Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Hate crimes down statewide, few in Southwest Michigan

By BRANDON HOWELL
Capital News Service

LANSING – Reported hate crimes have declined in Michigan, including the southwestern part of the state.

Michigan fell from having the third- to fourth-highest number of hate crimes reported nationally between 2006 and 2008, according to the FBI. Core said reported hate crimes increased by 2 percent for the country during that same time.

In 2006, there were 653 reported hate crimes in the state compared to 560 in 2008.

Michigan still has among the worst in the nation because law enforcement officials are serious about hate crime, according to Harold Core, director of public affairs for the state’s Department of Civil Rights.

“There is no federal law that requires crimes to be reported as hate crimes,” he said. “Our numbers show that we take it seriously in Michigan.”

According to the FBI, hate crimes are motivated by bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

County officials in Southwest Michigan say hate crimes are rare and aren’t a problem.

“I can’t think of the last time we had a hate crime,” St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough said. “We’ve had a couple of instances where an ethnic intimidation charge has been made or maybe a couple of gangbangers intimidated a group of Hispanics or something like that, but they have been very limited.”

McDonough said, “We have a small black population in Three Rivers and we have a small-to-medium Hispanic population in Sturgis. Other than that, we really don’t have a lot of diversity. You just don’t hear about hate crimes here.”

Core said hate crimes are down because of awareness and training his department and the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes have provided.

From 2007 to 2009, the department and alliance trained about 6,000 crime victim advocates in building cultural competence and hate crime awareness, Core said.

There also were meetings with law enforcement agencies and development of a police and community relations training program, according to Core.

“All of that training helped community leaders, police and prosecutors throughout the state to become more sensitive with hate crime incidents so that they were better able to tend to areas with tension before it became an incident.

“Sharing with the community how important diversity issues are helped to discourage ethnic and religious tension from going further,” Core said.

The department also holds an annual conference focused on recognizing hate-group activities and how to deal with racial and ethnic tension in schools, among other topics.

“By getting that information out there, we really made people more aware so that they’re better able to deal with these issues before they became incidents,” Core said.

Incidents aren’t classified as hate crimes unless they involve a physical component, according to Berrien County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Michael Sepic.

“You can have a disturbance where something is said about ethnicity, but it’s just a disturbance,” he said. “There might have been a bunch of racial stuff going back and forth, but if it didn’t result in an actual physical assault, it’s not a hate crime.”

Sepic said hate crimes happen in Berrien County, but they’re not increasing.

“They’re very few and far between,” he said. “We probably have one or two cases of ethnic intimidation a year, but it isn’t predominant. There aren’t very many that we charge.”

Sepic said there are many disturbances that occur because of ethnic, racial or religious reasons, such as escalated bar arguments, but they don’t qualify as hate crimes.

Capt. Lyndon Parrish of the Cass County Sheriff’s Department said hate crimes are practically nonexistent there as well.

“We have not had a reported incident of that this year or any that I’m aware of last year,” he said.

Parrish said Cass County has had some cases of graffiti where hate was initially a suspected motive. They turned out otherwise, though.

“We were able to determine that there wasn’t any malicious intent to any race, creed or color,” he said. “It just happened to be somebody marking up things.”

Van Buren County Prosecutor Juris Kaps said he can’t remember the last hate crime reported in the county.

Kaps said he believes hate crimes are few in the county because residents are more sensible than to engage in that kind of behavior.

“I like to think we’re better than doing that sort of thing,” he said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Social Policy

Schools eye ad options

By BRANDON HOWELL
Capital News Service

LANSING – Schools across the state, including some in St. Joseph County, are looking into selling advertising opportunities to make up for less state funding.

In Three Rivers, the district has advertising deals with local insurance companies and is considering ads on its website.

And in Sturgis, similar measures are being discussed.

Three Rivers Community Schools Superintendent Roger Rathburn said his district has put advertisements for two insurance companies – MEEMIC and State Farm – into employee paycheck envelopes. He said it’s a mutually beneficial process.

“We’ll do an envelope stuffing for about $100,” he said. The companies “will bring about 400 copies of the ad, or however many they want, so they get to send 400 ads out for $100, which is much cheaper than paying for stamps.”

Rathburn said the revenue might not sound like much but that it can add up.

