Sarah Hulett

Assistant News Director

Sarah Hulett became Michigan Radio's assistant news director in August 2011. For five years she was the station's Detroit reporter, and contributed to several reporting projects that won state and national awards.

Sarah considers Detroit to be a perfect laboratory for great radio stories, because of its energy, its struggles, and its unique place in America's industrial and cultural landscape.

Before coming to Michigan Radio, Sarah spent five years as state Capitol correspondent for Michigan Public Radio. She's a graduate of Michigan State University.

Contact Sarah Hulett at sarah@michiganradio.org.

The Math Problem

Jul 11, 2012

Nov. 15, 2007
Arithmetic and algebra haven't changed for centuries. So why do kids - and adults - have such a hard time with math? One mathematician says he thinks he knows the answer.

Nov. 15, 2007
Bill Schmidt is well known in education circles for his research into the academic content in K-12 schools, testing, and the effects of curriculum on academic achievement. He spoke with Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett, who asked him whether he believes a "math crisis" exists.

EMU

Regents at Eastern Michigan University are threatening to fire the school's president unless she gets her drinking under control.

Three of the university's regents wrote a letter to President Susan Martin after an April incident in Washington D.C. Apparently, Martin got into an alcohol-fueled argument with an alumnus.

The letter also references "prior incidents," although it does not elaborate.

Zachary Payne has a rap sheet that reads like it belongs to someone who’s spent more than 18 years on this earth.

“Four Minor in Possessions,” he recounts, “two retail frauds, resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, assault and battery, like two or three domestic violences, and a couple other ones I can’t remember.”

Payne might not be able to remember them. But the Internet does.

ICHAT is the name of an online database that anyone with ten dollars can check, and they do - especially employers, looking to vet potential hires.

The state Court of Appeals has reinstated an embezzlement case against the former emergency manager for Highland Park.

Arthur Blackwell II is accused of taking $264,000 in payments that were not authorized by state officials.

The appeals court decision reverses a lower court ruling - which had dismissed the case. The lower court agreed with Blackwell - who said as the city's emergency manager, he had the authority to sign the checks to himself. The appeals court says there's enough evidence that Blackwell acted improperly to try him.

Blackwell was appointed to fix Highland Park's finances in 2005, by then-governor Jennifer Granholm. 

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says she's pleased with the appeals court decision.

A round of firefighter layoffs in Detroit might not be as severe as city officials announced earlier this week.

Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin says Detroit will be awarded a $22.5 million federal grant that would save most of the fire department jobs slated for layoff.

Word of the grant comes just a few days after the layoff announcement. The job cuts were to take effect at the end of July.

kconnors / morguefile

Detroit Public Schools officials say they expect to end this fiscal year with a $12 million surplus. Meanwhile, the district's proposed budget for next year projects the loss of about 15,000 students, and about 1,900 jobs.

Detroit Public Schools is preparing to shrink next year as 15 schools become part of the Educational Achievement Authority. That's the new statewide system for failing schools.

Steve Wasko is a spokesman for Detroit Public Schools. He says the job cuts are not as alarming as they might sound.

"It's not necessarily a net loss of education jobs, public education jobs, public teacher jobs in the city of Detroit - in public schools in the city of Detroit, but a shift that we knew was coming for some time," said Wasko.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for next Wednesday.

user cletch / flickr

Detroit mayor Dave Bing opened the first meeting of the city's newly formed financial advisory board by telling its members their task is to help return Detroit to greatness.

The problem is, the city has a massive budget deficit to wrestle with while it tries to keep the street lights on and the busses running.

Sheila Cockrel served on the city council for 16 years before retiring in 2009. She says there needs to be a major shift in the culture for the intervention to work.

"Them and us doesn't work," Cockrel said. "This is not someone taking something away. This has got to be everybody coming to the table for the common good and for the greater good. 'Cause what's good for Detroit is good for Michigan."

The nine-member board is mandated by the city's consent agreement with the state.

Supporters of an effort to kick Troy's mayor out of office say they've submitted more than enough petition signatures to get the measure onto the November ballot.

John Kulesz is one of the recall campaign's organizers. He says he expects Mayor Janice Daniels and her supporters will put up a vigorous fight to keep her in office.

"These people are take no prisoner types,” said Kulesz. “So we know that they'll throw everything in the book at us to discredit us and accuse us of this that and the other thing. But we're going to stand up for our rights, and we're going to stand up for the people of Troy."

