Regulations threaten services for disabled, nonprofits say

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING — Facilities employing and training people with disabilities face increased regulations that will decrease the amount of help they can provide, nonprofit program experts say.

Federal regulations intending to provide disabled residents with more community integrated programs for employment education have vocational rehabilitation facilities worrying that changes may mean less choice for participants.

Vocational rehabilitation facilities around Michigan specialize in working with people  with physical and mental disabilities. The goal is to enable them to find employment. Services include socialization skills, resume building, career planning, transportation assistance and job placement.

The U.S. Census Bureau says 75 percent of the 552,000 persons living with a cognitive disability in Michigan are unemployed. The poverty rate for Michigan residents with disabilities is 28 percent.

Federal law requires vocational rehabilitation facilities to provide more opportunities for work experience in community settings. The intent is to ensure that facilities don’t  isolate participants from the broader population in what are referred to as sheltered workshops.

North Eastern Michigan Rehabilitation and Opportunity Center, a nonprofit manufacturing facility in Alpena, employs around a hundred individuals with disabilities, said David Szydlowski, its chief executive officer.

Employees are trained on site by job coaches and receive training to operate forklifts, pay loaders and industrial saws. The program also contracts out employees to provide custodial services to local businesses.

Szydlowski said the problem is the Michigan Department of Community Health’s interpretation of federal law. If the program gets a contract for a local cement plant for two people to move tables, or to paint a room, it cannot assign two disabled individuals to be on that job together.

“In order to comply to the regulations, I’ll have to take away those jobs for disabled workers,” Szydlowski said.

Determination of compliance can vary by local health departments, he said.

“There are community rehab programs across the state and across the nation that are saying that this isn’t an issue and those two people can continue to work together because they are working in the community for a local business,” Szydlowski said.

Todd Culver, the chief executive officer for the Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations, said, “If these rules and regulations are implemented in a way that is not fair to the individuals receiving services, then it can impact the quality of their life.”  

According to Culver, Health and Human Services developed a test for a thousand different environmental settings that facilities may operate in and is determining which ones qualify for Medicaid funding.

“We’re right in the middle of going through that data,” he said

According to Culver, if a program fails the test, there’s an opportunity to follow a corrective action plan.

Rehabilitation facilities argue that the law shouldn’t restrict a participant’s choice in where to go for services.

Another facility which was cited for non-compliance is Grand Traverse Industries in Traverse City. It’s now following a corrective action plan.

“This is a regulatory nightmare,” said Steve Perdue, the facility’s president.

“We’re working through the Home and Community Based Services waiver with our Northern Michigan entity and thus far are optimistic that we are in compliance,” Perdue said. “They’ve gotten back to us on certain issues and we made changes that we believe will have us in compliance.”

The nonprofit’s annual report said 31 percent of its services were conducted outside of its main facility.

More counselors suggested by schools plagued by threats

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING —  Michigan schools are experiencing increased threats of violence in the months following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, when 19 students were killed.

The number of threats or acts of violence in schools is three times higher across the nation since February, according to the Educators School Safety Network, a nonprofit that tracks media reports of violence. It regularly reports Michigan as being in the top 10 in the nation for such incidents.

Two shootings have occurred at Michigan schools since 2016.

In Northern Michigan, police have investigated three potential threats at Traverse City West High School and one at Petoskey High School since mid-February.

Two cases concerned friends who responded to a threat made by a classmate. None of the instances was found to be a credible threat of violence.

“I don’t think the hypersensitivity to threats is a bad thing right now,” said Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest union of teachers and other school staff.

“At the root cause of this are students who really need help,” Pratt said. “We need to be able to provide the holistic education for a kid, and that includes taking care of their mental wellbeing.”

In 2015, the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District developed a crisis response team of two social workers and nine psychologists to address the needs that its school often face.

“The crisis team offers training for all the local school districts and academies,” said Carol Greilick, the district’s assistant superintendent of special education.

“Trauma and crisis are in the eyes of the beholder,” Greilick said. “It may be a relatively simple thing, such as a student losing a family member, or it could be a school district losing a student or teacher.”

