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AnnArbor.com's News section covers government, crime, education, health and the environment across Washtenaw County.

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    Darren Criss fans of all ages set their alarm clock early Thursday morning to flock to join the lines outside the Michigan Theater to see Darren Criss perform apart of the Sonic Lunch concert series.

    See some of the buzz from the morning as they eagerly counted down the hours until the doors opened followed by some of the photos shared during the show.

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    City Attorney Stephen Postema, standing, was assigned the task of introducing Mayor John Hieftje, seated, at Wednesday's meeting of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    Before Mayor John Hieftje gave his unofficial "state of the city" address to the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor on Wednesday, City Attorney Stephen Postema shared a few words.

    He talked about what it's been like working with the longest-serving mayor in the city's history. Hieftje's nearly 13 years now trumps former Mayor William E. Brown Jr.'s 12 years from 1945 to 1957.


    Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje addresses the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor on Wednesday.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    "While I have served over 30 council members in my decade as city attorney, I have only served one mayor," Postema said. "This stability, I believe, has contributed a great deal to the success of Ann Arbor over the last decade, including through one of the most difficult economic periods."

    Hieftje began his first term as mayor in 2000 after serving as a 1st Ward representative on the City Council. He now lives in the 3rd Ward near Burns Park.

    No matter where he has lived, Postema said, Hieftje has proven popular with Ann Arbor residents — re-elected six times by landslide margins.

    "Mayor Hieftje has won his mayoral races by large margins in every ward of the city, in part because of the recognition of his dedication to service above self," Postema said.

    Offering some insight into his working relationship with the mayor, Postema recalled talks they had two years ago about the now-closed Dream Nite Club, which he called a "violent night club."

    A winning record

    Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje has defeated every opponent to come his way since his first mayoral race in 2000.

    • November general 2012
      John Hieftje — 84.11%
      Albert Howard — 15.23%
      • November general 2010
        John Hieftje — 81.99%
        Steve Bean — 17.55%
        • August primary 2010
          John Hieftje — 83.91%
          Pat Lesko — 15.59%
          • November general 2008
            John Hieftje — 84.94%
            Eric Plourde — 14.52%
            • August primary 2008
              John Hieftje — 68.60%
              Tom Wall — 31.27%
              • November general 2006
                John Hieftje — 78.88%
                Tom Wall — 21.12%
                • August primary 2006
                  John Hieftje — 69.71%
                  Wendy Woods — 30.29%
                • November general 2004
                  John Hieftje — 68.65%
                  Jane Lumm — 31.17%
                • November general 2002
                  John Hieftje — 75.05%
                  Marcia Higgins — 24.83%
                • November general 2000
                  John Hieftje — 68.34%
                  Stephen Rapundalo — 27.94% Charles Goodman — 3.70%
    "Many of you know that I was in a battle with the Dream Nite Club for a long period of time," said Postema, who fought in court to get the club shut down.

    "That actually started way back in 2011 on Memorial Day weekend when there was a shooting outside the club, and there were many people outside," he said. "There was really a shootout in the streets of Ann Arbor and young people were injured."

    Postema said he heard from police quickly after the shooting, and he also heard from the city administrator, but the first call he got was from the mayor.

    "And his concern was not that this would tarnish the image of the town, it was not that it would affect nightlife downtown," he said. "The immediate concern of the mayor was really about that there were young people who came to Ann Arbor to enjoy a good time and they left shot and injured in our hospital, and that simply was unacceptable. His immediate concern was for those people.

    "He didn't go on. He didn't tell me what to do," Postema added. "He just wanted it taken care of because that should not happen in the city. I'll always remember that."

    He also talked about what it's like working on the third floor of city hall, where the mayor's office, city administrator's office and city attorney's office are located.

    "There is no lack of transparency — we all have glass windows, so we can see everyone who's coming and going throughout city hall," Postema said.

    "And it is true the mayor has an incredible sense of pulse of the city," he said. "I see the people who come to see him on his regular Friday morning time with the citizens of Ann Arbor. It's really quite moving the number of people who come through to see the mayor."

    Before Hieftje was elected in 2000, Ann Arbor had a Republican mayor for several years, and the Democrats thought they'd take a shot at regaining the throne. Hieftje went up against the GOP's chosen candidate, Stephen Rapundalo, who was chairman of the Park Advisory Commission, and came out ahead with more than two-thirds of the vote.

    "That was a pretty contested race," Hieftje said. "It was sort of the Democrats saying, 'You know, we can take over the mayor's job,' and it turned out to work."

    Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.

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    Benito’s Pizza will be moving to what was formerly Little Caesars at 100 S. Ann Arbor St. in Saline, in hopes the new location will bring in more business, according to the Saline Reporter.

    Thumbnail image for 041811_BIZ_Benito's_Pizza.jpg

    Benito's Pizza will move to a new location this summer.

    According to the Reporter, owners Nick and Amy Wallen plan to remodel both the interior and exterior of the building to give the restaurant an ‘old-world Italian’ atmosphere. The menu will remain the same.

    Wallen, a graduate of Saline High School and Eastern Michigan University, bought into the Benito’s Pizza franchise in 2011 when he was just 23 years old. The Livonia-based company sold Wallen the store after he convinced owners he would transform the neglected restaurant.

    The restaurant will leave its original location at 489 E. Michigan Ave., to gain more exposure and increase customer traffic, the Reporter said.

    Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.

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    Members of the Caulk family of Ann Arbor are mourning a third loss just more than a year and a half after the heartbreak of the unexpected deaths of two of their family members.

    Michael Lindsay Caulk, 64, died suddenly Wednesday night of a heart attack at Belleville High School, where he worked as a history teacher.


    Michael Caulk

    Family photo

    The school was closed Thursday and counselors will be available to students when classes resume Friday.

    The husband of local Realtor Missy Caulk and the father to a family of four adult children, Michael’s death hasn’t shaken the family’s faith - even after they were heartbroken after the losses of two of their loved ones in 2011.

    Michael and Missy’s son Jamie Caulk died in October 2011 at the age of 27 following a car crash near Nashville.

    About a month later, 11-week-old Lillian Caulk died unexpectedly at home. Lillian was the daughter of Michael and Missy’s youngest daughter, Allyssa Caulk.

    “What happened last night - it was so surreal,” said Christa Caulk, 33, the couple’s oldest child. “We were saying, this cannot be happening again.”

    Christa, her mother Missy and her brother Matthew were at the family’s lake house in Irish Hills Wednesday night when they heard the news from Allyssa.

    The phone call was crippling - though Michael had experienced heart problems since he was 42 years old, no one was expecting this.

    Wednesday night in the midst of the thunderstorms that pummeled the Ann Arbor area, Missy drove her adult children back home as they were sobbing in the backseat of the car.

    “Here’s my mother, who buried her son and found her granddaughter in her crib who later died,” Christa said. “Her husband of 32 years is dead … and her hands are right there, at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel.”

    Missy's strength -- which shone in that moment -- was what Michael loved the most about her, Christa said.

    “(Missy) said ‘In the name of Jesus, death will not defeat this family,’” Christa said. “‘We will not be rattled in our faith.’”

    Born March 14, 1949, in Louisville, Ky., Michael graduated high school in 1968 after playing as the quarterback on the football team all four years.

    His quarterback career continued when he joined the Marines in 1969, and later with the Navy for a year when he served at the U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay in the Philippines.

