Thursday, October 29, 2009

H1N1 New Vaccination Clinic Date

UPDATE 11/19/09: Next Clinic Date is Sunday November 22 at the EMU Convocation Center. The priority groups list has been expanded. Find details at

A mass vaccination clinic for high priority groups is scheduled for Eastern Michigan University (EMU), Convocation Center on Thursday, Nov 5th from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. The Center is located at 299 North Hewitt Road, Ypsilanti MI 48197. All school-based clinics tentatively scheduled to begin next week are now cancelled.

High priority groups ONLY.
According to CDC guidelines, high priority groups eligible for H1N1 vaccine while supplies remain limited

• Pregnant women
• Household and caregiver contacts of children younger than 6 months of age
• Children from 6 months though 4 years of age
• Children and adolescents aged 5 through 18 years who have medical conditions associated with a higher risk of influenza complications
• Health care and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient care

More details here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Willow Run Update & Can Consolidation Happen?

According to Dan DuChene of the Ypsilanti Citizen, tonight's emergency meeting of the Willow Run School Board was cancelled--primarily because the notice requirements for an "emergency meeting" are stricter than for a "special meeting." The other news is that the precipitating problem is that the Willow Run Superintendent, Doris Hope-Jackson, has been absent a lot. A new meeting will be posted.

The question that I have heard raised several times is, "Can the Willow Run school district consolidate with another district, or be split up among several districts?"

The answer, I think, is that there are several roadblocks to that, at least the way state law currently works.

First, the districts considering consolidation (or annexation) need to have their school boards decide it is worth pursuing.

Second, the voters in each district need to agree. Jack Lessenberry had a good essay about why the Montague and Whitehall districts (near Muskegon) voted no many years ago. And the moral is that both small and large things can deter people from voting yes. On the other hand, this seems pretty reasonable to me if a district is either merging or dissolving. The people should have a say. (Want to see what the county school district map looks like? You can find it here.)

Third, the way state law is currently written, the merged district gets the average of the per pupil allocations. And the districts don't have the same per pupil allocations.

So--last year, Ypsilanti's per-pupil allocation was about $150 more than the allocation for Willow Run, but they have more than double the population--so a merger would cause Ypsilanti to lose quite a lot of money. In this climate, that is likely a major deterrent. For Ann Arbor, it would be a much much larger loss.

On the other hand, Lincoln's per-pupil allocation was about $500 less than the allocation for Willow Run. In a merger, Lincoln would gain. So would Plymouth-Canton and Van Buren schools, although not by nearly as much.

So--that's the quick lesson of the day. The explanation (if it seemed at all clear) is due to the clear explanation of Todd Roberts, Ann Arbor superintendent, in response to a question at one of the informational meetings about the millage. I hope you'll vote yes on Tuesday.

And--errors of fact will of course be corrected. Tell me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Willow Run: Major Shakeup

David Jesse has some breaking news about the Willow Run school district over at

We will have to check for more news tomorrow night, after their emergency meeting to appoint an acting superintendent--and possibly an acting chief financial officer as well. I'm hoping this is all for the good.

The Thinking Teacher

One column I have really been enjoying at is the column that Jeff Kass is writing. I find myself almost always having a reaction--I can't write about all of them, although maybe occasionally I will. In any case, you can find the updated list here.

The best teachers continue to process and reflect on their work, with the goal of improving it. That's one thing that burned-out teachers don't do. In fact, one way to get un-burned-out is to place increased and renewed emphasis on reflection. (Don't think that this is only true of teachers. The best engineers, writers, managers, electricians and gardeners all reflect on their work, with a goal of making their end results better.)

If you like Jeff Kass's writing, and you want to know more about the "inner lives" of reflective teachers, then you will also like the writing over at Teacher, Revised (linked on the right, as well).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Trick or Treat for UNICEF

No, the millage is not the only thing going on around here, although it might seem that way sometimes.

I grew up in a New York suburb, just a train ride away from the United Nations, and every year, starting in kindergarten, we would "Trick or Treat for UNICEF."

Along with candy bags, we would carry our little orange boxes and people would give us candy AND money--mostly pennies and nickels. The next school day, we would bring that money in to be counted.

UNICEF is the United Nations Children's Fund, and it upholds the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

When my kids started trick-or-treating, I discovered that nobody around here knew from UNICEF.
Until last year. For the first time, I saw the boxes. The message is getting out.
If a kid comes to your door this year, and says, sings, or shouts, "Trick or Treat for UNICEF,"--
you know what to do.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

$13.65 per vote

I was more than a little bit shocked to read, in an article on the proposed schools millage, that

Al Berriz's company--McKinley--donated


to the anti-millage campaign.

