Now that Ann Arbor is going to be operating a school within Ypsilanti, maybe it’s a good time to broach the subject of our two districts working together, instead of against one another

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On August 18, just a few weeks before classes were set to begin at Ann Arbor’s Allen Elementary, a water main broke beneath the school resulting in serious damages that parents were told would take several months to repair. Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Superintendent Jeanice Swift assured Allen families at the time that, in spite of the school’s temporary closing, she and her staff would find alternate arrangements for the several hundred students set to begin their school year in September. And, now, thanks to a 5 to 1 vote by the Ypsilanti Community School (YCS) Board of Education, it looks as though that temporary solution will entail bussing Allen students to Ypsilanti, to what we once knew as West Middle School (seen above), one of the half dozen or so public schools we’ve had to close over the past several years, as an increasing number of Ypsilanti families have chosen to move their children to charter schools and AAPS under the Michigan Department of Educations’s Schools of Choice program. [AAPS began accepting Schools of Choice students during the 2010-11 school year.]

According to a recent report by MLive, 671 students who live within YCS district boundaries attended Ann Arbor public schools last year. “YCS has struggled with a nearly 15 percent drop in its enrollment to 3,868 students over the past three school years,” the article said. Meanwhile, as the article went on to state, “AAPS has seen a nearly 4-percent increase in enrollment to 17,234 over that same timeframe.” And this, as you might imagine, has had an incredibly negative effect on Ypsilanti Community Schools. Not only have we lost those 671 students to Ann Arbor, but our district has lost the state funding associated with those 671 students. And it very well might get worse. In September, the AAPS Board of Education, as I understand it, is set to vote on a proposal that, if passed, would allow for Schools of Choice students to commute to and from their adopted Ann Arbor schools by way of AAPS busses. [Right now, Ypsilanti students, if they’re attending Ann Arbor schools, need to arrange for transportation to and from school themselves. Soon, however, depending on how the AAPS board votes, these students will be able to be dropped at designated bus stops at the Ann Arbor border by their families, and ride the busses along with other AAPS students, significantly lowering the bar for Ypsilanti families considering a change of district.]

It’s also worth noting that not all Ypsilanti children who apply for Schools of Choice are accepted. More often than not, I’ve been told, children dealing with the most serious issues, who require the most in-class support, are not chosen to participate, the result being that YCS is increasingly left with the students who cost the most to educate. [You can find the Schools of Choice criteria here.] It’s also worth noting, in the interest of fairness, that this Schools of Choice system isn’t just negatively affecting Ypsilanti. Accoring to numbers published by the Ann Arbor News, AAPS lost “about 6.9 percent of the public school-age children residing within the district’s boundaries” during the 2010-11 school year, as AAPS families chose to pursue other options, like sending their children to Saline or Milan schools.

Schools of Choice, to put it simply, is essentially a mechanism whereby parents who have the ability to navigate the application system and the wherewithal to provide daily transportation, can send their children to the best schools available, and school districts with greater resources can balance their budgets by pulling additional students from other districts, charters, and private schools. Sadly, according to Bridge Michigan, the long term results aren’t good. Most kids don’t’ stay in an out-of-home-district school for even three years, according to their analysis. “It’s not a program that kids make an academic career out of,” according to Joshua Cowen, associate professor at Michigan State University. “It’s a pattern really similar to general mobility within an urban district. It’s the same kids who are bouncing around.” So children of means essentially shuffle from school to school looking for the best programs at each grade level, as everyone else just accepts the hand they’ve been dealt.

So, with all of this as background, what’s happening right now at West Middle School, if you think about it, is really somewhat perverse. Not only did Ann Arbor, by opting into Schools of Choice, take a significant percentage of our students, thereby contributing toward the closing of several of our schools, but now they’re going to be coming back and taking over one of those very schools. So, it’s conceivable that, when school begins in September, we’ll have Ypsi kids educated in an YCS building, with all of the state money that’s been earmarked for their education going directly to AAPS, minus, I guess, whatever they’ll be paying in rent to YCS for the use of the building. And, to make matters worse, the teachers working in the building may very well be former YCS teachers who have likewise been poached away, which I’m told happens quite often. [Speaking of poaching, I’m told that members of the YCS board were concerned when this idea of renting West Middle School to AAPS was first discussed, that, if Allen were indeed to move in, people living in the immediate vicinity of the school might choose, under School of Choice, to move their children over. I’m told, however, that Superintendent Swift assured the YCS board that the School of Choice window had already closed for Allen, so the school would not be accepting any further transfers.]