    After the military, Michael earned a degree from Western Kentucky University and met his wife, Missy, at a religious event.

    “He was so in love with her,” Christa said. “He called her ‘Muffy.’”

    They married in 1977 and settled in Auburn, Ala., where Christa was born.

    Shortly thereafter, when Christa was 2 years old, Michael felt called to open a church in Ann Arbor. The family moved north in 1981 and never returned to their southern roots.

    Michael and Missy went on to have four more children after Christa: Matthew, 31; Jamie, who would be 29; Andrew, 27; and Allyssa, 23.


    Michael Caulk in 1993.

    Family photo

    In Ann Arbor, Michael founded the Cornerstone Christian Church.

    “He moved here from Auburn with nothing - and grew a church to 300 people,” Christa said.

    Spending his weekday hours on the Diag on the University of Michigan’s campus preaching to the students from a park bench, he was known by most as “Pastor Mike.”

    Michael’s charismatic style of talking drew even the biggest of skeptics to listen to him speak, Christa said.

    His religious presence on the Diag from 1981 to 1993 garnered him a mention on the University of Michigan Monopoly board.

    Michael stepped down as pastor in 1996 after growing his church into a 300-member organization to turn to another passion: Teaching history.

    With a master’s degree in teaching and history from Eastern Michigan University, Michael has taught multiple grades and subjects at Belleville High School.

    Michael took the teaching job because he wanted to coach football and he thought it would be less stressful, Christa said with a laugh.

    For five years, Michael coached the Junior Wolverines team in Ann Arbor and acted like he was Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots, Christa said.


    Michael Caulk coached the Junior Wolverines in Ann Arbor for five years.

    Family photo

    “Mom made him stop,” she said. “That was my dad. Whatever he did, he gave 100,000 percent.”

    About two weeks after losing his son and granddaughter in 2011, Michael went back to work. Relentless, he never took a day off.

    “It absolutely broke his heart when he lost Jamie,” Christa said. “He worked, almost to our anger. … He was so faithful in his work ethic.”

    Christa said her father always had an aura of Godliness about him. When he angered, it was only ever about University of Michigan football, she said.

    “In all my 33 years of life, I’ve never met a man or seen a man that was like my father,” Christa said. “He really was unbelievable in who he was. … He loved life and he loved all of us.”

    Michael’s sense of humor lives on in all of his children, Christa said.

    “I asked him the other day if he was alive during the Civil War and he couldn’t stop laughing,” she said.

    Funeral arrangements have been made at the First United Methodist Church at 1200 N. Ann Arbor St. in Saline. Visitation has been set for 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and a memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday.

    Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, amybiolchini@annarbor.com or on Twitter.

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    NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray is donating $5,000 to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Huron Valley on Thursday.

    The money will go toward the chapter’s “Hope Away From Home” campaign, which launched in 2010. In 2011 the campaign funded the opening of the Ronald McDonald House within C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The campaign is now working to fund the renovation and refurbishment of the Ronald McDonald House of Ann Arbor on Washington Heights.

    According to a news release, McMurray’s donation will cover the cost of refurnishing one room in the house.

    RMHC of the Huron Valley houses families who have sick children and need to a place to stay while seeking treatment. McMurray’s donation will help provide more comfortable accommodations, according to a news release.

    McMurray’s donation is a part of the “Join Team McMurray” initiative, which encourages fans to create their own fundraising websites and encourage friends and family to donate to RMHC. Driver of the Number 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet SS in the NSCS, McMurray will donate $50,000 total to RMHC chapters across the United States and visit Ronald McDonald Houses nationwide. Ann Arbor’s chapter is the first stop.

    McMurray is to visit the Ronald McDonald House of Ann Arbor Thursday afternoon to make his donation and visit with families being helped by the nonprofit organization.

    On Sunday, McMurray will compete in the NASCAR Quicken Loans 400 at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.

    Donations can be made to the “Hope Away From Home” online. You can also start your own team as a part of the “Join Team McMurray” initiative online.

    Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.

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    Mayor John Hieftje addressed the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce at Weber's Inn in Ann Arbor Thursday afternoon.

    Ben Freed | AnnArbor.com

    Giving his second unofficial “state of the city” address in two days, Mayor John Hieftje told the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce Ann Arbor has turned the corner in its economic recovery.

    The mayor said Ann Arbor’s recent population growth and strong job numbers have been buffeted by people staying in the city after college graduation, a time when many have traditionally moved away.

    “One of the gaps we’ve had in Ann Arbor for years and years is we have University of Michigan students who are here but then leave town and then we have people 40 and over raising families,” Hieftje said. “But we need to attract young families and people who are starting their careers here in town.”

    One key to attracting the millennial demographic simply has been making more jobs available, Hieftje said. The attraction of Google and other major technology companies to the downtown area has helped spurred the growth of a sector that tends to draw younger employees.

    “The tech boom we’re experiencing with the new tech campus we have downtown and with new tech companies around the edges of the city as well are bringing in those workers who are 25 to 40 years old,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a real boost for us.”

    Younger professionals also might help alleviate one of the challenges Hieftje said the city will have to overcome in order to stay on the right track.

    “Right now, we’ve been building a lot of parking structures, but we’re going to have gridlock on our downtown streets by 2020 or 2025,” he said.

    “We have to figure this transit problem out or jobs that could come here will go elsewhere because of those issues.”

    Hieftje believes recent college graduates rely less on traditional forms of transportation and seek out places possessing a strong alternative transportation infrastructure.

    “What I’ve seen in surveys is that is people in that younger age cohort are not interested in commuting to work in a car,” he said.

    “They want to use transit, they want to live in close to where they work, they want to be around people and it’s just a different mindset.”

    Many of the new downtown high-rises are geared towards Ann Arbor’s student population. However, The desire of young professionals coming to live in an “urban core” environment is encouraging developers to focus on a broader age-range.

    “We have young professional-style buildings going up right now,” Hieftje said.

    “Even one of the large ones that was just approved [at 413 E. Huron St.]. People think of it as student housing but, 62 percent of the building will be one and two bedroom housing, so I think you’ll see working people move into there.”

    The mayor cautioned that Ann Arbor likely will not turn into a metropolis any time soon. He has committed to explore and expand transit options to help ease the pressures on downtown parking and transportation infrastructure, but new building projects only can take the city so far.

    “There is a limit in downtown Ann Arbor because only about 40 percent of it can ever be redeveloped,” he said.

    “There are historic districts down there and we’re not going to give those up, those are very important. So there’s a limit on what can change.”

    Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Get in touch with Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at benfreed@annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2

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    Victoria Cendrowski (front), Miranda Cummings (left) and Dominique Theodophilus (right) participate in paddleboard yoga.

    Courtesy of Dwight Cendrowski

    Have you ever wanted to practice yoga while balancing on a stand-up paddleboard? If so, you’re in luck.

    Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation and Ann Arbor Public Schools Rec & Ed will offer its first ever paddleboard yoga classes this summer. Two classes are being offered: a one-time class Wednesday, July 3 from 10:15-11:15 a.m. and a four-week class, Wednesdays from July 10-31, 6-7 p.m. Both classes are held at the Argo Park Livery.

    Any paddleboarding or yoga experience is helpful, but all levels are welcome. Paddleboards are provided.

    Register at aareced.com.

