The Detroit News. August 14, 2018

Give schools green light for early start

Michigan education continues to lag, as evidenced by its lackluster marks on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test released this spring. Yet even with its students scoring below average across the board, the state still maintains restrictions that may prevent schools from doing their best to educate children. One of these is requiring a post-Labor Day school start.

Starting school after Labor Day has become tradition for Michigan students and their families, but a growing number of districts are bucking the trend. This year, a record 142 school systems won waivers to begin classes early.

Michigan outlawed pre-Labor Day school starts before the 2006-07 school year in a nod to the tourism industry, which says July and August are the highest revenue-producing months for Michigan tourism. They fear families will forgo end-of-summer trips if school starts earlier.

This made Michigan an outlier, as nearly all other states don't restrict schools in this way. School districts are pushing back. Nearly 400 of the 900 districts statewide (including charter schools) could potentially start school in August because they meet one of the exemption requirements, according to state education officials.

If that many schools qualify, and if there are so many benefits to the waiver, why not just allow schools to decide for themselves? Making school administrators jump through unnecessary hoops to extend their school year is the wrong priority.

Reasons that justify an exemption include increasing instructional time as part of a reform plan, balancing a school calendar for year-round schooling, or aligning more closely with the calendar of post-secondary educational institutions.

Local school districts know what is best for their students and should be able to begin school when they want. Tourism officials tout studies showing economic benefits of a delayed school year, but if Michigan's students aren't keeping up academically that will harm the future economy much more deeply.

One benefit of allowing an early start date would be the ability to align school schedules with an Early/Middle College Program, a five-year high school program designed to allow a student to earn a high school diploma and college credit by taking classes at a community college or university. Because higher ed institutions generally begin in mid-August, schools that have to start after Labor Day face difficulties in participating in such a program.

Last year, Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, introduced a bill that would allow Michigan schools to open before Labor Day without state approval, while preserving the long weekends in August to appease the tourism industry. It passed through the Education Committee with a 4-1 vote but lost momentum in the full Senate and was never acted upon.

If schools are to be held accountable for improving student performance, they should be given every tool possible to accomplish that goal.


Lansing State Journal. August 17, 2018

Saturday pop-up market features produce from urban farms in Lansing, Lansing Township

LANSING - You can be sure your food is local when it says: "Lansing Grown."

It's a new marketing concept for food produced by urban farmers in Lansing and Lansing Township.

The second of three pop-up markets with Lansing Grown produce will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday along the River Trail in downtown Lansing. It's more than a little ironic that it will be held in front of the Lansing City Market, where fresh farm produce has been sadly missing for years.

Laura DeLind, co-founder and board president of the Lansing Urban Farm Project, said the idea was hatched at a retreat earlier this year. The Lansing Urban Farm Project owns Urbandale Farm, which is planted in flood plain land on the city's eastside. The project has been training urban farmers for a decade through an apprenticeship program.

Now the nonprofit is looking for ways to support the steadily growing number of small urban commercial farms, perhaps numbering two dozen in the city and township.

"It's just a shame they're not getting more attention and more economic return for what they do. They add so much to the urban environment," she said.

More than a dozen business, nonprofit and community groups are joining the effort.

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The first of the three pop-ups, in July, had eight farmers and about 150 customers.

Adam Ingrao, who owns Beewise Farms, said his wife, Lacey, sold honey at the first pop-up and sales were good, mostly driven by visitors to an event at the Lansing Center.

The couple owns a two-acre farm on South Francis and sells honey, herbs and flowers, mostly at holiday markets and through direct sales. You won't see them at the area's farmers markets, though they are part of Allen Marketplace's veggie box program.

"It's good timing for us," he said, about the Lansing Grown initiative. "We'll definitely be utilizing that in our marketing and our branding as well. We try to really make ourselves known as a local producer."

Lansing Grown produce is sold at a July 14, 2018 pop-up market in Lansing. A second pop-up will be held 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday on the river side of the Lansing City Market.

Another goal of the Lansing Grown initiative will be to promote the use of local produce at area restaurants.

Zane Vicknair, chef and owner of Street Kitchen in Lansing, is already sold on the concept. He said he has shopped for local produce his entire career. He adjusts his menu based on available produce.

