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Education
3:27 pm
Sun March 6, 2011

FREEP questions test score improvements

COCOEN daily photos flickr

A newspaper analysis shows standardized test score gains from 34 Michigan schools over a one-year period are statistically improbable.

The Detroit Free Press joined a nationwide investigation with USA Today and other partners. The analysis of millions of test score results found 304 schools in six states and the District of Columbia had test scores so improbable they should be investigated.

The analysis that was specific to Michigan scores found that in 2008 to 2009, 34 schools, including 32 in the Detroit area, had test score deviations that statistical experts say are virtually impossible to explain through improved instruction alone.

Environment
10:42 am
Sun March 6, 2011

Legal battle between Saugatuck Twp and private developer in front of federal judge Monday

Joe Gratz Flickr

Monday a federal judge in Kalamazoo will hear arguments in a case that pits Saugatuck Township against a billionaire looking to develop his property that includes coastal dunes along Lake Michigan.

Aubrey McClendon owns more than 300 acres north of where the Kalamazoo River empties into Lake Michigan. He wants to build a marina, condos, houses, and a golf course there.

Township officials have to approve special zoning for him to develop his property. McClendon’s attorney Jim Bruinsma says the officials are biased against his client.

“We contend that we have been unfairly singled out for unique zoning restrictions and really unfair procedures.”

Bruinsma alleges the township worked illegally with an environmental group to restrict development and fund the township’s legal defense.

Saugatuck Township officials deny they’ve done anything illegal. They’re attorney Craig Noland is asking the judge to dismiss the case, forcing McClendon to go through normal zoning procedures. 

“Our position is that they should be required like any other citizen to file an application and allow the township to consider the application and make a decision.”

Noland says Saugatuck Township’s attorney township officials are prepared to handle McClendon’s zoning request fairly and transparently.

Offbeat
2:24 pm
Sat March 5, 2011

Underwater crucifix memorial

Little Traverse Bay
Flickr user Bkonrad

A yearly display of a sunken crucifix in Lake Michigan is scheduled to take place in Petoskey on Saturday.

The monument to people who have died in water-related accidents is submerged 21 feet down in Little Traverse Bay. The cross is 11 feet long and the figure of Jesus measures 5 feet, 5 inches.

It was put in place in 1962 and moved to its current location in 1984. A once-a-year winter viewing is held when the ice is firm enough.

Visitors can park Saturday at Sunset Park, then walk to where a large hole has been cut in the ice. Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Coordinators say the showing will be canceled if the ice becomes unstable, but conditions look favorable.

On the city's website it says organizers believe it's, "the only freshwater shrine in the world dedicated to divers."

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State Law
1:03 pm
Sat March 5, 2011

Class helps ticketed drivers avoid points

Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Let’s say you get busted for speeding, disobeying a stop sign, or failing to yield. You still have to deal with the ticket by contesting it or paying up. But if you’re eligible you’re going to get a letter in the mail from the state. It’ll tell you about a class you can take online or in a classroom.

The new driver improvement course is a refresher on traffic safety.

Drivers who pass the class within sixty days can avoid getting points put on their records and that helps keep insurance rates low.

The program started in January and more than 1,000 drivers have taken the course so far.

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Economy
4:24 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

Are Mexican truck drivers coming to Michigan?

A tractor trailer with the U.S. and Mexican flags
(Flickr-Chazz Layne)

Mexican truck drivers may soon start turning up on Michigan roads. U.S. truck drivers are not happy about it.

The Obama administration announced a deal Thursday that will allow Mexican truck drivers to ply their trade on US roads. The deal ended a nearly 20 year ban. Under the deal, Mexican drivers and their trucks will have to meet US safety and other standards.

Union and independent truck drivers don’t like the deal. Leo Wilkins is an independent trucker from the Saginaw area. He says allowing Mexican truckers on US roads will cost American jobs.

 “It would be a benefit to them, but it’s not helping our labor force any.  It’s just destroying more of our labor force that’s already been destroyed."

The US Chamber of Commerce applauds lifting the ban on Mexican truckers. Mexico imposed high tariffs on more than 2 billion dollars worth of US products annually, in retaliation for the ban, which Mexican officials claim violated the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Arts/Culture
3:35 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

So-Called 'Ordinary' People: Michigan on the Page Part 2

User b talbot Flickr

Patricia Clark is an award-winning poet, and the former Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids. When I asked her to participate in our web-exclusive “Michigan on the Page” series, Ms. Clark chose a certain author’s first story collection, a writer who—like many recent college graduates—has made her way out of the state to advance her career.

Ms. Clark first encountered Suzanne Rivecca at Grand Valley State University, where she was, Ms. Clark insists, the most talented student she has seen there.

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election 2012
1:46 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

First republican announces candidacy against U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow

Hekman hopes to replace sitting U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the U.S. Capitol building in 2012.
Jonathon Colman Creative Commons

A former Kent County judge is the first republican to declare he’s running against U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the 2012 election.

Randy Hekman has a number of titles. He’s pastor of Crossroads Bible Church in Grand Rapids, CEO of  research consulting firm Hekman Industries. He directed and helped start the Michigan Family Forum; a conservative non-profit group that tries to influence state policy. He served in the Navy, is an attorney and sat on the bench in Kent County probate court for 15 years.

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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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