- Associated Press - Monday, February 26, 2018

The Detroit News. February 21, 2018

Money just one part of school equation

Prior to the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Michigan State University, chances are you probably hadn’t paid much attention to its Board of Trustees. Now, those trustees are under a spotlight. The university’s bungled handling of this horrible School funding debates are usually contentious, with some arguing more money could solve most schools’ woes and others saying it’s more about how that funding is spent. The answer lies somewhere in the middle.

A new report on Michigan school financing has brought the conversation to the forefront. It’s a debate worth having. As part of our Fixing Michigan’s Schools series, we’ve devoted space in recent weeks to this topic. The latest installment is elsewhere in our Think section.

As political, business and education leaders look to improve this state’s standing nationally when it comes to school performance, expect funding to be a significant part of that discussion.

That’s welcome. But it shouldn’t overshadow other important discussions about improving how students are taught - as well as entrenched structural problems that eat into funds school currently have.

The School Finance Research Collaborative, composed of a diverse group of business and school leaders, released its statewide study last month. It takes a close look at how much funding is needed to offer Michigan students a quality education. As expected, the answer is “more.”

This is the second adequacy study in the past two years. Taxpayers spent $400,000 on the 2016 study, and the information in that report hasn’t moved policy, which is why the collaborative wanted to take another stab at it. Yet one of the firms the members chose was Colorado-based Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, which conducted the first study.

The new study’s main finding is that the base per-pupil cost to educate a regular education K-12 student in Michigan is $9,590 (not including transportation, food service or capital costs). That is more than recommended by the 2016 study, which called for $8,667 per student. And there’s not a great explanation for the different estimates.

The report also calls for more funding for small districts, which lack economies of scale, and for students in poverty and those who are English learners.

Similar studies done in more than 30 other states nearly all came to the same conclusion that more money was the answer, and those studies have been used to justify calls for increased funding. And they’ve also served as the basis for lawsuits when states didn’t fall in line.

Gov. Rick Snyder has already included a sizable additional investment in the state’s per-pupil funding of $120 to $240 per student, with students in low-income districts getting more money.

Any additional funding must come with direct accountability to ensure those funds are actually helping the students who need it most.

Similarly, the structural problems districts face should be identified and addressed before the state starts writing bigger checks to schools. For instance, Michigan doesn’t need the cost of 56 intermediate school districts, which divert funding from schools that directly serve students. Also, pensions in the state still consume too much of payroll costs. Last year it was 37 percent, and while new reforms will lower that burden over time, more should be done now to make sure the most money possible is heading to the classroom.

Also many districts are dealing with enrollment declines. Large districts like Detroit especially need to do more to right-size their overhead. Enrollment within the Detroit Public Schools Community District is only at about 60 percent of capacity - a clear waste of resources.

Those problems should be fixed simultaneously with any increase in funding.


Traverse City Record-Eagle. February 23, 2018

A health center grows in Kalkaska

Travel is no fun when you’re hurting. Minimizing drive time required to get needed health care is a noble goal.

The planned 24,000-square-foot expansion at Kalkaska Memorial Health Center will allow many residents to stay closer to home when they receive chemotherapy, infusion or other services.

Everyone in the Kalkaska area is likely to gain from the expansion. Patients will be able to travel shorter distances. Medical professionals will have better access to local patients. Kalkaska County shops and restaurants may capture a bit more business from patients and their families.

Kalkaska County residents recognized the benefits of the planned addition when they approved a 10-year, 1.6-mill hospital millage renewal by a nearly 70-percent vote in May 2017. The millage will collect $10 million, the lion’s share of the project’s $13 million total cost.

Hospital officials interviewed about 150 community leaders to help shape the project. Those conversations, with a variety of representatives from civic organizations, church groups and other folks, guided the hospital’s aim toward infusion services and chemotherapy.

It could be the largest expansion project in Kalkaska’s history, according to Village Trustee Damien White.

Village planning commissioners approved the structure’s plans earlier this month. It will be on the northeast side of Kalkaska Memorial Health Center on Coral Street.

The first floor of the expansion will include primary care facilities and specialty physician services. The second floor will include chemotherapy, infusion therapy and space for chronic disease management and community education.

The project also will include the expansion and remodeling of the emergency services department, which will move from the center of the hospital to the building’s southwest corner. The move will provide multiple entrances to the emergency department and is planned to keep emergency traffic isolated from the facility’s other sections.

Kalkaska area residents who must leave the relative comfort of their homes for a painful journey to receive an infusion or chemotherapy will appreciate the shorter trip.

The entire village will benefit from the increased vitality that naturally flows from new construction.