Yes, you read that right. 


I know--silly me. My thought process went like this...local millage election...big donations will be in the $1,000-$3,000 range.


In 2007, the last "off-year" November election, 10,992 people voted in Washtenaw County. (That is not quite a 9% turnout.)
Assuming the same turnout, McKinley/Al Berriz have just donated $6.82 per vote.
But actually--each side only needs to convince a majority to vote the way they want, so McKinley/Al Berriz have donated $13.65/vote.

Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to imply that Al Berriz, or McKinley, or anybody else,  is "buying" votes. It's all legal.

I'm just saying: $75,000 is an awful lot of money to spend to try to defeat a millage, and I don't "buy" that this donation is about the kids, or the schools. No. Al Berriz is just spending from his company's pocketbook, to preserve his company's (and his) pocketbook. After all, who is Al Berriz? What is McKinley? Al Berriz is the CEO for McKinley, Inc., and McKinley is a real estate company which owns and operates at least 15 apartment complexes in Washtenaw County, and a whole lot more nationally. According to a 2008 article in Ann Arbor Biz News, in 2008 they owned or operated at least 5000 apartment units in the county, plus commercial real estate.

In an interesting side note, less than a month ago, Albert Berriz joined the editorial board. But on October 18, Tony Dearing of wrote,
Albert Berriz has been serving as one of two community members on our editorial board, and recently became treasurer of the PAC opposing this millage request. Because of his involvement in this issue, Albert has recused himself from any of our discussions. He has no role in our coverage or in any editorial position we may take on this issue.
Umm, it's a little too late for to distance themselves from him when he is obviously so completely, over-the-top involved in this campaign.

As if to prove my point, obviously--when the financial statements came out. . . with the editorial position coming up. . . recusal was, and is not enough. Hence today's announcement: Albert Berriz stepping down from editorial board.

And then--surprise, surprise--and proving my point even more--the editorial board wrote an editorial that we should vote no on the millage. I'm sure there's no relationship. Yeah, and I've got some swampland to sell you too. . . (no offense meant to swampland--it's important for the environment).

Well, I'll tell you something. I don't like feeling that someone is trying to buy my vote to line their own pocket. I want to make up my own mind. You--make up yours.

P.S. You might or might not think the Ann Arbor schools are struggling, but there are NINE other school districts involved, and they educate 63% of the affected kids. NONE of them had per-pupil funding (before the most recent cuts) that came close to what the state said should be the minimum of $8400 per student.

P.P.S. Kudos to Scot Graden and his administrative staff for keeping anyone interested in the Saline schools informed about the budget and other happenings. I've been learning a lot--you can link to the Superintendent's blog, and/or the Budget Blog. I'm learning from those blogs, and I know that they would like to reach more people. Go to: and visit all the blogs--including one on art! Oh, and: Saline Area Schools will be holding a public forum to discuss the millage on Monday, October 26th at 6:30pm at Union School.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

High Stakes Poker Time

School bus inspections will end 11/1/09.

More per pupil spending cuts: $165 + $127= $292

PLUS for the "hold harmless" districts another $300-$500 per pupil.

Update: The Saline Schools Budget Blog has a good explanation although it is ALREADY out of date!

H1N1 Updates

We've got "flu days." I understand that over 50 200 schools in the state are closed due to high levels of flu circulating--most of them on the southwest side of the state.

Here are the updated guidance and vaccination clinics list from Washtenaw County Public Health.
School clinics right now are scheduled for the first week in November in Ann Arbor, Dexter, Milan, and Ypsilanti.
At this point, vaccination supplies are limited, and are only available to the high priority groups as follows:

Children and adults fitting within the following priority groups are currently eligible for H1N1 vaccination:
� pregnant women,
� household and caregiver contacts of children under 6 months of age,
� children 6 months though 4 years,
� children 5 to 18 years who have medical conditions associated with a higher risk of influenza complications (i.e. asthma), and
� health care and emergency medical services personnel who provide direct patient care.

If you like graphs, you might be interested in this Washtenaw County influenza surveillance data.