“We have 26 payrolls a year,” he said. “If we do that 26 times, that’s $2,600 that might help prevent a cut to the elementary field trip budget.”

Three Rivers is also considering an advertisement banner for the top of its website. Rathburn said the discussion is only preliminary thus far.

Rathburn said he got the idea from his time as president of the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We sold ads in a little box and a banner on the chamber’s website,” he said. “Having gone through the process there and seeing how easy it is got me thinking we could do that at the school.”

Rathburn said website ad revenue is determined by the number of visits the page gets.

“People go to the website for athletic schedules and different things,” he said. “There’s a lot on the site.”

Sturgis Public Schools Superintendent Robert Olsen said district administrators have discussed new ad revenue possibilities as well.

“We’ve talked about advertising on our website and at our ball fields,” he said. “Some schools even put advertising on buses.”

Olsen said he has yet to estimate revenue from ads.

“Most certainly anything would be under consideration,” he said. “Obviously, it’d have to be something that was tasteful, something we’re comfortable with promoting and products we’re comfortable promoting.”

Michigan Education Association (MEA) public information officer Kerry Birmingham said advertising in schools is becoming more popular throughout the state.

“It’s something a lot of schools are looking at,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that school districts are having to do this because of inadequate funding.”

Birmingham cited eight Oakland County school districts that signed an advertising deal in April with Alternative Revenue Development, a Bloomfield Hills business that helps schools find new sources of income.

Districts in Troy, Bloomfield Hills, Pontiac, Huron Valley, Brandon, Oak Park, Waterford and Hazel Park agreed to put ads on signs at sports facilities and other large gathering areas beginning in August. The ads will be for restaurants, universities and banks, among other clients.

Alternative Revenue Development estimates that the advertising will generate $100,000 in revenue for each high school in its first year and more in subsequent years.

The MEA has no official stance on the advertising issue, but Birmingham said the state’s largest union of public school employees has concerns.

“You have to be very careful,” she said. “Students are very easily influenced at that age, so you don’t want advertising everywhere. But it’s something a lot of places are looking at as a pure economic necessity at this point.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Education

Oil, natural gas production in Michigan plummeting

By HYONHEE SHIN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan’s crude oil production dropped over the past quarter-century while demand and production of renewable energy grew, U.S. Energy Department data shows.

Production dropped because reserves are exhausted, said Steven Pueppke, director of the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station and the Office of Biobased Technologies at Michigan State University.

“It’s possible to develop drilling techniques to produce more oil, but it’s not easy,” he said.

Bruce Dale, an MSU chemical engineering and materials science professor, said the same pattern occurs in all oil-producing regions.

“We find easy oil first, and produce it,” he said. “Then it gets harder and harder to find and produce oil, so output declines.

“We have to make a necessary transition to renewable energies,” Dale said. “We simply cannot afford to stay in the fossil fuel hole we are now in.”

Historically, most of the state’s energy has come from fossil fuels – petroleum, natural gas, coal and some nuclear energy. Currently, these four sources provide 93 percent of its power.

Michigan has more natural gas reserves than any other Great Lakes state, but the limited supply of it and other fossil fuels is a concern. Records show a significant drop in fossil fuel production over the past three decades, particularly crude oil.

For example, crude oil accounted for nearly 30 percent of energy produced in Michigan in the 1980s but is now only 4 percent.

And production of crude oil in Michigan dropped by 85 percent between 1980 and 2007, the most recent year for which data is available.

The five counties with the most oil production are: Calhoun, Manistee, Otsego, Grand Traverse and Crawford, according to the Michigan Oil & Gas Producers Education Foundation’s 2009 data.

Otsego County produced the greatest amount of natural gas between January and September 2009, followed by Montmorency, Antrim, Alpena and Oscoda counties.

According to the Energy Department, Great Lakes states with oil reserves – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania – showed an average 54 percent drop, higher than the national average during the same period

Meanwhile, renewable energy production and use in Michigan has gradually risen over the last several years, the data shows.

Between 2003 and 2007, for example, biofuels production rose 127 percent and consumption jumped 144 percent. Biofuels are made from organic material produced by plants, animals or microorganisms, such as wood, waste, hydrogen gas and alcohol fuels. Common biofuels include ethanol and biodiesel.

