Detroit school board OKs settlement, approves contract

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A new testing calendar with fewer assessments and a $28 million settlement to pay off a court judgment were among the items approved Tuesday by the board of education for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The board also formally approved a three-year contract for the Detroit Federation of Teachers and its 2017-18 academic calendar for the district, which expects an estimated 47,950 students to begin school on Sept. 5.

The testing calendar reduces the numbers of assessments in K-12 from 204 a year to 63. The reduction was made by aligning district assessments with state tests and eliminating district assessments.

Students will still take the statewide assessment known as MSTEP, and state-required reading assessments for K-1-2 will continue. Students will not be formally tested with assessments in October, November and March.

“We looked at ways to dramatically reduce testing to create more time for instruction and whittle down the assessment calendar so data from assessment can be actionable,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said last month of the proposed change.

The board also approved a payment plan to resolve a $31-million court judgment owed by Detroit Public Schools to a contractor.

A federal judge in Detroit and an arbitrator have both ordered DPS to pay Sodexo Management, a company hired in 2011 for physical plant operations, but the district has fought making the payment since August 2016.

The district hired Sodexo in January 2011 on a five-year, $43.5 million contract to provide custodial, building repair, maintenance, engineering and grounds services through seven subcontractors. By late 2011, the district had fallen behind on payments, court records show.

DPS originally owed $23 million in outstanding invoices to Sodexo, and now owes an additional $8 million in contractual interest.

In 2015 an arbitrator ordered the district to pay Sodexo. The delay in the case is costing taxpayers more than $7,500 per day in interest while DPS fails to clear the debt.

The settlement will have district make payments to Sodexo of $16 million in August, $2 million in February and April and $8 million in August 2018, for a total of $28 million.

According to board documents, the settlement will eliminate more than $3 million in interest.

Attorneys for the district and Sodexo have been in settlement talks in recent weeks. The case is before U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith on Thursday for a status conference.

In other matters, the contract approved by the board for the Detroit Federation of Teachers has a 3 percent increase in 2017-18 and a 4.13 percent increase in 2018-19, and a $1,750 bonus for some teachers with advanced degrees.

There will be no reduction in salaries, wages or other forms of compensation for members for the 2019-20 school year, union officials said, and there is a potential for an additional wage increase in the third year.

Vitti said the contract provides raises for the first time in a decade and unfreezes steps.

“This begins to address the injustices. It doesn’t make it whole ... but it’s the first step,” he said.

The board also approved an agreement with the Highland Park School District to educate students in grades nine through 12 at DPSCD schools. The Highland Park district only operates K-8 schools, which are charters, and has no high school.

The board passed a resolution that required the Highland Park Board of Education also to approve the agreement. The district is run by an emergency manager.

The Highland Park board is scheduled to meet Monday, according to its website.

Detroit street dedicated to ex-top cop Ike McKinnon

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Former city police chief and retired deputy mayor Isaiah “Ike” McKinnon was honored Tuesday with part of a downtown city street renamed after him.

McKinnon attended an 11 a.m. ceremony near the former Detroit Police Department headquarters at 1300 Beaubien St., where a portion of the roadway has been given the secondary name “Isaiah ‘Ike’ McKinnon Avenue.’”

He was joined by his wife and family, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, City Council President Brenda Jones, University of Detroit Mercy President Antoine Garibaldi and others.

“This day is certainly a special day for me,” said McKinnon, who is a professor of education at UDM. “I thank you all for coming here to celebrate it with me.”

McKinnon’s granddaughter, Zoe McKinnon, 8, flew in with her family from California to speak about her grandfather during the ceremony.

Standing on a plastic crate at a podium, she said: “I love my grandpa. He’s nice and smells like mints,” which drew a round of laughter from the crowd.

“He’s always meant so much to me,” she said. “He’s changed and saved so many people’s lives. He’s made so many marks on the world and today he’s made another. Congratulations, Grampy!”

Duggan praised McKinnon for his service to the city as police chief.

“He rose through the ranks to become the police chief in this building,” Duggan said. “There could be no better way to commemorate 50 years of public service than for this street to be forever known as “Isaiah ‘Ike’ McKinnon Avenue.’”