Other school-related health information can be found on the County public health web site here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

WOW! Hold Harmless Districts Slashed

Hardball Politics, from the Detroit Free Press: Governor Granholm vetoes school aid related to hold harmless districts. Yes, that includes Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor stands to lose 3.7 million more dollars.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Teens Get Depression; Men Get Depression

The other night I was watching a very interesting documentary on PBS called Men Get Depression. The UM Depression Center was featured. Some takeaway points:
--Depression often first manifests for 15-25 year olds.
--Depression is a biological illness, just like diabetes or cancer.
--Depression in men and boys often shows up as anger and irritability.
--Many people self-medicate depression with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
--There are health disparities (differences between racial/ethnic groups) in depression.

You can read more at this web site,
I was thinking about writing about this anyway, because I know too many people whose lives have been touched by depression.
Anyway, there is a group in Saline, called Saline Alive, that was founded by parents whose son died of depression/suicide. It turns out that they are having a meeting this week: Thursday, October 22nd. It's open to everyone, not just Saline families.

Date: Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time: 7:00 pm
Middle School Auditorium
7190 N. Maple Rd., Saline MI 48176

This session will provide information on:
Recognizing the signs & symptoms of depression in the adolescent vs. an adult
Understanding what role that the genetic factor can play in depression
The difference between self-harm and suicide risks

7:00 – 7:15 pm Saline Alive Update – Brad Bezeau, SHS Assistant Principal
7:15 – 8:00 pm Guest Speaker – Mary Grambeau Gass, LMSW
Mary is a member of the U of M Depression Center and has worked as a clinical social worker in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Outpatient Department for 20+ years. Mary also has a private practice, where she treats children, adolescents and families in Ann Arbor. Mary has a special interest in treating adolescents and their families.
8:00 – 8:15 pm Questions and Answers
If you would like to more information please contact Brad Bezeau at

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Does It Take A Millage?

I have been hearing, and reading,  a lot of discussion about the proposed county-wide 2 mill education millage. If you are a county resident, you get to vote on it this coming November 3d. And if you've been reading this blog semi-regularly, you know that I have said Please, Raise My Taxes. Still, when I first heard about this county-wide millage proposal, my first reaction was NOT, "Oh, goody! Someone is listening to me." My first reaction was to get even madder about Proposal A than I already am. Under Proposal A, the Ann Arbor schools get pointed at critically because Ann Arbor is a "hold harmless" district and gets "so much money" (when Proposal A was developed, 44 [corrected 10/19/09] hold harmless districts were told if they bought in, they wouldn't lose money on the deal).  Yet thanks to Proposal A, we have lost control of how much money we can raise for our district, because that authority is ceded to a bunch of clueless state legislators. AND, to add insult to injury, we are still a "donor" district, meaning that more of our money goes out of the district than stays in the district.
As far as I am concerned, Proposal A was a deal with the devil. We lose control of our own destiny, and we don't get the security that was promised. So here's the essence of my thoughts. When I said, "Raise my taxes," I had in mind a state-level solution, one that would likely include a progressive income tax, instead of a flat income tax, which is what we have now. It doesn't look like that is happening anytime soon, but understand this: the real action around school funding is happening at the state level. The local millage question is peanuts in comparison.

Further, the choice of a county millage is simply the product of a loophole at the state level. We can't have district operating millages (only ones that cover things like construction). And one thing that I really don't like about this kind of millage is that it seems unfair to some parts of the state. Sure, Kalamazoo and Monroe counties might have supported county education millages, but I don't think we'll be getting all 83 counties on board. Which means even more disparities. And the *only* thing that Proposal A got right was the goal of reducing disparities among school districts.

