Cynical Synapse

Mon, 14 Dec 2009

Ambulance Gets New Lease on Life

Filed under: Behavior, Good job, Helping others, Heroes, Life, People — cynicalsynapse @ 3:24 pm

Ambulance donated to Dominican Republic

Just in time for Christmas, two Hazel Park firefighters deliver a used ambulance and donated protective gear to Villa Elysia, a poor town outside of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The US military transported the ambulance under the Denton Program which allows private donations to be moved when space is available. Mast Ambulance, of Kansas City, donated the ambulance and Novi donated the protective gear.

Fire Chief Ray DeWalt and Firefighter Kyle Rowinski use their vacation time and pay their own expenses to travel to Villa Elysia, the hometown of former Tigers pitcher Roman Colon. Now playing for Kansas City, Colon is a friend of DeWalt’s and went with the firefighters when delivered a retired fire truck in April. Rowinski said:

When we were down there before we saw the ambulance they were using was an old beat-up minivan. They cover a 30-square-mile area and this ambulance will help them. The majority of emergencies for fire departments are medically related.

Retired fire truck unloading in Dominican Republic

Hazel Park became Villa Elysia’s benefactor when the best offer the city could get for its 20-year old pumper was for scrap. While looking for someone to donate the fire engine to, DeWalt’s friend Colon said his town had never seen a fire truck.

The firefighters found their way through the bureaucracy to get the engine delivered to Santo Domingo. They met it, drove it to Villa Elysia, and taught the locals how to use it. From that experience, Rowinski said he would always remember the townspeople’s gratitude.

We were able to take something that was going to be thrown in the garbage dump and helped a community. I think our next step will be to seek donations from other fire departments for old boots, helmets and gear they have taken out of service and send it down there.

Now Rowinski is seeing his next phase come true. And more.

Sun, 13 Dec 2009

Education—Time to Walk the Talk

Filed under: Behavior, Budget, Detroit, Economy, Education, Government, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 7:57 pm

Empty classroom

I’ve long felt the solution to Detroit’s problems—and any urban core, for that matter—is to ensure quality education. That’s the foundation for a quality workforce and productive members of society. Thus, money spent on education is money invested in the future of society. This point came to a head Tuesday with the announcement Detroit Public Schools test scores were the lowest ever recorded on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, a prestigious nationwide program.

In fairness, this is the first year Detroit Public Schools participated in the NAEP tests. But that doesn’t meant they’ve done well with Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) tests, either.

Robert Bobb calls scores an academic crisis

There’s no doubt Detroit Public Schools need immediate help. Detroit’s NAEP scores “are only slightly better than what one would expect by chance as if the kids had never gone to school and simply guessed at the answers,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts. Casserly added:

Only a complete overhaul of this school system and how students are taught should be permitted at this point, because the results … signal a complete failure of the grown-ups who have been in charge of the schools in the past.

Detroit schools emergency financial manager Robert Bobb blamed principals and a failing curriculum. Noting that two action plans have largely been ignored by the Detroit School Board, he added:

If we had implemented 60 percent, 70 percent or 80 percent of what’s in those plans, there wouldn’t be a need right now for an emergency financial manager.

The problem goes beyond Detroit Public Schools and its school board, however. Successful schools have a lot of parent involvement, which Emergency Financial Manager Bobb2 is calling for. Detroit Parent Network Executive Director Sharlonda Buckman yelled, “they can’t read; they can’t count!” at a public meeting, saying parents should be irate their tax dollars aren’t educating their kids. The challenge for Detroit is parents who may be functionally illiterate. Nonetheless, parental involvement is a key to success.

Dazed and Confused

While some would say Detroit’s corruption is the problem, there’s no doubt Bobb2 has cracked down on corruption in Detroit Public Schools. Thus, throwing more money at the problem isn’t necessarily the solution. In fact, based on data from National Center for Education Statistics, Detroit Public Schools spends 50% of its funds on instruction in 2007, ranking 491st in the state. That’s above the average of 46% spent by Rochester, Pontiac, and Plymouth-Canton. It’s more than Ann Arbor’s 39% and Royal Oak’s 33%. Detroit ties with Wayne-Westland and is just below Hazel Park, Bloomfield Hills, and Dearborn at 52%. So the problem is not a question of money. Rather, it’s a question of commitment to the children.

Gov. Granholm (D) and Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford) both claim education is an important issue and vital to Michigan’s future. Yet both rolled to education funding cuts by Michigan’s Republican Senate. In fact, Granholm cut even more. How does that square with education, especially higher (college) education, as the solution to Michigan’s future relevance? Looks like the Democrats don’t truly believe, to me.

Still, Michigan—well, at least the Senate—is hustling to cash in on some $400 million in Federal funding. To date, the Senate has passed four school reform bills, all largely along party lines. These include:

  • S. 0925—Public school academies: 23-12-2 (For: R-21, D-2; Opposed: R-4, D-9; Excused: R-1, D-1)
  • S. 0965—Alternative teacher certification: 36-0-2 (For: R-25, D-11; Opposed: 0; Excused: R-1, D-1)
  • S. 0981—Restructure failing schools: 28-8-2 (For: R-22, D-6; Opposed: R-3, D-5; Excused: R-1, D-1)
  • S. 0981&msash;Collective bargaining in failing schools: 23-12-12 (For: R-21, D-2; Opposed: R-4, De-9; Excused: R-1, D-1)

As for Michigan’s House, they have voted on two measures so for.