A special blue street sign with McKinnon’s name was unveiled at the intersection of Beaubien and Macomb streets, kitty corner from the old police headquarters. The Albert Kahn-designed building served as the department’s HQ from 1923 to 2013.

Jones, who led the effort to give the street its second name in honor of McKinnon, also praised the former police chief.

“Ike is one who truly loves his city, that carries the spirit of Detroit around with him every day,” she said.

McKinnon, 74, joined Detroit’s police department in 1965. He retired from the force in 1984 as an inspector to start his own security company. Clients included UDM and the former Renaissance Center.

From 1993-98, McKinnon rejoined the Detroit Police Department to serve as chief of police. During his tenure, he led the department through internal investigations and major reforms before retiring to join UDM’s faculty.

McKinnon holds a doctorate of philosophy in administration and higher education from Michigan State University. He also attended the FBI Academy and the U.S. Secret Service Dignitary Protection School.

He recently shared his experiences with the racial tensions in the police department back when he joined in 1965 and the near-death experiences he faced during the 1967 uprising.

McKinnon reminisced about becoming a police officer and working for then-Detroit mayor Jerome Cavanagh as part of his security detail.

“One Saturday evening, I was with Mayor Cavanagh and he said to me ‘Ike, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?’” he said. “I said I’d like to retire as a sergeant. He said, ‘Ike, you could become police chief for the city of Detroit some day.’ I thought this man is crazy.”

Cavanagh advised McKinnon to attend college, which he did.

“In 1993, I received a call from a man named Dennis Archer,” McKinnon said. “Of course after Dennis was elected mayor, he said to me ‘Ike, I want you to be my police chief.’ Cavanagh foresaw it, but I didn’t believe it.”

Detroit Iraqi Christians Fearful After Deportation Raids

The Chaldean Community Foundation serves Chaldean-Americans, but advocates say “everyone is welcome” in the center, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, July 31, 2017. Chaldeans in Sterling Heights represents the largest concentration of the religious minority

The Chaldean Community Foundation serves Chaldean-Americans, but advocates say “everyone is welcome” in the center, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, July 31, 2017. Chaldeans in Sterling Heights represents the largest concentration of the religious minority

 

At the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights, Michigan, more clients than usual are asking for assistance with their immigration cases.

“We’re a little overwhelmed with the number of people coming through just because people are very frightened by the [deportation raids],” foundation president Martin Manna said.

Advocates say there has been an increase of 10 to 15 percent, and the foundation estimates it will help more than 20,000 people this year.

The increased anxiety is a result of the detaining of 114 area Iraqis, mostly Chaldean Christians and some Shi’ite Muslims, in June. The majority of the 114 remain in detention despite the order of a Detroit judge, who ruled they could not be deported without first having their day in court.

The order did nothing to calm community fears. Manna said residents are now “very concerned” that they can be deported for “any reason.”

“Many of these folks were on final order of removal for committing crimes in the 80s or 90s,” Manna said. “They came here legally at some point, but either had a misdemeanor or a felony which put them on final order of removal.”

But the 114 had been under order of removal for many years, so this conservative religious minority, which mostly voted for President Donald Trump, was shocked when the raids took place.

“That’s why we have 2½- to 3-hour wait times. They’re normally an hour and half. Part of that is just helping educate people that ICE [immigration officials] can’t just detain you if you’ve done nothing wrong,” Manna said.

At 150,000, the Chaldean Christian Community in metropolitan Detroit is the largest outside of Iraq.

The Ishtar Restaurant, its walls hung with reproductions of Assyrian deities, is a "piece of home" for Iraqi nationals who come for the authentic Iraqi food and glass clinking presentations that proclaim "tea time," in Sterling Heights, Michigan, July 31, 2017.
The Ishtar Restaurant, its walls hung with reproductions of Assyrian deities, is a "piece of home" for Iraqi nationals who come for the authentic Iraqi food and glass clinking presentations that proclaim "tea time," in Sterling Heights, Michigan, July 31, 2017.

‘Taken back by fear’

Walls hung with reproductions of Assyrian deities, Ishtar Restaurant is a “piece of home” for Iraqi nationals who come for the authentic Iraqi food and glass clinking presentations that proclaim tea time.

But in mid-June, the ambience was nearly chaotic.

Immigration officers positioned themselves outside Ishtar with a list of people they were looking to arrest, a local resident told VOA through an interpreter.