After reading comments about the millage question on and, I get the feeling that a lot of people are upset that (here are some arguments that I have heard, along with my response):
  • Teachers get paid too much. I don't believe they do--teachers are generally over-educated and hard-working. Sure, I want the burned out teachers to leave. But the millage vote will not affect their decisions. Why shouldn't a teacher make what an engineer makes? They have about the same amount of education.
  • Teacher health insurance is too good. I might argue instead that other people's insurance is too crummy. But even if I were to agree, it's not something I can control. It's a very clumsy tool to think that voting "no" on a millage will mean that teachers have to pay more for health insurance.
  • I'm suffering, you should suffer too. Well, of course, if you need to--if you are suffering--vote your pocketbook. But remember, it's not about the administrators suffering. It's about whether the kids need to suffer. So if you are not personally suffering, don't rely on this for your agrument. And since as the schools go, so go property values, it's likely that school cuts mean we will suffer even more. Schools are major economic engines, and employ thousands of people who live in our county.
  • I don't like that the district built Skyline--or closed Kettering, or moved the sixth grade into the elementary schools.  It's done. Let's move on.
  • I don't like that the new Ypsilanti superintendent is getting paid so much. I agree, especially since the district is asking the teachers for concessions. But it's done. Next time, you run for Ypsi school board and make a different decision.
  • I don't want money to go to Willow Run--it's not well-managed. I agree that it's not well-managed, but their huge deficit does not make it any easier for them. It makes it harder, and I'm hoping times will change and that the management will change.  
  • If I vote for a millage, I want it to be "value added." This seems like maintenance. It is. That is because of the state budget cuts. Call your state legislators and tell them to fund schools adequately.
  • The schools should cut administration first. I agree. And I think the school boards shy away from that. So why is it that so few people actually ran for school board in the last go-round? You should run for school board! I mean it. I would like to see contested contests in every district in the county. And when you do win the election, remember--even if you cut administrative costs in half, the vast majority of school costs are related to instruction.
  • The millage doesn't guarantee accountability. That's true, but that is not just true about the millage. We need to demand accountability, with or without the millage.
The truth is, the choices we get are shaped by the choices we have. Since I didn't run for school board, I don't get to vote on the superintendent's salary. I don't get to negotiate with the teachers or principals union. I don't get to decide what should be cut from the budget--and I think it's a lot harder than it looks. Perhaps, given a choice of cuts, you and I wouldn't agree. You might want to cut athletics, and I know that sports made the difference in my high school experience. I might want to cut all AP classes, and you might think Advanced Placement classes are essential.

The choices we get are shaped by the choices we have. We can't have a single district millage because that is forbidden by Proposal A. Anyway, would that be for the best? The Washtenaw County area is a more-or-less integrated economic unit. In my neighborhood in Ann Arbor, I know there are teachers from Dexter, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Willow Run school districts. Those are just the ones I know. So what happens to teachers in Dexter or Willow Run will affect my neighborhood.

It's all about the kids. And voting is not enough. Public schools need caring people to run for school board, join committees, advocate at the state level, and volunteer in the schools. So however you vote, take that next step too, and ENGAGE.

But, yes. I am voting yes. I will be putting up a yard sign in my yard. And I have the literature for making a donation to the vote yes campaign sitting in my "in" box. I invite you to join me.

P.S. I've been very fortunate that so far I haven't had to remove a single comment or stop anonymous commenting.  That's because people have generally been respectful. Regarding taxes, passions run high. You don't have to agree with me, but please don't be snarky, mean, or rude. Thanks!

Baseball: Winds of Change

Nobody will confuse Little League with the baseball playoffs going on now, but I thought a little "herstory" might be in order: 

From This Week, 9/21/09

Huron ninth grade student, Courtney Ziemba, was filmed playing baseball last week as part of an HBO documentary about Carolyn King, the first girl to play Little League baseball in the Ypsilanti-American Little League team soon after the Title IX law was passed.  Courtney plays second base and pitches for this same team.  The movie is scheduled for release in the spring of 2010.
(I have written about This Week before. It is good news (a brag sheet, if you will) of news in the AAPS district. Here is the link to it.)

From the Ypsilanti Little League web site:

The Ypsilanti American Little League was founded in 1953 and is the oldest Little League in Michigan. In addition, our Little League was the first in the world to include a female player. When Little League was founded in 1939, girls were not allowed to participate, but that changed in 1973 when Carolyn King of Ypsilanti played in our league.

A June 4, 1973 article in Time Magazine tells the story. “When Outfielder Carolyn King, 12, tried out for the Orioles, an Ypsilanti, Mich., Little League baseball team, she beat out 15 boys and qualified for a starting position. Not long afterward, Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pa., cited its rule barring girls from league teams and threatened to withdraw the Orioles' charter. Ypsilanti's city councilmen issued a counterthreat: if Carolyn did not play, they would cut off city support for the league and bar it from public ballfields. After some soul-searching, the Orioles decided to let Carolyn play. Promptly, national headquarters made good on its threat and withdrew the Orioles' charter. Last week, just as promptly, the city council voted 10-0 to file suit in federal court charging violation of the U.S. Constitution. No verdict is likely for weeks.”

Ultimately the US Division of Civil Rights ordered Little League to drop its boys-only policy, and in 1974, Little League revised its rules to allow girls to compete. Girls worldwide now enjoy Little League thanks to Carolyn and our league! Carolyn joined us again to throw out the ceremonial first pitch during our 50th & 56th Anniversary Opening Day Ceremonies.

