- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

The Detroit News. April 3, 2016

DPS fraud highlights deep culture problem.

The news last week of felony bribery charges against 13 current and former employees of Detroit Public Schools comes at an awkward time for the district. Reports of corruption are not going to make Michigan lawmakers any more eager - and rightfully so - to send $715 million to DPS with no strings attached.

These charges, however, shouldn’t derail what must be done. The Legislature should complete its work and send off the money that will give DPS a fresh start. Last month, the Senate passed its version of the bailout, including a new framework for oversight of the district and all city schools. The House, which has its own package, will take up the issue once lawmakers return from their spring break.

While some, including grandstanding members of the DPS board, are using this opportunity to point blame at emergency management of the Detroit district, the problems go much deeper than that. Arrests for kickbacks have occurred at DPS for decades, and they surely contributed to the financial mess the district was in when the state took over six years ago.

Governors, starting with Jennifer Granholm in 2009, have appointed a string of emergency managers to oversee the district’s finances. But the culture of corruption runs deep at DPS, as the latest charges demonstrate.

Fourteen people were charged Tuesday in a nearly $1 million bribery and kickback scheme, which began in 2002 and ran through January 2015. The employees involved allegedly took bribes from school vendor Norman Shy, who sold a range of school supplies. Seven current principals were allegedly involved, and some of the principals oversaw schools recently in the news for horrible conditions.

That’s infuriating. New DPS Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes placed current staffers on unpaid leave and suspended business with the vendor charged in the case. And he expressed the outrage that all Detroit residents - especially parents and students - should feel. The scheme deprived students of nearly $3 million in resources.

“And I am sure that this sense of outrage is shared by the other dedicated and committed DPS employees, as well as DPS parents and everyone who is interested in the future success of DPS,” Rhodes said.

In legislative discussions underway, it’s likely control will return quickly to a newly elected school board. Yet both the House and Senate have included bills that would extend the current oversight of the city of Detroit’s Financial Review Commission to the school district. That’s vital.

And the commission should have broad involvement in the district’s financial decisions. It should require regular audits and accounting overview, in addition to having contract approval

At the end of January, Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, requested a detailed report through the state’s auditor general as to the status of DPS’ nearly $2 billion in facility bonds issued in 1994 and 2009. Given the poor conditions of many district buildings, that money hasn’t all gone to good use.

These are the kinds of questions lawmakers should be asking, and they must demand strict accountability if the bailout is passed.

Otherwise, in a few years, DPS will be back in the same situation: out of money and in need of state assistance.___

Battle Creek Enquirer. April 3, 2016

‘Bathroom bill’ legally, morally flawed.

North Carolina is leading the charge on so-called “bathroom bills” - laws that prohibit transgender people from using the restrooms right for them - but a Michigan legislator is ready to enter that ignoble company.

Sen. Tom Casperson last week announced he would introduce a bill that would effectively ban transgender students from using the bathrooms of their choice.

Like the North Carolina law, Casperson’s promised legislation would usurp local control, once considered a bedrock of conservatism that is increasingly nothing more than a vapid contrivance of the GOP.

The North Carolina law, signed March 23 within 24 hours of its introduction, overturns and bans local anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people. Called one of the harshest anti-LGBTQ laws in the nation, it forces transgender people in schools and government buildings to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate rather than how they identify themselves.

Although not as broad, Casperson’s proposal is itself a preemptive strike in a response to a set of recommended guidelines released by the state Board of Education, and it is no less heavy-handed.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba (Photo: File)

The senator, according to a press release on his website, would require Michigan students use bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their genders at birth unless the students have “written consent from a parent or guardian.”

Even with that consent, transgender students would be barred from facilities for the opposite sex, “If those facilities are in use or could be in use.”

Casperson told Michigan Radio’s Stateside that the bill is “common sense.” Most constitutional scholars would say that it’s unlawful and is bound to be turned back in courts, but it’s worth examining the senator’s conventional wisdom.

“It’s going to still allow for the student, with the parent, to identify the problem,” he said, “. that if a student is struggling with their identity, clearly, we should be listening to what they have to say. Then, look at ways to make accommodations to accommodate that situation.”

It seems to us Casperson and a lot of other lawmakers aren’t really seeing “the problem.”

Transgender people aren’t problems. They aren’t inherently flawed, nor are they predisposed to immoral or deviant behavior. They are no more likely to be sexual predators than so-called “straight” people.

