- Associated Press - Monday, February 22, 2016

The Detroit News. Feb. 16, 2016

Judge Rhodes adds heft to DPS debate.

Lawmakers still aren’t showing much enthusiasm for the bills that would send millions of dollars to Detroit Public Schools and create a more stable foundation for the district’s future. To get legislative support, Gov. Rick Snyder plans to tap retired U.S. bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes to serve as interim emergency manager for Detroit schools.

Rhodes, the judge who oversaw the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy, is well respected in Detroit and Lansing. And he’s already spent some time with lawmakers at Snyder’s request, educating them about the precarious nature of DPS’ finances and the potential negative consequences of the school district going bankrupt.

According to a source close to the negotiations, Snyder could announce as early as Friday that Rhodes will accept the appointment as emergency manager.



Current DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley announced a few weeks ago he would resign Feb. 29, so Snyder must appoint another manager to oversee the district through June, when Earley’s 18-month term was up.

Earley was pressured to step down given his tenure in the same role in Flint, during which time the city moved to Flint River water. In addition, Detroit teachers have brought unsanitary building conditions to light in recent weeks, which reflected poorly on Earley.

The governor is counting on lawmakers to pass legislation by this summer that would send DPS $700 million over 10 years and turn the district back to an elected school board. That election could happen as early as August. But it all depends on the Legislature.

Rhodes has said he sees this role as short term, and he is not open to serving as EM past July - regardless whether lawmakers act on the DPS bills by that time.

While Rhodes’ involvement should signal to lawmakers that bankruptcy is definitely on the table, he personally would not be able to take the district into bankruptcy if that’s what the state decides to do. His time as a bankruptcy judge would likely preclude him from overseeing a district bankruptcy.

The legislation currently before lawmakers would split DPS into an “old company” to pay down past debt and a “new company” that would form a debt-free school district for the 46,000 students who attend DPS.

The governor wants Rhodes on board to get the new district ready to go, which would include hiring an interim superintendent to oversee academics until an elected school board would hire a permanent one.

Rhodes’ appointment should instill more faith in the governor’s plans for DPS - at least that’s Snyder’s hope.

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The Lansing State Journal. Feb. 17, 2016

Approve regional trail pathway.

The MSU campus-to-Lake Lansing regional trail pathway may finally happen.

In addition to recreational implications, following through on a plan 15 years in the making could demonstrate that regional thinking is taking hold in the area.

A $1.68 million trail proposed between Hagadorn and Park Lake roads, along the Red Cedar River, could be the first step to make the pathway finally happen if Ingham County officials approve the plan.

The increase in walkability to residential areas, businesses and recreation areas east of East Lansing - including Lake Lansing county parks - is more than enough to make the project worthwhile. More than 450,000 visitors come to Lake Lansing parks each year, more than 90 percent from nearby.

The trail, step one in a three-phase process set to begin in 2018, would benefit county, city and township residents - as well as MSU students - who like to walk, run and bike. Having a safe pathway for recreation and increased connectivity to businesses would improve health and fitness, increase community engagement and encourage more regional collaboration.

For the county, city, township, university students, residents and businesses: this is win-win.

Money already set aside through a combination of a local taxes and both local and county millages would fund the project. Meridian Twp. taxpayers currently generate about $455,000 per year from a ‘pathways’ tax; $168,000 of which would be used to cover 10 percent of the cost of step one, according to the proposal.

The same taxpayers also contribute about $750,000 per year into county parks and trails, which the proposal would bring a good portion of - approximately $500,000 - right back.

With township money already in play, the county should step up and support this effort as positive reinforcement for other municipalities to do the same.

Making use of existing connections such as the Inter-Urban Pathway (East Lansing to Haslett) and the Lansing River Trail (Old Town to South Lansing) would solidify regional connections and benefit Ingham County and Greater Lansing residents on a larger scale.

Officials should approve this plan and move forward quickly, efficiently and with resolve to ensure that this time, this plan is carried to fruition.

Future plans should focus on safe pathways from the east into Lansing and greater connectivity to existing trails in the region. The regional trail pathway is a great start to the process of complete regional connectivity.

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Detroit Free Press. Feb. 19, 2016

DPS House legislation is an insult.

What is the state House of Representatives thinking?