Watch May 11, 1973 national news coverage from CBS & NBC, as well as footage of Carolyn throwing the 2009 ceremonial first by selecting video links below.
      1973 CBS National News:
      1973 NBC National News:
      2009 Ceremonial First Pitch:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Millage Basics

Tuesday, November 3d election discussion:

Ann Arbor Public Schools: There will be a community presentation on the millage hosted by AAPS Superintendent Dr. Todd Roberts and Deputy Superintendent Robert Allen. Monday, October 19th, 7:00-8:00 p.m. at Pioneer High School's Little Theater.

Washtenaw Intermediate School District Millage Information Link

Saline Schools budget blog

Niche Marketing

This summer, at the Townie Fair right before Art Fair, one of the local private schools--Ann Arbor Academy-- had a table, with a big picture of a brain. It was part of advertising how their school deals with ADHD kids. I was surprised, but I guess I shouldn't have been. The way that private schools--and charter schools--compete is often by marketing to a specific subset of parents. That is very obvious with private parochial schools like Gabriel Richard High School, but it is sometimes a little less obvious with the charter schools (aka public school academies). Nonetheless, it is there.

Consider: Honey Creek--"The mission of Honey Creek Community School is to provide an education of the whole child emphasizing the integration of thought and experience by centering learning on themes and projects in a multi-age setting."
Consider: Central Academy--"Central Academy also has a strong ELL department that helps newcomers.  The school offers Arabic as a foreign language, a full day kindergarten, advanced classes, and a required dress code."

On the other hand, when a public school district tries some of its own niche marketing: alternative education programs like Community High School, magnet programs, or gifted and talented programs there is often some push-back. 

To me, that is a conundrum, because lots of families are looking for the "niche." People like me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Spending Cuts By District

The Free Press has an online database that gives you an idea of last year's per pupil funding and what each district stands to lose with the $165 per pupil funding cuts. It includes the charter schools, too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Best and Brightest: What Has Your Counselor Done For You Lately?

Now that I have a child who is actually in the "looking and applying to college stage," I finally understand why the application process strikes fear and awe into peoples' hearts and minds.

I understand why my co-worker's son, who was initially interested in a small liberal arts college in Michigan where he could play his sport of choice, but whose mom was born in another country and confused by the application process, whose father is deceased--found it easier to pursue a possible career in the Air Force. The Air Force recruiter walks you through the process, step by step. They make it easy.

Last spring I was very puzzled by an Ann Arbor News supplement--you know, the graduation supplement? That is (I guess I should say "was") the one that profiles the top 5 students from every school in the county. Some of these kids can really knock your socks off, and they are all--every single one of them--overachievers. Most of the ones from Ann Arbor told the News they were going to small private schools, the University of Michigan or Michigan State University. But take a look at the ones from some of the outlying areas: Willow Run, Whitmore Lake, Manchester, Chelsea... All of a sudden, Eastern Michigan University, Ferris State, and even Washtenaw Community College pop up as probably school choices. Washtenaw Community College for a valedictorian or salutatorian? That makes no sense at all.

I have nothing against any of those schools, but now that I am experiencing the college application process "up close and personal," I have a different take. All of these students--we are talking the top five in the class--are strong candidates for UM, MSU, and, yes, small private colleges. Those students who don't have money could probably get financial aid. But I'll bet that a lot of them never applied.
Why? The application process is intimidating. The financial aid process? Even more intimidating. Yes, even to those of us who have been to college and graduate school ourselves. The applications are primarily online. What if you don't have a computer at home?

A few years ago, I had an intern who grew up in a working-class school district in Macomb County. She was one of the top 10 students in her graduating class. In 11th grade, she went to her counselor and said, "What do I need to do to get into the University of Michigan?
Replied her counselor, "I have no idea."

Really? Then why are you working as a school counselor? 

Is it any wonder that she reports to me that of her graduating class, one student went to an Ivy League school; 2 or 3 each went to the University of Michigan and Michigan State; a handful went to Oakland University, Wayne State, or Eastern Michigan; a bigger handful went to Macomb Community College, and the majority did not pursue any higher education at all. Nada. Zip.

School counselors have difficult loads. But colleges also expect them to write letters of recommendations for their students. This year, at Pioneer High School, I understand that all of the seniors have been assigned to one counselor; one counselor, who has never met a lot of them before. Do you think that counselor will be able to do a good job writing letters of recommendation?

Even worse--because it does not relate to their workload--are the counselors who cannot advise students on how to apply to the excellent state schools that we have in Michigan.

Worse still are the counselors--and I just heard a story about one of these the other day--who tell students who indicate an interest in applying to schools which are in their range, or even "reach" schools--"Oh, don't bother, you will never get in."
Why don't you let the college or university decide?