    Michigan high school football all star game

    Thumbnail image for tyler-palka-saline-football.jpeg

    Tyler Palka

    Four Washtenaw County football players are scheduled to participate in the 2013 Michigan High School Football Coaches Association East-West All-Star Game June 22, 2 p.m. at Grand Valley State University before embarking on their college playing careers.

    AnnArbor.com Player of the year Tyler Palka (Saline, Saginaw Valley State) Drew Diedrich (Father Gabriel Richard, Cornell), Michael Steinhauer (Chelsea, Central Michigan) and Tyree Waller (Lincoln, Central Michigan) are all scheduled to play for the East All-Stars.

    Tickets cost $5 if pre-ordered by Friday or $10 at the door.

    EMU’s Voronko an All-American


    Victoria Voronko

    Eastern Michigan sophomore distance runner Victoria Voronko has been named an honorable mention All-American by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

    Voronko finished 21st in the steeplechase at the NCAA Championships, with a time of 10:30.50. She set the school record in the event at the NCAA East Regional, and was the only Mid-American Conference athlete to compete in the race at the national championships.

    Voronko, a Stavropol, Russia native, is one of two EMU track and field athletes to earn All-American honors during the year. Freshman Alysha Newman finished 12th in the pole vault at the NCAA indoor national championships in early March, earning second-team honors.

    Arbor Prep to hold basketball camps

    Arbor Prep Academy will hold boys and girls basketball camps in late June, both hosted by the school’s varsity coaches and players.

    The boys camp will be held June 17-20, from 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at Arbor Prep High School. The cost for the camp is $115, and includes a reversible jersey. Incoming 4-8th graders of all skill levels are welcome. Space is limited to the first 40 participants.

    The girls camp will be held June 25-28, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.The cost is $100, and incoming 5-8th graders of all skill levels are welcome. Space is limited to the first 40 participants.

    Payment and registration forms can be mailed to: Arbor Prep High School C/O Scott Stine 6800 Hitchingham Rd. Ypsilanti, MI 48197. Checks can be made payable to the Arbor Prep Booster Club. Boys camp contact: Don Spencer at (734) 657- 8112, donspencergr@yahoo.com or Scott Stine (231) 638-7116, sstine@arborprep.com Girls camp contacts: Rod Wells at (734) 262-1196, dewrod99@comcast.net or Scott Stine.

    The camps are two of several being held in the area over the summer.

    Wolverine Water Polo hosting Junior Olympic Qualifier

    Wolverine Water Polo will be hosting the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics Qualifier Tournament for 18U Boys June 14-16 at the Saline High School pool.

    Teams from the Ann Arbor Water Polo club and Wolverine Water Polo will be participating in the tournament. Pool play will take place Friday and Saturday, with the champions being crowned Sunday.

    Teams that advance through the qualifier will be eligible for the 2013 Junior Olympics, July 17-Aug. 4 in Orange County, Calif.

    Wolverine Water Polo’s 18U girls team will also be at a qualifier this weekend in Rockford, Ill.

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    Related coverage: Darren Criss and Theo Katzman thrill at-capacity crowd at Michigan Theater

    With a little help from his friends, University of Michigan alumnus and "Glee" actor Darren Criss rocked a capacity crowd at the Michigan Theater during Sonic Lunch concert on Thursday, June 13. Friend and fellow Michigan graduate Theo Katzman opened the show, and Charlene Kaye made a guest appearance.

    AnnArbor.com photographer Melanie Maxwell captured these images at the show.

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    The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan issued a letter to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Patricia Green Wednesday calling the district's proposed fee for seventh-hour high school classes "misguided and illegal."


    Ann Arbor school board Trustee Glenn Nelson said of the district's proposal to charge students for seventh hour: "I fully expect us to be sued for it."

    Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com file photo

    Despite the letter, the school board went ahead with its proposal to charge Pioneer and Huron high school students who are interested in taking seven classes instead of six. The proposal was approved as part of the 2013-14 budget passed at about 2 a.m. Thursday.

    Initially the board discussed charging students between $350 and $500 per semester for a class, up to $1,000 per student per year. But the board decided to call back this fee a bit to ease into the tuition program. It approved a fee of $100 per course, so up to $200 per student per year.

    Treasurer Glenn Nelson said by treating next year as a transitional year, it will give the district time to see how many students would continue to enroll in the seventh-class option, as well as how many students would qualify for tuition reimbursement.

    The district would offer some type of a scholarship or fee wavier to students who receive free or reduced-price lunch or can claim financial hardship, similar to how low-income students are waived from paying pay-to-participate fees for athletics.

    Nelson also said transitioning into the tuition program gradually gives the district time to settle any legal challenges related to this proposal.

    "I fully expect us to be sued for it," he said at Wednesday's regular Board of Education meeting.

    Nelson explained he understands the desire people may have to vet the legality of the seventh-class option fee in court. "I believe it will stand," he said. "We have had some legal advice on this matter. … A year from now, we may need to be taking much more drastic steps (with the budget) and if we had the institutional arrangements and the structure in place, the legal settlings' established precedent, then we could go to a more robust tuition-based model."

    The letter from the ACLU does not specifically state the civil liberties union or any other organization plans to pursue legal action against the district for the fee structure at this time. However, the ACLU does say it sees the course tuition proposal as a violation of the Michigan Constitution, which requires the State Legislature to maintain a free elementary and secondary public education system.

    The organization says the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the guarantee of a free public education extends to any school activity that is considered "a necessary element of any school's activity" or an "integral fundamental part of the elementary and secondary education."

    "Our system of free public education is founded on the idea that all children should have access to knowledge through teachers, classrooms, books and rigorous and varied curricula. The proposal of charging for seventh period flies in the face of this American tradition," wrote Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, who penned the letter.

    Moss, who notes she is a graduate of Ann Arbor Public Schools and recently had a daughter go through the district, went on to say:

    The AAPS has long enjoyed a reputation for providing exceptional educational opportunities to their students, including a wide range of arts, music and Advanced Placement courses. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, many students must take a seventh period class for at least one semester of their high school careers. When this opportunity comes at a cost to students, the schools will have effectively created a two-tiered system of public education that will benefit those who can afford to pay while those who cannot are forced into a different educational experience. Such a policy would be contrary to the basic principal that a key goal of public education is "to break down the social barriers between the classes and act as an equalizer." For a district that has struggled with the achievement gap, putting such a practice into place would only, presumably, impose yet another hurdle whose consequence would be to exacerbate this serious issue.

    District officials said about 20 percent of high school students in the AAPS enroll in a seventh class.

    AAPS board Secretary Andy Thomas said he would expect it's "almost a perfect overlay of the highest academic achieving students" in the district and those 20 percent of high-schoolers who take advantage of the extra class option.

    "I would also expect you'd see a close correlation between those in seventh hour and those in a high socioeconomic class," he said. "… I would expect very few students will not be able to continue to take a seventh hour (under a fee-based enrollment model). For all intents and purposes, this is a very elite part of our school district. And in this day and age, it's not unreasonable to say: you want an elite education in the Ann Arbor Public Schools? Then you need to pony up a little bit to be able to do that."

    District spokeswoman Liz Margolis said Thursday district officials are not worried about being sued for charging students for a seventh class period.

    "We wouldn't have moved forward if we weren't confident it was legal," she said.