  • S. 0981—Restructure failing schools: 78-28 (For: R-22, D-56; Opposed: R-21, D-7)
  • H. 5596—Alternative teacher certification: 79-27 (For: R-41, D-38; Opposed: R-25, D-2)

So, the Senate has approved 4 measures to secure additional Federal funds while the House has only acted on one of them. What’s up with that? I thought the Dems were the pro-people, pro-education party. Never mind that Gov. Granholm cut per pupil funding as part of Michigan’s budget fiasco. Never mind that Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford, agreed to Senate cuts to the budget, including education.

If we’re going to fix education, especially in Detroit, politicians need to stop the showmanship. Instead, they need to walk the talk, putting the money, oversight, and attention where it needs to be. Shell games and partisan politics won’t cut it any more.

Tue, 08 Dec 2009

Berkley School Funding Plan Doesn’t Add Up

Filed under: Budget, Economy, Education, Government, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 7:14 pm

Berkley High School

School funding is definitely a concern in Michigan, especially after the State Senate and Gov. Granholm cut per pupil funding. In fact, Granholm says more cuts are coming. Detroit northern suburb Berkley wants to shift costs to a bond proposal. The district plans to ask voters to approve a $169.1 million bond issue for energy and maintenance improvements. The measure includes a new middle school and administrators expect to save $2 million from the annual operating budget.

Berkley schools are pretty good, rating 8 out of 10 and the district made adequate yearly progress, except at the high school. I bring this up because the bond proposal doesn’t pass the common sense test. The district wants voters to indebt themselves for $169.1 million dollars to save about $2 million in yearly operational costs. Now, although these are big numbers, my elementary school math tells me the breakeven point is 84-1/2 years. And Berkley says they need the bond because the district’s 11 buildings average 65 years old. So, let’s see. Return on investment is almost 20 years longer than the current age of buildings? There must be something really simple that I’m missing here.

Pipefitter repalcing water pipes in Avery Center

Small potatoes in the big scheme of things, but why is this question going on a special election February 23rd? Why didn’t Berkley Schools’ brain trust figure this out, put it on the ballot for the general election last November, so they could save Berkley voters some money? That’s what annoys me about school millage votes. They hold special elections and they keep holding them until the voters get tired and pass the millage.

Not to throw stones at Berkley’s glass house, but if the primary emphasis of the bond measure is to cut energy costs, why didn’t the district hold its hands out for Stimulus money? They could have cut the $2 million from operational costs without asking Berkely residents for a single dime!

Beyond the mathematics of the bond issue and its return on investment (or lack thereof), surrounding districts haven’t really made out on this type of venture. Consider Hazel Park Schools, which passed a similar measure in 2002. Since then, the district has closed elementary schools and plans to cut programs to balance the budget. So much for energy efficiency benefits to the operating budget.

The real problem with school funding is the amount districts have to pay for benefits, such as retirement. In most districts, it’s more than what’s spent “on books, buses, computer technology and building maintenance combined,” according to the Detroit News. As a result, short-term solutions become long-term issues. Hazel Park is offering early retirements to reduce the number of top-scale teachers, who make about $80,000. In their place? A retiree who gets about $50,000 and a new teacher who makes about $34,000. Net savings? How about minus $4k? No wonder Junior can’t add or subtract.

Our schools cannot continue to see increasing non-educational costs taking a bigger share of per pupil funding. At the same time people were denigrating the automakers and the UAW, Michigan teachers had similar benefits. What’s up with that? Never mind that State Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland) didn’t see a problem with the $2 million additional costs for schools. The magnitude of the problem varies by district size.

If we value education, let’s fund it. If we don’t, then we’re probably good. And we should continue to expect Michigan to slip further behind the rest of the US and the US to rank lower than other developed countries. Never mind that state education experts think this kind of smoke-and-mirrors game is “the right path.”

Update:

14 Dec 2009

According to data from National Center for Educational Statistics, Berkley spent 53% of its money on instruction, which is higher than Michigan’s average of 46%.

Sat, 05 Dec 2009

Winter Driving: Groundhog Day Every Day

Filed under: Behavior, Driving, Safety — cynicalsynapse @ 11:40 pm

Motorists in fender bender wait for the police

Different parts of Michigan got more or less snow in an early season storm, with southwest Michigan taking the brunt of it. Southwest Michigan benefits from the lake effect, which brings warmer moisture off Lake Michigan to the cooler land and, voila, you get snow.

On Friday, southwest Michigan got over a foot of snow. We get snow every year in Michigan. This is not new, but I’m always amazed by how many people are caught off-guard by the first snow. Hello! Are these people who are convinced global warming is real? Why else would they be driving like maniacs even though road conditions dictated otherwise?

There are common sense considerations for winter driving that some folks just don’t seem to get. These are the maniacs that don’t care about anyone else.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t prepared for the first snow. People think they’re better drivers than they are. But the weather usually conspires to prove otherwise. So, why do we go through this every year?

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