Category: News Briefs Written by Britney Spear
One of the biggest challenges most Americans face in this fledgling economy is not unemployment, but rather, underemployment.
It seems a hard enough task to find a job that pays comparable to one’s skill level. We live in the age of a ‘new normal’, and one whereby it’s just as difficult to making a living off a paycheck as it is to get guaranteed work.
The average household cannot survive off the hourly rates currently accommodated by the minimum wage. It’s about time that our lawmakers reconsider this amount and raising the bar to improve the financial well-being of the people they represent.
Michigan might soon become one of the states to take a step toward improving wages for its residents with a new piece of legislature.
Introduced on Tuesday, the bill that is sponsored by Senator Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) would gradually increase the state minimum wage to $10 by 2016. The current minimum wage in Michigan is $7.40 an hour. That’s 15 cents more than the federal rate.
A similar bill did not even get a hearing in 2012, but the possibility of Governor Rick Snyder signing on in approval could mean something different this time around.
Michiganders all across the state are struggling. Not just in inner cities, but also in surrounding areas. It’s not enough to have a job. Man who do have one still struggle to simply keep afloat, financially speaking. It’s great to find that our politicians in Lansing are considering the reality of their residents.
While the proposal will require bipartisan approval, let us hope that lawmakers can come together to support its passing. It might be just what Michigan needs to help its residents out of a tremendous money crunch and aid many families in getting back on their feet.
Follow Britney Spear on Twitter @missbritneysp
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 10:57
Category: News Briefs Written by David Sands, Huffington Post
Those looking to indulge this Fat Tuesday won't have a problem in places like Detroit and Chicago, where bakeries across the city sell mouthwatering and lard-filled Polish doughnuts in honor of Pączki Day. But for those who want to celebrate the day dedicated to a doughnut while practicing restraint, things can get a little tricky.
While New Orleans might kick off the Catholic fasting season of Lent with the huge party known as Mardi Gras, those in the Detroit area, as well as Chicago, Cleveland and other cities in the U.S., celebrate the beginning of Lent by chomping down on a special type of doughnut called a pączki. The high-calorie fried treats filled with jelly originally come from eastern Europe and have gained popularity in Metro Detroit thanks to the region's Polish community. (For details on preparing pączki, check out instructions on making your own.)
Pączki were created to clear out pantries of fruit, sugar and fat for Lent, so trying to enjoy the Polish delicacies while counting calories is no easy task. One approach to this elusive paradox is to bake them instead of frying them. The author of the greenmomintheburbs blog experimented with a recipe that tried just that. Unfortunately, the result was not what she expected.
"They were not awful in the slightest; they were in fact quite delicious. Unfortunately, they didn’t taste even remotely like pączki. More like a really nice sweet bread with fruit filling," she wrote.
About.com author Barbara Rolek submitted this recipe for baked pączkis on the site's Eastern European food page. It debuted to mixed reviews -- with some giving it high marks and others claiming it didn't measure up to the real thing.
Another health-conscious option is to cut calories by switching up the ingredients. Nana's Bakery in Windsor, Ontario (just across the river from Detroit) whips up special low-calorie pączki, or "lowczki," that contain margarine instead of lard, according to Canada's CBC radio. Bakery owner Doug Romanek told the news station that his recipe cuts down each doughnut's dietary excess from 50 grams of fat and 1,200 calories to between six and 10 grams of fat and about 300 calories. Apparently, they're good enough to make people line up on the street.
There's also an option for those who would typically forsake the doughnuts because they keep to a gluten-free diet. Celiac Specialties, which has shops in Rochester and Farmington Hills, offers gluten-free pączkis with chocolate, custard and rasberry fillings.
What about those who might like pączki but are hankering for a little more meat? For that special breed of foodie, there's always Roseville's Lazybones Smokehouse, which offers maple bacon pączki.
It looks like there really is a pączek for everybody. Happy eating and remember to chew slowly!
Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 February 2013 08:39
Category: News Briefs Written by Huffington Post
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is drawing fire for the way he allocates state education spending in his new budget.
His 2013-2014 fiscal year budget dips into the state's K-12 fund to meet costs for the state's four-year universities and community colleges. He's proposed allocating nearly $400 million from the K-12 School Aid Fund, the Detroit News reports. That's approximately 3.5 percent of the fund's total annual allowance of about $11.4 billion.
Of this money, $200 million is being taken for the state's 15 public universities and $198 million for community colleges -- respectively adding to $1.43 billion in appropriations for universities and $336 million for community colleges over the coming fiscal year.
