Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Challenges face national forests in centennial year

By EMMA OGUTU

Capital News Service

 

LANSING — 2011 is a big year for national forests.

A 1911 law allowed the use of federal funds to purchase denuded private land to establish publicly-owned forests for conservation.

A century later, around 20 million acres have been converted or expanded into national forests in 20 eastern states under the Weeks Act, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

That includes vast swaths of the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula.

“The Weeks Act is one of the most significant natural resource conservation achievements of the 20th century,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “It reminds us of the importance of past conservation efforts that shape our ability to sustain our national forests today, and to keep them healthy for the future.”

The law, named for a Massachusetts lawmaker, was created to salvage underdeveloped land that eroded into wasteland because of excessive lumbering, farming and mining, according to the service.  Key to the rescue mission was protecting major headwaters of rivers and watersheds.

Michigan has more than 2.7 million acres of national forest.  They produce enough lumber each year to build around 18,000 average-sized houses and provide habitat to endangered species such as the bald eagle and osprey.

They are the Huron-Manistee National Forest in the Lower Peninsula and the Ottawa and Hiawatha national forests in the Upper Peninsula.

To commemorate the centennial anniversary, events will include lectures, conservation education programs and a national symposium to discuss future conservation projects.

The three national forests in Michigan will join other eastern U.S. forests to show the “Green Fire,” a film about wilderness management and environmental ethics.

Despite the celebration, the forests face conservation hurdles, including intermingled land ownership that makes it more difficult to protect natural resources.

“Our ownership is kind of a checkerboard,” said Ken Arbogast, a public affairs officer for Huron-Manistee in Cadillac.  “Large tracts of private land are still within the forests, which make it hard to come up with a larger scale approach to management.”

Part of the service’s policy is to buy land only from willing sellers, and only land that has an impact on the forests’ conservation plans.

A recent national audit by the U.S. Government Accountability Office indicated that the Forest Service lacks adequate wildland fire management.

According to the report, the service also lacks a comprehensive strategy for containing costs related to putting out fires.

Arbogast said that’s not the case in Michigan.

“We don’t have large-scale wildfire issues as those in the West,” he said.  “Usually our fires are in less than 100 acres and it takes the fire service one or two days to put them out.”

But Jim Thomas, the acting regional deputy director for fire operations based in Wisconsin, said putting out fires, however small, is getting costlier.

“We are more efficient than our partners in the West, but then we have more fire partners and we need to pay them,” Thomas said.  “Fire equipment and supplies are costing more, and many times we have to supply food and other needs for the time it takes to put out fires.”

Climate change is also adding a new dimension to the way the national forests are managed.

“We are seeing the effect of climate change on our forests – we need to deal with the issue of climate change as we address our forest management,” said Jane Cliff, public affairs specialists for the service’s eastern region.

Andrew Burton, a forestry professor at Michigan Technological University, said that one way to reduce the vulnerability of forests to climate change and invasive species is to increase the diversity of species there.

He also said that management of the forests is a public issue and the service needs to involve the public through education and by taking public comments into account when planning.

“We also need to know what the long-term nature of the forests will be before we implement some of our projects,” he said.  “We don’t want to do things that create an environment for, say, invasive species.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

 

Filed under: Environment

Pheasants need grass, food to return in numbers

By LAUREN WALKER

Capital News Service

 

LANSING — A new state effort is targeting the shrinking amount of habitat land for grassland birds in the Lower Peninsula by focusing on pheasant restoration.

The effort, formally known as the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative, is designed to rebuild wild pheasant populations by devoting large areas of public and private land to the birds’ recovery.

Pheasant recovery areas are in Clinton, Sanilac, Lenawee, Huron, Tuscola, Hillsdale, Monroe, Gratiot and Saginaw counties.

The landscape of southern Michigan has changed significantly in 50 years due to more intensive agriculture practices, urban sprawl and more forest land, which has directly affected pheasant habitats, said Mike Parker, regional wildlife biologist for Pheasants Forever, an advocacy group involved with the restoration initiative.

