Local and Michigan Headlines: Hoesktra Says His Use of Twitter Is Just Like Iranian Protestors; Granholm Opposes Republican Plan To Cut College Tuition Assistance

Here’s some interesting stories published elsewhere in the past twenty-four hours. As always, if we missed anything, leave a comment below:

  • Michigan Supreme Court gives judges control over courtroom dress – The Michigan Supreme Court decided that judges should be allowed to force witnesses to remove head scarfs and other face coverings while in the courtroom. This decision has ramifications for Muslim Michiganders–which is where the case arose from.
  • Hoekstra compares himself to Iranian protesters– Representative Pete Hoekstra is an idiot, but that fact becomes especially apparent every time he uses Twitter. His latest Twitter controversy features him comparing himself to Iranian protestors who are using Twitter to organize pro-democracy demonstrations. Sure…
  • Tensions over nation’s largest incinerator heat up as July 1 contract deadline looms – Detroit is set to decide whether or not it will continue burning its trash at a controversial incinerator that many environmentalists say has toxic effects–particularly on children living nearby.
  • Michigan jobless rate soars to highest level since 1983 – Michigan’s unemployment rate is now at 14.1%. It’s the highest since 1983 and is way above the national unemployment rate of 9.4%.
  • Granholm opposes cutting tuition aid programs – Governor Jennifer Granholm is rejecting Republican proposals to cut college tuition aid from the state budget. She argues that supporting college education is critical if Michigan is going to transform its economy.
  • Big job announcements by Farmers, Foremost Insurance, Roskam Baking, Holland businesses may take time to hire – A couple days ago, the local corporate media–including The Grand Rapids Press–went crazy about announcements of several thousand jobs coming to West Michigan. Now, after a huge front page article, The Grand Rapids Press reports that the jobs will take years to materialize. One company says that the timeframe could be as long as 17 years. Ahhh, the typical hype of corporate news…
  • Kent County school districts see another revenue source fizzle as Coca-Cola contracts expire – Collectively, Kent County’s public schools negotiated with Coca-Cola back in 1999 for a contract that brought $22.6 million to the schools. Now that contract is set to expire and there are doubts that a new contract will make that much for the schools–if one is signed. The Press cites the beverage industry who says that there has been a shift away from soda consumption. I think it’s pretty sad that education is such a low priority in our society that schools are forced to pursue these kind of contracts just to get by.
  • Ambiguity in new marijuana law is cited – Felony charges against a Madison Heights couple who’s house was raided due to their possession of medical marijuana were thrown out in yesterday by a judge. The judge said that the medical marijuana law is too ambiguous to determine if a crime was committed.
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Local and Michigan Headlines: Senate Republicans Looking to Cut College Assistance; Complaints against GRPD Increase

It has been a slow morning, but here are some interesting articles published elsewhere in the past twenty-four hours:

  • Senate Republicans to Cut Michigan Promise Scholarship, Other College Tuition Aid – Republicans in the Michigan Senate are looking to cut a variety of college tuition scholarships that help low income students attend college. The need-based programs they are looking to cut include the Michigan Promise Scholarship, the Michigan Work Study Program, the Part-Time Independent Student program, and the Michigan Education Opportunity Grants. I highly doubt such a move will do anything to help the state’s economy.
  • Granholm, MEDC Announce Over 11,000 New Jobs For Michigan – The local media–and the progressive blog Blogging for Michigan–is talking up an announcement from Governor Jennifer Granholm that over 11,000 new jobs are coming to the state. Included in that number are 3,100 new jobs in West Michigan.
  • As federal case continues, developers rush to finish elite golf course on public dunes – The Michigan Messenger looks at the continued development a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course in Benton Harbor. The course was built on the site of a former public park and has been at the center of a controversy between developers and citizens. Now, the company has begun construction while it awaits a federal court ruling on the development. It’s hoping to circumvent a full environmental review of the project. Despite all the controversy, Governor Granholm has praised the project as the kind of development that she hopes to see across Michigan.
  • Grand Rapids area in bottom 20 of Brookings Institution report, but economist sees hope – The Kent, Barry, Ionia, and Newaygo area ranks near the bottom of a Brookings Institution report that measures metropolitan unemployment, production, and housing. However, the Grand Rapids Press talks to a local economist who says that West Michigan actually is getting better.
  • Grand Rapids Police Department sees ‘unheard of’ increase in firearms discharge by officers; citizen complaints also rise – In less than two years, the GRPD has discharged their firearms six times–a substantial increase over previous years. Still, according to the GRPD, this hasn’t meant that there has been widespread injury to officers or suspects. Additionally, complaints are up, but the GRPD attributes that to a new reporting system.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Local Abstinence-only Programs Face Cuts; GRCC Raises Tuition