For what it’s worth, I don’t suspect many Ypsilanti students are currently attending Allen, as most students who opt to participate in Schools of Choice are attracted to other, more in-demand AAPS schools, like A2 STEAM, Burns Park, Tappan, Huron, Skyline, and Carpenter, as opposed to a Title I school like Allen. [Carpenter is apparently popular with Ypsilantians as it’s the closest AAPS elementary school.] There may, however, be some… Regardless, it raises another interesting question. If Allen wasn’t one of the poorer of Ann Arbor Schools, would it be moving to Ypsilanti? If it were, say, Burns Park Elementary that had flooded, would the solution be to send those children to Ypsilanti? I suspect not. My guess is that, in that instance, members of the Ann Arbor community would have stepped up and rented a building for them somewhere in Ann Arbor, but that’s a different conversation for a different day.

With all of that said, I’m not against the idea of renting the school to AAPS. I agree with Ypsi Community Schools Superintendent Benjamin Edmondson, who said a few days ago, “This is about (the) kids.” As he pointed out out the time, “If we have a facility that’s available, it doesn’t make sense to me to sit there and say no.” With that said, though, the irony of it all still doesn’t sit well with me.

I don’t know if I ever mentioned it here before, but, a year or two ago, in the wake of something I’d posted about the possibility of merging our two neighboring districts, I was invited out for coffee by some folks affiliated with the AAPS Board of Eduction. And, to their credit, they were incredibly open and honest with me. To sum it up succinctly, they told me that, as things stood now in Lansing, it would not make economic sense for them to merge with Ypsilanti, under any circumstances. [If we were to merge our districts, they told me, they would not only take in fewer dollars per student from the State than they do now, but they’d also inherit our district’s considerable debt, which, according to Superintendent Ben Edmondson, costs us approximately $2 million per year.] Furthermore, they said they would continue to accept Ypsilanti students, if it meant that they could keep from closing AAPS schools and firing teachers. They said they didn’t like the idea of poaching our students, but it was something they had to do to keep their district solvent in light of the funding realities established by Prop A in 1994. If they didn’t do this, they said, their district would start to contract and weaken. So, as much as they knew it was hurting us, they said they had no intention of stopping. Their hands, they said, were tied.

I should also add that I know the decision as to where one sends their child is an incredibly difficult and personal one. We all want our children to have the best opportunities possible for success, and I don’t necessarily blame the families of those 671 Ypsilanti students who have chosen to send their children to Ann Arbor schools in hopes of giving them a more positive educational experience. We can’t ignore, however, the effect it’s having on our community, as more and more of our students are heading west across 23 for their educations. Schools are the very foundation of a community, and we can’t afford to just sit by any longer, passively watching as ours are systematically dismantled.

And, it’s worth noting, this isn’t just about YCS. All public education in the state of Michigan is under fire. It’s just that, here in Ypsilanti, we’re further along the path to destruction than better funded, more fiscally stable districts like those in Ann Arbor. [For more on the Michigan assault on public education, click here.]

So, how, given all of this, do our neighboring districts better work with one another to stop this destructive cycle that we’re caught in, and start fighting together to change things in Lansing, so that we can provide quality educations for all students, and not just those with the wherewithal to jump from district to district? Instead of pursuing furtive efforts to increase student counts each year, what if we were to explore bold policy initiatives together? What would happen if the Ann Arbor Board of Education advocated, for instance, that the State of Michigan forgive some or all of YCS’s considerable debt, so that the district was on more of a level playing field when competing with surrounding districts and charters? Or what if we were to explore the possibility of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) stepping in and consolidating operations for all Washtenaw County schools? Would that help our schools become more fiscally stable, and how would it compare to Ann Arbor’s move to privatize services in order to save general funds? Or what if we formed a new parent group across the Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti border to begin advocating for a more fair and equitable system of public education?