In response to the sudden death of a teacher last year, the crisis team provided  assistance.

“The team worked with administrators in both districts to plan a response,” Greilick said. “They set up counseling rooms, planned the script for informing students and worked step by step through the response anticipating student needs, family needs and staff needs.”

Addressing student concerns is more difficult with less staff, said Tamara Kolodziej, a guidance counselor at Petoskey High School.

The average ratio for K-12 schools in the U.S. is 482 students per counselor. In Michigan, which has seen a 25 percent decrease in school counselors since 2005, the ratio is 729 students for each counselor.

In response to concerns about school safety and student welfare, the Senate is considering a bill that would allocate an additional $50 million towards hiring more guidance counselors, social workers and armed resource officers.

“Here at Petoskey we have two counselors for a thousand students,” Kolodziej said. “We’re lucky because they’re going to be hiring another counselor next year. We’ve been down to two counselors for the last seven years.”

Guidance counselors are responsible for “data maintenance, scheduling classes, transcripts, communicating with parents and staff —  it’s a lot for two people,” she said.

“Our biggest job is organizing testing,” said Kolodziej.

Those obligations mean that counselors get less face time with students. “We each generally see 10 to 12 students in our office a day,” Kolodziej said.

Kolodziej emphasized the difference between a guidance counselor and a licensed therapist.

Petoskey High School has a licensed therapist practicing on site. Therapy isn’t free but having one on site provides easier access for students seeking mental health services.

Addressing student mental health needs will take adjustments on the part of schools.

“We need to arm educators with smaller class sizes, more counselors and better security measures,” the MEA’s Pratt said.

Students are well aware that the potential for violence exists, Pratt said. “Even at a young age, you have elementary schools going through lockdown drills.”

Teachers and counsellors are not the only ones who should be responsible for students’ welfare, he said. The whole school system is responsible.

“A classroom teacher’s job is to help every student learn the material,” Pratt said.

“We can’t ask educators to do everything,” Pratt said. “They need to be able to assess the situations, but they also need the resources to follow up.”

More alternatives needed for criminal suspects with mental health problems, advocates say

BY COLTON WOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING — As more communities in Michigan join the fight for jail diversion programs for inmates with special needs, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said he hopes it will soon become a mainstream program.

The Snyder administration created a diversion program to reduce the number of people with  special needs entering Michigan’s corrections system.

“It was informal in the beginning, and then we formalized it part way through our first term,” Calley said. “I served as a chair of the diversion council, and its mental health diversion. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The program works with pilot committees from counties across the state that want mental health-related changes in corrections facilities

“Our system in the past has been a one-size-fits-all approach,” Calley said. “So a person has a negative interaction with the law, they go through the system. If they’re found guilty, they go to jail or go to prison.

“But if a person committed a crime because they have a mental illness that was untreated, I think the criminal justice response needs to be different. It has to include evaluation of what the root cause of the problem was and treat them. That still might some include some jail or prison, but maybe it doesn’t have to,” he said.

Now five years after establishment of the initiative, Calley said he hopes diversion programs will become more mainstream.  

“Right now, it’s in about a dozen communities in the state — trying to prove out the concepts that treating mental illness is better than throwing people in jail who have mental illness,” he said. “It has the same potential that treating addiction has.”

Rich Thiemkey, the chief executive officer of the Barry County Community Mental Health Authority, one of the agencies that maintain a diversion program, foresees diversion programs increasing.

But he said changes to funding and stigmas are needed to further help those with mental illnesses.

“Number one is just stigma, or how people view people with a mental illness,” he said. “And then the second part would be funding of individuals that are in the jail.”

With funding an issue, his agency is constantly looking for grants to help fund the treatment of mental health patients.

One such grant enables the agency to screen individuals for substance abuse and mental health disorders, he said. Some receive services in the jail and some who are diverted will be treated at the agency’s facility.

Thiemkey said that’s called “post-booking because the diversions happen after they walk into the jail. So what we’re trying to focus on this upcoming year is pre-booking.”

Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is one of the biggest diversion programs in the state.