The unusual allocation also occurred in the past two budgets created by Snyder, a Republican who has drawn ire from the state's education unions over controversial right-to-work legislation passed last year. Typically, funding for those institutions has been drawn solely from a state's general fund.
"I consider this a shell game -- you pull from K-12 education to shore up a General Fund that doesn't have as much money as a School Aid Fund," William Mayes, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, said to the Detroit News.
Gov. Snyder told the paper's editorial board he was simply following the state's constitution.
The budget also proposes funding increases of about two percent for all three institutional categories -- K-12, community colleges and public universities.
According to Crain's Detroit, the new budget will require Michigan's universities to keep tuition increases below four percent in order to qualify for state funds.
Gov. Snyder has also proposed creating a new Michigan Office of Great Start to spur early childhood development efforts. Its projected yearly budget would be about $209 million, with $115 million coming from the School Aid fund and $41.2 million from the general fund.
Steve Cook, the president of the Michigan Education Association, said that while educators supported expanding early childhood education, he wonders whether it is a priority for Snyder.
"We are concerned that adequate funding for a quality education isn’t reaching past pre-K for too many of our children," he said in a release. "The governor and his allies in the Legislature slashed K-12 funding by $1 billion while giving CEOs over $2 billion in tax breaks. We urge our state’s leaders to restore every penny taken away from our local schools, so that every child has the opportunity to succeed from preschool through college.”
Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 February 2013 09:54
Category: News Briefs Written by Jennifer Mrozowski
Detroit Public Schools students scored record gains on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program Test for the fall of 2012, with improvement in 17 out of 18 assessments. DPS increases outpaced statewide progress, “closing the gap,” in 14 out of 18 assessments administered.
Gains were especially significant in Reading and Mathematics.
In Reading, students made gains ranging from 3 percent to 11.3 percent in all grades 3 through 8. One particularly impressive result is that DPS students bested their statewide peers in grade 8 reading by 7.1 percent. In Mathematics, improvement in students’ proficiency ranged from .5 percent to 6.7 percent in grades 3 through 8. Gains were also seen in Science, Writing and Social Studies in all grades, except one.
“These test results are great news, but we know we have more work to do, as a district and in every school,” said Emergency Financial Manager Roy S. Roberts. “Detroit Public Schools’ goal is to ensure that every child is successful, and we are doing everything in our power to make that happen.”
“These gains aren’t due to any one silver bullet,” said Karen Ridgeway, Superintendent of Academics. “They are due to a comprehensive academic plan that includes robust professional development for our teachers and all academic staff, constant data analysis and regular alterations to teaching strategies to meet the needs of every child individually.”
Some of the academic plan highlights included:
- Individual Learning Maps, which are academic blueprints for every child based on what they have learned and where are their strengths and weaknesses
- Netbooks for use by every student in grades 6-12 and a robust technology curriculum
- Take-home Netbooks for grades 8-12, with parent consent
- Extended time in Reading and Mathematics instruction for all elementary students and double-dosing of subjects, where needed
- Parent Engagement initiatives, including workshops and eight neighborhood Parent Resource Centers, and take-home academic toolkits
- Lesson plans based on the Common Core State Academic Standards so that all classrooms, using their own teaching methods, adhered to standards of what children are expected to know and be able to do at each grade level in each subject
In addition, assessment data is required to be posted in every classroom, which reinforces an emphasis on data analysis, said Ridgeway. The aggregate data for every school must be posted at the front of the school, as well.
“Our focus was on closing the gap and staying on pace,” Ridgeway said. “To do that, everyone had to focus relentlessly on the individual data for each child and each classroom. We have much more to do, but we have a comprehensive academic strategy that’s working, and we now plan to re-double our efforts to not only sustain these gains, but increase them.”
As part of the professional development training, assistant superintendents were trained in data analysis, and they in turn, trained all principals. Teachers were trained as well. Staff members were then held accountable for student performance.
Additional professional development includes a new high-tech platform called PD 360, a system which allows teachers and staff to access a library of over 20 videos from experts on a variety of educational topics and lessons.
The coming attractions for the second semester of 2013 include:
- Updated Individual Learning Maps
- Assistance and training to help parents and students understand each child’s academic data
- New workshops in the Parent Resource Centers on data analysis
- More robust professional development for academic staff and increased use of differentiated instruction based on researched best practices and data analysis
- New easy-to-use Individual Learning Maps in the form of tri-fold brochures with each child’s academic data showing what they have learned and what they need to learn
The district is also announcing a new Reading Corps Rally and Training on Saturday, March 2!