Counselors, listen up: If you don't know how to help students apply to the colleges of their choice, then you either need to learn, or you need to get a different job.

Do you ever wonder how we, as a society, perpetuate class differences? This is how. 

As Langston Hughes wrote so beautifully:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Autism: News and Notes

"No mom, he's not autistic or anything. He just has an anger management problem."

That was the beginning of a conversation I had with my son a couple of years ago. Thanks to the openness of a couple of families who had had children in his class, he seemed to have a moderately good grasp (for an elementary school student) of what autism is, and what Down Syndrome is. Anger management? That was different entirely (and it was probably more disruptive to the class too).

I don't have a very sophisticated understanding of autism, although I do have increased interest now that a close relative has been evaluated and found to be "on the autism spectrum." Nationally, special education services are mandated, but they are undoubtedly better in some districts--and some states--than others. Friends of mine who have moved from California and Massachusetts tell me that special education services which are standard there are hard to come by here. And parents of children with special needs who have some control over their destiny (e.g., middle and upper class people) will choose their school districts based on the special education services available.

When we talk about autism, a few things are clear. Autism treatments have been subject to a lot of controversy. The autistic spectrum covers a wide range of behaviors and actions. And the prevalence of autism seems to be going up--whether that is because of better diagnoses, or an actual increase, I don't know.

In any case, I thought it would be good to write about some local resources. I have no personal experience with them.
First, for several months I have had on the right-hand sidebar a link to a Child Psychology Research Blog. In fact, I linked to it in this post for an article on the prevalence of autism, as well as the links for autism and autism treatments. What I value about this blog is the way that the author(s) explain(s) scientific findings in easy-to-understand language. Well, it turns out that Dr. Nestor Lopez-Duran has recently moved to Ann Arbor--and that despite the very large number of entries around autism and autism causes and treatment, his own research is on mood disorders in children and adolescents. Side note: If you find a notice that he is speaking locally, he'll probably be worth going to hear.

Second, Eastern Michigan University is opening an Autism Collaborative Center. It is opening in the former Fletcher School Building (in case you wonder whether, or how, closed school buildings can be repurposed--here is one positive example). You can find more information at

Third, the University of Michigan has a well-established Autism and Communication Disorders Center. You can find more information about them at

Want to Guest Blog?

There are a lot of things I know about, but a lot more that I don't! For instance, I don't have much experience with the world of special education. However--from numerous conversations with acquaintances, I know that the special education process can be hard to navigate and understand.

If a parent or two (and/or teacher/administrator) who has been through the special education processes--from diagnosis/evaluation/testing to IEP development and implementation--would like to guest blog very occasionally, contact me at rlk234 at

Friday, October 9, 2009

Open Meetings Act Part 2

Here is some more information about the Open Meetings Act.

1. From the state legislature: text of the OMA and Freedom of Information Act, as well as background information on some of the legal cases (up to 1997, only--but I've pasted some of the relevant ones below). It turns out that there is a lot of case law involving school districts and school boards!

2. Relatively concise summary from the Citizen Media Law Project.

Michigan Court of Appeals: “The OMA should be construed broadly in favor of openness; exceptions should be construed narrowly, with the public body bearing the burden of proving the applicability of an exemption.”

Michigan Court of Appeals Court Decisions on the Open Meetings Act
Michigan courts have rendered decisions which, when published, become precedent and are the law of the state until changed by a higher court or by the Legislature. The following list contains the principal published decisions of Michigan’s appellate courts and is current through July 1997. Court decisions may be obtained in law libraries or from the courts of record at a nominal fee.
Because the Legislature has amended the Open Meetings Act after its enactment, the cases interpreting and applying the Act may not reflect the current law.
13. Rochester Board of Education v Michigan State Board of Education, 104 Mich App 569 (1981)
Where the State Board of Education provided parties with the full panoply of procedural safeguards guaranteed by the Administrative Procedures Act in contested cases, it should not allow parties or nonparties to address it concerning the merits of a contested case at a public meeting, because the Administrative Procedures Act requires that contested cases be decided solely on record evidence.

15. Ridenour v Dearborn Board of Education, 111 Mich App 798 (1981)
The evaluation of the performance of school administrators is not an action that is exempt from the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

16. Palladium Publishing Company v River Valley School District, 115 Mich App 490 (1982), lv den
The Open Meetings Act requires the naming of a suspended or expelled student at the meeting and in the board’s minute when a student is expelled or suspended by action of a board of education.
[NOTE: The Open Meetings Act was amended in 2003 or 2004 so that students could be identified by number, and their identification remain hidden.]