“We have a strict definition of diversion, which is when a mental health worker intervenes, usually with a judge, to come to an alternative disposition, which usually means a bond reduction,” said Robert Butkiewicz, the supervisor of programs at the agency. “Sometimes that means sending someone to a psychiatric hospital. Sometimes it is coordinating care with an adult foster care provider so the person can be safe.”

According to Butkiewicz, people can be eligible for these diversion programs if they are being charged with a misdemeanor.

“When we talk about mental health diversion, we have to separate that from legal diversion,” he said. “Mental health diversion relates to alternatives to incarceration. A legal diversion relates to alternatives to criminal prosecution.

Butkiewicz said the diversion system needs improvements.

For example, he said laws “should be more focused on treatment. If you’re poor and are roped in the legal system, you can hardly pay next month’s rent. You have a $25 oversight fee. You have a $300 legal fee. You have a $100 this and that. And for those who are really poor, you get locked in.”

 

Michigan reversing prison population boom of ‘90s

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING — Following the closing of some correctional facilities in recent years, the size of Michigan’s prison population is at its lowest in two decades.

Criminal justice experts, however say, there’s still more to be done.

John Cooper, the policy director for the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, a nonprofit public policy organization, said the Department of Corrections’ current recidivism rate of 28 percent isn’t a good measurement of what’s going on in the criminal justice system.

“To have 28 percent of people who got out of prison return still is a very high rate,” Cooper said. “We don’t want anybody to be going back to prison.”

Earlier this year, the department reported that the prison population is below 40,000 for the first time since 1992.

Cooper said there are a number of reasons for that development, including low crime rates, fewer people going to prison and high parole rates.

However, there’s a need for improvement.

“Michigan has a very punitive system,” Cooper said, adding that the state has the longest average length of imprisonment in the country, with an average minimum sentence of  almost 10 years.

“About 13 percent of the prison population in Michigan will never be released because they are serving life sentences,” Cooper said.

A recent law sponsored by Sen. Steven Bieda D-Warren, eliminates the requirement that repeat drug offenders get an increased sentence, up to life in prison without parole. Instead, prisoners would be eligible for parole after serving five years of their sentence.

When it comes to offenders with mental illness, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said the justice response needs to be different.

“Our system in the past has been a one-size-fits-all approach. A person has a negative interaction with the law, they go through the system. If they are found guilty of a crime, they go to jail or prison,” Calley said.

If a person commits a crime because of an untreated mental illness that might include developmental disabilities, addiction or anything that changes the way that the brain works, the justice system response should include evaluation and treatment, he said.

“That still might include some jail or prison, but maybe it doesn’t have to,” Calley said.

 

He heads the Snyder administration’s mental health diversion council that works with sheriffs, prosecutors and judges on programs intended to provide treatment rather than jail for arrestees with mental health and substance abuse problems.

Cooper, of the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, said Michigan doesn’t have  a compassionate release policy for medical parole.

“Many aging prisoners and sick people are not allowed to be released to medical facilities that are more appropriate,” he said. “These are very old and sick people who are no longer a threat to society.”

A set of bills pending in the Legislature would create a compassionate release policy. The bipartisan package is sponsored by a number of representatives including David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, and  Larry Inman, R-Williamsburg.

In terms of re-entry into the community, Cooper said it’s hard to get a job with a criminal record. The unemployment rate for people with a criminal record is 67 percent.

“There are legal barriers to getting employment for people who have been formerly incarcerated. Many employers do not want to hire someone who has a criminal record,” he said.

And at the same time, it’s hard to find housing. “Private landlords can decide to not rent their property, and there are also limitations on the availability of certain government assistance if you’ve got a criminal record,” Cooper said.

The underlying problem is that most people who go to prison don’t have any work history or a high school diploma, he said. If they don’t get an education and/or job skills while they are in prison, it’s going to be hard for them to get a job when they get out.

“The department understands this and is trying to do the best it can,” Cooper said.

The Department of Corrections has created jobs and trade skills training programs and so far, these programs are producing good results, according to reports on the department’s website.