Traditional Iraqi food part of the menu at Ishtar restaurant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, July 31, 2017.
Traditional Iraqi food part of the menu at Ishtar restaurant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, July 31, 2017.

 

“People stopped in their place and were just taken back by fear. They didn’t know what to do,” said the man, a green-card holder who came to the U.S. six years ago. He did not want to give his name, afraid there would be retributions against him.

Following the arrests, immigration lawyers, working pro-bono, filed a lawsuit invoking the international treaty against torture because the Chaldeans and Shi’ites would likely face torture and even death if they returned to Iraq.

U.S. District Court of Michigan Judge Mark Goldsmith agreed, writing that the Iraqis would face the “substantiated risk of death, torture, or other grave persecution” if sent back to Iraq before their deportation cases can be heard in court.

He halted deportation, not only of the Detroit Iraqis, but of 1,400 nationwide until their cases are heard in court.

Nora Youkhana of the CODE Legal Aid clinic in Detroit, co-counsel for the Iraqis in the case, moved to the United States at a young age with her family from Iraq, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, July 31, 2017.
Nora Youkhana of the CODE Legal Aid clinic in Detroit, co-counsel for the Iraqis in the case, moved to the United States at a young age with her family from Iraq, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, July 31, 2017.

Ripple effect

Nora Youkhana of the CODE Legal Aid clinic in Detroit, co-counsel for the Iraqis in the case, told VOA that people are now “put on notice.”

She said the courts have reaffirmed through the Convention Against Torture, an international human rights treaty that prohibits torture and degrading treatment against all human beings, that the U.S. government cannot send someone back to a place where they will be tortured or killed. The U.S. has signed the treaty.

“So these other communities, people from El Salvador for example, they have this protection. They can’t just be put on a plane and left. They have to have their case heard so that they can exhaust the remedies that have been afforded to them by Congress,” Youkhana said.

Chief law enforcer

Larry Mick, a Macomb County resident who says he has many Chaldean friends, sees the law differently.

“They have one big problem and when we have a law, the president is always the chief law enforcement officer of the land. He doesn’t make the laws. Congress makes the laws. You can either enforce the law or not enforce it. It’s that simple; and he’s enforcing the law,” Mick said.

Previous attempts to deport the Iraqis had failed because the Baghdad government declined to issue them travel documents.

 

In March, the Iraqi government agreed to accept deportees from the U.S., part of a deal that prompted the Trump administration to revise an earlier executive order banning travel and exempt Iraq from the list of nations whose citizens would, in many cases, be barred from entering the U.S.

Graham: ‘Detroit’ movie a box office loser

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“Detroit” is in trouble at the box office.

The film, which opened wide in August’s first weekend, landed in that weekend’s No. 8 position, wedged between the second weekend of “Atomic Blonde” and the fourth frame of “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Going into this weekend, its $7.1 million opening was the lowest this year of any film opening in more than 3,000 theaters, lower than even May’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.”

Few expected Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the 1967 Detroit riots to burn up the box office; it’s not exactly blockbuster material. But its under-performance hurts it, and could damage its awards season hopes, where it was once thought to be a surefire Best Picture contender.

Annapurna Pictures, the film’s distributor, opened “Detroit” on a handful of screens a week early, hoping to build buzz for its wide release. But in a summertime dominated by superheroes — did you hear “Wonder Woman” just crossed the $400 million mark? — a searingly intense, claustrophobic racial thriller based on true events is proving to be a tough sell. While the opening was tied to the 50th anniversary of the Detroit riots, a slow rollout during awards season was likely a better, more strategic play.

 

The box office isn’t the only place where “Detroit” is hurting. Some have challenged the film’s merits and questioned whether the story of the Algiers Motel incident — in which three black men were killed by a group of white cops — is director Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s story to tell. (Bigelow and Boal are both white.)

“Watching ‘Detroit’ I realized that I’m not interested in white perceptions of black pain,” Angelica Jade Bastien wrote in her two-star review of the film on RogerEbert.com. “‘Detroit’ was directed, written, produced, shot, and edited by white creatives who do not understand the weight of the images they hone in on with an unflinching gaze.”