“The focus of the initiative is to bring back quality pheasant habitat. The most important thing is large blocks of undisturbed nesting cover.”

“The secondary concern is winter cover, which can be established by planting blocks of switch grass or restoring wetland, and the third priority is winter food,” he said.

The program focuses on three areas where landowners are encouraged to work together to provide up to 2,000 acres of land per cooperative for habitat restoration.

The first pheasant recovery area is in Huron, Sanilac and Tuscola counties. The second is in Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties, and the third is in Gratiot, Saginaw and Clinton counties.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, the goal is to establish 10 such cooperative areas by 2015, resulting in 15,000 to 20,000 acres of quality habitat.

Parker said only one cooperative area has been established so far in Gratiot County, but others are in the works.

Dennis Fijalkowski, executive director of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy in Bath, said that while current agricultural practices are a huge threat to the pheasant population, focusing on private land owners may be more promising.

“You have a better chance to reach people who are not solely dependent on their land as an income source, and that’s non-farmers,” he said.

“If it’s a program directed at farmers, it’s going to be minimal in its success. Farmers won’t delay hay mowing because they make their living off of cutting the hay in June. They’re just not going change their agricultural practices because they’re trying to optimize profit,” he said.

Mowing in the early summer threatens pheasants because it often kills the hens and destroys the nests in crops that pheasants prefer, such as alfalfa, he said.

He added that another reason why the program may succeed is because it’s different from other pheasant population initiatives that the state has tried before.

Previous efforts such as the Put-and-Take program and the Sichuan project were costly mistakes that simply did not work.

Those programs released thousand of game farm-raised birds into the wild with hopes that they would cross-breed with the existing ring neck population, but they didn’t succeed.

Paul Morrow, former habitat chair of the Ingham County chapter of Pheasants Forever, said the Sichuan project and similar stocking programs were dismal failures because pen-raised birds cannot survive in the wild.

That’s why there’s been a shift toward propagating natural, existing populations and growing them from a core area, he said.

“If you take a bunch of pheasants and let them go in various places and they don’t have the right habitat to survive and thrive, then obviously your results are going to be less than successful. It’s putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

Parker said that pheasants are an indicator species for the quality of grassland habitat.

“If pheasants are declining, there’s probably a lot of other grassland wildlife that are declining, and that is the case. Many migratory grassland songbird populations are really declining, so anything that we do for pheasants will also be beneficial to those other birds,” he said.

Fijalkowski agrees, but said that the focus on habitats for grassland birds shouldn’t end with pheasants.

He said that while pheasant populations are dangerously low, advocacy groups such as Pheasants Forever and their hunting constituency bring ample attention to the issue.

“The meadowlark doesn’t have an advocate and the Henslow’s sparrow and the grasshopper sparrow, which are now rare birds, don’t have advocates, and they’ll disappear first,” he said.

He said that those species need some of the attention received by the pheasant, which isn’t even native to Michigan.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Environment

Group aims to use Chinese students, businesses to rebuild Michigan economy

By YANAN CHEN

Capital News Service

LANSING—Dan Redford graduated from Michigan State University with a double major in international relations and Chinese in 2010. Because his roommate was learning Chinese, he fell in love with the language and chose it as second major.

But he never expected one day to become a bridge between two countries.

But now he is as the director of U.S. China Creative Space, a local nonprofit organization that aims to better connect Chinese college students who live in the U.S. with U.S. society and companies.

Redford, 22, said he and the organization wish to show those students that they have opportunities to stay in the U.S. after graduation and contribute to the Michigan economy.

“In Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address, he talked specifically about making our state more friendly to immigrants, particularly students in universities,” Redford said.

“Statistically speaking, foreign students are more concentrated in scientific fields, studying engineering, science, technology and mathematics, as compared to Americans in general,” he said. “Most high-tech companies who started in Michigan over the last fifteen years have, on average, at least two foreign-born employees.”

