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Bridges4Kids LogoMichigan State Board of Education Pushes MEAP Participation
Gongwer News Service, March 10, 2004
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The Department of Education has taken steps to ensure the delays and lost answer sheets of last year's Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests do no recur, but the State Board of Education said Tuesday that schools now need to work on getting students to take the test.

The board adopted a resolution calling on all schools in the state to ensure that all students in the building take the test the next time it is administered. The resolution noted that the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that at least 95 percent of students take the state's standardized assessment for the school to achieve adequate yearly progress and avoid federal sanctions.

It also notes a policy adopted by the board in 2001 on the importance of assessing students.

"With the implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind law that requires schools to test 95 percent of their students, we see this as an important message to send schools, students, and parents," said board Vice President Herbert Moyer (D-Temperance).

"Having every student take the state assessment test will not only help the school make AYP, but helps identify academic areas that may need improving in those schools and, of course, assess what our students have learned - especially by high school," said board Vice President Carolyn Curtin (R-Evart).

Ed Roeber, Senior Executive Director of the MEAP, told the board that the program is on schedule to report test results this spring and summer as planned. The program has also put in more tracking documents with the answer sheets to allow missing answer sheets to be more quickly noticed and traced at various points in the scoring process.
     

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Fixing Wayne County's Mental Health System
MIRS, March 10, 2004

The chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee today said today that she wants to add state representation to the board governing the "broken" Detroit/Wayne County mental health system out of genuine concern for the area's patients, not as an attack on anyone personally.

Sen. Bev HAMMERSTROM (R-Temperence) did not move a series of five bills designed to create a Detroit/Wayne County Mental Health Authority out of the committee, but she indicated that some type of action on the issue could be expected soon.

That's bad news for Wayne County officials, who are basically fighting the bills by themselves. Neither Detroit nor the Department of Community Health (DCH) are opposed to state action.

Hammerstrom and Sen. Shirley JOHNSON (R-Troy) are proposing to ditch the current 12-member board structure, which consists of six Detroit representatives and six Wayne County representatives in favor of a nine-member autonomous authority, which would include three members each from the state, city and Wayne County.

The proposal is in response to years of problems with the mental health system, which were publicized last year in a series of articles published by the Detroit Free Press. Johnson, for one, is concerned that unless the bureaucratic mess is straightened out, the entire state could lose Medicaid money.

But the Hammerstrom-Johnson pitch is a unique concept. None of the state's other 45 community mental health systems have needed state interventions. Of course, it could be argued that none of the other 45 systems are as messed up as Wayne County's.

"We don't have an ax to grind," Hammerstrom said. "Even the governor has admitted that the government structure that exists is broken and needs to be fixed."

"We want to look at fixing that structure so we can move from a more bureaucratic system to an autonomous system so the board can act quickly."

Under SBs 1076-1080 and 591, the 12-member board would be trimmed to nine members -- two Detroit mayoral picks, a Detroit City Council pick, two Wayne County executive selections, one Wayne County Board selection, two gubernatorial selections and a DCH Director.

The bills create a mechanism to have any member removed and would give DCH more ability to go after problems within the Detroit/Wayne County district. The main problem, as far as Wayne County Executive Bob FICANO is concerned, is the additional state appointments at a time when he's in the midst of fixing the system.

A new authority would limit Ficano and Detroit Mayor Kwame KILPATRICK's power over the authority, which is kind of the point.

In theory, these appointments would be a voice of reason that could break the 6-6 territorial deadlocks this "dysfunctional" body often finds itself in.

An unintentional example of the body's ineptness was brought out during the hearing when Hammerstrom asked a Detroit member of the current board if their duties involved approved a budget. The member testified that she didn't know.

Ficano said he's only been on the job 14 months and the promises of reform made in prior years are now implemented.

"So today, I can assure you that Wayne County has made the commitment to improving Mental Health services, that we have made structural reforms, which make the agency operate better," Ficano said.

