Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Bill would free up ‘building’ funds for other school needs

By JONATHAN GANCI
Capital News Service

LANSING – Public schools may soon have more flexibility in purchasing new buses, computers and software.

Currently schools can raise revenue from a voter-approved millage, which is then set aside in a so-called sinking fund. The money can be used only to purchase real estate, construct or repair buildings and install non-equipment technology, like broadband wiring.

A bill by Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, would allow districts to use the money to buy buses, computers and software.

Rep. Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, who co-sponsored the bill, said many teachers and superintendents have asked for more flexibility in using such funds.

With the impending cuts to school budgets, lawmakers need to “help schools, and this is one way to do it,” MacMaster said.

That change would also help schools stay up to date in the pivotal area of technology, according to MacMaster. “We are in a technology-driven society, and we need all the help we can get.”

Eight years ago, voters approved a 5-year millage for Cheboygan Area Schools, which was later renewed. Currently the district is in its third year of the second millage, according to Superintendent Mark Dombroski.

A district can collect up to 5 mills for its sinking fund.

A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value of real estate. An owner of property worth $100,000 would pay an extra $250 per year in property taxes with a 5-mill increase.

Dombroski said the district has used its sinking fund for large building projects and repairs.

“It’s invaluable dollars to school districts right now with everything going on,” Dombroski said.

According to Dombroski, the proposed change would fill an important need if his school district could spend some of the money on technology and buses.

“We have several buses that have gone beyond their 6-year life use and our technology is 6 to 10 years old,” Dombroski said. “We are really outdated.”

Cheboygan has more than 700 computers that need to be replaced, according to Dombroski.

Since technology is a big part of the way schools educate students, an expansion in how sinking funds can be used is needed, according to David Martell, executive director of the Michigan School Business Officials.

Martell said allowing the purchase of buses would also ensure student safety despite cuts in state funding,

Many districts, including Wyoming Public Schools and Davidson School District, are asking for a sinking fund millage on May 3.

Martell said a sinking fund is a “much more efficient way to set aside money for a purpose,” compared to bonds for which taxpayers must pay principal and interest.

Cheboygan’s Dombroski said his district will ask for renewal of the millage once it expires in two years.

While local voters have been supportive in the past, Dombroski said he doesn’t know if the millage will pass again. “Right now, while everyone is strapping for every dime they can save, it’s a big question mark.”

The bill is pending in the House Tax Policy Committee.

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

Filed under: Education

Change proposed in kindergarten starting age

By KATHLEEN LOFTUS
Capital News Service

LANSING — Proposed legislation would move up the kindergarten cutoff date, allowing only children who are 5 years old by Sept. 1 to attend school.

Senate and House bills would change the current cutoff, Dec. 1, to give children more time to develop, said Ryan Wenburg, the director of legislation for Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart.

Supporters say that with a Sept. 1 date, every child would start school at age 5, which could help them be more prepared for kindergarten.

The changes would begin for the 2011-12 school year for public and charter schools.

Wenburg said it’s a lot for 4-year-olds to go to school, especially with all-day kindergarten and tougher curriculum.

Michigan is one of the only states allowing children to begin school at 4. Thirty-eight states have pushed back their kindergarten birthday deadline.

Lindy Buch, the director of early childhood and family services at the Department of Education, said Dec. 1 has been the cutoff for at least 100 years.

The department has no stance on the legislation.

Buch said the proposal would allow districts to make exceptions.

However, problems develop when schools individualize, she said, and it would be better if all districts were required to follow one date.

The legislation, would allow parents or legal guardians to apply for their children to attend kindergarten early if they won’t be 5 by the time school starts.

A committee of a school administrator and two teachers would interview the child and parents or guardians to evaluate a child’s readiness.

But Buch said there is no reliable test to evaluate a child’s readiness in a few minutes during an interview.

She also said it would be unrealistic to change the date on short notice for 2011-12 because parents must apply by May to send their children in the fall.

But Wenburg said the legislation could take effect for a future school year.

“We just want to get this accomplished so we can help kids quicker. It’s the right thing to do for them.”

Joan Antle, from Empire, is a former teacher who helped Ohio change its cutoff date to Dec. 1.

She said teachers agree it would be better to move the cutoff to May or June, but something is better than not moving it at all.

Antle approached Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, and Booher about changing the cutoff in Michigan.