There’s a clearly rising trend of renewable energy use and production, said Stanley Pruss, director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG).

“Our investment and attitude toward renewable energy are expected to continue building up,” Pruss said.

Michigan’s growth in renewable energy production resulted from more resources and investment, said Jennifer Alvarado, executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association in Dimondale.

“It means understanding a climate of fossil fuels, as well as education and outreach,” said Alvarado. “People became interested in purchasing renewable energy such as a solar panel and energy-efficient cars. The number of households equipped with solar panels rose to 2,500 in three and a half years.”

Dale, the MSU professor, said renewable energy is receiving increased attention as an alternative to traditional sources.

“The technologies for renewable energy keep improving and are now cost-competitive in many applications,” said Dale. “Policies and technologies are combining to allow renewable energies into new markets.”

In 2008, Michigan adopted a “renewable energy portfolio” standard that will require at least 10 percent of its power to come from renewable sources by 2015, according to DELEG.

Under that law, energy providers must meet the standard through renewable energy generation, renewable energy credits and “energy optimization” techniques. Potential sources are biofuels, solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal and energy, as well as energy generated from landfill gases.

Alvarado said the state should do more.

“There are other Great Lakes states doing better than Michigan,” she said. “In Illinois, Minnesota, New York and Ohio, people would get about 25 percent of energy from wind by 2025.”

In Illinois, 75 percent of the electricity used to meet that state’s 25 percent renewable standard must come from wind, according to the Department of Energy. In Ohio, at least half of the standard, equivalent to 12.5 percent, of electricity sold, must be generated by wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal or biomass. Minnesota and New York also enacted 25 percent standards for 2025 and 2013. Pennsylvania set an 18.5 percent target for 2020.

Pueppke of the Office of Bio-based Technologies said public policy is important in advocating renewable energy production and reducing fossil fuel use.

“Other than promoting power standards, zoning and planning could prevent sprawl, so people don’t have to commute far,” he said. “It’s more of public policy, so it’s more difficult but worth trying.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Economy

Unwanted phone books dial up recycling challenges

By THEA NEAL AND AGNIESZKA SPEISZNY
Capital News Service

LANSING – While many individuals are condensing their lives into tiny digital devices, businesses aren’t slowing down production of paper phone books.

“We have all these phone books which serve more as coasters or bookends than they do as references,” said Erik Mitchell, a Michigan State University psychology student.

Mitchell said the David Bowie Memorial Cooperative House in East Lansing receives phone books, sometimes twice a year. “We recycle them sometimes, but it’s easier to just leave them on our stoop and ignore them.”

Instead of using them, however, residents look up phone numbers on the Internet, he said.

Phone books decay like other paper in landfills, but their production requires a lot of resources.

To publish 500 million phone books, 19 million trees are harvested and 7.2 million barrels of oil are used, according to YellowPagesGoesGreen.org, an organization that wants to change the phone book delivery model. Its website estimates that about 540 million directories are printed annually in the United States.

But what some critics call a dust collector remains a prime place to advertise. AT&T Inc. says. It’s one of the nation’s largest phone book producers, publishing about 150 million in 22 states.

Almost nine million are distributed in Michigan, according to AT&T advertising director Bob Mueller, who said they “drive business to small and medium businesses,” such as doctors, attorneys, restaurants, plumbers and auto mechanics.

In terms of revenue, businesses take in $4 for every $1 invested in a phone book ad, according to Mueller.

Bryan Buckhave, president of Michigan Plumbing in Lansing, said his company has advertised in AT&T phone books since 1973.

But Buckhave said. “We know a lot of people are slowly going to back out of using them.”

Michigan Plumbing also advertises on television and the Internet. Buckhave said he’d be more likely to use the Internet if older people were comfortable with it. That may be a matter of time, and eventually the company will advertise solely online, he said.

It’s impossible to know how many phone books are recycled in Michigan because recycling centers aren’t required to collect data on them, said Matt Fletcher, recycling manager of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

Minnesota is the only Great Lakes state that bans telephone directories from disposal in solid waste sites, and publishers there have been required to collect and deliver unused directories to recyclers since 1992.