Redford said foreign-born university students can speed up the revitalization of the Michigan economy.

Redford also said that if he and his organization can build a bridge to the Chinese community and help Chinese students find jobs or start businesses, it may create jobs in the state.

“Every time I went to meetings and met the local chief executive officers and presidents, I never heard anyone say ‘it is bad, and we do not welcome Chinese people here,’ ” Redford said.

“They want to develop relationships with Chinese students and they want Chinese students to stay here so that they can help develop Michigan’s economic growth,” he said. “Diversity is always a good thing.”

The U.S. China Creative Space is starting to bridge local connections and networks of businesses, which is one of its objectives.

The Space wants to stay in Michigan and help Chinese students become familiar with the American culture and companies.

“We have seven or eight companies already involved in providing internship opportunities,” he said.

Those companies include Capitol National Bank and Rehmann Group, an accounting and consulting firm in Lansing.

Capitol National will provide opportunities for 15 Chinese students to have an “employment tour,” which aims to get them close to American companies.

Paula Cunningham, the bank’s chief executive officer, said it will hold the “employment tour” on April 14.

“We will invite Chinese students to come to our bank and interact with our employees and have some dialogues to be familiar with what we do here and what our community wants,” she said.

She said the bank will provide an internship position for Chinese students, because “we want our bank to be more inclusive.”

A lot of trade is going on with other countries, and she said hiring international employees could help develop trade with other countries.

As for the difficulty of accepting Chinese interns and offering them jobs, Redford said, “those companies did show strong interest in doing this, and don’t forget the purpose is to grow our local economy.”

The Space also works to set up relationships with companies in China that want to expand their businesses to the U.S.

Redford said, “What we are doing is informally helping Americans who are interested in working in China to connect with Chinese companies.”

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, foreign-controlled companies provided 150,600 work positions in Michigan in 2008. Foreign investment in Michigan was responsible for 4.2 percent of the state’s total private-industry employment.

Michael Shore, the director of corporate communications for the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said, “Up to now, international companies employed more than 164,000 Michigan citizens.

“We welcome foreign companies,” he said.

“We are very interested in doing trade with other countries and also welcome them to locate here to do business,” Shore said. “The benefit they bring is jobs.”

Michigan now has more than 4,720 companies with foreign ownership. There are 677 Germany companies in the state, 749 from Japan and 14 from China, Shore said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Education

Colleges add or subtract majors because of funding

By KATHLEEN LOFTUS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Budget cuts are triggering the discontinuation of academic programs at public universities across the state.

Areas of study are being eliminated, causing students to switch majors or even campuses.

Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said programs are dropped because of a combination of financial pressures, downsized operations and insufficient market demand.

Boulus said the most commonly discontinued programs are in liberal arts. Musical therapy, humanities, stage management and Asian language studies are examples of dropped programs.

Meanwhile, engineering and health fields are experiencing more demand and, therefore, are where programs are commonly added.

Provost Max Seel of Michigan Technological University said, “We first shelve programs for five years, then make a decision to discontinue or not.”

“Examples of programs we are currently considering to shelve are a BA in theatre and entertainment technology and a BS in industrial technology because there are no students currently enrolled.”

“For last academic year, the change of about 160 courses represents approximately 6.5 percent of the total course offering,” Seel said.

The last programs Michigan Tech shelved were a wood science minor in 2000 and a minor in speech in 2004.

Michigan Tech added a graduate certificate in sustainable water resources and a graduate certificate in hybrid electric drive vehicle engineering, as well as Ph.D. programs in environmental and energy policy and geophysics, Seel said.

Paul Duby, associate vice president for institutional research at Northern Michigan University (NMU), said programs have undergone a major reorganization by faculty experts in the past year or two to gear classes toward where professional fields are headed.