So is Wayne County a mess? Sen. Bruce PATTERSON (R-Canton) asked DCH Director Janet OLSZEWSKI.

In a very diplomatic answer, Olszewski said neither yes or no, rather "we believe that we can improve things and there are some operational issues we can work through."

Patterson then asked if this new board structure would solve the problem. Olszewski again didn't give a direct answer, saying the government structure is "problematic" and that the administration is willing to work with the committee to establish a structure that could work better.

Patterson, of Wayne County, is a key vote on the Health Policy Committee since the panel's two Democrats appeared less than enthusiastic about supporting the bill today.

"I want to fix it and my concern is that what we do could be swept into a situation of fixing the organization structure without addressing the real mess," Patterson said.

The panel took testimony from a pair of citizens who claimed the organization structure is indeed a mess and needs fixing. Wayne County citizen Roberta DAVIS said that "we need to make some type of change, anything has to be better than what is going on now because they can't do anything. Their hands are tied. Everybody is afraid of repercussion. Nobody is willing to do anything."
     

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ISD Panel Looking For Answers
MIRS, March 10, 2004

Today, the House Subcommittee To Review Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) began taking testimony from persons it had subpoenaed in connection with the Oakland ISD scandals that came to light in the autumn of 2002 and the summer of 2003.

The primary scandal, which became public in the fall of 2002, was over the use of funds from a voter-approved tax levy that were supposed to be earmarked for special education, but were used for a multi-million dollar building. The district fired former Oakland ISD Superintendent James REDMOND a few months later. The initial information that brought the misuse of funds to light came from ISD employees who took their complaints to the ISD board.

The primary witnesses today were Chris WHALL, director of the Whall Group, a firm that the Oakland ISD hired to investigate the scandals, and Bill KEANE, currant interim Superintendent of the Oakland ISD.

Ostensibly, the panel is seeking to discover the reasons the scandals took place, to determine what, if any, new legislation may be needed to prevent a recurrence of the problem at Oakland or other ISDs.

In addition, however, the panel appears to be recapping the background of the scandals and probing for fresh information that might indicate further investigations (possibly criminal) would be warranted, or that more resources allotted for such a probe may be justified.

In December, Subcommittee Chair Ruth JOHNSON (R-Holly) announced that the panel would not attempt to pursue criminal investigation of ISDs; instead it would turn that portion of its probe over to the Attorney General's office.

The House allocated $660,000 in funding to the Attorney General to use for the probe. However, Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM vetoed the special appropriation, arguing that the Attorney General shouldn't need special funding to carry out such an investigation.

Keane told MIRS today that an Attorney General investigator has recently become more active at the ISD. Johnson then confirmed that the panel has recently turned over some new findings to Attorney General Mike COX, which may account for the new activity.

Following the veto, Johnson began moving ahead aggressively with her panel's investigation. The subcommittee subpoenaed 16 persons (See MIRS Feb. 12) arguing that by compelling each witness to testify would camouflage the potential whistleblowers who preferred to conceal their cooperation.

The political subtext on the panel has featured the Democrats, particularly Rep. Andy MEISNER (D-Ferndale), fishing for evidence that problems at Oakland ISD were primarily caused by the Redmond regime, and, along with some legislation already moving through the legislature, the problems are well on their way to being resolved.

Whall had testified that one of the procedures under Redmond that had led to the scandal was the practice of using a consent agenda, by which several items were 'bundled " together for the board to pass with one vote. He said there might be $10 million in spending, representing about 100 separate contracts approved with one vote of the board under the procedure.

Whall explained that the board had absolute trust in Redmond's administration and was willing to vote for these bundled agenda items without asking too many questions.

"The ISD did not want to communicate with the board," Whall said.

"Has the ISD board stopped using the consent agenda and implemented the other 14 steps you made in your report?" Meisner asked Whall.

Whall replied that, "yes" the ISD had done that.

Under questioning by Rep. Ken BRADSTREET (R-Gaylord), Whall praised the ISD board for its performance once the scandal had started to break.

