.  

About 450 people work at the plant which produces dashboards, consoles and other parts for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan and Mazda.  The cause of the fire is still under investigation. 

The full extent of the damage and how long it will take get to the facility back up and running is also still being reviewed.  No one was injured in Wednesday’s fire.

News Roundup
9:02 am
Thu March 3, 2011

In this morning's news...

In this morning's news...
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Supreme Court Puts Michigan Law in Jeopardy

Michigan’s law barring protesters from funerals might be vulnerable after yesterday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Steve Carmody reports:

The nation’s highest court ruled in favor of an anti-gay group that pickets at military funerals. Michigan, like dozens of other states, passed a law in 2006 to prevent the protests from disrupting funerals here. At the time, the states were trying to prevent a fundamentalist Christian Church from Kansas from picketing military funerals.

New Poll: Snyder Popularity Decreasing

A new poll shows Governor Rick Snyder’s popularity among likely Michigan voters is down from January. The poll, released by ERIC-MRA, shows 44 percent of likely Michigan voters had a favorable view of the governor. Twenty-seven percent had an unfavorable opinion. That’s compared to January of this year when EPIC-MRA found 59 percent of likely Michigan voters viewed Snyder favorably and 8 percent unfavorably.

Same-Sex Health Benefits

Republicans in the state Senate have begun the process of reversing the policy of extending benefits to the unmarried live-in partners of state workers – including those in same-sex relationships, Rick Pluta reports. A resolution was approved yesterday by a Senate subcommittee that would reject the domestic partner benefits awarded in a decision earlier this year by the Michigan Civil Service Commission, the Associated Press explains. A vote on the Senate floor is expected next week.

Facelift for Cobo Center

Detroit’s Cobo Center will undergo a $221 million renovation. Cobo Center’s general manager says the three year project will allow Cobo to better accommodate the needs of the annual North American International Auto Show. The project will be ready by 2014. It’s the first major overhaul of the convention center since 1989.

Governor Snyder
6:51 am
Thu March 3, 2011

New poll shows drop in Snyder popularity

Governor Rick Snyder answering questions from the media
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

A new poll shows Governor Rick Snyder's popularity is falling among Michigan voters. The poll, released by ERIC-MRA, shows 44 percent of likely Michigan voters had a favorable view of the governor. Twenty-seven percent had an unfavorable opinion. As the Associated Press notes:

Shortly after the Republican took office, an EPIC-MRA poll of 600 likely voters found 59 percent viewing Snyder favorably and 8 percent unfavorably.

Fifty-three-percent of those in the new poll say they oppose Snyder's plan to tax pensions, while 41 percent support it.

In a article about the new poll titled, "Looks like honeymoon's over for for Gov. Rick Snyder," the Detroit Free Press reports:

Voters also did a U-turn on Snyder's job performance -- 38% positive and 15% negative in January to 32% positive and 36% negative in February -- and on the overall direction of the state.

In the late January survey, Michiganders seemed to have emerged from a decade-long funk: 43% said they thought the state was headed in the right direction.

That number slumped to 36% in the latest EPIC/MRA poll, with 42% saying Michigan is on the wrong track.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder will continue to talk about his plan to reinvent the state at the Pancakes and Politics breakfast in Detroit today.

State Budget
5:12 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

College presidents weigh in on budget cuts

University Presidents were at the Capitol Building Wednesday in Lansing, MI
Thetoad Flickr

Several university presidents visited the state Capitol to testify on the higher education budget.

Governor Rick Snyder has called for double-digit cuts to universities, but he says universities can recoup some of that if they find innovative ways to save taxpayers money.

Thomas Haas, president of Grand Valley State University, told lawmakers that universities have limited options when it comes to funding.

He says keeping tuition rates low also helps makes college more accessible to low-income students:

"Please remember there is a direct relationship between state aid and tuition. When there is more of one, we need less of the other," said Haas.

"In the long run, the best way for you to hold down tuition is to put all you can into higher education appropriations, permitting us to find financial aid for our neediest students."

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said higher education institutions understand the budget challenges the state faces, but she also could not promise to keep down tuition increases if there are big cuts in state aid to universities.

Arts/Culture
4:33 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Artpod: Labor disputes and social media

What role did facebook play during the DSO strike?
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

Earlier this week, the DSO striking musicians say they’re willing to come back to work without a contract if management agrees to binding arbitration.

Greg Bowens is a spokesman for the musicians:

"It was a very difficult, gut-wrenching decision.  Something we would have thought was un-thinkable a week ago today. They are trying to extend the hand of friendship in an effort to end the strike under the conditions management had previously imposed."

On today's Artpod, we'll look at what kind of role social media played during the five month labor dispute between the two sides.

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Politics
4:15 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Senate GOP prepared to reject unmarried partner benefits

Roberto Occhialini Flickr

Republicans in the Michigan Senate have begun the process of reversing the policy of extending benefits to the unmarried live-in partners of state workers – including those in same-sex relationships.

A vote on the Senate floor is expected next week.

A Senate budget subcommittee voted along party lines to reject the new benefits policy. Now, Republicans must muster super-majorities in the Senate and the House to reverse the decision by the independent Civil Service Commission to allow unmarried partner benefits.

The Granholm administration spent years negotiating the agreement with employee unions in an effort to ensure coverage for people in same-sex relationships.

But Governor Rick Snyder says that would cost too much money as the state faces a budget crisis.  

Senator Mark Jansen chairs a budget subcommittee. He says adding new benefits to cover unmarried partners could force additional costs onto other state employees who are already being asked to pay more for their health care.

Jansen says the Civil Service Commission made the wrong decision as the state faces a budget crisis.

“I do respect it, but we’re broke, and so now it literally is adding eight million dollars at least to my bottom line. I can’t afford to add anything anymore. So it’s time to take a breath and say, let’s help those that we have right now.”

Ray Holman is with U-A-W Local Six Thousand, which represents thousands of state workers. He says the Legislature should not renege on a deal that took years to negotiate.

“This was negotiated back in 2004 and the appropriate place to deal with this stuff is the bargaining table, and to respect the agreements that have been made. So this should be handled by the Civil Service Commission and we obviously deal with the office of the State Employer on these matters.”

If the Senate and the House don’t reverse the policy, it will take effect October first.

Education
4:07 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Judge rules taxpayers, Mackinac Center, do not have standing in lawsuit over privatization

Teacher's unions agreed to contribute to their health care premiums for the first time in the contract.
Chicago 2016 photos Creative Commons

A Kent County judge has ruled that taxpayers cannot sue school districts and teachers’ unions who agreed not to privatize any employees. The taxpayers say the schools and unions entered an illegal employment contract when the districts agreed not to privatize any employees in exchange for concessions in pay and health benefits. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s new Legal Foundation represented the taxpayers in the case.

The judge didn’t disagree with the Mackinac Center, but ruled only the parties in the contract – the unions or the school districts – had standing to file suit. And state law dictates the Michigan Employment Relations Commission must hear any unfair labor practice claims.

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