Duby said lots of small programs tended to mesh together in the clinical laboratory sciences area.

NMU dropped some two-year and four-year programs including plastic injection technology, manufacturing technology, and human and physical geography.

Radiography and respiratory therapy were added in the last two years, and pre-surgical technology was revamped because students are working with local surgeons.

As resources get tighter, experts are focusing on educating students for exactly what will get them jobs.

They added mechanical engineering technology and electronic engineering technology, and Duby said the Biology Department is currently under review.

Boulus said every Michigan public university has different student needs, so discontinued and added programs vary throughout the state.

“An interesting one is teacher education. We had 30 percent fewer graduates in teacher education in the last five years, showing a sign of the times with fewer available jobs.”

Boulus said many teachers will retire in the next five years, so there’s no way institutions will discontinue education programs, but some may downsize them.

“There are roughly 25 to 50 programs dropped and maybe an equal number added, depending on the year,” Boulus said.

Programs are generally phased out, rather than summarily ending, warning students they have a fixed amount of time to complete the program, Boulus said.

He also noted that before eliminating a program, a university can downsize large ones as long as it doesn’t compromise on quality.

Each institution decides whether to downsize a program before the Presidents Council becomes involved.

Annual reviews and restructuring of programs are necessary so students learn what they need to be successful, he said.

Boulus said it’s a long process because of pressure from all sides. University officials considered the impact on faculty, students, alumni and employers of graduates.

Boulus said engineering colleges are rethinking what and how they teach, including battery power, auto manufacturing and fuel cells.

Also, some institutions used to offer entrepreneurship classes, but now it’s a major or minor at schools.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Education

Counties confront rising prescription costs

By KATHLEEN LOFTUS

Capital News Service

LANSING – The bill for for prescription drugs for jail inmates has increased in the past year.

Counties are paying more for prescriptions despite efforts to reduce costs, experts say.

Terrence Jungel, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said jails negotiate with health care providers to lower costs when buying in bulk.

He said health care costs are hard to quantify because jails can get reimbursed and contracting with outside medical facilities can save millions of county dollars.

Mark Sabin, Montcalm County jail administrator, said about 30 of 205 inmates take medication for everything from diabetes to mental illness to multiple sclerosis.

To save costs, 85 percent of medications are generic.

Sabin said starting April 4, Montcalm will contract with Independent Health Services, a corrections medication management company in Rainsville, Ala., to cut Montcalm’s pharmaceutical budget by 35 to 50 percent.

Ben Bodkin, legislative director of the Michigan Association of Counties, said many state felons are held in county jails if their sentence is 24 months or less.  Counties pay for their medical bills including prescription drugs.

Bodkin said as soon as someone is incarcerated in a county jail, Medicare and Medicaid benefits stop and health care bills are sent to the county.

When an inmate is released, there’s a period when they are still not back on Medicare or Medicaid, so counties may pay for prescriptions for 30, 60 or even 90 days, Bodkin said.

Bodkin said he would like coverage to pause instead of completely stop. That way when an inmate is released, the coverage resumes.

Eric Lambert, the Wayne State University criminal justice department chair, said the government is responsible for prisoners’ reasonable medical care, including prescription drugs that can cost up to hundreds of dollars per dose.

And counties end up paying for inmates’ medical costs.

Lambert said, “The expenses for health care keep increasing, which should come as no shock for why jails and prisons have to spend more of their budget on health care.”

Lambert said some jails have released well-behaved, nonviolent inmates to community supervision – probation or out-of-jail housing—so medical care can be paid for by Medicaid or Medicare and not counties.

“For example, an 83 year-old being charged with a crime had a heart attack while in jail and needed surgery. The jail paid for his surgery, but after surgery they put him under house arrest so the sheriff’s department would not pick up further costs,” Lambert said.

Costs are rising for prescription drugs faster than the inflation rate for their jail services, Lambert said.

On the flip side, there are many ways jails are cost-efficient, he said.