Calley, the lieutenant governor, said that when the criminal justice system started treating addiction, it had a profound impact, and mental diversion programs have the same potential that treating addiction had in improving recidivism outcomes.

“Throwing people in jail does not treat addiction, does not cure addiction. It’s not a willpower issue, it’s a health care issue,” he said. “If we start treating mental health effectively and connect people to gainful employment at the same time, recidivism rates will go even lower.”

Plan to coordinate roadwork expected soon

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING — A pilot program looking for better ways to coordinate the repair, maintenance and replacement of Michigan’s roads and other infrastructure is finishing its recommendations this month.

The recommendations will address ways to implement the program statewide, improving efficiency and saving money. Under the “integrated asset management” concept, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said the state expects all private and public entities involved in public infrastructure to work together to handle projects more efficiently.

For example, Calley said, consider a hypothetical road being repaved in front of the Capitol. Under integrated asset management, all necessary improvements such as water, sewer, cable lines and sidewalks would be coordinated so road is torn up only once.

“It’s the same concept as if you’re having your driveway repaved at the same time that they’re repaving the road in front of your house. It would be a lot cheaper because the equipment and materials are already there,” Calley said. “We think there can be substantial savings.”

Therese Empie, a strategy advisor for Gov. Rick Snyder, staffed the governor’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission. It looked across the state to figure out what Michigan needs to do to have a world-class modern infrastructure in the next 30-50 years.

“Currently, infrastructure in Michigan exists in silos,” Snyder’s executive directive reads. “There are 700 separate road and drain agencies; 79 transit agencies; 1,390 drinking water systems; 1,080 wastewater systems; 116 electric utilities; 10 natural gas utilities and 43 broadband providers.”

The pilot program, which started in 2017, grew out of a commission recommendation, Empie said. Empie said Michigan is the first state to undertake a program like this.

The long-term goal is for asset management to result in coordination and cost efficiencies for public and private utilities, Empie said.

The pilot program includes 153 participating governmental units in two of the state’s regions, Empie said. The West Michigan region covers 13 counties, including Ionia, Lake, Mecosta, Mason, Oceana, Montcalm, Ottawa, Kent, Allegan, and the Southeast Michigan region covering Metro Detroit participated.

“We had communities as small as a few hundred people participating, to large communities like Grand Rapids,” Empie said.

The pilot program’s recommendations are due to Snyder by the end of the month, Empie said, and the pilot’s final report will be released to the public on May 4.

A bill introduced by Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker to create a Michigan Infrastructure Council to oversee implementation of a statewide asset management system has passed the House, Empie said, and has been sent to the Senate Transportation Committee.

“It’s a lot of exciting work, and we can do it,” Empie said. “It’ll take a little bit of time, but we have a lot of passionate people here who are very knowledgeable throughout the state and at every level of government that are definitely gonna work to get it done.”

Note: Article correct April 23, 2018, to show that Empie staffed  the governor’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission but wasn’t a member of the commission.

More test scores put Michigan students in bottom half

By COLTON WOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING —  Michigan lags behind most of the country when it comes to the biennial standardized test given to select fourth- and eighth-grade students, according to a new National Assessment of Educational Progress report.

The report shows that Michigan students in those grades made miniscule improvements from 2015 to 2017 in math and reading on the NAEP test.

And the overall picture is not good: Michigan ranked 38th in fourth-grade math, 33rd in eighth-grade math, 35th in fourth-grade reading and 30th in eighth-grade reading.

In specific scores, in 2017, Michigan fourth-graders averaged 236 on the math portion of the assessment, which was unchanged from 2015 and four points lower than the national average.

Average math scores of eighth-graders increased slightly from 278 in 2015 to 280 in 2017.

Fourth-graders averaged 218 in reading, a two-point increase from two years prior. Eighth-graders improved by a one point in reading, the only score close to the national average.

“We haven’t changed,” said Sarah Lenhoff, an assistant professor of educational leadership and educational studies at Wayne State University. “What that told me was we’re not improving those numbers we saw declining over the years.

“Our scores are stable, which is better than declining, but while Michigan has remained stable, other states are improving their numbers,” she said. “This makes me concerned. We’re being left behind.”