Stamina is the biggest issue for young children, she said.

Antle said every month in a child’s life makes a big difference and the youngest ones have a harder time integrating socially, emotionally, physically and academically. With an extra year, children can mature immensely in each area.

Early childhood education would remain important with a new entrance date change, she said.

Antle said many parents try to get their children into school early, but kindergarten should not take the place of quality day care or babysitting.

Her motto is, “when in doubt, hold them out.”

Cheryl Bloomquist, the child development program coordinator at Northwestern Michigan College, said similar legislation proposals have failed before.

She said changing the date would save tax money. That’s because 10 to 15 percent of children end up in developmental programs or have to spend two years in kindergarten, so the state pays more.

Reducing the number of children repeating kindergarten may be a good fiscal decision, she said, as long as districts don’t change their curriculum and create another learning gap.

Under current curriculum, kindergarteners are already learning what used to be first-grade material.

Bloomquist said schools need to provide developmentally appropriate curriculum to fit a child, not have the child fit the curriculum.

The House bill is in the Appropriations Committee, and the Senate bill is in the Education Committee.

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

Filed under: Education

Districts go high tech for alternative education students

By JONATHAN GANCI

Capital News Service

LANSING – Some alternative education students are finding a new way to receive their high school diplomas.

The Widening Advancement for Youth (WAY) Program, a nonprofit organization that began two years ago, allows students to earn a diploma from their local school district without attending actual classes.

Instead, students get a computer and Internet access at home to complete projects that are designed to meet state educational standards in multiple subjects, allowing them to earn multiple credits through a single project.

Currently the Clio Area School District and the Hale Area School District, along with the Washtenaw, Genesee and Livingston intermediate school districts, offer the program.

A campus in Engadine serves the Upper Peninsula.

The state pays for the program through funding for alternative education.

According to Beth Baker, co-founder of the WAY Program, students develop their projects for approval by an assigned mentor whom they contact daily by phone or email.

The program also offers face-to-face instruction through on-campus labs that provide individual help, as well as lessons to help students complete their projects.

Baker said the project-based curriculum provides a hands-on approach to learning about subjects students enjoy.

“We are able to incorporate content standards on an application and synthesis level, rather than just a knowledge base,” Baker said. “This way the students are more motivated because it’s something they are interested in.”

One student in the U.P. built fish cribs to analyze habitats, according to Heather Luoto, project manager for U.P. Global Schools, which facilitates the program in the U.P.

Luoto said the student incorporated math and biology standards, as well as English standards by doing a report.

According to Baker, many teens don’t leave regular schools because of academic difficulties but rather because “it’s not relevant in their lives, — it’s not making a connection.”

Many of the 740 enrolled statewide students have full-time jobs, children or health problems that make it difficult to attend a regular alternative education school, Baker said.

Tim Jackson, director of the WAY Program in Livingston County, said the program provides an “ideal situation for a student who has trouble with time-bound or place-bound constraints.”

Livingston’s program, which started last September, has 60 — students-many of whom are single parents, pregnant teens or students that have been expelled from other schools.

“This is another way to make it possible for that critical mass of kids that don’t fit in otherwise to have a chance,” Jackson said.

Jackson said that the program has shown initial success.

According to Jackson, 44 percent of Livingston’s WAY Program participants have earned more credits this year on average then they had at their regular high schools.

Students still are held to the same standards and go through the same grading and evaluation process as traditional students, Jackson said.

“It’s not an easier way to get a diploma, it’s a different way,” Jackson said.

Luoto said some students live in communities that don’t offer alternative education schools or GED programs.

“We have two students on two different islands that are only accessible by ferry or plane,” Luoto said. “In some communities this is the only option the student has.”

According to Luoto, the program in the U.P. has 39 participants; most from the Sault St. Marie and St. Ignace areas.

Students in the U.P. aren’t required to attend lab hours because of the vast distances they would have to travel.

J.R. Rauschert, vice president of the Michigan Alternative Education Organization, an advocacy group, said that computer-based programs do a good job at helping students earn credits.

However, Rauschert said that such programs fall short of filling the need to build relationships with students.

“There is an awful amount of kids who need someone there, a mentor or a guide,” Rauschert said. “They need someone to encourage them, someone that could help them pass what crisis they’re having.”