Kulesz Daniels is harming Troy's reputation. Daniels gained notoriety over a gay slur she used on her Facebook page before she took office. She later angered many people when she voted to turn down federal money for a transit center.

But Daniels says those are not legitimate reasons for recall.

"If the new standard for recall is that a group of people doesn't like the way an elected official voted on an issue, or they don't like an elected official's opinion on issues, then we've gone to a very dangerous point in our history,” Daniels said. “I haven't committed a crime."

The Oakland County clerk's office has 35 days to certify the petitions.

Michigan is on track to get dozens of new state police troopers in October.

Michigan's Trooper Recruit School just got under way. About 90 recruits are enrolled, and another 90 are expected to start training in October.

This year's crop of recruits is larger than in recent years. But the number of new troopers still won't outpace the number expected to retire.

"It may give us a slight uptick, but it's pretty much going to keep us pretty much at the same level when we look at the number of people we have eligible for retirement, we're losing quite a lot of people over the next few years," said Michigan State Police  spokeswoman Shannon Banner.

Michigan currently has just over 900 troopers stationed at 29 posts around the state. That compares with about 1,300 a decade ago.

Organizers of an effort to recall Troy's mayor say they expect to turn in more than enough petition signatures to get the measure onto the November ballot.

John Kulesz is one of the recall campaign's organizers. He says Mayor Janice Daniels has thumbed her nose at the city charter, and is hostile to her co-workers at city hall.

"I think if you total up her actions, they've harmed the city's reputation, she's ignoring the business community, and this is not good for a city as big and as diverse as Troy," said Kulesz.

Mayor Daniels gained notoriety over a gay slur she made on Facebook. She later angered many people when she voted to turn down federal money for a transit center.

In a response to the recall effort on her website, Daniels says she was elected to address fiscal transparency and integrity in budgeting.

The petition signatures need to be submitted to the Oakland County clerk by Friday.

Detroit Bus Co. Facebook page

Downtown Detroit gets a new transportation option this weekend with the official launch of the Detroit Bus Company - a privately owned service launched by 25-year-old entrepreneur Andy Didorosi.

For $5, you get an all-day pass to ride. Right now, Didorosi is offering customers service on a 13-stop downtown loop.

"And then after that's successful and has a good ridership we plan to add our Royal Oak-Ferndale-Hamtramck-Detroit loop very quickly, because we have a lot of demand for that one," Didorosi said.

The Detroit Bus Company will run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and during Detroit Tigers home games.

Didorosi says he hopes to someday be put out of business by reliable public transit.

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano has been formally censured by the board elected to run the county with him. The censure vote comes in the wake of a federal probe into how county contracts are awarded.

The Wayne County Commission was widely criticized for pulling its punches when it approved a censure resolution last month that did not actually include Ficano's name.

The amended resolution does name Ficano. But it does not call for the executive's resignation, as Commissioner Laura Cox (R-Livonia) wanted. Cox was the lone "no" vote on the resolution.

Commissioner Joe Palamara (D-Grosse Ile) sponsored the censure resolution. He says the commission has no power to force Ficano to step down - so a resolution calling for his resignation would be pointless.

"It's akin to firing a starter's pistol at a track meet," said Palamara. "At the end of the day it makes a lot of noise, gets a lot of attention, but all it is is firing a blank."

Four people have been indicted on federal corruption charges related to Wayne County contracts. Ficano has denied any wrongdoing.

N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs

Officials in Macomb County say they're not waiting for the state to outlaw synthetic marijuana. And they're essentially deputizing the public to get stores to stop selling it.

Synthetic marijuana has been implicated as a factor in some recent violent crimes.   Public officials elsewhere in Michigan have asked gas stations and convenience stores to take the drug off their shelves. But Macomb County is getting more aggressive.

A new public health order bans the sale of the products - often called K2 or spice. County Executive Mark Hackel is asking people to download copies of the order from the county's website, and take them to stores selling the products. And he thinks they will.

"I mean, people have been absolutely, incredibly engaged in this because it affects their children, and they're seeing what's happening in their neighborhoods, and even in the schools," said Hackel.

Hackel is asking people to report stores that don't comply, and says law enforcement will then be dispatched to those places.

The violation carries a $200 fine and up to six months in jail.

Shawn Allee / The Environment Report

After years of back-and-forth between residents, regulators and Dow Chemical, a massive clean-up of contaminated soil in Midland is getting under way.

The state approved the cleanup plan today. It calls for soil testing on 1,400 properties. Officials are looking for dioxins. Those are byproducts of chemical manufacturing. The toxins have been linked to health problems, including cancer.