To reduce waste in landfills, AT&T launched Project ReDirectory in 1988, a program to encourage recycling. Other companies have similar efforts, but individuals may recycle phone books at designated drop-off sites throughout the year.

Friedland Industries Inc. in Lansing processes about 2,500 tons of recycled paper, said John Lancour, the company’s vice president, who estimates that phone directories account for about 80 tons of that amount.

For example, the East Lansing center recycled an average of 16 tons of directories each year since 2004, according to Dave Smith, environmental specialist at the city’s Department of Public and Environmental Services. Granger Wood Road Recycling Drop-Off Center in Lansing received nine tons of phone books in 2008 and 11 tons in 2009.

Both send phone books to Friedland

“We’re the phone book and book gurus in the Tri-County area,” Lancour said.

The phone books are shredded and compressed into large blocks.

Lancour doesn’t just recycle the directories — he puts them to use. His delivery drivers use local maps printed in phone books for better local directions than those he’s found on the Internet.

And his company still advertises in phone books because Internet advertising causes problems for consumers, he said.

“You can click on something and it will link away from what you’re looking for,” he said. “You can be looking for a local company and you’ll only find something national.”

Lancour said that the “digital divide” — the age difference between phone book users and Internet users — puts senior citizens at a disadvantage if phone book production is reduced.

“Older people aren’t always as good with the Internet, and some people don’t even have computers,” he said. “Elder people would struggle to find phone numbers on a daily basis.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Environment

Mental health care lacking in state prisons

By CHANTAL COOK
Capital News Services

LANSING – A recent study shows that 65 percent of state corrections inmates suffering from a mental illness or disorder don’t receive proper treatment.

The Department of Corrections and the University of Michigan did the study of a random selection of prisons throughout the state.

Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia and the Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility were two in the study.

Professor Brent Fries and others interviewed 618 inmates, and found 20 percent suffered from a severe mental illness or disorder.

Only 35 percent of mentally ill inmates were getting treatment, the study found.

The study also showed that female inmates suffer from mental illness more often than men.

Fries, of the U-M’s School of Public Health, said lack of treatment could lead to problems.

“It’s not good for people with mental health problems to receive no treatment. It can put people at risk,” Fries said.

People think differently about mental health, he said.

If the study showed 65 percent of inmates don’t receive treatment after an injury like breaking a bone, the public would call that inhumane. However, those same people may not look at inmates without mental treatment the same way, he said.

“Sadly you have those people who think it is easy as saying ‘get over it,’” Fries said.

John Cordell, public information specialist for the Department of Corrections, said mentally unstable people were let back into the community and some ended up in prison because the state closed psychiatric hospitals.

“Prisons weren’t ready to deal with the mentally ill,” Cordell said.

He said the department asked for the report to make sure it delivers care to those who need it.

The study showed what the department is doing right and what it needs to improve, he said.

Under department policy, mental health services shall be provided to prisoners, including appropriate treatment for those seriously mentally ill.

Prisoners who need such services should have reasonable access to care including follow-ups. Prisoners diagnosed with a serious mental illness or disorder should be periodically evaluated, according to the policy.

Fries said one of the problems was prison mental health programs had difficulty targeting inmates with mental problems.

His solution is to create a five-level scale, which includes illnesses like depression and schizophrenia. Illnesses that are more common in prisons would be on the top of the scale and would be treated first. Once that happens, health care workers can treat people suffering from other diseases less common in inmates.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: State Agencies

Recycle new light bulbs and avoid mercury risk

By CHANTAL COOK
Capital News Service

LANSING – The Michigan State Medical Society recently warned Michigan residents of the dangers of not properly disposing of compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.

The public should correctly dispose of compact fluorescent bulbs because the mercury contained in them can cause public health hazards, MSMS representatives say.

Doctors are concerned about environmental and health risks from mercury in the bulbs.

When released into the environment, mercury starts the cycle of methyl mercury. Methyl mercury exposure has been linked to birth defects, impaired brain and nervous systems, according to Michigan Energy Options’ website.

Joel Wiese, director of marketing for Michigan Energy Options in East Lansing, said small amounts of mercury are found in all fluorescent bulbs.

The organization is non profit and focuses on promoting quality energy efficiency and it has run the Change a Light, Change Michigan program since 2006. It encourages residents to replace old incandescent bulbs with CFLs.