In a recent Facebook discussion on how we might move forward with a discussion on how districts might better work together to stop this destructive cycle, YCS board member Maria Sheler-Edwards had the following to say.

I can’t talk about this issue without recognizing some of the larger issues that are contributing to the decline of urban districts in general. First, charters are a continual drain on all of us. There are some good ones, but there are also some pretty lousy charters out there that just aren’t fulfilling their promises. It would help immensely if the state would reinstate the cap, and hold the ones that are open accountable. We also need to revisit Prop A. These are hard issues that we in YCS (or AAPS) just aren’t in the position to solve ourselves. But – if there were going to be a local conversation about a merger, it would need to be facilitated by a third party, as the ISD did for YPS and WR. Also, I’d go big and bring all 9 Washtenaw Co districts to the table for a discussion about shared services to start, or what 3 or 4 larger districts would look like. “Local control” is relative.

So, with all of that said, I’m wondering how we initiate a fair, open, honest dialogue about our school districts and how they work with one another, while, at the same time, pushing for state reform relative to the way our districts are financed and our charter schools are licensed. These are some of the most difficult problems we face as a community, but they could also have the greatest positive impact for all of us. As our friends in Ann Arbor have to realize, they can’t stay afloat forever by pushing Ypsilanti Community Schools further down. At some point, we’re going to have to work together to find a solution. Why not begin that conversation today at West Middle School?

One last thing to keep in mind… Let’s all remember that, according to a recent study by Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, the greater Ann Arbor region is the 8th most economically segregated metropolitan area in the United States. Like it or not, this isn’t just about our competing school districts trying to remain solvent. This is about race and class. And we need to acknowledge that. We also need to face the fact that these decisions that we make relative to education policy are not just driving inequality, but jeopardizing the future of our entire region.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Education, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Pay your graphic designers, folks… or suffer the consequences

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Earlier today, the website of a relatively new Ann Arbor brewery was taken down and replaced with the above message. And, since then, their Yelp reviews have gone into a tailspin. At last count, they had eight new one-star reviews, all calling for people to boycott the business on account of what one person called their “absolutely despicable and unacceptable” business practices. And, not just that, but, as a result of this, a former employee has just taken to Facebook to talk about her less than positive experiences with the owners. What started earlier today with a local graphic designer sharing that her client had told her, “You can keep calling, but we’re not paying you,” and asking what recourse she had, has now blown up into something that could very well sink business which just launched earlier this summer. Regardless of who’s wrong and who’s right in this, you have to appreciate the overwhelming power that social media now has over not just our local business ecosystems, but over our interpersonal relationships.

For what it’s worth, having seen a number of my graphic designer friends stiffed over the years, I’m inclined to believe the designer in this instance. For some reason, when it comes time to get paid, it seems as though the creative professionals always find themselves at the back of the line.

You can’t not pay your electric bill. You can’t not pay your produce supplier. You can’t not pay your attorney. But, chances are, you can not pay your graphic designer and get away with it… Well, until now, apparently.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Local Business | Tagged , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Free dildos await returning UT Austin students at “Cocks Not Glocks” rally against open carry on campus

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Remember how, some time ago, I mentioned that students at the University of Texas at Austin were threatening a “Cocks not Glocks” protest in response to the Texas legislature passing a bill that would allow for open carry on their campus? [While guns are now acceptable on campus, the open carry of sex toys, which are considered obscene, is not.] Well, they’ve apparently made good on their promise. According to news reports, anti-open carry activists handed out 4,500 dildos and vibrators yesterday at a rally on the campus of UT Austin. Here’s video from the American Statesman, followed by a bit of background taken from my post of last October.

FROM MY OCTOBER, 2015 POST:

In June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 11. The legislation, commonly referred to as the “campus carry law,” will give licensed firearms owners the right to carry concealed handguns in most public university buildings within the state beginning in August 2016. While the legislation does apparently give university presidents some flexibility in designating buildings that can remain gun-free (like administrative buildings, no doubt), the result will undoubtedly be more guns on Texas campuses, and many, as you might imagine, aren’t happy. The following comes from the San Antonio Express-News.