Local food is the freshest with better texture and taste, he said. Plus promoting local urban farmers will hopefully increase the market and reduce the costs. He estimates most of his food used in his restaurant is locally produced.

"It was ingrained in me at a very young age. You can't get better quality produce than when it was picked straight off the vine," he said.


Times Herald (Port Huron). August 16, 2018

Our water: Keep it safe, keep it fun

It is a great weekend to be one of the roughly 948 trillion gallons of water in Lake Huron.

Many of those gallons of cool, clear water will get to play with the thousands of participants Sunday in the Port Huron Float Down. All of those gallons of almost pure water will have the undivided attention of environmental activists gathered, also Sunday, for the fourth annual International Rally to Protect the Great Lakes. And those seemingly endless but still finite gallons of blue will get an extra layer of protection as the Huron-to-Erie Corridor Drinking Water Protection Network comes back on-line.

The network was born in 2007 after a series of spills from Sarnia's chemical and petroleum corridor, combined with delays in notification, made water treatment plant operators realize they were flying blind. Without real-time monitoring, they had no idea what they were drawing into their filters. Between the start of a spill and the time they were notified — which was sometimes never — they could have pumped thousands of gallons of contaminated water to customers.

The monitoring network provided real-time water quality data, allowing operators to shut down immediately.

The sensors and systems, though, were expensive to maintain and operate, so short-sighted municipalities disconnected them to save money. It was a dangerous choice — like a homeowner canceling his insurance policy. Thanks to a $375,000 from the state and commitments from local plant operators, the system is going back online with new sensors.

It needs to stay connected.

Environmental groups will make connections in Pine Grove Park from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Besides information about threats to the lakes and what citizens can do to help, there is live music plus the show on the water as Port Huron Float Down participants drift past.

It is OK that Float Down will have more participants than the rally.

They need to protect the future of their fun and iconic event by keeping themselves and their fellow floaters as safe as possible. Federal, state and local authorities are doing their best to keep the unauthorized, unorganized, unofficial event safe and fun. But don't believe they won't find a way to stop it if it turns stupid.

Wear your life jackets. Wear your life jackets. Wear your life jackets. Go with friends and make sure someone on shore knows what you are doing. Leave the kids at home; this is no place for them. Wear warm clothes and protect yourself from the sun. Don't be embarrassed to ask for help. Make sure you bring enough to eat and drink, and please limit your alcohol consumption. Have a plan for getting home.

And have fun out there. It is your river, and your trillions of gallons of Lake Huron.


The Mining Journal. August 15, 2018

Preserving historic structures important

It wasn't just a wall that was damaged recently.

It was a piece of history.

Ishpeming city officials were looking into the circumstances behind a damaged stone wall along Jasper Street that, at 120 years old, is reportedly tied to the region's mining history.

Although a portion of the wall was removed during construction of the city's $10 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development water project, the damage, which was discovered July 30, wasn't a result of that project.

A project manager said the old mine pit behind the wall was being used by the contractor to dump construction spoilage. To put that spoilage in the former mine pit, the contractor had to get permission from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, city leaders and the mine inspector.

Unfortunately, the wall was damaged in the course of filling the pit with spoils. The construction crew began to run out of room and ways to access the area as more dirt was piled up.

The wall is believed to have been built in the early 1890s by Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company President William G. Mather, a giant in the mining world.

That in itself would make the wall invaluable.

The damage was so upsetting to some residents that they expressed their concerns at a recent Ishpeming City Council meeting.

City Manager Mark Slown said he was to continue to investigate the incident and already had issued written instructions to city staff, contractors and engineers to not damage a historic structure.

Barricades also have been erected to prevent further damage.

However, what's done is done. As Councilman Karl Lehmann said at the council meeting, the wall cannot be restored to its original state. Even if the contractor's plans — to restore the wall, make a pocket park out of the filled area and install a fence to prevent people from accessing the drainage area — come to fruition, a part of Ishpeming's history is lost.

What should not be lost is being proactive.

If a historic structure is threatened through a project in any way, public meetings should be held. City leaders should ask contractors and engineers the proper questions. If there's even a small possibility a structure like the wall could be damaged, discussions should focus on avoiding that potential incident.

Considering damage might be hard to avoid, perhaps barricades can be put up before and during an ongoing project to further lessen the chance of damage.

Ishpeming history is too valuable to lose.