“The biggest risk is with handling or breaking it,” Wiese said.

He said when bulbs break, people should open windows in the area and leave for 15 minutes, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

CFLs are found to reduce light costs by 75 percent, Wiese said.

The MSMS said LED bulbs are a good alternative because they contain no mercury and can provide greater energy savings than CFLs.

Robert McCann, press secretary for the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said LED bulbs cost more.

“LED bulbs are more expensive than fluorescent bulbs and not mainstream. The process has to mature a bit more,” McCann said.

He said a recent problem is that LED bulbs tend to shine light straight up, causing a limited area of light.

Also, people should recycle all bulbs properly and not throw them in the trash, Wiese said.

Areas throughout the state, including the Kalamazoo City Commission, recycle CFBs.

For more information on how and where to go to recycle CFLs, go to http://www.michiganenergyoptions.org.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Environment

School districts face pressure to privatize services

By DANIEL OPSOMMER
Capital News Service

LANSING – For better or worse, school districts throughout Michigan are facing pressure to privatize the purchase of services through for-profit companies in an effort to balance budgets.

Supporters of privatization argue that districts, by and large, pay employees salaries and benefits above the market rate.

By privatizing services such as transportation, custodial and food, districts can cut costs through increased competition from the private sector.

“Privatization is something that many districts have to look at in order to balance their budget and ensure they are providing their educational services,” said Linda Wacyk, communications director for the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

However, critics such as the Michigan Education Association (MEA) argue that privatizing support services doesn’t necessarily yield cost savings.

“Paying less for custodial, transportation and food services most often results in a reduction in the quality or quantity of those services,” said Doug Pratt, communications director for the state’s largest union of public school employees. “In some cases, privatization actually results in higher expenditures for those services.”

Pratt said that most school boards, after weighing the costs and benefits of privatization, have previously chosen to keep support services in-house to ensure quality. However, recent cuts to state aid have sparked a renewed interest in privatization.

“Theoretically, a good contract with a private firm could provide the same services with the same quality, responsiveness and accountability as an in-house operation,” Pratt said. “The problem is that to achieve this end, a private contractor will likely charge more than it costs the district to provide the service.”

Pratt said the need for contractors to earn profits and pay taxes and overhead costs typically drive costs up and quality down.

“Time after time, districts that try to save money by hiring private contractors end up with inferior service, higher costs or both,” he said.

Citing cuts in state aid, Grand Ledge Public Schools obtained bids to outsource transportation, food, custodial and maintenance services, according to Tom Goodwin, chief financial officer for the district.

“Regrettably, when you’re a district at the bottom of the funding continuum you’re forced to look at these issues to balance your budget,” Goodwin said. “In this labor market, basically what’s happening is our bidding is bringing down our costs to whatever the relevant labor market price is.”

Grand Ledge obtained a single bid from Dean Transportation to provide bus staff, management and mechanical services.

Once Dean placed its bid, the school district allowed its transportation employees the opportunity to meet the lower cost Dean had proposed. The district’s bus drivers negotiated to reduce their salary and benefits to meet the lower cost.

“There wasn’t any need to privatize our bus drivers because the only purpose was to save money and our employees matched the costs,” Goodwin said.

However, Grand Ledge has contracted with Dean to run its bus garage management, mechanics and special education transportation.

The district also accepted bids to privatize its general custodial staff.

“We wanted to maintain control of the head custodians and maintenance crew, but looked to cut costs with our general custodians,” Goodwin said. “However, our general custodians made enough concessions for us to keep them.”

Goodwin said the district has already shifted its food service management to Chartwells Food Services and is in the process of accepting bids to outsource its food service workers. Goodwin said the district will allow its employees the opportunity to match the bid.

“Regrettably, what we’re seeing is the race to the bottom in regard to salaries and benefits,” Goodwin said. “It’s sort of the law of unintended consequences because what typically happens through outsourcing is people lose their health care coverage in order to retain their job.”

The Legislature may vote to require privatization of services for schools receiving state aid.

Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Lyndon Township, is the sponsor of a bill that would require public schools, intermediate districts and charter academies receiving state aid to adopt strict written policies governing the privatization of materials, services, insurance, utilities and all other goods or services used by the district.