Here is a round-up of some important stories published in the last 24 hours that cover Grand Rapids and Michigan:

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

Local/Michigan Headlines: Superintendent Contract Didn’t Include Teacher Critique; Michigan Adds 69 Species to Endangered List

Here’s some interesting articles covering Grand Rapids and Michigan that were published in the last twenty-four hours:

  • Grand Rapids Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s evaluation didn’t include critique from teachers, staff – Surprise, surprise – the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) evaluation of Superintendent Bernard Taylor largely glossed over his relationship with district staff. Teachers in the district have been working for over two years without a contract due to an ongoing labor dispute.
  • Granholm reported among 6 considered for U.S. Supreme Court seat – According to The Detroit Free Press, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is among six people being considered by President Barack Obama to replace retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
  • Michigan adds 69 species to endangered list – The DNR added 69 species to Michigan’s endangered species list, bringing the total up to 396. The DNR prohibits killing, collecting, or harming species on Michigan’s list.
  • Deal OKs 90-day reprieve on foreclosures – Homeowners facing imminent foreclosure could receive a 90-day reprieve to modify their mortgages under a deal struck between the state House and Senate on Wednesday. The measure would give homeowners rights to be notified of foreclosures and to be told who to contact for more information. Right now, the lack of transparency in the process is a major problem.
  • Senator Stabenow voted against limiting credit card rates – Michigan Liberal reports that Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow voted against a measure that would have limited the rates that credit card companies charge. It isn’t much of a surprise given that she has been supported by the financial sector to the tune of $1.7 million over the past few years.
  • Pete’s Pilgrimage – A Return to More of the Same from the Mackinac Center’s Man – Representative Pete Hoekstra–who is now campaigning to be governor of Michigan–visited the rightwing Mackinac Center. While there, he said that he supports eliminating the Michigan Business Tax. How would the state replace the money? Hoekstra said only that it would come from the state’s “assets.” For Hoekstra, this could include leasing state land for cell phone towers or planting and baling hay along the state’s highways.
  • Michigan Budget Will Fall $2.1 Billion Short for 2010 – A new report says that Michigan’s budget will fall $2.1 billion short for 2010. It’s hard to imagine what could be cut to keep the state afloat.
  • Friends of Grand Rapids Parks volunteer effort will give spring cleaning to 16 locations – Even as Grand Rapids pursues it’s “Green Grand Rapids” initiative, the budget for the city parks department has been reduced by 40% over the past three years. In response, a new group called Friends of Grand Rapids Parks has formed and is working with the city to improve and maintain the city’s parks. This weekend its hosting a park clean-up.
  • GM’s 36th Street stamping plant in Wyoming to end production May 29, earlier than planned – General Motors stamping plant in Wyoming will close at the end of the month–three months earlier than originally planned–leaving some 805 employees to decide whether or not they are able to transfer to other GM facilities.
  • Former FDIC chairman, GVSU donor Bill Seidman dies at age 88 – The Grand Rapids Press reports on the death of Bill Seidman who worked as an economic advisor to President Gerald R. Ford, was had of the FDIC, and a major donor to Grand Valley State University. He was a lifelong Republican. Not surprisingly, the Press contained a glowing portrayal of Seidman complete with recollections from other prominent white men in the city. Seidman served as a commentator for years on the cable financial channel CNBC.
  • Dorm costs up for fall – Michigan’s universities are raising room and board rates by an average of 4%.

    Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

Local/Michigan Headlines: Charter Schools Not Meeting Expectations; West Michigan School Districts Making Cuts

This is the first installment of a new daily feature on MediaMouse.org that will highlight interesting local and statewide news stories published elsewhere. If we missed anything worth noting, please feel free to post links in the comments section.

Prominent Republican Calls on Voorhees to Resign or be Fired – West Michigan Rising highlights a letter from former Kent County Republican Party/Committee Chairman Bob Eleveld who criticized current Chair Joanne Voorhees for deciding to cancel a planned speech by Utah Governor Jon Huntsman over his support for civil unions.

Thad McCotter Cosponsors Resolution to Declare 2010 the Year of the Bible – Michigan Liberal reports that Congressman Thaddeus McCotter from the eastside of Michigan has signed on as a co-sponsor for legislation that encourages President Obama to declare 2010 “The Year of the Bible.”

West Michigan school districts confront red ink totaling $58 millionThe Grand Rapids Press reports that school districts across West Michigan are being forced to make major cuts. In some cases, the only thing saving them from even worse cuts is money from President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill.

DeVoses find common ground with Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. – After Kent County Republican Party Chair Joanne Voorhees cancelled an appearance by Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Dick and Betsy DeVos stepped in to host an appearance by Huntsman in Grand Rapids. Many wondered why they would do that, given their families history of anti-gay politics (Betsy’s mother Elsa Prince has been a major contributor to bills restricting same-sex marriage). However, the Grand Rapids Press reports that Huntsman has been a major supporter of the DeVoses favor issue–giving parents vouchers to send their students to private schools.

Michigan charter schools fall short – An analysis by the Detroit Free Press has found that while charter schools offer “a wealth of choices for parents” they do not have higher test scores that other schools, nor have they spurred improvements in the state’s public schools. Both are common arguments made by charter school supporters.

Education Action Group Mailing Warns Against “Union Puppets”

050109-union.jpg

When I opened up the mailbox today, I was greeted by a postcard from a group called the Education Action Group urging me to vote against the “union puppets” running for the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board. The mailing says that the Grand Rapids teachers’ union “wants expensive health insurance and a 6-10 percent raise.” According to the post card, that’s something that the district can’t afford and we need to vote to stop the “union takeover.”

Of course, it’s open knowledge that the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Grand Rapids Education Association are engaged in an ongoing dispute over the state of the contract between the union and the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Even as the candidates seek to talk about other difficult issues facing the district, the media is largely defining the race based on the contract dispute.

A lot has been said about the Education Action Group and its agenda elsewhere. But it’s worth noting once again that the organization is engaged in a statewide campaign to undermine the Michigan Education Association and to attack teachers’ unions. To that end, it has a secret donor list that funds a variety of outreach activities including these mailers, videos featuring the rather slimy consultant Dick Morris, travel expenses, and it pays an organizer to oppose teachers’ unions across the state.

The Education Action Group claims to be “a struggling group fighting for our children” that is heroically taking on the unions in defense of the proverbial “little guy (or gal).” They say they are advocates for the silent majority that opposes the teachers unions. They claim to be “an independent, non-partisan organization.”

However, they have close ties to the Republican Party and the rightwing establishment in Michigan. The group’s head–Kyle Olson–was paid $29,000 by the group to lead its efforts. Olson’s a Republican and he was a lobbyist for the Michigan Association of Realtors, he managed Republican Gerald VanWoerkem’s campaign for state Senate in 2002, and he ran unsuccessfully for the Muskegon Board of Commissioners. He was also on Republican Mitt Romney’s Michigan presidential campaign.

The Education Action Group doesn’t divulge its board of directors or donors, but there are links to other prominent rightwing groups in Michigan. The organization’s incorporator, Eric Doster, is on the board of the Great Lakes Education Project a group that is part of Dick and Betsy DeVos’ ongoing efforts to promote school vouchers and attack public education. This has fueled speculation that the Education Action Group might have ties to the DeVos family and the rest of the anti-public education forces in Michigan. Kyle Olson’s brother Ryan Olson, was Director of Education Policy at the rightwing Mackinac Center which has long been critical of public education in Michigan and that advocates a wider agenda of privatization. Back in 2000, it was involved in a failed effort to adopt a statewide school voucher campaign.