21. Cape v Howell Board of Education, 145 Mich App 459 (1985)
In extending the time period of an option contract, the Board of Education made a “decision” requiring compliance with the Open Meetings Act. Also, the time period for commencing an action under the Open Meetings Act begins to run when the minutes of the meeting in question are approved and made available to the public.

26. Jackson v Eastern Michigan University Foundation, 215 Mich App 240 (1996)

A foundation empowered to exercise delegated authority by resolution of a university board of regents is a public body subject to the Open Meetings Act.

30. Moore v Fennville Public Schools Board of Education, 223 Mich App 196 (1997)
A public body may arrive at a conclusion as to negotiating strategy at a closed meeting. That conclusion is not a “decision” that the Open Meetings Act requires to be made at an open meeting.

Opinions of the Attorney General Relating to the Open Meetings Act
The Attorney General has issued numerous Opinions of the Attorney General (OAG) which explain various applications of the Open Meetings Act. This list of the principal opinions issued is current through July 1997.

e. Hearings under the Teachers Tenure Act fall within the provisions of the closed meeting exceptions provided for in section 8(a) of the Open Meetings Act. p. 32
f. Section 8(b) of the Act allows the school district to consider dismissal, suspension, or disciplining of a student in closed session when requested by the student or the student’s parent or guardian. p. 32

k. The provisions of section 8(f) of the Act apply to employment interviews for the position of school superintendent with the local K-12 school boards. p. 41

4. A board of education may not: (a) deny a person the right to address a meeting of the board on the sole ground that that person is a representative of an organization of board employees; (b) limit the subject and issues that certain persons may cover in the course of addressing the meeting; (c) require persons to exhaust administrative remedies before addressing issues at a public meeting; nor (d) prohibit a person from addressing it on grounds the matter to be addressed is or might be the subject of a closed meeting. Attorney General Opinion No. 5218, p. 224, September 13, 1977.
5. A legislative committee is included within the purview of the Open Meetings Act and may not engage in the practice of “round-robining” by which votes on a measure are obtained by a member of the committee going to other members and obtaining their signatures on a tally sheet. Attorney General Opinion No. 5222, p. 216, September 1, 1977.
7. The Open Meetings Act prohibits a voting procedure at a public meeting which prevents citizens from knowing how members of the public body have voted. Attorney General Opinion No. 5262, p. 338, January 31, 1978.
18. The designated electors of constituent school districts may elect members of an intermediate school board by secret ballot. Attorney General Opinion No. 5412, p. 737, December 20, 1978.
19. The exemption from the Open Meetings Act which permits members of a public body constituting a quorum to attend a conference permits members of the public body to listen to the concerns of members of the public or of persons with special knowledge in the presence of other interested persons. It does not permit public bodies to conduct closed sessions to listen to presentations by department heads and administrators of the public body. Attorney General Opinion No. 5433, p. 29, January 31, 1979.

21. When members of a public body constituting a quorum are unaware that they are being brought together by another, this is a “chance gathering” that is exempt from the provisions of the Open Meetings Act and there is no violation of the Act as long as matters of public policy are not discussed by the members with each other at that meeting. Attorney General Opinion No. 5437, p. 36, February 2, 1979.
24. The following responses to specific inquiries are from Attorney General Opinion No. 5500, dated July 23, 1979:
a. Access to notes of a public meeting may not be denied solely because the notes may be revised. p. 264

b. School boards may meet in closed sessions to consider matters exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. p. 270
32. The meetings of a board of education expelling a student from school for repeated violations of rules and regulations must list a student’s name. Unedited minutes must be furnished to the public on request in accordance with law. Attorney General Opinion No. 5632, p. 563, January 24, 1980. June 4, 1980.

34. The minimum 18-hour notice required for a special meeting of a public body is not fulfilled if the public is denied access to the notice of the meeting for any part of the 18 hours. The requirement may be met by posting a notice at least 18 hours in advance of the special meeting at the main entrance of the building that houses the principal office of the public body. Attorney General Opinion No. 5724, p. 840, June 20, 1980.
43. A board of education of a school district may not conduct the public business of evaluation of the performance of the superintendent at private meetings of two or more committees of the board, each composed of less than a quorum of the members of the board and including the president of the board to provide continuity in the evaluation deliberations, from which the members of the public are excluded. Attorney General Opinion No. 6091, p. 711, August 18, 1982.
44. A bargaining committee authorized by a board of education to conduct negotiations with school officers and employees,may conduct such negotiations in closed sessions. Attorney General Opinion No. 6172, p. 161, July 20, 1983.
52. A teacher may close a disciplinary hearing if cameras will be present even if the teacher had not originally requested a closed hearing. A public body may impose reasonable restrictions on the filming of a public meeting. Attorney General Opinion No. 6499, p. 280, February 24, 1988.Opinion No. 6752, p. 18, March 10, 1993.