“We need to make sure our school districts are taking the initiative to decrease their expenditures in every way possible,” Byrnes said. “Requiring privatization guidelines is one of the most effective ways to ensure that districts are being cost-efficient.”

Under her proposal, districts would have to use competitive solicitation and bidding to buy any product or service worth $50,000 or more.

“The Legislature seems to think that school districts aren’t looking to be cost-efficient. I would beg to differ,” Goodwin said. “We’re always looking to reduce costs and it’s not like the Legislature created efficiency and cost containment.”

Byrnes’ bill is pending in the House Appropriations Committee.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 
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Filed under: Education

More ads pop up at school facilities

By LAURA FOSMIRE
Capital News Service

LANSING – In a time when schools face more and more budget cuts, allowing advertising in sports facilities and auditoriums may give a small but much-needed boost to school funding.

But the complications associated with advertising are creating a struggle for districts trying to find a balance between too much advertising and preserving the sanctity of the learning environment.

St. Ignace Area Schools is featuring banners on its baseball and softball fields for the first time, according to Kathy McLeod, business manager for the district.

“We get sponsors to help our athletic programs,” she said. “If they want to pay to put a banner up on the field, we allow it. Our baseball and softball programs are self-funded, so they do anything they can to get the money needed to pay for referees, equipment, that sort of thing.”

McLeod said advertising may also be allowed in other places.

“Our scoreboard for our football field has advertising for the First National Bank because they donated the scoreboard,” she said. “Other ads and banners aren’t there yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the near future.”

She said the district is experimenting with advertising because it both generates funds and fosters good relationships with local businesses.

“Our community is really good to the school system,” she said. “They support what we do and we want to support them. As long as the signs aren’t trashy-looking and it’s something nice and neat, what’s the problem?”

St. Ignace joins eight schools in Oakland County that have decided to allow advertising on their campuses.

So far, the ads on its baseball and softball fields have pulled in an additional $2,600 for athletics.

The Traverse City district has permitted advertising for a long time, according to chief financial officer Paul Soma, but it’s been difficult formalizing its system.

“We’ve had informal advertising for a long time,” he said. “By informal, I mean that advertisers can just kind of sponsor a team without having to go through any centralized policy. We just look at each advertiser and each department on a case-by-case basis.”

The district tried to implement a more formal system in 2005, but Soma said the process proved overwhelming.

“The system only works because it’s flexible,” he said. “When we formalized it, we lost that flexibility and it caved in on itself. It was too bureaucratic.”

Like St. Ignace, the ads in the Traverse City district come in the form of signs in athletic fields and on scoreboards. But Soma said companies have found clever ways to insert subtle advertising into district events.

“We had a company sell us instruments for our marching band, and they have their company name written all over each instrument,” he said. “It’s pretty clear out on the field. They didn’t pay us for that advertising but they’re getting it. They’ve really figured it out.”

Soma said the district’s informal and flexible method for dealing with advertisers works well for finding extra money here and there, but the district is still looking for a way to standardize it.

“It helps to pay the extra bills, like for athletic equipment,” he said. “But it’s not going to solve the district crunch. We’re in the process of figuring out some parameters to use when choosing advertisers.”

Soma added that many critics of advertising in schools fear that the focus will move away from education and toward consumerism, but he finds that idea “hilarious.”

“Ads are a part of our culture,” he said. “Kids are going to be exposed to them no matter what. Of course, some ads would be inappropriate for a school setting.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Education

Program serves homeless students in Traverse City

By CHENQI GUO
Capital News Service

LANSING – As an 18-year-old high school senior, Haley should be thinking about senior prom and graduation. Instead, she worries about where she’ll sleep at night.

“It would really help to have a job so I could have money to better support myself and I could get a place to live,” she said on the website of to the Student in Transition Empowerment Program (STEP) offered by Traverse City Area Public Schools.

Homeless students face many obstacles to graduation in Traverse City including transportation, housing and school work, according to STEP.

In 2008-09, STEP identified more than 500 students in grades pre-K-12 who qualified as “in residential transition” under federal law. “The number is increasing every day,” said Joan Abbott, regional grants coordinator for the program.

The Traverse City Area Public Schools enrollment is about 10,000.

The law protects the educational rights of homeless children and youth by requiring public schools nationwide to ensure they can stay in class at their same schools.