    Margolis explained the state's per pupil foundation allowance that districts receive is to provide the credit-hour equivalent of six courses for students. School districts legally are only required to offer six courses and are only paid to offer six courses, she said.

    "So Ann Arbor has had the wonderful luxury for many years of being able to pay for students to have more options and take more classes," Margolis said. "But … it's now a reality that — it's a lot of ugly choices the board had to make."

    Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at daniellearndt@annarbor.com.

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    Manchester High School basketball coach Cori Kastel, above, has resigned just months after winning a Class C state championship.

    Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com file photo

    The Manchester High School girls basketball team will have to defend its state championship without coach Cori Kastel. Kastel handed in her letter of resignation on May 24 less than three months after lifting the school's only team state championship trophy.

    Kastel resigned because of what she said was a “lack of support” from athletic director Wes Gall. Kastel was not asked to resign and was recommended for rehire by Gall. Coaches in the district need to have contracts renewed on an annual basis.

    “Over the past few years as the program has improved there has been some vocal parents that it’s more about individuals than what the team accomplishes and that’s not how I coach,” Kastel said in a phone interview. “I didn’t get the support that I needed from my administration and I just feel that for me to do my job and be successful and enjoy what I’m doing I need that and I didn’t get it.”

    Kastel said she had no intention of resigning at any point during the season, but said mounting criticism from parents was to the point where she thought it would adversely impact her teaching ability.

    “You would think that after winning a state title that you’d be celebrating the team’s success instead of worrying about individual success and that’s a damn shame,” Kastel said. “It was tough and you’re always going to have that when you have high class, very competitive athletes like we did, and it’s just sad. It’s difficult, but like I said I didn’t get the support I needed from my athletic director.”

    Gall said he was surprised by the language in Kastel’s resignation letter, but declined to comment on specifics.


    Cori Kastel, center, talks to her team during the state championships at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

    Mike Mulholland | MLive.com

    “In the coach athletic director evaluation of things there were things I thought she needed to work on and she disagreed with me on it. That’s as far as I’ll go as it’s a personnel decision,” Gall said. “Coaches always have places where they can improve, whether they were last in the conference or won a state championship.”

    Kastel, who teaches eight grade at Manchester Middle School, said she did not agree with her end-of-the-year coaching evaluation.

    Kastel has been the coach at Manchester for the past seven years and taught in the district since 1994. Her teaching position is not affected by the resignation.

    “Teaching is my priority and I don’t ever want to get in a situation where so many conflicts arise that it’s going to affect my teaching because that’s why I’m there and that’s what I love to do and that’s why I coach,” Kastel said. “The court is an extension of the classroom for me.”

    “She was recommended to continue the job,” Gall said. “We appreciate her coaching our kids and wish her the best moving forward.”

    Manchester was 27-1 during the 2012-13 season and won the Class C state championship. Kastel was named the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan 2013 Class C Coach of the Year. Manchester won district titles three of the past four years and won its first outright Cascades Conference championship this year.

    “I’ve been (coaching) for 19 years and to finally take a program from the basement to the penthouse...it was a very difficult decision, but I think it’s one that needed to be made,” Kastel said. “There have been a few eighth graders come up to me who are very disappointed that they aren’t going to get the opportunity to play for me and it breaks me down. It brings me to tears to tell them that I’m not coming back.

    "But there’s sometimes when you have to make difficult decisions, and this is exactly one of them.”

    Corey Fether was named the interim coach shortly after Kastel’s resignation. Fether coached the eighth grade girls team this season and used to coach Manchester's junior varisy boys team. Gall said the job has been posted and he hopes to have it filled by the end of July.

    Kastel said she’s not actively pursuing another coaching position in the immediate, but said she would be open to right situation. She plans on being involved when the team raises its championship banner and is honored at 60th Manchester Chicken Broil. “Those are the memories that you can’t take away, those are the things that we’re always going to reflect and remember,” Kastel said.

    Pete Cunningham covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at petercunningham@annarbor.com. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.

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    Darren Criss performs during Sonic Lunch at the Michigan Theater on Thursday.

    Photo gallery: Images from Darren Criss and Theo Katzman Sonic Lunch at the Michigan Theater

    Between the rabid fans who arrived at the 1,700 seat Michigan Theater in the wee hours of Thursday morning, and the fact that “Glee” star (and U-M grad) Darren Criss’ 90 minute set began more than an hour after it was originally scheduled, Sonic Lunch, at some point, just became Sonic Thursday.

    But no one in the capacity crowd — who stood throughout both Theo Katzman's and Criss' sets — seemed to mind in the least.

    Opener Katzman — also a U-M grad who formerly played in the local band My Dear Disco/Ella Riot — had a large contingency of his own faithful fans who cheered and danced through his six-song set, which kicked off with “Pop Song,” followed by “Brooklyn,” “It’s Gonna Be Hard for You,” “Every Few Days,” “Country Backroads,” and a new tune called “As the Romans Do.”

    Katzman announced he was playing a guitar built for him by people at the Ann Arbor Music Center — Katzman's former employer — and was wearing new clothes bought Thursday morning at Sam’s Clothing.

    “This is my fifth year doing Sonic Lunch,” Katzman said during his set. “ … I’ve been doing this concert since there was a $500 guarantee and you had to bring your own PA system,. For those of you in the business, you’ll know that that leaves you about $7 to split among you. It was a labor of love back then, … and it’s still a labor of love. There’s no concert series like Sonic Lunch and the Ann Arbor Summer Festival anywhere. I’ve played all over the country, and no joke, that’s for real.”

    After a 30-minute transition, and some short-lived chants of “Darren, Darren, Darren,” the lights went down, and as the band (with Katzman now on drums) began to play “Circle of Life,” from “The Lion King,” the crowd turned, like wedding guests awaiting the bride, to see security guards walking Criss down one of the aisles, singing all the way to the stage. (In the spirit of the song, a man held his toddler up above the crowd.)

    “I don’t even know where to begin, Ann Arbor,” Criss told the crowd. “It’s so great to be back.”

    Criss began with his regular set with “I Still Think” and “Burning Up,” followed by the new song, “Any of Those Things.”

    Criss mentioned he used to play his music at downtown Ann Arbor's Potbelly restaurant, at State and Liberty, and work at the Michigan Theater — “I used to usher these aisles. I saw so many shows here” — and called his band members “some of the University of Michigan’s finest. … I think I’m the only guy up here who hasn’t played on this stage before.” (Band members included Katzman, Joe Dart, Tomek Miernowski, and Tyler Duncan.)

    As one of several nods to his U-M days, Criss played “Sami,” from a U-M student-produced web series called “Little White Lie,” and brought a woman (wearing a tiara and light-up sash) who was celebrating her birthday onto the stage during “Picture Perfect.”

    “(The band and I) have been looking forward to this for so long,” Criss said. “It’s like Christmas morning.”

    For “The Muse,” Criss invited his former musical collaborator (and fellow U-M grad) Charlene Kaye onto the stage, explaining that they “met at an open mic night freshman year … and ever since then, we’ve been the closest of friends”; and by way of introducing “Don’t You,” Criss explained some tips he picked up while broke and playing music at restaurants around Los Angeles.

    “The trick when you’re a restaurant musician is to not be in the way, but to be just interesting enough to where they tip you. The least invasive thing you can do is usually play jazz standards and American classics. … So what I would do to insert my own songs into the set … is I would write songs that sound like standards.”