 

In Complex, Justin Davis writes “Detroit” undoes the progress made by such 2016 films as “Hidden Figures” and last year’s Best Picture winner, “Moonlight,” where black characters transcended traditional Hollywood characterizations. “In Boal’s goal to give an unflinchingly ‘real’ interpretation of the (Algiers) incident, he’s removed all semblance of a real understanding of the Black experience,” Davis writes. “He knows that we are talented, that we are oppressed, and that we are targets — but he doesn’t know what it’s like to BE us.”

It’s 2017, so there were bound to be accusations of appropriation tied to the film. Bigelow has said she wants the film to help start a much-needed dialogue on race, but the conversation the film seems to be spurring is whether it’s the proper film to start a dialogue on race, or whether it’s a cultural drive-by.

Bigelow herself admitted that she’s not the best person to tell the story during a discussion of the film last month at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Museum director Juanita Moore says that is true of many Hollywood films, but the fact that it was made allows for these types of discussions to take place, and that is ultimately positive.

“Those conversations are beginning to be had by people who would have never had the conversations without the film,” said Moore, who has seen “Detroit” twice. “It gives us an opportunity to learn and grow, and I think that’s what this movie does. So whether Kathryn Bigelow made the movie or Juanita Moore made the movie, which I didn’t, I think what’s important is that the movie was made.”

The film still has critical reaction on its side, and an 84 percent approval rating on critical aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. (That figure has slid from 94 percent prior to its wide opening.) Critics agree that the film is tough as nails, although some have likened it to a horror movie (in his 1.5 star pan, the Globe and Mail’s John Semley likens it to “racial torture porn”).

The film has a long road ahead of it toward awards season contention, but could slip into the Best Picture race, depending on how fall’s slate of Oscar hopefuls plays out. Highly anticipated should-be contenders that have yet to be seen include Steven Spielberg’s Pentagon project “The Papers,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Phantom Thread,” the Thomas Edison story “The Current War” and Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing.”

It’s worth noting that it’s been nearly a decade since a film released in summertime has gone on to win Best Picture. That movie, too, made minimal waves at the box office and had issues connecting with audiences because of its difficult subject matter, but it went on to outlast the competition and win the big prize on Oscar night. That movie? “The Hurt Locker,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

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Young faces uphill battle with Detroit voters

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(Photo: Max Ortiz)

 

State Sen. Coleman Young II needs to raise more money and advocate concrete solutions in his bid to upset Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, political experts said Wednesday after a disappointing primary bid that generated far fewer political contributions and votes than his legendary father.

Duggan, the city’s first white mayor in 40 years, received 69 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary to 27 percent for Young, son of Coleman A. Young, the city’s first black mayor, according to unofficial results. Duggan also secured the vast majority of the prominent endorsements and raised more than $1.6 million compared with Young’s $22,000.

Young’s campaign manager has argued that, despite the paltry fundraising total, the senator benefits from a “$2 million name.”

But name recognition was not a slam dunk for Young in Precinct 392, where residents who voted at the Coleman A. Young Elementary School backed Duggan 48 percent to 46 percent. The 59-year-old mayor also came out on top in three of five precincts housed in the Andrew Butzel Recreation Center where Young cast his vote.

Political experts are divided on whether Young’s primary performance was strong enough to give him a shot this fall, but agreed the 34-year-old senator needs to step up efforts to get out his message.

“He’s going to have to stick to the issues, show that he’s a leader and present solutions to problems that he says exist,” said Mario Morrow, president and CEO of the Detroit-based political and media relations firm Mario Morrow and Associates, adding “race baiting, conspiracy theories and blaming the opposition” won’t work.

Young “didn’t get his constituents out,” Morrow said. “Does he have support or was this support anti-Mike Duggan, which is normally the case in a primary election if you receive less than 30 percent of the vote?”

But political consultant Greg Bowens said Young’s 27 percent was a “good outcome” against Duggan’s “dedicated political machine.” The “sprint” begins now, Bowen said, because voters start paying more attention through Labor Day and to the Nov. 7 election.

Young already has proved he can emerge from the shadows of his father’s legacy, Bowens said.

“He’s done that in the state Legislature and by stepping up and taking on a very visibly powerful mayor,” he said. “He’s going to have to be able to articulate a bigger vision and put together an organization of volunteers who are just as courageous as he is in terms of trying to trying to topple the team.”