Despite the marginal improvement, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Whiston said he wants to make Michigan a top-10 education state in 10 years.

“It is important that we keep working with intermediate school districts and local school districts to provide support and assistance to help all of their students achieve at higher levels,” he said.

“We keep moving forward on our goal to be a top-10 education state in 10 years and know that the early work we’re putting into motion will pay positive dividends in the very near future,” Whiston said.

Part of that plan, said William DiSessa, a communications officer in the Department of Education, is to focus on the “whole child” to improve student achievement and to make students college- and career-ready by increasing their pathways to success.

“As we implement the plan’s various strategies, we anticipate further academic improvements for students in our K-12 public schools,” he said.

While state education officials say the plan will work, Lenhoff said she isn’t sure.

“I don’t want to say it’s not possible,” she said. But it will require “serious change” from the  Legislature, governor and Department of Education.

“There needs to be adequate resources put forth to fix this,” she said. “Currently, they’re not doing everything they can do to improve the schools.”

Pothole claims? Fuhgeddaboutit

By MAXWELL EVANS
Capital News Service


LANSING — State agencies rarely reimburse drivers for pothole damages, a fact that rings true for drivers seeking reimbursement from county governments as well.

In Gladwin County, all damage requests are handled by a third party, Sedgwick Claims, according to Dave Pettersch, the managing director of the county’s road commission.

Any claims paid go against the road commission’s insurance, although the county receives only about one request per year, he said.

“Once they leave here, we usually don’t hear back on the results of them,” Pettersch said. “But very few of them are paid out.”

To be eligible for county payouts, the damage must have occurred on a county-maintained road. The offending pothole also had to be known to the commission but not fixed, said Pettersch. He also serves as vice president of the County Road Association, an advocate for Michigan’s 83 county road agencies.

At the state level, payouts are capped at $1,000 per claim, with lawsuits being the only option for drivers seeking higher amounts, according to the Department of Transportation. As it stands, MDOT has 30 days from being informed of a pothole’s existence to fix it before it can be held liable to reimburse drivers.

Even with clear eligibility guidelines for submitting a claim, the state rarely approves payments — only 27 of 717 requests were approved in the last three years, according to MDOT records.

Pothole reports filed with MDOT aren’t publicly available, although they are subject to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. This can make it a challenge to verify whether rejected claims involved potholes that went unfixed for more than 30 days.

In response, House Democrats have introduced a bill package that would raise the maximum payout for pothole damage to $5,000, limit the maximum response time to seven days and create a website for the public to track where and when potholes have been identified. The bills would apply to claims only against the state.

The lead sponsors are Reps. Leslie Love, D-Detroit; Patrick Green, D-Warren; and Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township. The bills are pending in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Similar regulation at the county level would hurt county road agencies, said Todd Behring, the managing director of the Montmorency County Road Commission.

He said that the $175 million in additional road funding unanimously approved by the Legislature  this year should be reserved for exactly that — the roads.

“The roads are an issue. That’s why we’re getting extra funding to try and make them better,” Behring said. “We’re not getting funding to give to the general public because they hit a pothole.”

Both Behring and Gladwin County’s Pettersch agreed that drivers must pay attention to the roads, as counties simply do not have the money to be aware of and fix every pothole.

Paying for every instance of pothole damage to cars would pose “an insane threat” to county budgets, Pettersch said.

County road commissions “have the funding to fix the roads, and drivers have the responsibility to slow down,” Pettersch said. “That’s what it comes down to. If you’re in an area where you know there’s potholes or you see them coming, move around them or go through them slowly.”

Rural areas like Montmorency County, which has only 19 residents per square mile, rarely get valid claims of pothole damage, Behring said. That’s something that happens only “maybe down in the cities.”

Behring said he hasn’t handled even one pothole damage claim in his three years as managing director.

“It’s a little slowed-down up here,” Behring said. “People don’t drive 85, 90 miles an hour. We don’t have the traffic that you’ve got down there.”

Nearly 90,000 miles of road are maintained by counties, representing about three-quarters of the state’s total road mileage.

