Local and Michigan Headlines: GRPS Cuts Approved; PETA Opposes Horse-drawn Carriages in Holland

Here’s some local and Michigan headlines:

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

Local and Michigan Headlines: Community Supported Agriculture in Michigan; The GRPS Teacher Contract Dispute

Here’s some interesting articles pertaining to Grand Rapids and Michigan from elsewhere on the Internet:

  • Michigan Will Lead the Green Industrial Revolution – Governor Jennifer Granholm takes to the Huffington Post to talk up Michigan’s work addressing climate change. Specifically, she is championing efforts to make cars made in Detroit more fuel-efficient. I’m really as excited about it as she is, but at least she’s out there making the effort to improve Michigan’s reputation.
  • Details of new UAW deal with General Motors – Not surprisingly, the UAW leadership made many concessions to GM on the union health plan, raises, and medical benefits for retirees.
  • EPA pledges ‘expeditious action’ on Dow dioxin clean-up, but Superfund status not in the works – While promising to hold Dow Chemical accountable for dioxin pollution, the organization failed to place the contaminated Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River watershed on the Superfund list. Nevertheless, environmental groups are cautiously optimistic that the EPA will finally hold Dow accountable.
  • Employee Stock Ownership, But Not Control – While not about Michigan per se, this article looks at union stock ownership in the auto industry and what that has meant for unions. This is particularly interesting as it relates to the Chrysler bankruptcy and the likely GM bankruptcy. The article was published in Labor Notes, so it is more focused on the perspective of workers and unions than what we typically see in the corporate press.
  • Cox: Top priority as governor would be tax cut – Attorney General Mike Cox has announced that he is running for governor of Michigan in 2010. His main goal would be to enact a $2 billion tax cut which include a 50% reduction is business taxes. Less revenue? That sounds just like what a struggling state government needs.
  • Arab Americans discuss profiling with security chief – Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently met with members of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) and the Michigan chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to discuss their concerns about profiling of Arab Americans at Michigan’s border crossings. The groups want the Department of Homeland Security to collect statistics on the race, national origin, and gender of those stopped at border crossings.
  • Kentwood police identify Michael Sulewski as pedestrian struck on 28th Street – Another pedestrian was hit by a car recently. Drivers really need to look out for cyclists and pedestrians–this is getting ridiculous.
  • What gives in Grand Rapids Public Schools? Either union or district must budge in contract dispute – Here’s the Grand Rapids Press’ look at the ongoing dispute in the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) over contracts for its teachers. It’s a decent summary of some of the issues in the nearly two-year old labor dispute.
  • Policy change works to provide permanent housing for the homeless, rent payments to those on brink of evictionThe Grand Rapids Press reports that a new state policy shift will allow Emergency Shelter Partnership funds to go towards rent subsidies to keep people in their homes rather than shelters. The Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness applauded the move.
  • Community farms sprouting up across areaThe Muskegon Chronicle has a nice story on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and its popularity as more people look at the health and cost-saving benefits of locally grown produce.

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: New Contract for GRPS Superintendent; Michigan’s Coal “Needs”

Here’s some articles published elsewhere in the past twenty-four hours or so that really shouldn’t be missed:

  • Increase in syphilis cases worries local health departments – There has been a rise in cases of syphilis in several counties–including Kent–in Michigan. County health departments and other organizations are responding with increased educational efforts aimed at increasing knowledge of the disease.
  • State champions green industry with new report, conference – The State of Michigan has staked much of its economic future on the promise and potential of “green jobs.” It recently held a conference and issued a report on how the sector is growing. According to the report, green sector jobs grew by 7.7% from 2005 to 2008.
  • Michigan Does Not Need — Nor Should It Have — New Generation from Coal – This piece by local activist Shirley Kallio offers a good critique of claims that Michigan needs more coal-fueled power plants to meet the state’s energy. Kallio looks at claims that energy demand is growing, that coal is the cheapest energy source, and that coal is the most reliable source of energy and critiques those assertions.
  • Media Bites: Sprite – The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) provides an analysis of a recent Sprite commercial, looking at both how the product is marketed and Coca-Cola’s efforts to privatize water.
  • Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s pact extended three years by Grand Rapids school board – The GRPS board extended Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s contract by three years even as teachers in the district continue to work without a contract.
  • Detroit People’s Task Force battles false crime lab evidence – “Thirty-five Michigan prisoners and their loved ones are leading a battle against convictions based on deliberately falsified or invalid, unscientific, crime lab evidence.”
  • Doctors: Medicaid cuts will hurt patients – The Lansing State Journal reports that cuts to Medicaid will hurt patients. One in six Michiganders rely on the program and the state has received more money to fund the program through the federal stimulus package, but the money generally isn’t making it back to doctors. Not surprisingly, doctors are upset–but I read this article as all the more reason for a universal healthcare system.