"We got the board's full cooperation," Whall said. "When there were people who were reluctant to cooperate with us, the board would get them to do so."

Bradstreet questioned Whall about a not for profit company called MINDS, which was created under Redmond, with ISD funds. MINDS LLC, which was a linked to for profit companies (MINDS.com and MINDS.org) would create supposedly "super lesson plans" and sell them to schools.

These MINDS companies, which we apparently not successful, were staffed by relatives of members of the Oakland ISD administration.

Bradstreet also questioned Whall about contracts the ISD had with companies under circumstances that gave the appearance of nepotism and cronyism.

All of these issues had been brought out in the Whall report and reported by the news media. However, Bradstreet followed up by asking Whall if at some point in the investigation concerns had arisen that some of the improprieties they were being uncovered might be criminal.

Whall said it had.

Bradstreet also asked Whall if some of the people involved were still employed at the ISD.

Whall said yes.

However, later when Bradstreet asked Whall if he believed the situation warrants an investigation by the Attorney General or the Oakland County Prosecutor, Whall said he was not qualified to make that judgment.

Meisner attempted to get Whall to indicate there wasn't much left to be investigated, in regard to the ISD. But Whall didn't bite on that lead-in either.

"Do you think there is anything they might uncover that would tend to surprise you?" Meisner asked.

"Absolutely," Whall said. "It would be a fool's folly to say they couldn't find anything."

The primary focus of Keane's testimony appeared to be the lack of records pertaining to stipends awarded to ISD employees for job performance and records pertaining to lobbying and public relations work paid for by the Oakland ISD.

"As I've looked through these documents, there are stipends, of up to $30,000 but there are no W2 amounts included," Johnson said.

Later, Bradstreet questioned Keane directly about the stipends.

"We can find no 1099s connected with those stipends, or any record of the performance standards that were supposed to be met," Bradstreet said.

Keane said that such stipends were inconsistent with ISD policy, but that they might be related to a brief period, under Redmond, when the school started to implement some performance based incentives.

The panel had also subpoenaed invoices pertaining to $100,000 the district had paid Winning Strategies, a public relations firm it had hired to help get the special education millage passed, other invoices pertaining to multi-client firms, and the cost of direct student services provided by the ISD.

Keane said he believed the ISD had already turned over some of that information, but promised to produce it to the subcommittee as soon as possible.

The House created the ISD subcommittee in early 2003. Rep. Ruth JOHNSON (R-Holly), who had been working on the ISD issue in response to the scandal, was named chair of the panel. The subcommittee was granted subpoena power about a year ago in a party-line vote.

Outside of the Oakland County delegation, the issue didn't gain much momentum in the Legislature until the summer of 2003. At that time, newspapers reported that ISD employees had traveled to pleasure designations at taxpayer expense. These accounts led to the resignation of two Oakland ISD board members, and an increased interest in the ISD issue by Republican leaders.
     

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12-Year-Old Speaks Out On Hazing
MIRS, March 9, 2004

A Senate panel moved a pair of bills today that puts in place the legal framework for prosecutors to go after people who haze fellow members of a sports team or organization as a rite of passage.

Under current law, authorities can charge "hazers" with assault and other legal tools. But SBs 783 and 784 make it easier for the legal community to pursue hazing cases because it doesn't allow hazers to use the defense that the victim voluntarily agreed to be hazed.

The day's most compelling testimony came from 12-year-old Garet Drogosch, a seventh grader at Meads Mill Middle School in Northville, who was hospitalized after being knocked unconscious on the football field as part of a hazing "drill."

The 80-pound Drogosch was told to participate in a drill in which eighth-grade players picked a seventh grader to "hit" after a five-yard running head start. He was picked three times.

The seventh grader told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was told to stand with his hands behind his back and to "suck it up" as the larger eighth grader barreled into him. The third hit by a kid 50 pounds heavier than Drogosch sent him to the hospital, where he underwent two surgeries and had a metal plate stuck in his leg. He moved around with a wheelchair for a couple months.