However, they aren’t subject to the same stress, as fewer drivers use county-maintained roads as a whole. State-funded roads account for only 8 percent of Michigan’s total road mileage and carry 53 percent of total traffic, according to MDOT.

Michigan spent about $314 per person on state-maintained roads in 2015, the most recent year available from the Federal Highway Administration.

For comparison, neighboring Ohio spent $502 per capita — which is still less than Illinois’ $527 or Wisconsin’s $616.

MDOT Director Kurt Steudle said Ohio focused its repair efforts on highways closest to the Michigan border to show drivers the difference immediately after crossing state lines.

Many of Michigan’s pothole problems would likely be less severe if the state could afford more than so-called Band-Aid fixes, Steudle said.

“If for the last 10 years we had been doing longer-term repairs, they would be more structurally sound,” Steudle said.

Killing cormorants legal again

By STEVEN MAIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Culling season is coming quickly for a controversial Great Lakes waterfowl after it received a one-year reprieve.

Control of the double-crested cormorant will return this spring when the bird returns from wintering along the Pacific, Atlantic or Gulf coasts, according to federal authorities.

Almost all culling was suspended last year after a federal judge ruled in May 2016 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to adequately assess its impact. With that study complete, the agency can again issue permits to kill cormorants to protect property, habitat, airports, fish hatcheries and other birds.

“We’re trying to balance maintaining a stable cormorant population with managing them in the place where they’re causing damage,” said Tom Cooper, a program chief for the agency’s Migratory Bird Program.

The agency will issue permits to kill up to 18,270 cormorants this year in eight Midwestern states.

Permit applicants must submit photos of cormorant damage, how many cormorants they wish to kill and how they plan to do it, Cooper said.

Cormorants moved into Michigan from neighboring states in the early 1970s, according to a Department of National Resources report. By the turn of the century, there were 30,000 nesting pairs in the state.

Their colonies are found in places like Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan, Ludington and the Les Cheneaux Islands just off of the southeastern edge of the Upper Peninsula.

Some area residents claim the birds hurt local fisheries but researchers say the cormorants’ impact on local fishing is exaggerated. In fact, scientists have discovered that cormorants are eating invasive species, especially round goby in Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay and Lake Michigan’s Beaver Archipelago.

Once threatened by chemical contamination, the birds have returned in dramatic numbers.

There were only 125 nesting pairs of Great Lakes cormorants in 1972. Today, there are 40,000  pairs, and they’re causing a big problem on many islands where colonies have degraded many habitats, forcing other animals to move on.

Anglers know them as the bird whose numbers blew up in the 1980s after tapping into a nearly bottomless supply of the invasive alewife. They’re incredible divers and can eat one-fourth of their weight in fish each day.

And they’re public enemy number one for many perch anglers, although how many perch they eat is hotly debated, Cooper said.

Many know them by a distinct calling card — acidic feces that damages cars and buildings. They also destroy vegetation, stripping trees of leaves for their nests and poisoning the ground with their guano.

But defenders think of them as a bird that’s faced persecution for centuries and continues to do so despite protections t under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Some remember them as an environmentalists’ poster child — their DDT-malformed beaks were displayed on posters. The deformities caused by that insecticide kept them from eating and reproducing, threatening the bird’s existence.

Cormorant management is contentious, Cooper said.

“There’s folks that are on both sides of the issue,” he said. “Our role is to balance those using the best available information.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service began to allow culls in 2003 after mounting complaints of damage by a booming cormorant population. Cormorants threatening fish hatcheries, vegetation and other birds were often taken without a permit.

The birds were either harassed or shot, but many prefered to coat their eggs in oil, asphyxiating the embryos. Cormorant mothers continue to sit on the dead eggs. The mothers otherwise often laid new eggs if they found theirs were smashed.  

Cormorant management is often done to protect shorebirds that often live alongside the colonies, but researchers at the University of Minnesota found that the culls hurt some of those same species.

The team analyzed population data from 1976 to 2010 and watched how the colonies fared when cormorants were killed.