"After all the meetings I've attended over the years and everything, and being asked why's this taking so long and everything, it's nice to be able to tell somebody the actual clean-up is really being done," said Jim Sygo, deputy director of the Department of Environmental Quality.

The plan calls for removing and replacing soil contaminated with dioxin at levels above 250 parts per trillion.

Sygo says that's a level that studies have determined poses an unacceptable cancer risk.

Environmental groups say they think the number should be lower, and take into account health risks other than cancer.

Still, some are celebrating the milestone.

“If you know the history of the city of Midland, and how political this has been, and how much push-back there has been from city fathers, from the business community, from the Chamber of Commerce, from Dow Chemical, over decades, I think only then can you truly appreciate…this is significant progress for that community,” said Michelle Hurd Riddick of the Lone Tree Council.

Dow Chemical Co.'s plan to clean up sites with dioxin contamination near its Midland facility has been approved by Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality.

Back in February, Dow also offered a land purchase and relocation program to about 50 landowners living near the company's Michigan Operations manufacturing plant.

From a Dow press release:

Dow is offering this incentivized property purchase program to give property owners in the immediate area north and east of Michigan Operations...the option to move out of an industrial/commercial area to a residential area, if they so choose. The program will also offer relocation support for those who rent their homes, if the property owner participates in the program.

As the Environment Report's Rebecca Williams has reported, dioxins are a class of toxic chemicals that appear "in the environment as by-products of many industrial processes and some natural sources." The Environmental Protection Agency says dioxins are likely to cause cancer in humans.

-John Klein Wilson contributed to this report

wikimedia commons

It would be more difficult for the state to take children into protective custody, under a bill that's expected to go to the governor for his signature soon.

The legislation was inspired by a situation at a Detroit Tigers game four years ago.

Leo Ratte was seven years old at the time, when his dad bought him a bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade at the ballpark. His dad didn't realize the drink contained alcohol. But a security guard spotted Leo drinking the lemonade, and notified authorities. 

Hours later, Leo was in state custody. He spent two nights away from his parents.

The bill's sponsor says he wants to make sure something similar never happens again.

"When I began to look into the problem I found that Michigan has some of the lowest standards in the nation for removing a child from a parent," said Sen. Rick Jones (R-Lansing).

Jones' bill would require there to be substantial or imminent risk of harm before a child could be removed from its parents without a court order.

Five-term U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Livonia) says he might not have turned in enough valid signatures to qualify for re-election.

“I have been apprised my campaign may have submitted insufficient petition signatures to appear on the August primary ballot as a candidate for the 11th Congressional District's Republican nomination," McCotter said in a statement released late this evening.

"Fully respecting the accuracy and integrity of the Secretary of State's office, we will thoroughly review our petition signatures for their sufficiency or insufficiency," he said. "Out of respect for Memorial Day, an announcement of our findings will be made public on Tuesday.”

Candidates must turn in 1,000 valid signatures in order to appear on the ballot. 

McCotter has been a popular guest on cable TV. Here are some highlights of those appearances:

WzrdsRule / flickr

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is threatening a lawsuit that could force a legal showdown over Michigan's new teacher tenure law.

The union says Detroit Public Schools' process for re-hiring teachers this fall violates the union's contract.

The district has issued layoff notices to all its teachers. It will re-hire them based in part on performance evaluations.

Union President Keith Johnson says under its 2009 contract, the district and the union were supposed to come up with an evaluation tool together.

But Johnson says instead, district officials are now conducting what he calls "drive-by evaluations."

"It pretty much involves principals or even retired principals going into a teacher's classroom, staying for as little as four minutes, and then determining whether or not that teacher was effective, ineffective, minimally effective or whatever the case may have been."

Under Michigan's new tenure law, teachers are rated on a scale from highly effective to ineffective.

But Johnson says seniority can still be considered. He says if the district ignores that, he'll go to court.

A district spokesman says it's complying with the law and current collective bargaining agreements.

 

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

About 70 people took part in a rally to show support for a tent city near Ann Arbor.

It's called "Camp Take Notice," and it's been on state-owned land for more than two years. The 65 people who live there are worried their days there are numbered.

David Williams has been staying at the camp for a year. "If we lose this camp it would be difficult for me to find another safe environment to live. And I hope that people understand that. Anyone can be homeless. Homelessness is not prejudice," he said.

Organizers want a commitment from the state to allow people to continue living at the site. But one neighbor, who asked not to be named, said he'd like to see the camp gone.