Wait, that one’s too easy. The House is thinking that because Detroit Public Schools’ needs are so urgent - the state’s largest school district could run out of cash in April if the Legislature doesn’t act on a reform plan mulled by Gov. Rick Snyder for almost a year - this is a fine time to tie a raft of noxious, anti-union, anti-Detroit addenda to a reform package the Legislature must pass in order to keep the district’s doors open.

So we’ll ask a different question: Are the Republican leaders of the state House of Representatives so craven, so insensible to the fact that their work affects children, that they’d risk the futures of the 47,000 souls enrolled in DPS with a slate of ideologically driven “reforms” sure to divide any vote along party lines?

Sadly, we know the answer to that.

The House’s DPS reform bills sticks to the “old company, new company” model advanced by Snyder. The old company would keep DPS’s name, elected school board and operating millage, and exist solely to pay off the district’s debt, while the new company would receive the district’s per-pupil allowance and an additional state subsidy, and would educate Detroit’s children.

But changes larded on by Republican lawmakers mean this legislation would essentially create a school district in Detroit with lower standards than any district in the state.

By gutting some provisions of the state law that requires collective bargaining for some portions of teacher contracts, by allowing the new district to hire teachers with “alternate” certification, by tying teacher pay and benefits to nebulously defined performance standards, the bills’ sponsors are saying that Detroit’s children, of all the children in the state, deserve less. Much less. Detroit kids, it seems, don’t deserve the same quality of education as kids in West Bloomfield or Grosse Pointe.

The state Senate introduced its own DPS reform package earlier this month, sponsored by state Sen. Geoff Hansen, R-Hart, who had worked closely with Snyder. That plan wasn’t perfect: An education commission that would have had oversight over both charter and traditional public schools was stripped out of the plan.

Neither plan has won the approval of Detroit lawmakers. Nor should they.

Why is Detroit different than any other district in the state? We can hear the chorus of response: Because of Detroit’s track record. Because of its history of financial ruin. Because DPS is failing.

It is an undisputed fact that the district has spent the bulk of this century under the guidance of a state-appointed emergency manager. The state bears both moral and legal responsibility for the district’s hefty debts - much of the district’s short-term debt, after all, was incurred during that period. State intervention is predicated on the state’s constitutional responsibility to provide an adequate education for every Michigan child. State intervention came with a promise to fix DPS. But state intervention, indisputably, made the problem worse.

The “reforms” added to the House plan bring the district no closer to academic or financial health. And if this is the kind of disdain Detroit can expect from the Legislature, then all hope may be lost.

Here’s our challenge to the lawmakers championing these plans: If these reforms are destined to ensure excellence, pass them statewide.

Yeah, that’s what we thought

___

The Port Huron Times Herald. Feb. 20, 2016

Trust the system to get justice for Schultz.

We still don’t know what happened on North Road the morning of Jan. 15.

We know more of the allegations against Trent Fletcher Sheldon, the 18-year-old who has been arraigned on a charge of operating while intoxicated causing death. Investigators say Sheldon was under the influence of marijuana when he drove off the road that morning and killed tow truck operator Jason Schultz.

We also know this is America, where everyone, Sheldon included, is innocent until proven guilty in court. Although Dan Damman, his lawyer, said Sheldon would plead guilty to the charge punishable by up to 15 years in prison, he is still a long way from guilty in the eyes of the law.

This case has undoubtedly been difficult for everyone involved. The grief that Schultz’ wife and young children will feel for years to come is unimaginable. They have our deepest sympathy.

We are less sympathetic, but we’re sure this hasn’t been easy for the Sheldon family either. Regardless of culpability, being involved in the death of another human being has to be painful for any individual and family. For the Sheldon family, the suffering is multiplied by the grim echoes of the fatal 2010 crash Trent’s sister Abigail caused.

Echoes of Abigail’s crash and its aftermath have no doubt complicated things for investigators and prosecutors of Trent’s case.

Some would say that Abigail got away with murder. We may have said so ourselves; we’ve certainly made that point about other fatalities for which the responsible driver was not held responsible. Despite being charged with a felony, she was sentenced to three years probation.

The only people for whom this has been simple and easy are the vultures of rumor, innuendo and social media.

They claim - without evidence, usually anonymously and always incorrectly - that Abigail got special treatment because her grandfather is prominent Port Huron lawyer Gary Fletcher. That was not true then and is not true now in relation to Trent.

Awareness of those muttered and whispered allegations of undue influence have not changed the always thorough, meticulous and professional way St. Clair County Sheriff investigators do their jobs, and have not altered the prudence and discernment of the prosecutor’s office.

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