To celebrate our MEAP scores and further engage more volunteers in our successful Volunteer Reading Corps program, a city-wide rally and training for current and future volunteers is set for:
10 a.m. Saturday, March 2, 2013 at Renaissance High School, 6565 W. Outer Drive.
Everyone is welcome to become a part of this program. For full details, visit: http://detroitk12.org/readingcorps/ or call 313-873-1302.
Volunteers can sign up at readingcorpsrally.eventbrite.com.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 February 2013 09:02
Category: News Briefs Written by Britney Spear
Local writer and reporter Charlie LeDuff is releasing his new book, ‘Detroit: An American Autopsy’.
The Pulitzer Prize winning author who grew up in the city, has since returned to his roots to tell a story through separate incidents of the most pressing concerns affecting our community.
LeDuff has quickly become the face of uncovering what lies beneath Detroit’s most controversial crises. A city mangled by financial struggles, shocking crime rates, and political turmoil warrants many residents to demand answers. What LeDuff has created is a call to action that compels our officials who have a hand in the current situation to at least explain the circumstances, if they cannot at least endeavor to offer real resolutions.
Some might quickly jump to the conclusion that the new book in it’s entirety only explores the dark side of urban life. Yet, as is the case with his local news excerpts, ‘American Autopsy’ promises to present Detroit in real and rare form. It’s not entirely good, and yet, not entirely bad.
The balance LeDuff seeks to maintain speaks volumes in the midst of a world that tends to view Detroit as the poster child for disaster. There is much more to our residents’ stories, and the author looks to be on his way to making it ever so clear through selected anecdotes.
Charlie’s news reports represent the best and worst of Detroit. It’s a truly realistic portrait of the city, exactly as is, in it’s flawed perfection. Whether it’s the author speaking candidly with city officials regarding the most pressing political crises, or chronicling heartbreaking stories that bring to life the struggles Detroiters endure as a result of diminished resources and depleted public service, it’s evident that LeDuff is in on the action, and in search of a revival from the city’s status quo.
The big question, what will the rest of the world gain from ‘American Autopsy’? Perhaps, if it does not serve as a solution to the current situation, it at least provides a blueprint explanation for the plight of America’s urban cities. It may not have all the answers, yet LeDuff ’s work is a step in the direction of better understanding the real reasons behind our struggle, and an endless quest for change. Opening up discussion for our most vital issues might be exactly the start needed to enact a new framework toward progress.
Follow Britney Spear on Twitter @missbritneysp
Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 February 2013 10:19
Category: News Briefs Written by Kate Abbey-Lambertz, thehuffingtonpost
While the year is still in its beginnings for most Detroiters, this weekend Amy Sacka will cross Day 126 off her calendar.
She's counting the days for her year-long experiment of daily photography in Detroit. When it ends, she'll decide whether to remain in the city she currently calls home.
The Grosse Pointe, Mich. native started the "Owen Was Here" project, where she publishes one photograph with a thoughtful caption daily, in conjunction with her relocation to Detroit from Seattle.
"What's cool about this project is that it's constantly evolving for me," Sacka said. "In the beginning I felt a lot more like a tourist, so [when] I was coming into the city, everything was more surprise and delight. Now I feel like more of a resident and I'm starting to see things a little bit differently."
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 13:14
Category: News Briefs Written by Madeline Boardman, huffingtonpost
The 55th Annual Grammy Awards took place on Sunday and Jack White lit up the stage with a stunning performance.
White, who was up for three Grammys, played "Love Interruption" and "Freedom at 21."
White was nominated for Album of the Year and Best Rock Album for "Blunderbuss," and Best Rock Song for "Freedom at 21."
"Blunderbuss" is White's first solo studio album. The album performed well commercially, reaching number one on the Billboard chart.
For more than a decade, White performed with his now ex-wife, Meg White, as The White Stripes. The duo won multiple Grammy awards as The White Stripes, including Best Alternative Music Album for 2003's "Elephant" and 2005's "Get Behind Me Satan."
The awards show, which was held on Feb. 10 at Los Angeles' Staples Center, also included performances by Justin Timberlake, Carrie Underwood, Frank Ocean, and Taylor Swift. LL Cool J hosted the show.
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 09:00
Category: News Briefs Written by huffingtonpost
A gun store in Royal Oak, Mich., is being praised by the local chapter of a Muslim rights group after agreeing to stop selling targets that depict an AK-47-wielding skeleton in a turban and robe.
The Detroit Free Press reports that Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), voiced his concern to Target Sports about the gun-range targets, fearing they may cause gun owners to view any Muslim in traditional garb as an enemy.