    Fans of Criss’ “A Very Potter Musical” music likely thought the show was, well, totally awesome, since Criss performed “To Have a Home” (one of his mother’s favorites, apparently) and “Gotta Get Back to Hogwarts” (alone on a acoustic guitar), which closed out the set.

    The adoring crowd sang along with every word of both songs.

    For the show’s encore, Criss performed the song that first introduced him to “Glee”'s audience, Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” and the rock song “You Were Never My Lover,” concluding the concert with a “Circle of Life” coda and the words, “Go Blue!”

    Criss’ proud parents, Bill and Cerina Criss, were among those in the Michigan Theater crowd.

    “Since Darren went to school here, we come back whenever we get the chance,” said Cerina Criss. “We love Ann Arbor.”

    “Both of our sons are musical, and their mom’s very musical,” said Bill Criss. “It was a house full of love, and full of musical instruments.”

    Rena Laws of Dearborn, and Brandi Hovizi of Kalamazoo, meanwhile, were among those lining up at 6 a.m. Thursday morning to get the best spot possible in line.

    “There were probably 40 or 50 people already there with wristbands, and there was a huge line for people without wristbands,” Hovizi said.

    The two hardcore fans drove together from Kalamazoo at 3 a.m. Monday for the last Crissband giveaway — they were first in line — and Laws also traveled to Chicago to see Criss perform this past Saturday.

    “That show was phenomenal, but this was way better,” said Laws. “ … The Chicago show didn’t have the same hometown feel. (Criss) seemed so glad to be back in Ann Arbor. There was just a lot more energy.”

    Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at jennmckee@annarbor.com or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.

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    Pittsfield Township kicked off its first Farmers Market on Thursday. The Farmers Market will be every Thursday in the parking lot of the Township Administration Building at 6201 W. Michigan Ave., in Pittsfield Township.

    AnnArbor.com staff photographer Courtney Sacco captured these images.

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    Robert Addie

    Courtesy of WCSO

    A 39-year-old Ypsilanti man was sentenced Thursday to up to five years in prison for striking a police officer with his vehicle while driving drunk in the parking lot of a Pittsfield Township Burger King.

    It was just the latest drunken driving conviction for Robert Lamont Addie, his attorneys said he has been convicted on felony charges of operating while intoxicated three times now. In previous court proceedings, it was revealed Addie also was convicted of drunken driving in 1994, 1999, 2001 and 2006.

    Judge David Swartz sentenced Addie to 2 to 5 years on operating while intoxicated, third offense, 2 to 4 years on one count of assault with a dangerous weapon and 1 to 2 years on resisting arrest charges. The sentences will run concurrently.

    Addie apologized to the court, his family and the police officer he struck.

    "I wish I could take the day back," he said. "It hurts me deeply. My deepest apologies go to the officer."

    Swartz wouldn't immediately make a decision about whether he would allow Addie to do Michigan Department of Corrections boot camp. Assistant Washtenaw County Prosecutor John Vella pointed out Addie already had been sentenced to boot camp on one of his prior felony drunken driving convictions.

    Assistant Washtenaw County Public Defender Christopher Renna said Addie had lifelong alcohol problems and requested boot camp be an option.

    "He's someone who made a terrible, terrible decision getting in a car that day," Renna said. "He feels horrible about what he did to this officer."

    Swartz said he would make a decision about boot camp if and when the department of corrections decided Addie qualified for it.

    Pittsfield Township police initially were called to the Burger King at 6190 W. Michigan Ave., — nearly right across the street from the police station — at 1:38 p.m. on Feb. 14, after receiving reports that two men inside a 2003 Ford Taurus were “causing a disturbance with employees” as they went through the drive-thru.

    Officers repeatedly told Addie, who was driving, to park the Taurus.

    Police say Addie accelerated at a high rate of speed through the parking lot and struck an officer before leaving.

    The officer was knocked to the ground and suffered minor injuries.

    The officers pursued the Taurus on a short chase west on Michigan Avenue, which ended at Saulk Trail Drive. Police say Addie resisted arrest but eventually was subdued and taken into custody.

    Swartz denied a request from the prosecution for $67 in restitution for the police officer's pants, which were torn during the incident.

    John Counts covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at johncounts@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.

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    State Rep. David Rutledge, D-Superior Township, says he regretfully opposed House Bills 4813 and 4815, which deal with dissolving financially struggling school districts.

    Rutledge removed his name as a sponsor Thursday as both bills passed 58-49 in the House and now move to the state Senate.

    David_Rutledge_ headshot_2010.jpg

    David Rutledge

    He argues the bills put the fate of districts into the hand of one or two officials and lack objectivity in determining whether to dissolve a district.

    He actually introduced HB 4813 and co-sponsored HB 4815 with Republican colleague Bill Rogers, which he said was an effort to come to the negotiating table and work on meaningful reforms in a bipartisan way. But Rutledge said the dialogue broke down, and other legislators refused to compromise and moved forward without his support.

    "My goal with this legislation was to help the parents, the teachers and, most importantly, the children of these struggling districts move forward so those kids could continue receiving the education they deserve," Rutledge said in a statement.

    "It saddens me deeply that I have to oppose these bills and remove my name from the sponsorship of House Bill 4813."

    Rogers, R-Brighton, talks about Thursday's House passage of the school dissolution legislation in an audio clip posted on his website. Listen to the audio clip.

    HBs 4813 and 4815 put the decision of whether a district can deal with its debt at the sole discretion of the state treasurer and superintendent.

    Rutledge said the bills discourage local school boards from engaging in other efforts to save their districts, such as loan modification. In addition, school districts deemed financially insolvent could be absorbed into the Education Achievement Authority, an entity running 15 troubled schools in Detroit.

    Schools also could be handed over to a charter operator to be run on a for-profit basis, putting the bottom line ahead of education, Rutledge argued.

    "Too many of our schools are in dire straits financially, but these bills don't get to the root of the problem, which is the severe funding cuts these schools have seen in the last few years," Rutledge said. "Instead of dealing with how to dissolve a district, we should be working to restore the necessary funding so we can properly educate our children."

    Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.

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    A 24-year-old Detroit man faces charges alleging he forced his way into his ex-girlfriend’s home and choked her during an altercation Wednesday, according to police.

    Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Ypsilanti_police_badge.jpg

    Detective Sgt. Thomas Eberts said Friday police responded at 5:16 p.m. Wednesday to the 1100 block of Monroe Street for a domestic violence report. Eberts said the man and 25-year-old woman had been in a long-term dating relationship and recently had broken up.

    The man wanted to talk to the woman but the woman refused to see him, Eberts said. He came to her residence anyway, knocked on the door and, when the woman answered, forced his way inside, Eberts said.

    “He ran inside and the fight began, according to her,” Eberts said.

    The man slapped the woman multiple times before getting on top of her and choking her, Eberts said. The woman’s shirt also was torn during the altercation as well, he said.

    The man fled the scene before police arrived. However, he returned the next day and a third party reported his presence to police. Eberts said officers responded and arrested the man.

    According to court records, he faces charge of first-degree home invasion, assault by strangulation and aggravated domestic violence. He’s expected to be arraigned either Friday or Saturday. AnnArbor.com is not releasing his name because the arraignment has not taken place.