To avoid expensive emergency care, routine checkups are done for prevention.

For example if someone’s heart isn’t beating properly, he or she is put on medicine to prevent a heart attack, Lambert said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Health Care

State mulls cuts in judgeships

By SARA QAMAR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Chief Justice Robert Young is in talks with the governor’s office and legislators to shrink the number of judgeships in the state.

The move, which would require a constitutional amendment, would have the support of a State Bar of Michigan Judicial Crossroads Task Force, which recently released a report calling for cuts in all types of judgeships.

Barry Howard, co-chair of the task force, said four seats could be eliminated in the Court of Appeals through attrition by the end of this year.

The estimated savings to the state from each eliminated appeals judgeship is $750,000 to $1 million annually, he said.

The constitutional amendment would need legislative approval and voter approval in a statewide election.

“I think that it is a worthwhile attempt,” said Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia.

“From a bird’s eye view, consolidation is likely because we’ve lost so many citizens in our state.”

Walsh, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said an upcoming judicial resources report will consider caseload as well as population when deciding to cut a seat.

“We have 700,000 less residents in the state, and in some places we have population growth while in other places there has been a decrease,” he said.

According to recent U.S. Census data, Macomb County has seen an increase, while Wayne County continues to shrink, he said.

A key reason the proposed reduction should take place through attrition, or not filling vacancies from judges who reitre, die or resign, is to depoliticize the process, State Bar Executive Director Janet Welch said.

“Otherwise it becomes very chaotic and it politicizes the judiciary in a way that would be unprecedented in Michigan and would harm the integrity of the judicial branch,” she said.

“It’s important for the judicial branch to make the best possible use of tax dollars, and one way to do that is to have the right number of judges,” Welch said.

In Benzie and Manistee counties, probate judges are now working fulltime to make up the work of retired Judge Brent Danielson, whose seat was left vacant at the end of February, said Benzie County Bar Association secretary Linda Kehr.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea for here. I think we’ll be served with the judges we have. So far it’s been working out all right, but he’s only been gone a month,” she said.

In addition to the Benzie-Manistee seat, the governor’s office asked for an analysis of the need to fill five other vacancies. They are district judgeships in Detroit and Downriver, a probate judgeship in Calhoun County, and a circuit judgeship in Macomb and Barry counties.

Exact numbers of trial court judgeships to be eliminated will be announced after recommendations of the State Court Administrative office are released in August.

Savings of about half a million dollars annually per judgeship are estimated by the Judicial Crossroads Task Force, two-thirds of which would be county funds.

The 2009 resources report, which is released every two years, recommended four appeals court judgeships be eliminated.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget leaves room for six vacant judgeships, said State Court Administrator public information officer Marcia McBrien.

The 2011 recommendations will advocate elimination of at least as many as the previous report, she said.

The 2009 Judicial Resource Report recommended 15 trial court judgeships be removed.

 

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Uncategorized

State guidelines promote on-farm markets

By LAUREN WALKER

Capital News Service

 

LANSING — As the number of farm markets increases, state agriculture laws are adapting to meet the changes.

On-site farm markets are becoming more common and were recently added to the Michigan Right to Farm Act.

The law includes “marketing produce at roadside stands or farm markets” in its definition of a farm operation but doesn’t define farm markets or describe specific marketing activities, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Last year, the state adopted the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices, or GAAMPs, for farm markets. The guidelines were developed to provide direction as to what constitutes an on-farm market and farm market activities and help resolve issues associated with zoning, buildings, parking, driveway access and signage.

Tom Kalchik, chair of the farm market GAAMPs review committee, said the guidelines resulted from demands from those involved with on-farm, or direct sales, activities.

Steve Klackle, owner of Klackle Orchards in Greenville, said that the GAAMPs address local regulation problems that farmers frequently experience.