After "an extremely non-hostile meeting" with the store owner, the owner promised to stop selling the item, Walid told the Free Press. But Thompson Target -- the Ohio-based manufacturer of the life-sized target called "Crazy Bones" -- appears less willing to give in to Walid's pleas.
Walid told the Macomb Daily that he called Thompson Target, which also manufactures targets called "Redneck Zombie" and "Wall Street Zombie," and asked them to stop making the product altogether.
“I had a spirited conversation with a family member of the owner,” Walid told the paper. “He told me we’re at war and we were trying to kill Osama bin Laden. I told him there are people here who may dress that way and they aren’t like Osama bin Laden."
Although Walid told the Macomb Daily that the "Crazy Bones" target appeared to have been removed from the Thompson Target website, the item appears on the site available for purchase as of Feb. 9.
But whatever Thompson Target decides to do, Target Sports has itself proved open to the concerns of its community. Just this past week, the store agreed to make a change to their rental policy at their shooting range after two people committed suicide and one person deliberately shot himself in the last five months, both using guns rented at the store's shooting range.
At the Royal Oak City Commission meeting on Feb. 6, Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue explained that the store's policy now states that they won't rent a gun to anyone that comes in by themselves if they don't already have a gun in their possession, as "every one of the suicides or attempts involved an individual coming in by themself without a gun."
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 09:53
Category: News Briefs - Original Written by Minehaha Forman
As the infamous Kwame Kilpatrick trail draws to a close, an office specially dedicated to uprooting corruption in Detroit city government is set to open.
Detroit’s office of inspector general (OIG)—created as part of the 2012 city charter revision— will open to the public next week after years of research, debate and, ultimately, a public vote.
Detroit city council appointed James Heath, former chair of Detroit’s board of ethics and assistant state attorney general to the position of inspector general in July.
Since then Heath has been tasked with starting up the independent agency from scratch—finding an office space, hiring staff, and researching best practices.
As the city’s first inspector general (IG), Heath holds a powerful charter-mandated mission of ensuring “honesty and integrity in city government by rooting out waste, abuse, fraud, and corruption” according to the recently revised city charter.
Staffed with a team of forensic auditors, investigators, and attorneys, the OIG has the power to investigate any public servant from the mayor all the way down to city employees, contractors and vendors. The IG does not have prosecuting power, but works closely with law enforcement agencies.
One of Heath’s jobs as the new inspector in town will be to distinguish his agency from other city agencies designed to do similar work.
“We focus like a laser on fraud, abuse, waste and corruption whereas a general auditor, an ombudsman or board of ethics would have a much broader scope,” Heath told MIcronicle.com. “Our forensic auditors and investigators are trained in finding fraud, uncovering fraud and building a case for prosecution.”
A lifelong Detroiter and the son of Detroit city workers, Heath, 37, is continuing his family’s legacy in Detroit public service.
Heath has a solid background in prosecution, and sniffing out corruption has been one of his career specialties. From his days as a private prosecutor representing the Detroit Police Officer’s Association to his most recent post as an assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Michigan department of attorney general Heath has earned a sterling reputation.
As with any major change in city government, the creation of the OIG brought a measure of controversy to public debate in recent years.
The question of solvency is one that increasingly plagues the City of Detroit, and not everyone agreed that the city needed an inspector general, saying that the city can’t afford to fund another agency—to the tune of more than $1 million annually— amid a financial crisis.
But supporters of the latest charter revision believe investigating mismanagement could save the city money in the long run.
“When an inspector general’s office works well, it, in fact, saves the city money just by virtue of its mission of stopping waste. Corruption is a word but behind that word is city tax dollars going out the door improperly,” Heath said.
Critics also argue that the city already has systems in place to investigate complaints of fraud, the auditor general, the law department and the ombudsman’s office.
But each of these entities, while all serving a function, don’t focus on prosecuting or sanctioning criminal or unethical activity in government, Heath says.
“An auditor general might say, ‘some money is missing’ and move on. Our folks go in and say, ‘Who took that money?’ Heath explained. “When they find an irregularity they think may be the result of some sort of fraud, they will turn that complaint over to us and we will investigate in a more pointed fashion.”
Although the OIG is just launching for public access, they have already been investigating complaints, some of which have been turned over to law enforcement agencies.
An example of this came in September when the auditor general’s office conducted an audit of the city’s assessors division and found suspicious irregularities. They referred the case to the inspector general’s office for further investigation. The case has since been turned over to the Michigan department of attorney general according to Heath.
Part of what makes the OIG unique is its ability to work directly with law enforcement officials in criminal cases, and the city’s human resources department in ethical cases.