    Eberts confirmed the man is being held at the Washtenaw County Jail before arraignment.

    The woman did not need medical treatment but suffered scratches and red marks on her neck, as well as facial soreness, Eberts said. No weapons were used in the alleged assault.

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    Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at kylefeldscher@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.

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    Milan pitcher Kyle Schrader, right, reacts after giving up a hit in the bottom of the sixth inning in a 3-2 loss to Richmond in the Division 2 baseball state semifinals in Battle Creek on Friday, June 14.

    Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com

    Updated 4:10 p.m.

    BATTLE CREEK -- Defense may win championships, but a little bit of offense is needed too.

    The Milan High School baseball team just couldn't muster enough of it on Friday and fell short of a state championship berth with 3-2 loss to Richmond in the Division 2 state semifinals at Bailey Park's Morrison Field.

    More coverage: Photo Gallery | Boxscore | Bracket

    Trailing 3-1 in the top of the seventh, Milan was able to load the bases with no outs, but came up one run shy of extending the game.

    Down to their last out with runners on first and second, one of the team’s three seniors, Robert Barnier came to the plate for the Big Reds. Barnier had come through in the clutch in consecutive games, scoring the winning run in Tuesday's quarterfinal and bringing home the game winning run with a suicide squeeze in the regional championship.

    But fortune didn’t favor Barnier for a third time as a slow grounder up the middle was easily fielded by Richmond to end Milan’s seventh-inning comeback attempt.

    “We handled them pretty well. We had them on, we just couldn’t get them in. Couldn’t get the big hit,” said Milan sophomore starting pitcher Thomas Lindeman. “Nothing we haven’t seen before. We just didn’t hit the ball as good as we could.”

    The Blue Devils rushed the field in celebration of the program’s first-ever state championship berth, and the face paint on Milan’s player’s faces was suddenly streaking with tears as the Big Reds fell just short of a first berth of their own.

    Only three players from Milan’s roster won’t be back next year, but that was little solace at the time.

    “It’s hard. We just try to tell them there’s 200 and some odd teams that started in Division 2 and we were one of the four left,” said Milan coach Adam Gilles. “The underclassmen learned what it takes to get here again.

    “It was a good game, ball just didn’t bounce our way.”

    Lindeman got his third start in six games and was throwing with the same command he had in Tuesday’s quarterfinal and last Saturday’s regional championship games. What he didn’t have, however, was the same stamina. Lindeman loaded the bases in the fourth inning and though he was able to pitch his way out of the jam without giving up any runs, his day was done. He ended the day having given up one run on three hits and three walks with four strikeouts.

    “I felt good going in, but after the fourth inning I was dead. I took myself out,” Lindeman said.

    Lindeman finished the postseason having surrendered just two runs in 26 innings of work.


    Milan pitcher Thomas Lindeman, left, and Evan Peacock walk off the field after getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning against Richmond on Friday, June 14.

    Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com

    “I said ‘Do you want the ball?’ and he said ‘Yes’,” Gilles said. “It just takes, for a sophomore, to step up like that and want the ball and want to be in command, he did a great job of it, only gave up a couple hits, but he definitely got tired.”

    Kyle Schrader replaced Lindeman in the fifth inning. Richmond broke open a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning with a pair of runs.

    Austin Harvey led off the inning with a single and after a steal was able to score on a single from Evan Kraat. Kraat scored what ended up being a much-needed insurance run later in the inning off of a sacrifice fly from Jake Schmidt.

    Milan cut Richmond's lead in half in the seventh off of a sac fly from Schrader after loading the bases with no outs, but couldn’t extend the game.

    “We didn’t get the key hit. What are you going to do? It’s baseball, it happens,” Gilles said.

    Milan started the first inning with a single from Lindeman and Schrader reached on an error. Though Milan had runners on first and second with no outs, Richmond pitcher Mitchell Ward was able to get out of the jam.

    Ward got the win on the mound after giving up two runs on four hits in six innings of work. Ryan Boyd picked up a one-inning save. Ward also had a pair of hits for Richmond.

    Richmond led off the bottom of the second with a double from Evan Kraat. A passed ball advanced courtesy runner Nick Ottenbacher and the Blue Devils had a runner on third with no outs. Owen Kraat brought home Ottenbacher with with a sacrifice fly to left field to give Richmond the early 1-0 lead. Ottenbacher scored again in the sixth inning and Evan Kraat finished the day 2-for-2 with a double, and RBI and a walk.

    Milan evened the score in the top of the fifth with an RBI single from Conner Berge. Richmond intentionally walked Schrader to get to Berge and he made the most of the opportunity with a two-out single to shallow center that scored Jacob Maas from second.

    “(The intentional walk to Schrader) means they have no faith in you, and Conner has been struggling lately and he didn’t do too much, but he just put the ball in play,” Gilles said of the play. “It’s a bloop single but it scores a run. Too bad we couldn’t push a few more across.”

    Richmond (34-4) will play Grand Rapids Christian (18-15) in Saturday’s Division 2 championship game at C.O. Brown Stadium. Grand Rapids Christian beat Remus Chippewa Hills (27-8) 1-0 on Friday.

    “It has been four years (work to get this far in the tournament), four years of hard work,” Ward said of the coming Division 2 championship game. “Now we have to treat it like another game, just another game. We will have Zach (Leach) throwing tomorrow and he will throw strikes. We can beat anybody in the tournament. We are confident. We had a great time so far but we don’t want it to end.”

    Pete Cunningham covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at petercunningham@annarbor.com. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.

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    Quinn Strassel, a pink-slipped English teacher from Community High School, speaks at Wednesday's Ann Arbor Board of Education meeting about the budget and discrepancies in per-pupil spending at the district's four primary high schools.

    Danielle Arndt | AnnArbor.com

    Nearly 79 percent of the approximately $6.88 million in cuts to the Ann Arbor Public Schools' budget for fiscal year 2014 came in the form of staff reductions, a review of the numbers shows.

    The Ann Arbor Board of Education approved its budget — complete with a budget reduction plan — at about 2 a.m. Thursday, at the end of a seven-hour meeting.

    The AAPS was facing an $8.7 million budget shortfall for the upcoming school year, which it took care of Thursday when the board passed a number of reductions and revenue enhancements, and approved using $1.18 million from the district's fund equity or primary savings account.

    Employee positions accounted for about $5.43 million of the reductions approved, with $3.5 million (or 50.9 percent of the cuts) coming from a loss of teaching positions.

    Here's a by-the-numbers list of all the items school board members approved as part of their budget reduction plan to balance the 2013-14 general fund budget. The budget was developed using a projected blended student count of 16,699 students for the 2013-14 academic year.

    But first, one program that the board agreed to cut Thursday that does not fit into any of the categories below was the tuition preschools at Allen and Thurston elementaries. These programs are not financed by the general fund, but operating them has had significant implications on general fund money since their inception in 2006.

    The tuition preschools are run and paid for by the Community Education & Recreation Department, which projected that due to their under-enrollment issues, the preschools would be operating on a nearly $66,000 deficit for the 2013-14 academic year if the program continued.

    Rec & Ed officials proposed closing the program earlier this year and began informing families of the possibility in May. Five people attended Wednesday's regular board meeting to plead with school trustees to preserve the preschool program for one more year to give families the time to promote the program through marketing and, ultimately, increase enrollment.