School board president Marjorie Rich said there is a wide range of reasons why students become homeless.

“Some of them have family situations that make them leave. Some of them live with unemployed parents. Some of them are in trouble with the law,” Rich said.

The number of homeless students enrolled in Michigan public schools jumped from 7,500 in 2007-08 to 14,682 in 2008-09, a 96 percent increase, according to the state Department of Education.

Most of them live with friends and family but some live in a shelter or “couch-surf”, which means they sleep wherever they can on a couch and move from place to place.

Some even live in a car, according to a survey by STEP.

STEP provides job counseling services. It has a transition specialist who helps students develop employment skills such as creating a resume and learning how to interact with interviewers, according to Abbott.

The survey showed that 60 percent of homeless students said they would like to go to college, 55 percent said they want to work, 18 percent would like to get married and 30 percent said “I don’t know” when asked about their post-graduation goals.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: State Agencies

New study raises questions for wind energy debate

By JOSH GARVEY
Capital News Service

LANSING- Wind energy paired with coal could cause more pollution than coal itself, a study in Colorado and Texas said.

A coal plant is most efficient when it runs continuously at a certain level of production, says the study by Bentek Energy LLC, a consulting company hired by Colorado’s oil and gas industry.

Repeatedly raising and lowering coal energy production to back up wind energy, a process called cycling, causes a coal plant to release more pollutants, such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, than it does when at normal levels.

But critics say the study simply shows a minor problem that will be corrected as Michigan adapts to using more wind energy.

“One problem with wind is that it’s intermittent as a resource,” said Jim Ault, president of the Michigan Electric and Gas Association. “You have to back it up with something for when the wind drops away.”

That intermittent nature can result in coal plants not operating at full capacity or full efficiency when paired with wind energy.

The study recommends against expanding wind turbines until energy types that work more efficiently with wind can be put in place.

Ault said that backing up wind energy is necessary because electrical service has to be provided continually.

“The product is consumed the moment it is generated,” he said.

Skip Pruss, director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG), said such concerns can be seen as growing pains as Michigan moves to “a more robust renewable energy future.”

“We’re just in the beginning stages of this overall energy deployment,” he said. “We will work through these sorts of issues with different technologies, and we’re intent on Michigan being the place where those technologies will be developed and deployed.”

Not everyone is as optimistic about Michigan’s wind future, which brings with it the prospect of structures 260 feet tall and higher.

Groups opposed to turbines popping up in picturesque locations around the state began forming after Michigan announced its pro-alternative energy plans. There are currently groups opposed to local wind energy in Allegan, Oceana and Clinton counties and other areas throughout the state.

For example, Clinton County Wind Watch argues that wind power’s stop-and-go nature makes it too unreliable for extensive use.

Pruss said part of the states energy plans involve moving forward with not just wind energy, but also with electricity from sources that complement wind better, such as hybrid combinations that increase the reliability of wind.

“Take a wind farm and hook it up with the latest in natural gas technology, for instance,” he said.

Ault said that natural gas is often suggested in discussions of what to pair with wind.

“If you get a drop in wind, you can start natural gas up pretty quickly compared to coal or nuclear, where you couldn’t,” he said.

Hugh McDiarmid, the communications director for the Michigan Environmental Council, also suggested natural gas as an obvious partner for wind technology.

“It has the advantage of being a little bit less polluting than coal, but it’s also far more adaptable,” he said. “Natural gas plants can peak and stop as needed.”

Another part of implementing wind technology is improving the power infrastructure in the state, according to McDiarmid.

“The move to renewable energy sources necessitates a smarter and more flexible grid,” he said. “We have to move away from the model of a few massive coal plants and huge transmission lines carrying power to every nook and cranny.”

McDiarmid is referring to an energy grid that can adjust to more than one source of electricity, pay rebates to customers who produce energy that goes back into the system and charge different rates for power used at different times.

Such a grid would be necessary to best make use of the wind-generated electricity, according to Pruss.

Michigan currently generates 140 megawatts of energy from wind a year, and DELEG projects that to increase to more than 2,000 megawatts by 2015.

One megawatt is enough to power 300 homes, according to John Sarver, the head of Michigan’s Wind Working Group.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Environment

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