“In my conversations with farm marketers I have heard, I won’t call them nightmares, but stories about, ‘they made me do this’ and ‘they made me do that’ and ‘it’s so confusing’ in terms of local regulations, so this isn’t an isolated issue that happens in certain areas. It’s throughout the state,” he said.

Kalchik, who is also director of Michigan State University’s Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources, said almost 6,400 farms were involved with direct sales in 2007, a 29 percent increase from 2002.

Revenue from their sales rose almost 58 percent during that period.

“Farm markets have become more on the radar for local governments and local people,” he said.

“The farmers that are practicing on-farm sales said, ‘Look, we’re running into these problems where the local units of government say that because we’re selling on our farm, we’re are no longer considered agriculture. They want to call us retail, all we’re doing is selling our farm products and they’re saying we don’t have a right to do that’,” Kalchik said.

The1981 Right to Farm Act and offers farmers protection from nuisance lawsuits and complaints if they follow the GAAMPs, which are reviewed annually by the Agriculture Commission.

Wayne Whitman, Right to Farm Program manager said, “When our department determines that a farm is following the GAAMPs that apply to it, a court shall not find that farm to be a public or private nuisance, so it provides farms an opportunity to earn nuisance protection.”

He said that the guidelines are recommended, but not enforceable.

As the GAAMPs for farm markets demonstrate, the law also helps protect farmers against local regulations that may be more restrictive than state ones.

Klackle said, “Rather than viewing it as protection against anything, I would view the GAAMPs for farm markets as making it a little easier, a little more business-friendly for the farmer to try and do business.”

Kalchik said that when local governments try to apply the rules and regulations for beauty shops or hardware stores to farm markets, it becomes too restrictive.

Klackle said that it isn’t feasible for some farm markets to make the improvements that other types of businesses might be required to make.

He said that the GAAMPs can make it easy to operate a farm market by addressing parking, access and use issues, such as allowing farmers to sell their agricultural products in agricultural zones, even though retailing is more of a commercial activity.

He said GAAMPs address the inconsistency of local regulations throughout the state.

“GAAMPs will help make it a little easier to deal with local zoning and building officials by creating more of a uniform blanket that applies around the state. One of the problems is that all townships are different and some townships treat things differently than others,” he said.

He said GAAMPs can mitigate disputes about farmers being treated differently depending, on whom they know in the township or issues of fairness between competing business in neighboring townships with drastically different regulations.

Kalchik said that while the farm market GAAMPs provides some protection, the issue of farm sales and agritourism is much broader than the Right to Farm Act.

He said that the farm market GAAMPs differs from others because not every part of a farm market is an agricultural activity. Farm owners should remember that they still must comply with local rules and regulations.

Klackle said that while the GAAMPs may not spur the creation of farm markets on their own, they will make the process easier.

“Hopefully those who are doing it or those who wish to get into it will find it a little more receptive at the local level. Ideally the farmer could present the GAAMP to the local officials and say, ‘I’m entitled to do this, but let’s work together on it, let’s formulate a plan and see what works here for me’,” he said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

 

Filed under: Agriculture

Private sector starting to hire new lawyers

By JONATHAN GANCI

Capital News Service

 

LANSING – There may be light at the end of the tunnel for job-hungry law school graduates.

While the state’s economic recovery continues and competition for jobs remains high among an abundance of new and recent law school graduates, lawyers say the legal market is showing signs of growth.

Maureen McGinnis, chair of the Young Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Michigan, said the job climate seems to be improving.

“There was definitely a time period that many of the new lawyers I was meeting were going down different career paths, looking more out of state or opening up their own practice,” said McGinnis, who practices in Troy. “At this point I’ve seen more movement to firms and more opportunities opening up.”

McGinnis said while positions are opening in private practice, the public sector remains stagnant.

“There are so many budget constraints for municipalities across the state that there isn’t much movement in the governmental side of practice. It’s the private side that is showing improvement.”

Charles Toy, the associate dean of career and professional development for Thomas M. Cooley Law School, said that there is a market for legal expertise.