    However, AAPS Chief Financial Officer Nancy Hoover informed the board that the deficit the preschool program operates on has to be paid for out of the general fund each year, so the board decided the preschool program had to be cut.

    A complete list of budget cuts and revenue enhancements is below.

    Budget reductions:


    Instructional services (43 FTE, 36 teachers):

    • 27 undesignated teaching positions — $2.7 million
    • 3 reading intervention specialists — $300,000
    • 3 teachers at Skyline High School, but allow the school to remain on trimesters — $300,000
    • 3 counselors — $300,000
    • 3 fine arts/physical education teaching positions (through attrition) — $200,000
    • 4 office personnel — $180,000
    • Shift the 1 theater technician position from the general fund to Pioneer Theater Guild — $50,000
    • Reduce noon-hour supervision and shift responsibility to staff (FTE impact unknown) — $71,000

    Central office:

    • 6 employee positions and restructuring of work — $477,540

    Special education and support services:

    • 4 to 4.5 teacher consultants, 2 to 2.5 teacher assistants and 1 speech and language pathologist (total of 7 to 8 FTE) — $125,000

    Operations (17 FTE):

    • 1 crew chief — $80,000
    • 15 custodians — $600,000
    • 1 grounds employee — $50,000

    Total: $5.43 million (about 74 FTE)

    Physical fitness/athletics

    • Eliminate Ann Arbor’s extra half-semester physical education requirement — $400,000
    • Reduce transportation for team travel outside of Washtenaw County — $120,000
    • Reduce AAPS funding of equipment — $30,000
    • Reduce number of middle school club sports from 28 to 23 — $18,989
    • Close middle school pools (results in elimination of synchronized swimming and swimming and diving sports teams, as well as Rec & Ed swim classes and P.E. class lessons) — $70,000

    Total: $638,989

    Funding and spending reductions

    • Energy savings — $200,000
    • Freeze furniture and fixture purchases for 1 year — $200,000
    • Reduce library material purchases — $100,000
    • Reduce natural gas purchases — $100,000
    • Reduce theater funding at Community, Huron, Pioneer and Skyline (results in one less production per school) — $77,068
    • Eliminate discretionary food spending (including $5,000 BOE food) — $70,000
    • Reduce conference attendance and travel — $50,000
    • Suspend table rentals — $15,000

    Total: $812,068

    Revenue enhancements:

    • Charge students $100 per semester to take a seventh course at Huron and Pioneer — $100,000
    • Increase middle school pay-to-participate fees from $50 to $150 per student — $150,000
    • Increase high school pay-to-participate fees from $150 for the first sport to $250 per student — $150,000
    • Increase ice hockey fees to $600 per player to help cover rink rentals — $36,000
    • Increase golf fees to between $225 and $400 per player for tee times — $21,000

    Total: $457,000

    The grand total cut from the district's general fund in the budget reduction plan the Board of Education approved early Thursday is $7.34 million. Adding in the $1.18 million from the district's fund balance and the $270,000 in assumed concessions from the Ann Arbor principals, curriculum coordinators and tech support staff unions brings the total reduction to $8.79 million.

    The board also approved adding an amount of $80,000 into the general fund budget for some internal auditing of the district's finance, human resources and instruction departments. This expenditure brings the net grand total of adjustments to the district's approximately $182 million operational budget to $8.71 million.

    Budget documents provided by the district show the Ann Arbor Public Schools had to budget $2.76 million more than last year to accommodate employee salary step increases and increases to FICA, retirement costs and fringe benefit rates.

    While employee reductions made up 79 percent of all the cuts approved to the AAPS budget for 2013-14, employee costs in 2012-13 accounted for 87 percent of the general fund budget, according to documents. Employee salaries were 57 percent of that cost and benefits were the remaining 30 percent.

    Teacher salaries and benefits account for 75.77 percent of total employee costs, central administrators account for 1.85 percent, principals and other directors 4.8 percent, supervisors and curriculum coordinators 0.53 percent and other support staff/hourly employees 17.05 percent.

    Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at daniellearndt@annarbor.com.

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    The Jiffy Mix plant in Chelsea will add nine grain silos and an array of new facilities and machinery over the next five to seven years.

    Lisa Allmendinger | AnnArbor.com

    Business has been booming at Chelsea Milling Company — the makers of Jiffy Mix — since the company entered the food service and institutional markets nearly six years ago.

    With increased production needs and an aging workforce, the company is preparing to begin a number of new construction projects and an overhaul of its facilities that will cost approximately $35 million.

    Plans for nine new grain silos and a new flour transfer building were approved by the City of Chelsea Planning Commission on May 21. CEO Howdy Holmes said the nine silos will quadruple the company’s grain storage capacity and are part of a broader plan.

    “From our standpoint, the big picture is that we’re significantly increasing our production capacity,” he said.

    “There will be new mixing departments, new food service packaging lines, and automatic bagging machines. The entire supply chain so to speak, and I use those words because we’re vertically integrated and we do pretty much everything right here.”

    The expansion, which Holmes said will take place during the next 5 to 7 years, drastically could expand the company’s manufacturing ability.

    “We are prepared to enhance our facilities to move from producing 120 million pounds per month to approximately 360-400 million pounds,” Holmes said.

    “Will we need all of that capacity immediately? No. We need new facilities to meet the demand that what we can already see, but the theory is we can see the tip of the iceberg and we’re planning on the entire iceberg.”


    CEO Howdy Holmes shows off Chelsea Milling Company's testing kitchen which opened in 2010.

    Janet Miller | For AnnArbor.com

    Despite the rapid expansion plans, Holmes said his company will be shrinking their employment levels as the new pieces in the supply chain come onto the line. The initial reason for lower staffing levels will be a wave of retirements the company has been seeing on the horizon for a number of years.

    “We have 163 out of 306 employees who are 50 or older,” Holmes said.

    “Several of our employees who were looking at retirement over the last 5 years had 401(k)s, and then in 2008 your 401(k) becomes a 201(k) and the requirement for financial stability in retirement changed.”

    As the retirements occur, new hiring will occur at a slower pace and will be focused on highly-skilled tradespeople who have expertise working with newer machinery.

    “As [our employment base] shrinks, we will bring in technology,” Holmes said.

    “We’re not displacing people, but that technology will enhance our capacity and do the work of several machines we currently have. We will continue to hire, but the people we will be hiring will be working with equipment that is significantly different than the equipment we have now. The skill set is going to be different.”

    Holmes said the company operates 18 retail-packaging lines and each requires the equivalent of one and a half employees to staff. New machines brought in throughout the next five years will be able to replace four packaging lines each, only require one person to operate, and take up a tenth of the space of the old machines.

    As machines are replaced and some staff retires, Holmes said he expects staffing levels to stabilize at about 250 full-time employees. He said the company’s decision to wait before modernizing the plants was a conscious one.

    “In the simplest sense we have made the decision that every company needs to make. We are changing to be competitive to the market place,” he said. “The difference is we are not eliminating jobs to make way for the new technology.”

    Holmes is the grandson of Mabel White Holmes, who first created Jiffy Mix in 1930. He said the fact that the company has remained family owned and operated gave him the leeway to delay the changes that might have been accelerated by pressures from shareholders or an outside board of directors.

    “That’s part of a function of being a privately-held company,” he said.