For those who want a more balanced look at the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board election, check out the voters guide produced by the League of Women Voters.

May 5 School Board Voter Guide

Grand Rapids League Of Women Voters GRPS School Board

In response to the notoriously low voter turnout for Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) school board elections, the League of Women Voters Grand Rapids has launched a new effort aimed at increasing voter turnout.

Focusing on the upcoming May 5 elections (which also have an important transit proposal), the League of Women Voters has prepared a voter guide for the election that compares the candidates and is organizing a candidate forum. The voter guide compiles information about the individual candidates running for office as well as general information about how to cast a vote and how what the Grand Rapids Board of Education does.

In addition to the voter guide, the group is holding a candidate forum on April 16:

April 16, 2009

6:00pm – 8:00pm

Rev. Lyman Parks Campus Auditorium (formerly Franklin Auditorium)

Join us for the 2009 Candidate Forum, a nonpartisan, informational event offered free to the community. Learn more about how the candidates view their role with the Grand Rapids Public Schools and their ideas for improving the district as a board member.

Voter Guide Responses

In the interest of providing information about the candidates, the questions and their answers are reprinted below:

Why are you running for the Grand Rapids Public Schools School Board?

Tony Baker: I have been a strong advocate for public education for decades, and this has only increased as my children have been in the district. Since I have had one year on the board I am even more convinced that I can impact the district. I have also enjoyed it.

Wendy VerHage Falb: I care deeply about the future of GRPS. I have two sons in the system and know that the quality of these programs will determine the quality of our city. I am committed to making the education in our public schools the best that it can be.

Senita Lenear: GRPS is facing serious financial and educational challenges. We need a forward-thinking leader who embraces innovation and can bring the district and the community together in the interest of common goals. We need a leader who is independent from special interests that seek to control taxpayer dollars. I’m that leader!

Arnie Smithalexander: I am an incumbent board member running because I believe change is a process not an event. Since I was elected significant change has occurred, and I have significantly contributed to that change. Therefore I need to be on the board to finish the progress we have started.

Kevin Weiss: I hope to make a positive impact on the quality of education available to the citizens of Grand Rapids. I would also like to work to settle the labor dispute that is currently over 2 years old.

What experience do you bring to the Grand Rapids Public Schools School Board?

Tony Baker: I have extensive experience researching and teaching about community and schools. At Ferris, I am a respected campus leader on issues of education and diversity. I work at Ferris and in Grand Rapids to build community collaborations. The experience I have had on the board this year has increased these skills.

Wendy VerHage Falb: I have many years of teaching experience in a variety of institutions, a secondary education degree, and a doctorate in English. I have led the PTA, the district’s parent involvement task force, and the successful marketing of our school in the community.

Senita Lenear: I have already served on the GRPS Board in an interim capacity. I am a parent and have experience in labor relations, community relations, hu- man resources, creating budgets and non-profit experience. Most impor- tant, I’m 100% committed to doing what is best for the children of Grand Rapids .

Arnie Smithalexander: I am an incumbent board member running because I believe change is a process not an event. Since I was elected significant change has occurred, and I have significantly contributed to that change. Therefore I need to be on the board to finish the progress we have started.

Kevin Weiss: I bring not only the experience of working in several different professions but also the experience of doing my student teaching at Union High School where I became personally acquainted with some of the issues that students and teachers face on a daily basis.

How would you balance the needs of the district with the current economic situation?

Tony Baker: Many positive changes are occurring in the district. The teachers and administrators are creating some very innovative strategies to improve learning. We must move to a common ground between the teachers, the board and the administration. Personal animosities threaten positive gains. I have and will work very hard to bridge these differences.

Wendy VerHage Falb: This is an ongoing challenge for urban school boards. While the specifics are constantly changing, the “needs to dollar” ratio seems increasingly more difficult to balance. I am eager to work toward advocacy on a legislative level to accomplish a more just distribution of our education dollars.