According to Rauschert, face-to face interaction is “tremendously important.” Computer-based programs will “help some kids, but they will not help the truly troubled student.”

Rauschert, a retired alternative education teacher at Holt Public Schools, said the poor economy and tightening budgets make districts look more towards computer-based alternative education.

Baker said the WAY Program will expand to Muskegon, Niles and Lakeview in Montcalm County over the summer.

She said the program works because of its uniqueness and focus on students.

“It is a completely different way of approaching alternative education, Baker said. “We’ve taken away the adult complications and focused on learning.”

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

Filed under: Education

Foreign study steady despite slumping economy

By JONATHAN GANCI
Capital News Service

LANSING – Despite the economic downturn, participation in some study abroad programs at public and private colleges and universities has remained steady or grown.

Tara Benzing, the study abroad coordinator for Ferris State University, said her program experienced only a small dip in participation three years ago, but since then has seen an increase.

Benzing said Ferris began a global initiative on campus that has led to more study abroad programs and more partnerships with international schools.

The expansion of Ferris’ global outreach has generated more faculty interest in leading programs, she said, which has a positive effect on student participation. “From the faculty we see an increase in trying to get students to get an international perspective in their degree.” Benzing said.

Despite a poor economy, Ferris is offering options for students through partnerships in South Korea and Japan.

“A lot of our focus in the past has been in Europe,” Benzing said. “Now we are able to branch out to Asia.”

Ferris remains below the 3 percent national average of sending undergraduates abroad, but Benzing said the university should pass that mark soon.

Like Ferris State, Michigan State University saw a similar dip in participation in the 2008-09 school year.

“We did take a hit and things fell considerably,” Brett Berquist, executive director of study abroad at MSU said, “but since then we are back in a growth phase and numbers are slightly up from last year.”

MSU reported that 2,674 students took part in programs last academic year.

Berquist said MSU has made efforts to reach out to lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered and disabled students, as well as non-white students to “continue to diversify the student population we are serving.”

According to Berquist, MSU has also expanded into non-traditional areas like Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

Other study abroad programs, like Kalamazoo College’s, kept participation steady.

Joseph Brockington, director of the Center for International Programs at the college, credited a commitment from faculty and administration.

Brockington said Kalamazoo’s numbers have stayed consistently between 260 and 280 students going overseas per year.

According to Brockington, the college is happy with its participation rate and “really doesn’t want to get any bigger for financial reasons.”

Kalamazoo students have an opportunity to study abroad built into their curriculum, with two quarters set aside to travel in their junior year.

Brockington said that with the constant demand, the number of programs hasn’t been cut either.

Kalamazoo has strong participation in Spanish-speaking countries like Ecuador and Spain, as well as programs in Japan, Thailand and China.

Brockington said that even with high participation numbers, Kalamazoo tries to keep individual program enrollment between 15 and 18 students.

“When North Americans go abroad, they have a group mentality,” Brockington said. “We want our students to engage the culture. One way we do that is by having our students in a small group.”

MSU’s Berquist said studying abroad provides many benefits for students. Not only do they gain a different perspective of the world, but students get acquainted with globalization.

Berquist said participants and parents alike see the importance of learning to work with other cultures “to help prepare students for future careers.”

And Ferris’ Benzing said study abroad gives students tools for a successful future.

“In today’s world you have to be a diverse citizen,” Benzing said. “You are always going to be dealing with people from around the world.”

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

Filed under: Education

Record number of school districts have expired labor contracts

By KATHLEEN LOFTUS

Capital News Service

LANSING – About a third of public school districts have teachers, office personnel, maintenance staff or custodians working without contracts.

Workers at one Genesee County district have been without a contract for almost eight years, and contracts expired in 2005 or 2007 in two Wayne County districts.

And in the Upper Peninsula, the teachers’ contracts with Chassell Township Schools ran out in August 2008.

With the struggling economy, many contracts last only one year rather than two or three years as in the past, said Rosemary Carey, Michigan Education Association (MEA) communications consultant.

The MEA is the state’s largest union of school employees.

Most agreements go unsettled because of disputes over salary and benefits and uncertainty about upcoming budget cuts and state aid, Carey said.

“Now we’re in a limbo until the governor and legislators complete the state budget. Unsettled contracts are primarily based on uncertainty of funding for the districts,” Carey said.