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

Vote Today


For those living in the Grand Rapids and Greater Grand Rapids area, there are a number of different local elections today. There is a Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education election, the Rapid Silver Line millage proposal, and the Grand Rapids Community College Board elections.

You can find your polling location on the Kent County website and you can read more about the elections by consulting the following items on MediaMouse.org:

Education Action Group Mailing Warns Against “Union Puppets”


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…

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.

Vern Ehlers: Economic Stimulus should Focus only on Jobs

Representative Ehlers Says Stimulus Bill Should Only Focus On Creating Jobs

After we reported last week on Vern Ehlers’ opposition to the recently passed economic recovery bill, Ehlers again appeared in the local media criticizing the bill as being too large and poorly thought out.

Ehlers Criticizes the Stimulus Bill in the Media

Yesterday on WZZM 13, Ehlers said the sole focus should be on creating jobs:

“If the people have jobs, a lot of the problems go away. If they don’t get jobs, the other problems magnify.”

Of course, Ehlers neglected to mention that the bill will create 158,000 jobs in Michigan.

In the Grand Rapids Press, Ehlers even went so far as to reject funding for the cash strapped Grand Rapids Public Schools. In the bill, GRPS would get $39 million in funding and schools in the Greater Grand Rapids area would receive around $96 million. Ehlers said the money–which would be aimed at funding construction and special education programs–is simply being used by Democrats “to support issues they would support anyhow” and that it is “going to turn into the biggest pork barrel spending ever.”

Ehlers has said the focus should be entirely on creating jobs, but he voted for an alternative Republican proposal that would have simply implemented a variety of long-sought tax cuts. That bill–sponsored by Michigan Republican David Camp–argued that tax cuts would stimulate job growth, although no clear connection was made.

Back in 2008, <a href="http://www.mediamouse.org/news/2008/10/ehlers-opts-to-ignore-constitu.php"Ehlers voted to spend $700 billion to bailout the financial industry. He also supported a controversial measure that gave tax rebate checks to US citizens with the goal of stimulating the economy. Ehlers was mildly critical of that bill, but seemed willing to support it because it was proposed by Republicans.

This year, Ehlers was one of the Republican Representatives approached by the Obama administration who thought that it might be possible to get the “moderate” Republican to support the bill.

Stimulus Bill Includes Corporate Tax Breaks

As a commenter pointed out when we last wrote about Ehlers and the stimulus bill, the bill is far from perfect. While Ehlers’ comments have been fairly ridiculous, much of the debate around the stimulus package has ignored the fact that it is full of proposals aimed at appeasing Republicans. For example, the bill includes billions in corporate tax breaks:

“At least $23.8 billion in corporate tax breaks have been included in the $825 billion economic recovery package in order to win backing from key business groups and their Congressional allies, even though the team that put the legislation together believes the breaks have little value in stimulating the economy and creating jobs.

Top beneficiaries include banks, telecommunication companies, railroads and oil, hotels, casinos, and both commercial and residential real estate firms.”

This approach has been criticized by many progressives and progressive leaning policy organizations. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has published a number of papers and reports criticizing policies aimed at reducing taxes as a form of economic stimulus.

GRPS Board of Education Election Tomorrow

There is an election for the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) Board of Education tomorrow. In the election, voters will choose there new members for the school board.

Three candidates endorsed by the Grand Rapids Education Association (GREA) recently appeared on the Working West Michigan radio show to talk about why they are running:

Additionally, Mediamouse.org covered a candidate forum back in March featuring the majority of the candidates running for the Board.

If you are registered to vote and not know where you vote, the Michigan Secretary of State’s website can help you locate your polling place.