Times Herald (Port Huron). February 22, 2018

Roads more frightening than floods

Blue Water Area communities mostly dodged a bullet following this week’s peculiar weather. Spring-like temperatures and Noah-like rains early in the week conspired to cover every flat surface with puddles and every stream and drain with perilous amounts of flowing, muddy water.

Whether that would have turned into damaging flooding is anybody’s guess. Thaws and ice breakups in the river happen almost every year. The factors that turn normal weather into disastrous flooding are many and complex. Some years, the ice in the Black River slips away in the night as stealthily as a skunk awakening from its winter nap. Other years, the ice slams into riverside obstacles and itself, forming a clot that backs up upstream waters as effectively as a dam.

This year’s thaw appeared to have the potential to cause widespread flooding. We’re happy to give local authorities the credit for blunting the worst and preventing most damage.

In the city of Port Huron, for instance, officials moved quickly Monday to hire a tug to clear ice from the mouth of the Black River as far inland as the 10th Street Bridge to protect vulnerable neighborhoods. Public works department employees spent three days filling and distributing sandbags. Emergency managers took to a helicopter Wednesday to get real-time intelligence.

By dinner time, the crisis was mainly over. By Thursday, the river was down, and riverside property owners were ready for spring. They shouldn’t relax too much; the river will freeze and break up again next year, with the same sort of unpredictable effects.

Minor flooding is not the only disaster we have to worry about from this hot and cold running winter. Somebody is going to lose a car out there. DPW workers whose backs are sore from filling sandbags now need to step into the breach before area roadways head downstream just as quickly as that melting ice.

Pothole form every winter and spring, almost as reliably as ice splinters and rumbles in the Black River. But we’ve never seen a season like this one for roads, which seem to be crumbling faster than crews can patch them. Much of it has to do with the weather - this winter’s repeated cycles of freezing and thawing seemed purpose-built to smash apart pavement and to grind up gravel.

But some of it also has to do with the overall state of our infrastructure. Weak, deteriorated roadways are more vulnerable to the water infiltration and fracturing that turn a January rain shower into a pothole and a pile of loose gravel.

The state House on Wednesday found another $175 million for road repairs and sent the bill to the state Senate. The Senate needs to move quickly while we still have streets to repair.


Petoskey News-Review. February 23, 2018

Hopes high for important progress under new adminstrator

There are times in life when there is just something reassuring about a familiar face.

And that’s the feeling we had recently when the Emmet County Board of Commissioners decided to hire John Calabrese as its next county administrator.

Calabrese’s hiring gives us hope that there is calm on the horizon after many months of stormy weather centered around the county administrator’s position. The rough going started last May when the board of commissioners voted to fire its last administrator and lingered through the process of finding a permanent replacement, which included offering the job to a person and then rescinding that offer when concerning information came to light.

Regardless of the tumultuous path, we have high hopes that the right person ended up in the job.

We, and many in the community, know Calabrese well from the six years he served as Petoskey’s public safety director. He left that position in 2016 to accept a job downstate as director of the Public Service Institute at Macomb Community College. In our view, Calabrese, who started in his new position earlier this month, was a highly effective administrator in his time with the Petoskey Department of Public Safety and we are confident that many of those same skills will serve him well as county administrator.

Yet, while our confidence level is high for Calabrese in the county administrator’s position, we also know that he and the board have some important issues on their to-do list.

Here are some of the areas that we think should among the top priorities for Calabrese and the board:

- Transit: It’s a topic that has been discussed around he county for some time, and if a recent community input session is any indicator, there remains a real need and desire in the area for some kind of public transit solution. We believe this is a core area that county government should be considering. We also believe that with some commitment and creativity, a viable solution can be found.

- Budget transparency: If there is one thing that recent events in the county’s business has shown many in the community, it’s that the county needs to make significant strides to make sure that its budget and money management practices are both sound from a business, management and legal standpoint, but also very transparent among the various county departments and to the community at large.

- Headlands profitability: Although many people agree Emmet County’s Headlands International Dark Sky Park is a very nice facility which has added to the many amenities that make Emmet County a great place to live and visit, the park has come at a high price. For this reason, now that it’s built, we think its important for the county to find a way to make the facility self-sustaining so it doesn’t become a further anchor on the county’s budget.

- Ambulance financial stability: Public safety - in this case a reliable ambulance service - is another core basic need that is appropriate for the county to be concerning itself with. And it appears it has been successful in doing so with the established Emmet County EMS system. However, this has also come at a high cost. We also know that most municipally run EMS systems are lucky if they approach breaking even. Now that it’s established, we think it should be a top priority for county officials to ensure that the system remains financially stable.

We know this a significant list to which many other items could be added, but we are also hopeful that under the leadership of its new administrator, the county can make major strides toward attaining these goals.


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