Black-crowned night herons nest in the undergrowth, often under cormorant nests, said Francie Cuthbert, a co-author of the study in the “Journal of Wildlife Management.” Culling cormorants should save their habitat from an acidic demise and boost the heron population. Instead, those populations declined when the cormorants were killed.

Egg spraying is probably the culprit, she said. To spray cormorant eggs, managers must traverse the island, causing panicked heron chicks to fall out of their nests. The parents then no longer care for them and they die.

For two species of gulls, the opposite is true. The Great Lakes have too many gulls already, and cormorant management makes it worse, Cuthbert said. Gulls raid empty cormorant nests — an easy-access, population-boosting food source.

“When somebody goes in to spray the eggs, the cormorants are the first to take off, and boom, they’re gone,” Cuthbert said. “They’re out sitting on the lake.”

Gulls are quick to take advantage, she said. “They’re into that cormorant colony, busting open eggs as fast as they can.”

That makes for more gulls, and another possible round of eggs from the cormorant mothers, she said.

Cooper said the Fish and Wildlife Service is aware of the study. The managers he’s spoken with are open to changing tactics, even if it means hampering efficiency by limiting egg oiling.

There were close to 10,000 cormorant pairs on West Sister Island in Lake Erie before culling started in 2006, said Jason Lewis, the manager of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Ohio. The island’s colony has since been cut to 4,000 pairs.

Other nesting species on the island were struggling as the number of cormorants continued to grow, Lewis said. And West Sister Island is the only habitat of its kind in the western basin of Lake Erie.

“It’s not like these species have any place to go,” he said.

Since culling began, vegetation and co-nesters on the island have bounced back, Lewis said.

Steven Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Adult education struggles with stagnant funding

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING — Adult education is handcuffed by a stagnant budget that critics say keeps the state from alleviating cycles of poverty amid one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation.

Over 1 million Michigan residents don’t have their high school diploma or equivalent, according to Stepheni Schlinker, a communications specialist for the Michigan Talent Investment Agency.

State funding for adult education programs was cut from $75 million to $20 million in 2004. Enrollment dropped with the funding from 76,000 in 2001 to 35,000 by 2005.

Adult education classes are free services provided around the state for individuals wanting to get their high school degree or improve their basic literacy skills.

This year, adult education programs are receiving $25 million in state funding. Federal grants also contribute but have declined from $17 million in 2003 to $13.3 million in 2018. Adjusting for inflation, adult education would require an additional $11.5 million to match the 2003 funding level.

Around 28,000 state residents participate in the programs each year.

“We administer the governor’s budget, and we’re certainly trying to run our programs and expand our programs,” said Joe Billig, the director of the Office of Talent Policy and Planning for the Michigan Workforce Development Agency. “We always look to ways our programs can improve, even if more funding is not available.”

By encouraging students to co-enroll in other government programs to spread costs around and by moving tests and textbooks online, the agency has been able to keep providing services with less money, Billig said.

“We know that children of parents who have low literacy skills are 72 percent more likely to have low reading levels or drop out of school,” said Krista Johnson, the director of Education and Career Success for the Workforce Development Agency.

The graduation rate for Michigan K-12 students was below 80 percent and tied for 40th- worst in the nation for the 2015-16 school year. The rate for low-income students was only 67 percent, according to the U.S Department of Education.

For Northwest Michigan, funding challenges come as the population of adult education students has undergone a significant shift.

“It used to mostly be 35-to-50-year-olds — now we’re seeing them in the 18-to-24 range,” said Christy Nelson, the adult education coordinator for Northwest Michigan Works!

Her agency covers Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee and Wexford counties and serves between 600 and 700 students every year in adult education programs. Last year, 330 of them were between 16 and 24 years old.

The low high school  graduation rates put pressure on adult education programs.

“Most of the kids that we see coming in fell so far behind in their credits that it’s easier to just get a GED,” Nelson said.

State funding for adult education programs is based on how many people in a region lack high school diplomas or who speak English as a second language.

“We’re definitely underfunded,” Nelson said. “The largest cost that we have is teachers’ salaries. When we have less income, we reduce the number of hours they work per week.”