Young encouraged

The last time a second-place primary candidate came back to defeat the primary victor in the general election was in 2005. Challenger Freman Hendrix won the 2005 primary by 11 percentage points, but then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick defeated Hendrix 53 percent to 47 percent in the general after getting the endorsement of third-place primary challenger Sharon McPhail and taking his campaign “to the street.”

Young had not heard Wednesday that Duggan received more votes than him at Young’s voting location. “When we’re ready to talk about that, we’ll let you know,” he said.

But Young said he was encouraged that “a lot of people are listening to our message” and he plans to redouble his efforts.

Campaign manager Adolph Mongo has said the campaign is confident it can generate more votes in November since primary participation by registered voters was 13.9 percent, down from 17 percent in 2013. About 63,000 Detroiters voted in Tuesday’s primary, but the number will grow in the general election, where almost 136,000 voters cast ballots in 2013, according to records.

“The bottom line is we feel really good about where we’re at right now. To gain traction we just have to work harder, put our nose to the ground and get our message out in as many places as we can,” Young said. “All who supported me, I thank God for them. For all those who didn’t, I will work hard to convince you to come join the Young team in November.”

The second-term senator said he remains focused on putting people back to work, rebuilding infrastructure, tearing down abandoned buildings and reducing poverty.

He also is pressing for a debate with Duggan, whom he’s criticized for neglecting neighborhoods and a federal criminal probe into the city’s demolition program. In 2013, Duggan and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon debated three times.

“We need to have a debate that way we can really see whose ideas are best for the city,” Young said. “I’ll debate him in a closet, in the middle of Woodward, wherever he may want to do it.”

DugganBuy Photo

Duggan (Photo: Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)

Duggan on Wednesday said his campaign will stay on its message of building one Detroit. He said he is not going to engage in mudslinging.

“There’s no doubt. They got the old play book of hate and divisiveness as a message,” the mayor said. “It didn’t work very well for them in the primary. I doubt it will work any better in the general, but we’re not going to engage in it.”

Duggan said he’s working to extend neighborhood recovery to all areas of Detroit and improve opportunities and workforce training.

“Conversations used to be streetlights aren’t coming on, the ambulance doesn’t show up, the buses don’t run,” he said. “Now, the conversations are far more complicated, about ‘how do we have opportunity and when my son graduates from school is he going to have to move out of Detroit to get a job?’ This is the next phase and it’s ultimately what I’ll be judged on the next four years.”

Duggan said an announcement is forthcoming on a new round of neighborhoods to be rejuvenated under Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund, a philanthropic partnership that aims to transform vacant homes, empty lots and storefronts into walkable communities.

Shifting support

Young’s challenge is that Duggan has grabbed the support of much of his father’s power base, getting endorsements that include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and AFL-CIO to clergy and 24 former cabinet members and appointees of Young’s father.

Even the influential political arm of the Shrine of the Black Madonna known as the Black Slate, which formed in 1973 and helped get Coleman A. Young elected that year, announced its support for Duggan. It sent members to the polls Tuesday to rally on his behalf.

The Rev. Baye Landy, the Black Slate’s regional coordinator, said last week he took notice of Duggan’s ability to work well with black leaders in the city and region and that he’s “getting things done right now.”

Landy said the group “wrestled” with its endorsement decision after speaking with Young, whom it has endorsed for the state House and state Senate.

“We just can’t, at this time ... in Detroit’s history, start over again,” he said. “We want to keep the momentum going.”

The Young campaign had several supporters crash the announcement, criticizing the Slate for its support of Duggan and confronting the mayor over retiree pension cuts that were part of Detroit’s bankruptcy settlement.

Voters also are judging the 34-year-old Young on his own merits and not those of his father, who served five terms and easily beat back challenges from established politicians including U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. and then-City Council President Erma Henderson.

“I think he needs more experience and a little more knowledge,” said Richard Carson, a 50-year-old northwest Detroit black resident who voted for Duggan. “I’m sure Charles Manson had a father, too, and I’m not going to compare them.”

But Sandra Epps believes Young is the best fit for mayor and has a “powerhouse” team that will help him lead Detroit in the right direction.

“I am for an individual who is for everyone in the city,” said Epps, a lifelong Detroiter who lives in the LaSalle Gardens neighborhood. “Not just big businesses.”

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