And when bargaining drags on, it doesn’t mean it’s an ugly dispute – it means the parties are still meeting, she said.

According to the MEA, non-teaching staff in the Beecher Community School District near Flint have worked without a contract since 2003.

It’s been more than a year since contracts expired in the East Jackson, Harper Woods, Redford Union, Richmond, Royal Oak, Trenton, Flint and Woodhaven districts, the union said.

Todd Biederwolf, superintendent of the Harper Woods School District said the two sides have settled every contract except for the teaching staff.

Historically, districts received an increase in revenue to cover rising health and transportation costs, but funding has declined in the past few years, so districts need to reduce personnel costs, he said.

Biederwolf said he is confident that his district’s teachers remain professional and dedicated in the classroom, with or without a contract, although he said some have stopped attending evening events they were never required to support but had.

He said contracts are still being negotiated in good faith so teachers can plan accordingly.

The MEA’s Carey said the lack of labor agreements hasn’t changed instruction for the most part.

She said, for example, students and parents walking into a classroom wouldn’t know that more than 300 Woodhaven teachers have gone without a contract since 2007.

No one wants to work without a contract because there is so much insecurity, but the effects vary throughout the districts, Carey said.

It hurts the teachers, parents, staff, everyone. Teachers don’t know whether they’ll have a job or not.

“It means kids are placed in classrooms of 40 rather than 30 students. There may not be enough money for essential resources such as books. Everything in schools impacts student education” she said.

Carey said school employees continue to work because they’re professionals on a mission to ensure good education, adding, “it’s amazing what people do because they care about the kids.”

Tom White is the Michigan Association of School Board associate director of labor relations. The organization advises and assists school districts in collective bargaining.

He said more districts than ever before have unsettled contracts, but most old contracts have provisions that allow the districts to carry forward until negotiations are done.

Common unsettled issues include health care and increased salaries.

White said 60 percent of teachers pay some portion of their health insurance, but when insurance premiums increase, so do costs for districts if contracts aren’t updated.

About 30 to 40 percent of districts in northern Michigan have dollar cap on how much they pay for health insurance, he said. In West Michigan, many districts have no cap and must pay more when insurance and other benefits increase.

White said health benefits, raises and the economy make it tough for unions and management to agree. And that can create tension between school boards and superintendents on one side and school employees on the other.

White said some districts report a decline in morale that negatively impacts teachers.

“For me, if we don’t settle a contract, it can be an issue that affects the ability to run our schools,” White said.

 

Filed under: Education

Union wants more parental involvement in schools

By PAIGE LaBARGE
Capital News Service

LANSING— A new proposal that would allow parents to become more involved with their child’s education without risk of losing their jobs would improve educational performance, according to the Michigan Education Association (MEA).
The MEA has called for “parental involvement in education” legislation, said Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the state’s largest union of school employees.
“The act would require employers to release employees who are parents or guardians of school-aged children to allow them to attend parent-teacher conferences,” Pratt said.
Pratt said that parents and guardians of students should be able to leave work to be involved in their child’s education.
“We are not suggesting that the employer has to pay for the time off, although that would be a very socially responsible thing for them to do,” Pratt said.  “What we are saying is that they can’t penalize employees who can prove that, a few times per year, they are attending parent-teacher conferences or engaging in other critical school interactions.”
Pratt says “critical parent-teacher interactions” include special education, guidance counselor sessions and disciplinary meetings.
Paul Duby, associate vice president for institutional research at Northern Michigan University, said parental involvement is necessary in a student’s life.
“Anytime a parent is involved with their child’s education, it gives the student positive reinforcement,” Duby said.
According to Duby, schools should encourage parents to be involved as much as possible, or else their children may be less motivated.
“My whole educational career is based on positive reinforcement, which is why it’s necessary for teachers and parents to be part of the student’s lives,” Duby said.
Northern Michigan trains and encourages future teachers to communicate with parents from early in the education system, said Duby.
“Teachers and parents have to be there for the students, and we teach that message throughout our teacher education program,” Duby said.
According to Pratt, the MEA is especially concerned about parents who are lower-wage, hourly workers who don’t get much personal vacation time and could lose their jobs if they miss work to attend school functions.
“No one should get fired from their job for wanting to take an active role in their child’s education,” Pratt said.
Iris Salters, president of the MEA, said the purpose of the proposal is to fix how the state takes care of students and teachers.
“Legislators don’t understand what it is like for single-parent families to be involved in their child’s education, so we are doing what we can to improve that relationship,” Salters said.
According to Salters, changes in education should be collective, children have to start doing well early in their education and parental involvement provides a good foundation.
Pratt said, parental involvement is one of the best indicators for success in students.
“They can hold their child accountable for homework and discipline and reinforce school lessons in a home environment. Without basic communication between parents and educators, students can be at a significant disadvantage,” Pratt said.
Pratt said the concept is not in bill form yet, but MEA is looking for lawmakers to introduce the legislation.
(c) 2011 Capital News Service, Michigan State University. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Education