Toy said in every county, at least 40 percent of people who need  representation are unable to afford lawyers.

Toy said that number climbs to 70 percent in some counties.

“There is a lot of demand for attorneys,” Toy said. “The problem is a lot of attorneys are not charging rates and giving services that a lot of our population can afford or needs.”

According to Toy, new graduates need to go to where the bulk of the market is, rather than believing big-firm jobs with high salaries are readily available.

“Most of the work is in small law firms,” Toy said. “The pay and employment rate there is pretty good.”

According to the State Bar, 38 percent of members of its Young Lawyers Section work in firms of two to 10 people.

Toy said that the retirement of baby boomers could have a positive effect on young attorney who are job-hunting.

“For those just getting out of law school, that demographic is going to help,” Toy said. “Attorneys are going to retire and there will be a lot of openings.”

According to Ross Bower, an Okemos attorney, some fields show growth.

For example, Bower said that his firm used to have a heavy load of zoning cases, but now sees growth in tax cases.

Even with improvements in the market, students “can’t graduate law school and expect a job to be waiting,” Bower, who is president of the Young Lawyers Section of the Ingham County Bar Association, said.

“Graduates have to get out there and start networking,” Bower said “They have to make personal contacts to get their foot in the door for that first job. They have to develop personal relationships with people so when a job is available, they’re thought of.”

Rob Tyree, a third-year law student at Cooley’s Lansing campus, said networking is the biggest factor in finding work after academic performance.

Tyree said building connections has landed him a judicial clerkship and will help him get a job after passing the bar examination.

“ It’s important to make professional contacts and to do things in the community,” Tyree said. “That way people could put a face to my name and see what kind of worker I am.”

For some soon-to-be graduates, networking hasn’t been enough.

Jessica Robison, who will graduate from Michigan State University College of Law in May, wants to stay in the Midland area.

“In general it’s tough right now,” Robison said. “It’s an even harder market for me because I‘m more limited in where I want to be.”

After passing the bar, Robison said that bar associations, coupled with experiences with externships, could help her land a job.

According to McGinnis, bar associations can provide recent graduates with networking opportunities, as well as other services.

“A lot of programming has been geared toward resume writing, job interview skills, debt management and alternative career opportunities,” McGinnis said. “There has been a shift in programs offered by bar associations dealing with those types of topics that will benefit someone coming out of law school without a job.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Business

Proposal would cap class sizes to promote better learning

By JONATHAN GANCI

Capital News Service

 

LANSING– Underperforming public schools may soon be forced to reduce class sizes to boost student performance.

A bill by Rep. Shanelle Jackson, D-Detroit, would allow the state superintendent of public instruction to order districts to cut class sizes in underperforming schools to a maximum of 17 in grades K-8 and 25 in grades 9-12.

Schools that have been unaccredited for three years, or that have failed to meet the federal standard for student achievement for at least four consecutive years, are considered underperforming under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The bill comes at a time when Detroit Public Schools are discussing the possibility of high school class sizes reaching 60 students.

Jackson said large classes make it tough for students to learn, especially without one-on-one attention from teachers.

“Success starts in the classroom,” Jackson said  “Smaller class sizes will help our children get the close attention they need to learn, reach their full potential and become the next generation of talented Michigan workers.”

In the Cheybogan Area School District, classes average about 23 students in elementary schools and 29 in high school, according to Superintendent Mark Dombroski.

Dombroski said that the district is unable to provide the best instruction for every student due to large class sizes.

“So many kids have so many needs,” Dombroski said. “We can’t possibly provide the ideal individualized instruction to that large number.”

Robert Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, said research shows that a reduction in class sizes has a “powerful effect on student learning.”

The bill’s maximum class sizes fits the range that would provide an increase in learning, Floden said.

However, Floden said that reducing class sizes would require hiring more teachers, a costly step, adding that in some instances that money could be used elsewhere to benefit the schools.