The Kilpatrick Factor
Perhaps the one catalyst in the creation of a corruption watchdog agency was the scandal-ridden tenure of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former city council president Monica Conyers.
Since then the city has been working to rescue its smeared image.
But it’s not just Detroit looking to clean up its city government. Detroit joins a growing list of municipalities that are creating inspector general offices not only to weed out government corruption, but also to deter it.
The cities of Chicago, Baltimore, New Orleans, Houston, Albuquerque and Philadelphia are among the municipalities that have opted for an OIG.
“There’s a wave of inspector general offices going across the country. Cities are understanding that it’s not enough to vocally promote good government. You need independent agencies in place to help root out fraud,” Heath said, noting the city of Philadelphia has created such an office in recent years.
Ken Harris, the former charter revision commissioner who championed the creation of an OIG in Detroit, says corruption has been taking place long before Kilpatrick came into office.
“It’s what citizens wanted. No more will the pay-to-play schemes of the Kilpatrick scenario play out the way they did. Now those things can be investigated,” Harris said.
Heath says that the Kilpatrick debacle is not the only reason for the OIG’s creation.
“There are specific instances which led to the establishment of this office, but I think good municipal practice calls for the establishment of this office as well,” he said.
Open for Business
As the OIG opens to the public, everyone from residents to elected and appointed officials now have an avenue to report suspicious unethical or illegal activity in city government. The OIG investigates all complaints from bribery and inappropriate relationships to outright theft.
The inspector general’s office is located in Cadillac Tower downtown, intentionally off site from the Coleman Young Municipal Center to make it easier for city workers to file a complain anonymously.
“Up until now we’ve been in what I call it a soft opening state,” Heath says. “One of the most important things we’ve been doing is building our capacity.”
The OIG now has five people on staff and Heath looking to add up to five more.
“We anticipate being extremely busy. Our research throughout the country with similarly sized offices seems to indicate that several dozen complaints will be coming in a day—at least initially,” Heath said. “To put it in marketing terms, there’s a little bit of pent up demand. That’s why we are taking our time to make sure we set up the office properly.”
One of the criticisms of the city’s new inspector general position is that it gives too much power to one appointee.
The IG has the power not only to respond to complaints and build cases for prosecution but also has subpoena power over every city department and agency and can initiate investigations on their own.
But there are controls in place. An IG can be ousted by a 2/3 vote of city council and cannot prosecute, only build cases to turn over to appropriate law enforcement agencies. Limited to a six-year term, once an IG is appointed he or she cannot serve another term or hold any elected office in the city for at least two years. An IG also cannot contribute to any political campaign.
“I’ve got less than six years left to set this office up in a way that the next man or woman who serves as inspector general will be able to say that inspector Heath and his team laid a foundation for success,” Heath says. “And that means putting together a responsible budget, setting up infrastructure of responsive technology-developing protocol and standard operational procedures that are industry standard and excellent examples.”
The Detroit Office of Inspector General will announce its complaint hotline, website, address and fax number next week as it launches its public opening. Follow MIchronicle.com for updates.
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 09:01
Category: News Briefs Written by Britney Spear
The loan gods have granted students mercy!
Well, not quite. But, a local university is stepping in to provide some much need relief for their students.
Spring Arbor University has announced a new loan repayment assistance program that will help students if they cannot find steady employment after graduation. The program will be available to incoming students beginning in Fall 2013.
For most graduates, the biggest dilemma they face is a struggle to find a job and repay their loans. An economic reality defined by a poor job market and mounting student debt provides a perfect recipe for discouragement when it comes to completing one’s degree. The small liberal arts college’s new plan promises to bring much needed solace to the situation.
Students who enrollment in the program must agree to work at least 30 hours per week. Provided that their incomes do not exceed an established benchmark, they will receive assistance until they make more money or the loan is paid off.
The university’s announcement is a glimmer of hope in a struggling economy that continues to witness rising unemployment among the country’s millennial group. More and more Americans ages 18-29 are having a difficult time finding work. In most cases, the work they do find is considerably below their skill level. Add the weight of loan repayment to the mix, and it only makes matters worse.
Spring Arbor’s decision is sure to be a major step in increasing its enrollment. It’s safe to say that other colleges and universities might want to follow suit. Students need to know that their schools care about their wellbeing, both in and out of the classroom. The mission of most institutions of higher education says they intend to prepare graduates with the skills necessary to become exemplary citizens in our community. It’s great to see that one school understands its students might need an extra push in helping to achieve that end.
Follow Britney Spear on Twitter @missbritneysp
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 07:22
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