More federal greenbacks to back more greens in schools

By EMMA OGUTU
Capital News Service

LANSING — The fruits of a national drive to promote healthy eating habits in children will soon be enjoyed in more Michigan schools.

Starting with the 2011-2012 school year, cafeterias will serve more fresh fruits and produce as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said the program will both provide a ready market for growers and relieve some of the stresses associated with food costs for many families.

The state will receive more than $4 million in federal funding for the 2011-2012 school year.

“The program teaches our kids how to eat healthy and keeps them nourished throughout the school day so they can focus on what’s important,” said Stabenow, who is chair of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

The program began on a trial basis in four states to determine the best practices for increasing fruit and fresh vegetable consumption in schools.  It expanded nationwide in select low-income elementary schools.

It’s also intended to combat obesity in children.

Obesity among 6 to 11-year-olds increased from 6.5 percent in 1980 to almost 20 percent in 2008 and rose to 18 percent from 5 percent among teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

Michigan ranks 25th among the states in its child obesity rate with 30 percent either overweight or obese.

The state’s allocation comes from a national $158 million in assistance for state agencies.

Last year, 133 elementary schools in Michigan were picked on the basis of the number of children eligible for free and reduced-cost meals, said Howard Leikert, state supervisor for the School Nutrition Program in the Department of Education.

Patti Miller, food service director for the Sturgis Public Schools, said that although it’s too early to notice any changes in children’s weight, she’s observed a change in eating habits among the 900 participants in the district.

“At first the kids didn’t care about things like radishes and broccoli, but with time we are seeing less and less vegetables left over,” she said.  “The program is certainly allowing the kids to try many vegetables that they’d never have liked and liking them.”

Miller gets her schools’ supplies from a Grand Rapids company, because of its “fair prices,” then applies for reimbursement from the Department of Education.

“This is a much better deal instead of parents having to bring snacks to school, which may not always be a better option for the kids,” she said.

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

 

Filed under: Education

Earn teaching degree, leave Michigan

By JONATHAN GANCI
Capital News Service

LANSING –With a tough job market in Michigan, many graduates of teacher education programs are crossing state lines to find employment.

Roughly 5,000 of the 7,500 annual graduates of college education programs leave the state, according to the Michigan Education Association (MEA).

However, Frank Ciloski, a consultant for the MEA, said that departing graduates aren’t guaranteed jobs elsewhere as most states tighten their belts. “The market for teachers has been declining for the past couple of years, primarily because of the reduction in states’ budgets.”

There are 34 public and private colleges with teacher education programs in Michigan, according to the Department of Education.

Renee Papelian, director of professional education at Central Michigan University, said the in-state market has shrunk, especially this year with the proposed $470 per-pupil cuts in aid to public schools.

“It’s a challenging job market for teachers,” Papelian said. “The exact financial amount of funding per pupil hasn’t been solidified, so it makes it difficult for schools to confirm a budget.”

However, Papelian said that many of her university’s 570 annual education graduates landed jobs in southern states like North Carolina, Texas and Florida.

Nikki Piirala, a 2009 Central Michigan graduate, said she found a job teaching high school English with relative ease in Raleigh, N.C.

According to Piirala, who is from Grand Rapids, her decision to move came after she heard of other alumni finding employment in the area.

Piirala said she began to look out of state when Cedar Springs Middle School, where she student taught, started to lay off teachers.

“I didn’t have any other connections,” Piirala said. “And if you don’t have a connection in education in Michigan, it’s pretty hard to find a job.”

Unlike some fellow graduates who stayed in Michigan, Piirala said her job security appears stable because of a population increase in the Raleigh area.

