Can Emergency Manager Roy Roberts Fix ‘Disgrace’ of Detroit’s Schools?

As part of a rebranding effort for the Detroit Public Schools, the district has adopted the optimistic slogan of “We’re in,” this year. Cheerleaders and a marching band were on hand at some schools for the opening of classes.

The school district, National Public Radio reports, wants parents to know “this is not the same old struggling school system.”

It’s not the first time leaders of the image-conscious district have tried shaking up its dilapidated image, although previous attempts have not rescued the district from its ailments. Dan Rather Reports documented the spiral and crumbling conditions in May in its “A National Disgrace” report on Detroit Public Schools. It followed up with another segment Tuesday night that examined the district through the eyes of its students.

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Your Plan B, in Six Words

This week, we heard from three people around the region forced by a tough economy to change their lives. Here are a few more stories of reinvention by necessity, told in only six words.

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Six word poets: Danielle Benson Fennel, Mark Salke, Mark Augustine, Stuart Hall, Kate Schmidt.

Music by Steve Osborne, produced with Cade Sperling.

Midwest Memo: U.S. Factory Orders Show Sharp Climb, JobsOhio Back In Court

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Factory orders rise. Demand for automobiles and motor vehicle parts surged in July. The U.S. Commerce Department said Wednesday orders rose 9.8 percent in July, the biggest recorded jump in more than eight years. Overall, factory orders climbed 2.4 percent in July on auto demand and a jump in commercial airplane orders. The increase follows a 0.4 percent decrease in June, which had worsened fears the country was falling into a double-dip recession.

2. Chicago school considers conversion. One local school in the Chicago Public Schools district is mulling an unusual strategy in improving its performance – it’s considering the possibility of shutting itself down. On Tuesday, the school council at Wendell Smith Elementary, seven times on probation, will likely vote on whether to shut down and reopen as a charter school, according to our partner station WBEZ. It’s believed to be the first time a CPS school has held a vote on whether to shut itself down.

3. JobsOhio heads to court. A lawsuit in Ohio is challenging whether Gov. John Kasich’s privatized development corporation is eligible for exemptions from corporate regulations. Two Democrats and a liberal policy group filed the suit Tuesday, also arguing the state cannot invest “public dollars in a private entity,” according to The Columbus Dispatch. Earlier, the Ohio Supreme Court said it did not have jurisdiction in the case until it had been heard in lower courts. Tuesday’s lawsuit was filed in Franklin County Common Court.

Michigan’s Public Schools and New Chancellor Contract Come Under More Scrutiny

John Covington, the first chancellor of Michigan’s new statewide school district for poor-performing schools could receive more than $1.5 million in salary and bonuses over four years. The contract has upset some union officials in Michigan.

A spokesman for Roy Roberts, emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools, tells the Detroit Free Press the contract was necessary “to attract top talent to what may be the toughest job in the country.”

Last week, the Michigan Department of Education released a list of 98 schools that were classified as “persistently low achieving,” which means they must submit a plan for improving results and are subject to being placed in the new reform district to be led by Covington.

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Chicago Fed President ‘Somewhat Nervous’ About U.S. Economic Prospects

Saying he was “somewhat nervous about the economic recovery,” Chicago Fed President Charles Evans offered a tepid report Tuesday on the fragile state of the American economy during an appearance on CNBC.

Although the country has technically ended its recession, Evans said people are “kidding themselves” if they think the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate isn’t consistent with recessionary rates.

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Midwest Memo: Chicago Mayor Engages In Testy Exchange, Honda Invests $355 Million In Ohio

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Angry residents confront Emanuel. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel sought solutions for the city’s budget woes during a public meeting Monday night. He got more than he bargained for, according to reports from our partner station WBEZ. A question from a laid-off traffic employee led to an extended back-and-forth with union members in the audience. “I’m responsible to the city taxpayers and the city residents,” Emanuel said, referring to a projected $635 million budget deficit. Audience members yelled that they were taxpayers too.

2. Honda renovates Ohio plants. Honda announced Monday it would spend $355 million to refurbish four plants in Ohio, according to The Columbus Dispatch. The improvements come as the automaker returns to full production following the Japanese catastrophes. The Dispatch reports some jobs will be added, but specifics are not yet available. Honda has more than 13,000 employees in the Buckeye State.

3. Lawmakers seek tax-credit extension. Tax credits for advanced battery manufacturers in Michigan are scheduled to be phased out by Gov. Rick Snyder, but Democrats in the state Legislature want to extend the incentives packages. The Associated Press reported Monday that the Democratic proposal would include tax credits for battery production and facility construction, as well as credits for buying electric vehicles and charging stations.

UAW Seeks Raise for Auto Industry ‘Two-Tiers’

Bob King, the president of the United Auto Workers union, wants a raise. Not for himself, but for entry level workers at auto plants, who are called “two-tiers.”

Our Kate Davidson profiled several of them last year. Two-tiers earn roughly $14 an hour, or about half the wages earned by the industry’s veteran workers.

Speaking to reporters following a speech to the Economic Club of Detroit today, King said he’s “very concerned” about attaining a higher standard of living for these workers, according to the New York Times. Continue reading “UAW Seeks Raise for Auto Industry ‘Two-Tiers’”

New York Times: ‘Does America Need Manufacturing?’

“You can drive almost anywhere in the state of Michigan – pick a point at random and start moving – and you will soon come upon the wreckage of American industry.”

That’s the first sentence in a story in this week’s New York Times Magazine about the seismic downturn in manufacturing over the past decade and its tenuous future in the U.S.

For decades, The Times says, the federal government has largely maintained a policy of letting the marketplace dictate the economy. That is, it hasn’t propped up ailing sectors of the economy nor tinkered with aid packages to strengthen niche industries the way China and Japan have maintained active hands in shaping industry.

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Midwest Memo: Manufacturing Activity Rises Across Region, Ohio Ponders Turnpike Lease

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Manufacturing index rises. Economic conditions across the Midwest improved in July, according to a report issued Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The Fed’s manufacturing index rose 0.5 percent in the month to a seasonally adjusted level of 84.8. Overall, regional output rose 6.2 percent year-over-year. The auto industry, buoyed by continued recovery from the Japanese catastrophes, showed growth of 1.4 percent following a 0.6 percent decrease in June.

2. Survey analyzes Michigan unions. Fifty-six percent of Michigan’s local government leaders say that unions have had a negative impact on their municipalities’ fiscal health. Meanwhile, 60 percent of respondents said their jurisdiction had either “good” or “excellent” relationships with union officials in the past 12 months. The findings come from a survey conducted by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan, which received responses from 360 of approximately 520 local governments, according to our partner station Michigan Radio.

3. Ohio ponders turnpike lease. Gov. John Kasich and his administration are still exploring the possibility of privatizing the Ohio Turnpike in a deal that could net the Buckeye State approximately $2.5 billion dollars, according to our partner station Ideastream.  The prospect of a deal comes at a time when the Ohio Department of Transportation projects a $1.5 billion deficit between now and 2017.