“…At two public forums held in the last month, dozens of UT-Austin students, faculty and staff spoke against the law, urging President Greg Fenves to severely limit campus carry at the flagship. Last week, a professor emeritus in the school’s economic department announced he would be giving up teaching over concerns about his personal safety…”

And protests are being planned. The most interesting one I’ve read about thus far is an open carry dildo protest scheduled to coincide with the campus carry law going into effect at UT Austin. “You’re carrying a gun to class? Yeah well I’m carrying a HUGE DILDO,” event organizer Jessica Jin proclaimed on Facebook. “(It’s) just about as effective at protecting us from sociopathic shooters,” she went on to say, “but much safer for recreational play”…

For what it’s worth, there was also a counter protest on the campus of UT Austin by gun rights activists yesterday. A group called Students for Concealed Carry unveiled their “coexist” campaign, with its distinctive interlocking Cock ‘N Glock logo, the same day, albeit to a much smaller crowd. Here’s a photo.

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Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A warning from “the ghetto of Hamtramck”: Beware the Muslim, Uber-hacking human trafficking ring

As Detroit social media seems to be going crazy over this Facebook post, I thought I’d share it here so those of you who have been banned from social media could weigh in. It’s a wild story, and the online debate it’s given rise to about whether or not the young woman who posted it may have embellished just a bit is growing increasingly intense.

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Interestingly, I just looked at the Facebook accounts of a few of my friends in Hamtramck and it looks as though former Ypsilantian Steve Cherry may have been at Kelly’s Bar the very night this allegedly went down. I’m going to write to him now and see if he might have any insight for us. In the meantime, keep your eyes open and be safe, especially if you’re in Hamtramck, where society seems to be unraveling at the seams.

For what it’s worth, I don’t doubt that the woman who posted this felt as though she was in danger on the evening in question, and, by posting this, my intention isn’t to make things worse for her in any way, which is why I chose to leave her name out of it, and not link to the Facebook post in question. Based on her original post and her comments that followed, she seems sincere, and I’m not going to just assume, like a lot of folks have, that all of this is pure fiction. (A lot of people are comparing this story to the one told recently by Ryan Lochte in Rio.) For all I know, she really did have a bad experience with an Uber driver who she felt intended to do her harm, and, if that’s the case, I think she probably did the right thing by trusting her gut, and getting herself out of that situation. With that said, the rest of her story does not jive with what I know to be true about Hamtramck, which is actually a beautiful town with decent cell coverage. Also, having been to Kelly’s Bar, I don’t really see them as being the kind of folks who would be “in on it” with a gang of Muslim hacker super-criminals who have constructed a system to export sex slaves from Hamtramck. No, I think they’re probably content just to serve drinks.

UPDATE: I just received the following statement from Matt Luke of Kelly’s Bar.

“For the record, I’ve lived in Hamtramck for three years and worked here for six, and I’ve never heard of anything like this ever happening. And, trust me, it may appear differently to the outsider’s eye, but society here is far from “falling apart at the seams.” It’s a super diverse community, and, in many ways, ahead of its time in America. And I think you’d be genuinely surprised at how peacefully everybody coexists in Hamtramck. I’m not sure what this woman’s intentions are, but she’s clearly tapping into the Islamaphobia that’s so prevalent in mainstream America. I have MANY Muslim neighbors, and the behavior she described is completely contrary to everything I’ve observed and experienced from them.”

Posted in Detroit | Tagged , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Donald Trump: the long con revealed

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A number of news stories came out over the past 24 hours about spending by the Trump campaign. It would appear, based on recently obtained Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, that the New York based campaign, in spite of taking in a great deal more money from Republican Party donors over recent months, is actually employing fewer people than it had previously. And, interestingly, it would appear as though, despite having fewer paid staff, the campaign is actually spending significantly more for office space in Trump properties than it had back when Trump was primarily self-funding the campaign… Here’s an excerpt from the piece which just ran in Talking Points Memo, to give you a sense of how much money we’re talking about.