They are, too often, victims - of discrimination, ostracization and violence. They face it in the world, the workplace, in school - even at home, which is why the state Board of Education wisely counsels school districts not to insert themselves in students’ decisions on what and how to tell their parents about their gender identity. Most children, given the opportunity, would gratefully turn to their parents for support rather face a hostile world alone. Too often, that support just isn’t there.

Casperson’s proposed bill is legally, ethically and morally flawed, offering protection against an imagined threat while reinforcing hurtful, unfounded stereotypes against kids who, even with their gender identities, are no different than his own or anybody else’s.

And finally, the bill is unnecessary. As sound as the state board’s recommended guidelines are, they are just that: Recommendations that districts are free to incorporate or not into their own policies.

In that light, Casperson’s bill seems more like political grandstanding of the most despicable kind. We suggest he drop the notion, and we encourage his Senate colleagues, if given the opportunity, to soundly reject it.___

Lansing State Journal. April 3, 2016

Fill city workers vacancies with urgency.

The work of Lansing city government must be done - whether its current workers are being paid overtime to do it or the more than 100 vacancies on the city’s workforce are filled with new hires.

Chances are the answers lie somewhere between those two extremes. Overtime is a necessary part of any operation; vacancies will always exist. Is there a happy medium?

The City of Lansing paid more than $16 million in overtime over the past five years, including a 77 percent increase from 2013 to 2015. That’s about $3,600 per year per city employee. The rates are highest for police officers, followed by firefighters and all other city workers.

From an employee standpoint, overtime is a chance to make more money. If job performance isn’t affected, does it really matter if Employee A wants to work six days a week or Employee B works a couple extra hours on a project with an impending deadline?

No, it doesn’t. In fact, the possibility of voluntary overtime can be an incentive for many.

It’s the gray area between making extra money and experiencing burnout where the debate begins. It’s naïve to believe job performance won’t be affected in long-term overtime situations - especially in public safety roles where the intensity and stakes are highest.

Lansing Mayor Virg Benero says overtime in lieu of filling vacancies is not a cost-savings measure. Although it certainly is saving the city outlays for wages and benefits. The city budgets $800,000 a year in savings from unfilled positions. There recently were 126 job openings - or 15 percent of the budgeted workforce.

Bernero says the city’s goal “is to fill all vacant positions with qualified people.” It seems finding qualified people is a challenge.

Yet it’s one the city must address if it wants to provide the best public services to the people who choose to live and work in the capital city. Overtime is an appropriate stop-gap measure; filling vacancies with urgency and creativity with an eye toward the future is the best, sustainable option.___

Times Herald (Port Huron). April 3, 2016

Lend your voice to prevent child abuse.

We can’t decide if the statistic is good news or bad news.

The 2016 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, compiled by the Michigan League for Public Policy, says that 4,098 children in St. Clair County were living in households that were investigated for abuse or neglect in 2015. Of those, 527 - or about one in eight - were confirmed to be victims.

There are 36,784 children under the age of 18 in the St. Clair County, according to the Census Bureau’s latest estimate.

That 4,098 number is good news if it means that family and community members are recognizing the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect and are notifying authorities so that they can protect those children.

It’s bad news if family and community members have reason to worry about the well-being of one in nine children living in our cities and towns.

It’s worse news that two of our children died of abuse and neglect in 2015, and a third was saved only because the death of her 5-year-old sister caught the attention of authorities.

The two deaths have important differences.

Lukas Long, a 16-month-old fed a fatal overdose of Benadryl by his mother, had been one of those children investigated by Child Protective Services. In hindsight and from our perspective, the agency’s safety prescription for Lukas and his siblings seems farcical. It required the children’s father to phone home from work several times a day to make sure his drug-addled mother wasn’t putting anyone in danger.

That order makes sense within the context of the agency’s muddled and conflicting priorities. Protecting children, keeping families intact and keeping the foster care system afloat is a terrible and frightening balancing act.

Mackenzie Maison died before attracting the attention of social welfare workers.

She didn’t starve to death in her parents’ home without anyone noticing. Grandparents, aunts, others saw Mackenzie and her sister wasting away and said nothing. Their inaction is despicable.

The blue ribbons tied to downtown Port Huron lampposts remind us that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

They must also remind us that those who didn’t speak up for Mackenzie can’t be held accountable for her death under Michigan law.___

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