Pirrala also said her alma mater’s reputation helped. Recruiters “do look for our teaching programs. I’ve been told by people hiring Central Michigan graduates that they have been very impressed with our teaching styles.”

According to Ciloski, many out-of-state districts recruit in Michigan. “We have a reputation of solid teacher prep programs and an excess number of teachers we can employ.”

Ciloski said with graduates leaving the state, Michigan’s education system is losing talent it could hire from.

This is “primarily an issue of economics,” Ciloski said, and the state needs to increase education funding to keep graduates here.

Michelle Johnston, dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Ferris State University, said some of her graduates have successfully looked for jobs in Michigan.

Johnston said Ferris, with about 100 teacher education graduates per year, has an advantage in keeping them in the state.

“We are smaller, so we are able to have one-on-one relationships with people,” Johnston said.

Johnston said that the smaller graduating class size allows her to recommend students to districts that have openings.

Even with success in placing students in state, Johnston said there “is a little bit of a brain drain” and that graduates need to be enticed to stay in Michigan with more jobs and job security.

Johnston said that with proposed budget cuts on the horizon, job prospects for newly minted teachers is even more uncertain.

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

 

 

Filed under: Education

Sports programs could fall to budget ax

By JONATHAN GANCI
Capital News Service

LANSING — With proposed reductions in state aid to education looming, athletic departments around the state are bracing themselves to make tough decisions.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed $470 decrease in per-pupil funding could lead some districts to scale back athletics, on top of cuts already made in previous years, according to John Johnson, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) communications director.

Johnson said participation in school sports has remained stable with more than 300,000 students in the past five years, seeing only a 1 percent drop despite previous slashes in funding.

However, Johnson said that it might be more difficult for districts to avoid program cuts without affecting participation.

“Schools are going to face tighter budgets and tougher decisions,” Johnson said. “They are going to have to make decisions about cutting participation opportunity, or finding another means of paying for it.”

Steve Babbitt, the athletic director of Blissfield Community Schools, said his district has been “brainstorming” ways to absorb the loss in state aid.

Babbitt said while there have been no final decisions, options range from eliminating teams to scaling back transportation and asking students to pay more to play.

“We are in conversations about how much money we would save if we eliminate freshman teams or didn’t transport on Saturdays,“ Babbitt said.

According to Babbitt, a major cost is taking athletes to day-long tournaments because of the high cost of busing.

Steve Parker, athletic director at Cheboygan Area Schools, said his district is already in a cost-cutting mode.

“I am not sure where we can cut at this point,” Parker said. “We cut some freshman sports last year and we are low in middle school sports.”

According to Parker, Cheboygan’s middle schools offer volleyball, track and field and boy’s and girl’s basketball.

Parker said that varsity sports such as hockey, wrestling and bowling are all self-funded.

Self-funded sports receive no money from school districts and depend on participants and donors.

Blissfield’s Babbitt said his district is also looking for ways to increase revenue.

Athletic boosters are being asked to give more money to help support the Blissfield athletic program, according to Babbitt.

“The more you do through boosters, the less you have to eliminate,” Babbitt said.

According to Babbitt, the district is also looking at increasing student fees to participate in sports, know as “pay to participate.”

Currently Blissfield charges $40 per sport for middle school athletes and $80 per sport for those in high school.

While raising pay-to-participate fees would bring revenue, Babbitt said it could also discourage students from participating.

“Part of the conversation has been to increase it, but we might lose kids that can’t afford it,” Babbitt said. “We have to find that fine line of what’s too much. We have to think about everybody. “

Cheboygan’s Parker he doesn’t expect to implement an increase in the $75 fee the district’s athletes pay.

The MHSAA’s Johnson cautioned that pay-to-participate fees could backfire on schools.

“The fees could cause school districts to lose kids to a neighboring program and the state aid that goes with them,” Johnson said. “Then all of a sudden they have become counterproductive.”

Johnson said while sports come after academics in importance, they complement the learning done in a classroom.

Additionally, Johnson said students who play in sports generally have better grades, attendance and behavior.

According to Johnson, schools need to weigh cuts against positives sports bring.

“We can’t risk cutting these programs because the outcomes will be even more negative than we can imagine,” Johnson said.

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

Filed under: Education

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

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