…Back in March, when he said his campaign was entirely self-funded, Trump paid Trump Tower Commercial LLC $35,458 for rent. That amount was consistent with what he had paid since launching his presidential bid in the summer of 2015. By July, however, once he started raising funds from donors, he paid $169,758 in rent for the same space.

The Huffington Post noted that the discrepancy was particularly striking since Trump was paying 197 employees and consultants in March, compared to only 172 in July. The filings don’t clarify whether Trump is now renting significantly more office space in his midtown Manhattan building or why he would do so given his reduced staff size…

And, as you might expect, some Republicans aren’t happy about it… The following pull-quote comes from the previously mentioned story in the Huffington Post.

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He’s not just drawing more from the campaign in terms of rent, though. Trump is also paying his family members of his family from campaign coffers. While I haven’t found anything recent on the subject, the New York Times reported earlier this summer, “Mr. Trump, whose campaign has just $1.3 million cash on hand, paid at least $1.1 million to his businesses and family members in May for expenses associated with events and travel costs.” They went on to add, “(This) total represents nearly a fifth of the $6 million that his campaign spent in the month.” So, now that his campaign is spending some $18.5 million a month, with less staff, one wonders just how much of that money is finding its way back into the pockets of Trump and members of his family.

While everyone in the press seems fixated on the fact that Trump has apparently begun to divert donations from his presidential campaign back into his own bank accounts, the thing I find more interesting is the fact that, despite saying repeatedly that they’d be building an organization to rival Clinton’s, they’ve actually been cutting staff. This would seem to indicate to me that Trump either doesn’t care if he wins or looses, or that he’s trying to keep overhead low in order to have more money left in the bank when all of this is done.

While someone in the Trump campaign responded today that the candidate still contributes “$2 million per month to the campaign,” which, they were careful to point out, is more than what he takes back in rent paid by the campaign to his various properties, I can’t help but wonder how those payments are structured. In other words, is he donating the money outright, or is he in fact just loaning it to the campaign, as wealthy candidates often do? If I had to guess, having watched Trump operate since I lived outside of New York in the ’80s, I’d say it’s the latter, and I expect he’ll be looking for a payout in November, once all of this is done.

I know there are theories circulating that Trump just entered the race in order to hand the Presidency over to Clinton. Personally, I don’t buy it. In order for it to be true, you’d have to believe that he was setting the groundwork for this at the beginning of the Obama presidency, when he started in with the birther nonsense. No, I think it’s much more likely that he’s just a conman who saw an opportunity to ride a wave of hatred and fear into the general election, where he could raise his Q rating a bit, and bring a few more suckers to exploit his way. I think, however, once he saw the Republican Party begin to collapse around him during the primaries, he saw an opportunity to get his hands on the key to the Republican treasure chest. So, what likely started as a more straight forward con, quickly morphed into something else entirely once he realized that he had it within his power to move into the evacuated shell of the Republican party like a hermit crab and start using it as a tool to increase his wealth and power, regardless of whether or not he really had any interest in winning the presidency. If I had to guess, I’d say that he’d prefer to have the wealth and power without the responsibilities of the office, but I might be wrong. And, who knows, there may be other forces at play. As we’ve discussed before, maybe it’s out of his hands by now. Maybe Putin and the Russian mob, who have invested a great deal in him over the years, are going to push him into office whether he likes it or not. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Regardless of how it plays out, I’m reminded right now of a plot line in The Sopranos involving the owner of a sporting goods store who had made the mistake of borrowing money from the mob that he couldn’t repay. The mob, in response, took over his store and bled it completely dry. They maxed out every line of credit he had, and ordered as much as they possibly could from his suppliers. Shipments of sporting goods came in the front, and were immediately moved out the back, to be sold through other channels. Once they had their hooks in this man, they just bled him and his company completely dry. And that’s what I think we may be witnessing right now with the Trump candidacy. I think, now that he’s got control of the party, he might just be trying to extract as much cash from it as he possibly can before the inevitable collapse.

Here’s the scene from The Sopranos. This particular scam, by the way, is called a “bust out.”

[note: Speaking of Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 election, did you happen to see the most recent news, that they’ve likely been hacking into the accounts of journalists, ostensibly looking for information that might help them get tiers candidate elected?]

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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