59. The Open Meetings Act does not preclude an intermediate school district from allowing representatives of member districts to attend a meeting via interactive television. Attorney General Opinion No. 6835, p. 10, February 13, 1995.
60. The Open Meetings Act does not require an advisory board formed by a board of education to recommend athletic policy to open its meetings to the public. Attorney General Opinion No. 6935, p. ____, April 2, 1997.

Monday, October 5, 2009

School Lunch

In case you missed it, there was an interesting interview with a school "lunch lady" (Jean Ronnei, Director of Nutrition and Commercial Services for Saint Paul Public Schools) on The Splendid Table this week, titled "Lunch Ladies and School Lunch Programs."

It turns out, they have about $1/meal to spend on food--which is about the same as the budget of a person on food stamps. It is pretty limiting. If you are interested in what it is like to live on a food stamps budget, and you are not poor enough to live on one, you can read about the Food Stamp Challenge here. (I should note that ICPJ's official Food Stamp Challenge--which I link to--is over, but you yourself could try it at any time. In any case, the comments are interesting.)

And especially in school districts where a lot of kids rely on free and reduced price lunches, the quality of breakfast and lunch become a big issue.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What Makes A Meeting Open?

There is a terrific column by Dave Askins at the Ann Arbor Chronicle about the Open Meetings Act.  The article is framed around the City of Ann Arbor email scandal, but the questions that are raised apply to lots of other governmental bodies, including school boards around this county. I have not (yet:) done any research around how our local school boards meet, or don't meet, the requirements of the Open Meetings Act. I'm interested in whether they meet both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. I have noted that, at least in the Ann Arbor schools, it is hard to find out if there are any district-wide committees that are open to interested parents.

If you have thoughts about your experiences with the "openness" of school boards, either post a comment here or email me at rlk234 (at)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 1 Updates

There's still doom and gloom on the state budget front. The one slight ray of sunshine is that the cuts in the education budget are a big part of what are holding things up. So keep calling your legislators (and actually, I think the ones who represent the majority of Washtenaw County have been pretty good in safeguarding kids, but they can stand to hear from you--I'm not sure about the southern edge of the county). Next week, when the legislature returns (they apparently needed a break after working so hard), if you want, you can watch some really compelling tv of the House and Senate in session. (Reading a blog can come across with a measure of tone deafness. That was meant to be deep sarcasm.)
UPDATE 10/2: The Ann Arbor Chronicle points out that Ypsilanti City Council member Brian Robb has posted Kirk Profit's updates to the city about the state budget process on his blog, You might find them interesting. I do.

H1N1 is spreading. I think you already knew that. Apparently the county health department is planning mass vaccination clinics, at schools, in early November (which is when they'll have access to the vaccine). What's unknown, at this point, is whether most of the kids will get the flu before the vaccine. And what's also unknown is whether parents will think the vaccine is important for their kids. Oh, and I just got a letter from the Ann Arbor school district, where the takeaway message was "stay home when you are sick" and that to avoid H1N1 you should "teach your kids to wash their hands." OK, so why didn't they write, "Use your common sense!" Maybe because, when you read about the state legislature's antics, you realize that common sense can be pretty uncommon.

If you liked the Bernie Mac show, you will like this piece about flu transmission. I think it is very funny! If perhaps a bit overdone...but then again, I'm not very squeamish.

Student count numbers are out. And what is amazing is the way that small variations really add up. In a district the size of Ann Arbor (over 16,000 students), going up 68 students is less than a .5% change--possibly just natural fluctuation. But it's also worth a lot of money. Of course, it would help the schools if they knew how much money they were getting per student. It's already 1/4 of the way through the school fiscal year  which means any cuts will be  magnified because they will have to be made for the second half of the year. The one district which didn't have a little swing--it had a BIG swing--was Willow Run. Read my thoughts about that here.

So, sooner or later I'm going to have to write about the proposed county education millage. I thought I would wait until the state budget was approved, but maybe that won't be feasible.What I will say tonight, though, is--if you need to register to vote, tomorrow would be a good day to do it.