"There have been reports of stolen property down there. You don't necessarily feel comfortable being outside or outside alone towards the evening. And like I said, they are not bad people, that's not the problem. It's the element that goes along with it," the neighbor said.

Jeff Cranson, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said the state has been working with the camp's organizers for a couple of years. He said there are no immediate eviction plans, but that the tent city is not safe and residents will need to relocate. Cranson said a fire broke out a few months ago and emergency crews had difficultly getting water to the site. 

He said another state agency is working to find alternative housing for the camp's residents.

Michigan Radio visited the camp in the fall of 2011.

The Michigan Unemployment Agency will cut over 400 jobs reports an article from The Detroit News.
Bytemarks / flickr

Some Michigan workers who get their hours cut would be able to keep working and draw partial unemployment benefits, under a bill approved by the state Senate. The legislation would create what's called a "work share" program - similar to ones in about two dozen other states.

The idea is to avoid layoffs, and help maintain a skilled workforce.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has officially lodged his opposition to a proposed Lansing casino with the federal government.

The attorney general sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior about the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians' casino plan.

The tribe is in the middle of a land deal with the city of Lansing. That's the first step toward a planned $245 million casino near the state Capitol.

In the letter, Schuette says the state "is gravely concerned about the consequences" of allowing the casino to operate. He says it would justify the operation of a casino far from the tribe's reservation lands. The same tribe - which is based in the Upper Peninsula - already operates a casino in Detroit.

Schuette's letter says the tribe's plan violates state and federal law.

The tribe disagrees. A spokesman says the tribe plans to vigorously pursue its right to do the project.

Once the land sale is complete, the tribe will ask the federal government to take the land into trust. That would allow the tribe to conduct gaming on that land. A court fight is expected.

Mitch Loeber / flickr

A new poll finds that even kids from some middle-income families are cutting back on sports, because of "pay to play" fees in middle and high schools. According to the poll, conducted by Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan, a majority of schools now charge students a fee to play sports.

One in five families earning $60,000 a year or less said their kids participated less in sports because of "pay-to-play" fees. The drop in participation was even greater for families earning between $30,000 and $60,000.

Researcher Sarah Clark, Associate Director of the National Poll on Children’s Health, says schools might want to consider installment payments to ease the burden.

"I personally have heard some parents talking about how difficult it is to come up with all that money all at once, where, if they could stagger it out, it might be a little easier to do," said Clark.

Clark says only six percent of families reported getting the fees waived.

She says sports participation helps kids improve their grades and their health, and it can help keep them from dropping out of school.

aMichiganmom / flickr

The Oakland County Commission is expected to vote this week on a plan to put a tax question on the August ballot. The millage would raise money for the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The measure before the commission would create a five-member authority that would write the ballot question. The DIA is seeking a point-two mill tax increase in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

The millage would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $20 a year.

If all three counties approve it, the tax would raise $23 million for the museum. The money would pay for operations. The DIA is promising free admission to residents is counties that approve the millage.

Commissioners in Wayne and Macomb counties have already voted to create the authority.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that commissioners in Wayne and Oakland counties had voted to put the millage question on the ballot. Wayne and Macomb have done that; Oakland commissioners vote this week. Also, the money raised by the millage would pay for operations, not an operations endowment. The copy above has been corrected.

snowangel_1967 / flickr

 This could be the last season for the S.S. Badger.

The coal-fired car ferry has plied Lake Michigan since the 1950s. But federal regulators say the coal ash the ship dumps into Lake Michigan is bad for the environment. And they've ordered the ship's owners to stop the practice by mid-December.

Brandy Henderson is marketing director for the Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. She says the Badger brings about $21 million into the local economy each year. But she says there's sentimental attachment to the ship too.

"It's kind of a tradition for people to head downtown and grab an ice cream cone and head over and watch the sunset and wave off the Badger as they head across the lake. So it does have more meaning than just the hard numbers and the jobs and things like that."

Legislation in the U.S. House would allow the Badger to continue to dump coal ash because it's been nominated as a national historic landmark. Environmental groups are fighting that designation.

Jack Martin has has been appointed chief financial officer in Detroit. That's one of two key positions in the effort to turnaround the city's troubled finances.

Martin served as CFO of the U.S. Department of Education several years ago, and in January he was picked to be the state-appointed emergency manager of Highland Park schools.

The Detroit native says he also helped turn around Washington D.C.'s municipal finances. 