Senita Lenear: In this country, there are 2 million children already falling through the educational cracks. We need school board leaders who are not just seeking more money, but rather seek more innovative and creative approaches to education; approaches that work within existing budgets.

Arnie Smithalexander: By law, we must balance the budget. To balance the budget members of the board, along with me, have made a commitment not to cut teacher service or increase class size. GRPS are developing more public and private partnerships, along with leveraging all available resources.

Kevin Weiss: There are always ways to cut costs without the quality of education suffering. Reducing waste would be the first area to attack. While the edu- cators are working diligently to have the students experience success they need to have that success the first time through the system.

How will you help to make the Grand Rapids Public Schools a community priority?

Tony Baker: I am impressed with the many groups and individuals that work for the schools. Kids Food Basket, Schools of Hope, and the YMCA are a partial list. We do need to work to further facilitate these partnerships. I have tried to assist by serving on community boards and engaging city/ county officials in the work of GRPS.

Wendy VerHage Falb: I firmly believe that Grand Rapids is a community that can roll up their sleeves and bring about important change, but we’re not always clear on what needs to be done. I am eager to convey to public at large that the work is “doable,” exciting, and rewarding.

Senita Lenear: In a global economy, our citizens have no choice but to make education a priority. The U.S. has the highest high-school drop-out rate of any country in the world. The school board is the vital link between the future of our country and the economic future of our community.

Arnie Smithalexander: A priority is set if every child who leaves our schools, and his/her parents, can say a quality education was received. Schools can only become a priority when all parents feel their child received a quality education. As a board member I will set policy to facilitate that process.

Kevin Weiss: Through personal visits to the buildings and a better connection with the students, staff, educators and administration I feel I will be able to bring the actual building experience to the board members. I believe that in order to make intelligent decisions about a school system you should first know…

West Michigan School 1 of 62 to be Monitored by EPA for Air Quality

School Pollution Investigation

It doesn’t seem like Michigan gets much positive coverage in the national press. Lately, we’ve seen coverage of the troubled auto industry, our state’s high unemployment rate, the shooting of an unarmed college student, and a teenager killed by police using Tasers.

Unfortunately, the latest mention–that a West Michigan school will be one of sixty-two monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–doesn’t help the state’s image.

In today’s edition of USA Today, the newspaper features teacher Terry Babbitt of Norton Shores’ (near Muskegon) Lincoln Park Elementary School. Lincoln Park Elementary was one of several hundred schools identified by USA Today in an investigation last year into air quality in the nation’s public schools. According to the investigation, students at the school might be exposed to high levels of chromium and other toxic chemicals. Babbitt says that he welcomes the investigation

The USA Today investigation prompted the program, which will begin in over the next three months:

“The series prompted the EPA to launch its most comprehensive study ever of the impact of pollution outside the schools. In most cases, the agency plans to install monitoring equipment on school grounds.”

According to an examination of the 62 schools chosen for monitoring, USA Today reports that 28 appear to have air more toxic than the air at Meredith Hitchens Elementary in Ohio. That school was closed after the Ohio EPA found levels of carcinogens 50 times above what the state considered acceptable.

As if general exposure to air pollution wasn’t enough reason to investigate and attempt to remedy the situation, USA Today points out that children are uniquely vulnerable to threats from toxic chemicals because their bodies are still developing and they breathe more air in proportion to their body weight than adults.

State of our Schools Address Looks Inside GRPS

Bernard Taylor Gave the Annual State of Our Schools Address that Looked at the GRPS

On Saturday, Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) Superintendent Bernard Taylor delivered the annual “State of our Schools” address. The speech looked at the challenges facing the district as well as successes over the past year.