According to Floden, increased professional development or improved technology could be a better use of the money for certain schools.

It isn’t enough simply to limit class sizes. “To have an even  bigger effect, things need to be done to help teachers figure out what to do differently now that they have fewer kids,” Floden said.

For example, teachers need to know how to implement individualized instruction for their students.

Also, Floden said any reduction in class sizes must be carefully implemented, keeping in mind the expense of hiring teachers, as well as classroom space.

While smaller classes would help students, Cheyboygan’s Dombroski said lawmakers in Lansing are out of touch with public education, especially in the area of funding.

“They can mandate the heck out of us, but until they provide funding, I just laugh,” Dombroski said.

Jackson said she is open to changes in her bill, as well as discussions about funding.

According to Jackson, the bill will spur dialogue, but “the question isn’t how are we going to pay for it, but how can we not pay for it?”

Jackson said the state needs to spend more on education so proposals like hers can work.

“This should be part of a comprehensive solution for our students and our state,” Jackson said. “We need to figure out how we can incorporate something like this into the governor’s plan.”

The co-sponsors are Reps. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit.

This bill is pending in the House Education Committee.

 

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Education

Emergency call centers will consolidate in U.P.

By DAN SMALLWOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING – Improvements to the capacity and reliability of some Upper Pennsula and mid-Michigan counties’ 9-1-1 systems are starting to be put in place.
Gary Johnson, the director of Marquette County’s central dispatch, is helping to consolidate systems with a $1.6 million federal grant and $400,000 from participating counties.
A new network will include seven individual counties’ systems and a State Police center and add failsafe mechanisms in case one system is overloaded with calls.
Johnson said the revamped system will enable emergency dispatchers to better aid callers, including making the network more compatible with cell phones as they become more common.
A similar project is underway in Clinton, Livingston, Ingham and Eaton counties.
The U.P’s virtual consolidation, which began in 2007, will allow call centers to share calls and dispatch resources. The streamlining will also shave maintenance costs and makes dispatch operations “much more nimble,” according to Johnson.
State 9-1-1 Administrator Harriet Miller-Brown said Internet, or IP-based, inter-connectivity is important, especially in major emergencies, such as a large accident or plane crash when 9-1-1 systems can easily get overloaded.
In such situations, Miller-Brown said the system’s inherent redundancy is helpful, keeping calls in the system until they are handled. Lines would have a backup in case of an emergency.
If one center goes down because of too many calls, thus overwhelming the phone lines, then another in the network will automatically pick up incoming calls. Right now, such transfers must be done manually, which can be time consuming in situations where time is of the essence.
While redundancy normally is a dirty word in government, in emergency work “redundancy is good, because it means public safety continues,” she said.
Johnson said the computer-aided dispatch system upgrades are underway and that Marquette County is getting ready to award a contract for the work.
He said he expects the first phase to be done by mid-2012.
When completed, the networked system will cover all U.P. counties, linking systems in Marquette, Chippewa, Delta, Alger, Iron, Menominee and Dickinson counties and an eighth dispatch center operated by the State Police in Negaunee.
The dispatch center in Chippewa County also fields calls for Luce and Mackinac counties. The center in Iron also takes 9-1-1 calls for Gogebic. The State Police-operated center receives calls from Houghton, Keweenaw, Schoolcraft, Ontonagon and Baraga counties.
Eventually, Johnson said, the IP-based system will allow 9-1-1 to receive text messages, photos and videos from callers.
The changes will also save Marquette County “thousands, if not tens of thousands, per year,” Johnson said, though he said he couldn’t give any hard figures until the contract was in place.
The effort reflects counties’ efforts to consolidate and collaborate where possible, Johnson said.
“It’s important that we work together,” he said, with budgets under severe strain. The proposed system, he said, “could work everywhere, but we have to share in the U.P.
“We have to be a little more creative” to make ends meet, Johnson said.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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