"That effort was successful," Martin says." I'm confident that this initiative will be successful. But I know it won't be easy. It will be a very, very tough struggle."

Martin will work alongside a still-unnamed program management director, and a financial advisory board. He starts the job on Monday with a yearly salary of $220,000.

A union that represents some Detroit transit workers is asking the U.S. Department of Labor to withhold federal transit money from the city. In a letter to labor secretary Hilda Solis, the union says the money should be withheld until Detroit and the state get rid of a provision in a recent consent agreement that suspends collective bargaining requirements. 

Attorney George Washington represents AFSCME Local 312. He says the Urban Mass Transit Act spells out that the preservation of transit employees' collective bargaining rights is a condition for getting federal mass transit money.

Washington says that flies in the face of the consent agreement Detroit recently entered with the state. That agreement lays out a series of conditions the city is expected to impose unilaterally by July 16.  

"Nobody has talked with the union about any of that, and there's no bargaining going on. They're just trying to issue orders and dictates," said Washington.

In a statement, Michigan Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton said this:

"It is unfortunate that, at a time when the city and state are working collaboratively to address the city’s financial crisis and delivery of key services, some are willing to take actions that promise only to further erode the city’s bus service and, perhaps more critically, its fiscal condition."

People with concealed pistol permits in Michigan will soon be able to carry Tasers. Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill into law today.

The rules will be the same as those that apply to people authorized to carry firearms in Michigan. 

"They will have to get the same training," said state Senator Rick Jones, who  sponsored the legislation. "It's a minimum of eight hours that tells a license holder when they can fire their device, and when they cannot. A Taser will be treated like a handgun under Michigan law, so nobody can play with them."

Here is a video of then-state Rep. Jones getting shot by a Taser during a House committee hearing:

More than a quarter-million people in Michigan have concealed pistol licenses. Michigan joins 44 other states that allow people to carry Tasers in public.

ellenm1 / flickr

Eastern Michigan University plans to offer its employees incentives to become homeowners in Ypsilanti. Details of the "Live Ypsi" program are still being finalized. But Leigh Greden says university employees could qualify for five to 10-thousand dollars in loans for down payments or rehab work. "And if the employee continues to be employed by Eastern Michigan, and continues to live in that home, we will forgive 20 percent of the loan per year for five years," said Greden. "And then at the end, all of the loan will have been forgiven." Greden says the idea is to stabilize neighborhoods near the university. The DTE Energy Foundation and Washtenaw County are both kicking in money for the program, and Greden says negotiations are under way with a third organization as well.  The concept is modeled after the "live Midtown" program in Detroit. 

A rally is planned in Lansing this week in support of legislation to ban Sharia law in Michigan.

The bill is sponsored by State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville). It makes no specific mention of Sharia. And Agema says his intent is not to single out the legal code of Islam.

"All this bill does - I don't care if it's coming from the United Nations or where it's coming from," said Agema. "If it's anathema to our state Constitution or our federal U.S. Constitution, I'm just clarifying to the judges: don't use it."

The legislation has languished in committee for months without a hearing. Agema says he hopes the rally will convince Republican leaders in the state Legislature to take up the bill.

Muslim leaders in Michigan say the bill is a distraction from the state's real problems. They say it can only serve to feed anti-Muslim sentiment.

"I think it's unfortunate that instead of dealing with the real issues such as the suffering economy and the crime rate that we have here in Michigan, that Mr. Agema is involved in these hijinks such as protesting this non-existent threat," said Dawud Walid of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan.

Two dozen states have passed similar legislation.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Michigan U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Troy) says tens of thousands of people in Michigan face the prospect of higher student loan costs, unless Congress acts soon.

The interest rate on government-backed Stafford student loans is set to double July 1, to 6.8 percent.

"Just here in the state of Michigan 330,000 students will be faced with a large increase in that interest, which will add $1,000 to the debt of the average student. So on average $4,000 if you get out in four years," Peters said

MaVida Burrus is a student at Walsh College in Oakland County. She says the interest rate hike would make it difficult to balance her household checkbook.

"I am the mother of three, and we have bills to pay, we have mortgages, we have car notes, and I am raising these children on my own," Burrus said at a press conference called by Peters. "So this interest rate would mean a lot to me." 

The U.S. House passed a Republican-sponsored bill last week that would maintain the lower rate, and pay for it with cuts to public health programs.

Reps. Peters and Hansen Clarke are co-sponsors of a bill that would instead end $6 billion worth of subsidies to the oil and gas industries. That's the cost to the federal government of keeping the lower interest rate.

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