Northwest Michigan Works! employs six teachers at learning labs in Petoskey, Kalkaska, Cadillac, Manistee and Traverse City.

One of the students’ main complaints is the lack of nighttime schooling options, Nelson said. “Many of our students work several low-income jobs just to make ends meet.”

Programs forced to close mean further driving distances for students.

For example, “Livingston County does not have an adult education program as the result of cuts,” said Peter Ruark, a senior policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Students from Livingston County drive 30 miles to Novi in Oakland County in order to attend a program.”

“In the Upper Peninsula, there are people who have to drive 50 miles both ways because it is so sparsely populated,” he said.

“We’re concerned about the people with families, the people with jobs that are stuck in a low-wage spiral of poverty that need to build their skills in order to get jobs that pay well so they can be economically secure,” he said.

Nelson said participation in adult education programs fluctuates with unemployment. “When unemployment is high, we see higher traffic.”

More distance learning programs could help those with job conflicts or who need to stay home with a child, she said, adding that Northwest Michigan Works! bought an

an online learning program that students can access from home. Students also can reach teachers through video calls and email.

Hard winter bad for deer, too

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING – With a prolonged winter in the Upper Peninsula, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is concerned about the impact the conditions will have on the region’s white-tailed deer.

“Before this last storm that came through, we had a least a foot of snowpack over probably 80 percent of the U.P.,” said Terry Minzey, the Upper Peninsula regional wildlife supervisor for the DNR. With the latest storm, “we’re running anywhere from 18 inches to over two feet of snow on the ground.”

He said that’s unusual for this time of year.

“This late in April, typically we’re seeing daffodils coming up next to the houses, and we’re seeing a little bit of green grass coming.”

With all the snow on the ground, deer cannot find a good source of food. During the spring and summer, deer eat grasses and herbaceous vegetation such as violets and other flowering plants, Minzey said.

In the winter, they’re forced to each the leaf buds on trees and other woody materials, that aren’t nutritious enough to keep up their weight. The deer simply try to sustain themselves until they get to more nutritious vegetation.

“In the winter time, from about mid-December to mid-March, their metabolic rates slow down, so they move less and they need to eat less,” Minzey said. “But even with that, they’re not getting enough food to sustain their weight. And when you get to about the middle of March, their metabolic rates accelerate.”

He called it a “negative energy balance.”

While sportsmen’s clubs in the U.P. feed the deer, they’re running out of food because they hadn’t planned on feeding them this late into the spring, said George Lindquist, the vice president of the Michigan United Conservation Club and a trustee for the U.P. Whitetails Association of Marquette County, said.

Deer can survive between a 15 and 20 percent weight loss during the winter, Minzey said. When they start losing between 25 and 30 percent, they’ll most likely die.

It’s also a lot harder for deer to walk through snow than to walk on dry ground.

“With the snow, not only can they not get at any quality food, they also expend a lot more energy just trying to move around the landscape,” Minzey said. “So it’s a double whammy. There’s a much larger energy drain, and they don’t have the ability to replace that energy.”

After mid-March, deer need a lot more energy, Minzey said. Pregnant does are in their last trimester, and they need more energy to develop healthy fetuses. Bucks are getting ready to develop antlers, so they need additional energy as well.

Pregnant does may not be unable produce a fully developed fetus and fawns may not be born healthy enough to survive, he said.

“There aren’t a lot of deer up here to begin with,” said Lindquist. “And bad weather like this can impact two generations.”

He said that because young deer are so vulnerable, last year’s fawns will be the first to die now, and there won’t be as many fawns born this June.

Lindquist said a loss to the U.P.’s deer population leads to a decline in hunters.

“People get discouraged if they’re seeing low numbers or no deer at all,” he said. “It’s the number one reason people stop coming out.”

Minzey said the DNR won’t know the extent of the snowstorms’ impact in terms of  death rates until after the spring.

“We do have some deer radio-collared or GPS-collared in the west end of the UP, and we’ll be able to get some sort of reading of what’s going on there,” he said. “But we won’t really know the full effects until after the snow is gone and we’re able to go out and do some of our springtime surveys.”