The whole address is available online, but here are a few highlights:

  • Taylor unveiled a new “Five Year Strategic Direction.” The document should be available online soon, but it includes a number of efforts aimed at improving the district’s high schools, specifically graduation rates. A central aspect of this effort will be increasing ties between GRPS and the local business community.
  • Taylor argued once again that the success of the Grand Rapids Public Schools is not just an “education” or “city” issue, but it is a regional issue that effects everyone in West Michigan and that it touches on a number of areas including economic development and quality of life.
  • GRPS faces many challenges: 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, 25% qualify for special education services, 20% are English language learners, and only 17% who start kindergarten are reading at that level.
  • Taylor said progress is being made towards meeting various measures of progress and the district is doing it even as it closes schools and makes tough financial choices. For example, it has 35 schools meeting the federal Adequate Yearly Progress standard. MEAP scores have also increased across the board.
  • The district will receive funding from the economic stimulus package that will offset state cuts, fund Title I/Special Education programs, and one-time projects.

Ongoing Labor Disputes

It’s also worth remembering that there is an ongoing labor dispute with teachers in the district. Teachers have not had a contract for two years. The Grand Rapids Press noted this in its coverage, citing a teacher, a state representative, and a business leader, all of whom urged GRPS to solve its labor problems.

Event Looks at the State of Radical Grassroots Social Movements in Michigan, Chicago

Solidarity & Defense Hosted an Event that Looked at Radical Grassroots Movements in Michigan and Chicago

On February 7, a group called Solidarity & Defense “a small but growing alliance of anti-authoritarian militants active in both the workplace and the community,” hosted an evening of speakers and discussion at the International Institute in Detroit. The theme was “Renewing the New Years Promise” and it featured regional organizers speaking on their organization’s vision of social change. A variety of topics were covered, from gentrification to police repression.

The night began with a panel of six organizers. The first panelist, Robert, is a member of the Railway Work Unit of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Chicago Four Star Anarchist Group, and was involved with the Republic Windows occupation in December. He talked about the importance of pre-figurative organizing – counter institutions, citizens councils, and Cop Watch — in order to put pressure on formal institutions. Robert spoke of the importance of focusing on specific issues at hand in communities, rather than broad ideas. One way to do this is through the IWW, pinpointing which industries are suffering (such as the auto industry) before people are laid off, and making decisions “horizontally,” then bringing them up “vertically” by workers placing pressure on executives.

Lacey, who is currently based in Detroit but organized in Lansing for several years and is involved with Solidarity & Defense, spoke of the importance of solidarity within communities and defending communities when they are attacked by legislation or policies. She noted that we are currently in a unique political situation of new found enthusiasm – the last election drew a lot of people into the idea of change and motivated them. According to Lacey, the job of community organizers is to find a place for people to plug in. She addressed the police repression at the RNC, emphasizing that “you have to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” and stressing direct action as a strategy for change.

Bill and Robert spoke on their involvement with Y.O.U.T.H. Inc (Youth Organizing to Uplift Tomorrow’s Humanity), which provides programs for youth, tutoring within schools, a gym space and food to emphasize health, and provide training for specific trades. They also talked about the need for goals, and the importance of connecting different projects and working together.

Carmen, who is involved in the Detroit public school system, spoke of the needs of the Latino community in Detroit: legal clinics, health and safety classes, and immigrant support. She spoke about groups organizing in Detroit for border support, posting bail for undocumented workers, and translating Spanish classes by ESL students.

Brie, who is from Chicago and involved with the Four Star Anarchist Group talked about the importance of art in the movement. In the past it has been used to pacify us through the entertainment industry, but art is a strategy activists can use to empower people. Brie also talked about veterans’ issues, saying that anarchist groups can be used a means for support, to combat the common feeling of always being on the defense. Activists can being to take a more pro-active stance on these issues, which Brie cited as a goal of the Solidarity & Defense group.

Melissa, the final panelist of the evening, is involved with NorthStar, the collective/infoshop based in Lansing. She spoke of the need for activists to build connections amongst ourselves, and the importance of being engaged in the community. Melissa also discussed facilitating empowerment – we can build a radical capacity for people who are generally disempowered, so they can take control of their own lives and situations.

Following the panel was a discussion with the audience. One critique is that some thought the discussion dominated by older white males, despite the fact the audience was made up of many women, Latino/as, and African Americans.