The football coach who called for the "hit a 7th grader" drill lost his job, but still coaches at the school. The family is suing in civil court.

Committee members were appalled when Drogosch said several school officials felt that he was blowing the incident out of proportion when he went public with his story.

To that, Sen. Alan SANBORN (R-Richmond) said, "To the coaches who are about to see this bill passed, 'suck it up.'"

The original bills, SBs 783 and 784, sponsored by Sen. Michelle McMANUS (R-Lake Leelanau) and Sen. Nancy CASSIS (R-Novi), called for a three-year, $2,500 misdemeanor against those who hurt another through hazing and a 20-year, $10,000 felony against those who kill another through hazing.

The bills that unanimously moved out of the Judiciary Committee create one-year, $2,500 misdemeanor and a 15-year, $10,000 felony. If the bills are signed into law, Michigan will no longer be one of seven states without anti-hazing laws.

"We need to send a strong message in that we will not tolerate these practices in our society," Cassis said.

SBs 783-784 were penned in response to increased hazing incidents across America, including one within the Sigma Phi at the University of Michigan that resulted in a student being hospitalized with kidney failure. Also, Ferris State University residence hall director, Todd PRICE, called McManus' office after Michigan's lack of anti-hazing laws was used at a national conference as a negative example.

The school social workers and psychiatrists association and the Michigan State Police both support the bills.

 

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Senate Panel Approves Anti-hazing, Drug Court Bills
Gongwer News Service, March 9, 2004

Humbled by the testimony of a 12-year old boy put into a wheelchair for three months by a football hazing incident, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved two bills that would hazing at Michigan schools and universities.

The committee also approved three bills that would create drug treatment courts in state statute. A number of such courts-designed to deal with non-violent addicts who are caught in violation of drug laws-have already been created in local court districts. SB 998, SB 999 and SB 1000 went to the full Senate.

The anti-hazing measures, SB 783 and SB 784, would define the practice of hazing as any intentional, knowing or reckless act by a person or group of people designed to endanger the mental or physical health of another person, and is considered part of an initiation right.

Hazing incidents that resulted in injuries would be misdemeanors and an incident that resulted in a death would be a 15-year felony.

Michigan is just one of seven states that does not have anti-hazing laws said Sen. Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau), sponsor of SB 783, and Sen. Nancy Cassis (R-Novi) said it is hard to imagine that the pranks that constituted hazing decades ago had risen to the point where people were injured or killed.

But it was the testimony of Garet Drogosch of Northville that captured the committee's attention.

Describing a football hazing incident that involved eighth grade boys hitting seventh graders like himself, Mr. Drogosch said some of the younger boys were so worried about the expected hazing that one offered the players money and candy not to hit him.

Eighth grade players were allowed to choose a seventh grade boy, take a five yard-running start and knock the other boy down. Once they had hit the other player, the eighth grader could go off to the showers, but the seventh grader had to get back up in order to be available to get hit again by another player.

When the boys complained to their coach, Mr. Drogosch said, they were told to "suck it up" and that they would face this through their athletic careers. In fact, players were told they had to hit the boys hard enough to knock them to ground.

While many of the boys were hit twice, Mr. Drogosch said he was hit three times, the last time by the brother of one his best friends, a boy much taller and heavier than he.

On the third hit, "I heard bones crunch and I heard the coaches laugh. They only stopped when I couldn't get up," he said.

Mr. Drogosch has already undergone two surgeries from his injuries and will have a third. He spent three months in a wheelchair and another on crutches. It is unlikely he will be able to play contact sports, he said.

"I looked up the word 'coach,' and it means to teach," Mr. Drogosch told the committee. "What they were doing was not teaching."

Sen. Alan Sanborn (R-Richmond), recalling an incident that left his son unwilling to play football again, said, "To the coaches who are worried about this law about to come down, I say, 'Suck it up.'"
 

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