    “There’s an enhanced appreciation for our people. I think that it is different and we’re real comfortable with that decisions we’ve made. Honestly it’s the right thing to do.”

    Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Get in touch with Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at benfreed@annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2

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    Ann Arbor resident Nick Tobier and his 3-year-old son Oscar board a recently refurbished railcar for the proposed Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail service on display in downtown Ann Arbor on Friday.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    Nick Tobier and his 3-year-old son Oscar weren't planning on getting on a train Friday, but after passing by the railcar parked in downtown Ann Arbor, they had to check it out.

    "It's fantastic, we love it," Tobier said, while Oscar offered a one-word review of the refurbished railcar for the proposed Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail service: "Good."

    "We're really big supporters of public transit and anything that links Ann Arbor to Detroit," said Tobier, an Ann Arbor resident who teaches at the University of Michigan. "I work with schools in Detroit, so I'm in Detroit anywhere from three to five days a week, and I would be very happy not to drive.


    Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje offers remarks at a special unveiling event on Friday while standing in front of the refurbished railcar.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    "And we as a family are in Detroit for many things on the weekends, so we'd take it all the time — a Tigers game or Eastern Market. Plus the social aspect of the train is nice."

    Friday's unveiling of the railcar took place in advance of the Mayor's Green Fair in downtown Ann Arbor, and it marked the first-ever public display of the commuter railcar.

    It's one of a number of railcars being refurbished for two proposed commuter rail services — the east-west Ann Arbor-to-Detroit line and the north-south WALLY line linking Ann Arbor and Howell.

    Representatives from the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan Department of Transportation, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and others were on hand for the railcar's unveiling on Friday.

    Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje emphasized that Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail is the focus right now, and WALLY is something that might happen years down the road.

    "WALLY is still a viable plan, but it is not my emphasis," he said. "It is not something I think is going to happen anytime soon, but I think it is something we will turn to at some point down the road, and it is probably a good thing to continue long-range planning for."

    As for the proposed service between Ann Arbor and Detroit, Hieftje said he's expecting that to be a project that the new Southeast Michigan Regional Transportation Authority takes up.

    "This isn't Ann Arbor's project," he said. "This is the state of Michigan's project. This is the Southeast Michigan RTA's project. And we're one of the willing participants — along with all the cities along the line. Everybody's enthusiastic about it. But we have no plan to put general fund money into this."

    Hieftje said it's his expectation that the RTA will be the controlling organization if Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail service is going to move forward.

    "This project is frankly going to need the support of the Regional Transit Authority that has just been made real by the state," he said. "We've been working with them and we will continue to work with them, and we are having some real positive conversations coming out of the work that we've been doing. And if it's embraced by the RTA, this can become a reality in a few years."

    Hieftje stressed it's nothing Ann Arbor can do on its own.


    A look inside the double-decker railcar that was refurbished by Owosso-based Great Lakes Central Railroad. The rail cars were purchased from the Metra commuter rail system in northeast Illinois before being refurbished. The new seating inside was done by American Seating in Grand Rapids.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    "But it's something we can do working with cities like Dearborn, working with MDOT," he said, "and working with the city of Ypsilanti, where the leaders there have told me they expect 700 to 900 people would move into downtown Ypsilanti over just a few years so they could get off in Ann Arbor at work in about 10 minutes.

    "That is economic development and that is what can happen when you have a new rail hub established that has easy access to a major employment center."

    SEMCOG Executive Director Paul Tait, who lives in Ypsilanti, said he commutes to work in Detroit and he'd love to use the proposed commuter rail service.

    "We can feel it, taste it, and soon ride it, so I'm pretty excited," he said, saying it's getting "real close" to becoming a reality.

    "In the very near future, we're looking at event trains that will help create the buzz for the service that we're talking about," he said. "Full service, we're probably yet a couple years off in the future."

    He noted MDOT has secured hundreds of millions of federal dollars to do some major track upgrades that will make not only Amtrak function better, but also Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail.

    "This has been a long time coming," he said. "Not because of a lack of hard work, but because there are just a gazillion that we all have to get through to make this work."

    After calling Hieftje the "strongest advocate for rail probably anywhere in the state of Michigan," Tait went on to talk about the economic benefits of rail. He noted there are 10 different college campuses, as well as major medical centers, along the corridor.

    "For the young knowledge-based workers that we need for the future success of our economy, transit — particularly rail transit — is at the very top of their list of amenities they want," he said. "So this is a huge step forward for attracting that worker of the future."


    Tobier and his son get a feel for the seats inside the 124-seat railcar.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    The proposed line would run from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti, Metro Airport, Dearborn and Detroit, where it would link with the new Woodward Line.

    "The University of Michigan has identified 10,900 of their employees who live in a zip code along that rail line," Hieftje said. "In Ypsilanti, there are 4,000 people with an Ypsilanti zip code who work just at the U of M. This doesn't include the private employers."

    Hieftje said the latest estimate he's heard is that it should be about another two and a half to three years before Amtrak trains are going over 100 mph all the way from Detroit to Chicago. He noted that will be on newly refurbished tracks with all sorts of places for trains to pass each other, and with MDOT and Amtrak in control of the track, it will become much more dependable.

    "I don't know — maybe we'll see a doubling (of train ridership) in three or four years as people recognize it's dependable, it's fast, and it's a much better alternative to flying," he said.

    Hieftje said the University of Michigan has pledged to be a partner as the city continues work on a new train station somewhere in the city, possibly on Fuller Road.

    "And I want to be very clear, that is with 80 percent federal funding, which is a great thing, but the university is one of our partners in that and will help us to come up with matching funds," he said, mentioning MDOT and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority as other potential partners.

    Hieftje said he's happy with the pushed-back schedule the Ann Arbor Station project is on, because once Amtrak's new high-speed rail service is up and running on brand-new trains between Detroit and Chicago, he's expecting ridership to increase significantly. He thinks that will make it easier to sell the idea of a train station to Ann Arbor voters, who get to decide if the project goes forward.


    A crowd of about four dozen people gathered for a special unveiling event Friday afternoon along the tracks next to the First and William parking lot.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    "It's going to be pretty evident to everybody that a station that is already the busiest one in the state is overwhelmed by the traffic and we're going to need to move ahead on that," he said. "So all of those things are coming together in the future and I think it is fortuitous for us all. In a way, rail is kind of going back to the past, but it's going to be going back to the past with wi-fi."

    AATA Chairman Charles Griffith reiterated on Friday that AATA has been a partner in the planning for rail service for the Ann Arbor community, though he said: "We're not yet a rail operator."

    "But we clearly see rail as the next level of transit for our region, especially as more and more of our citizens come to expect modern, advanced transportation options as a basic service in the community in which they live," he said. "We see it as a key for economic development in our community."

    State Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, was among the crowd of about four dozen people who took a tour of the rail car during a special unveiling event Friday afternoon.

    "It's very cool. The prospect of seeing commuter rail in Southeast Michigan is absolutely nothing short of awesome," Zemke said. "We all know the economic development benefits behind having rail, and bringing more people into Ann Arbor and giving people the opportunity go into Detroit cheaply, easily and efficiently is phenomenal. I'm absolutely excited."

    Zemke has introduced a bill that would amend the state law that created the RTA. The purpose of the bill is to get rid of a clause that gives any one member of the RTA board veto power over rail.

    "Basically right now, rail in Southeast Michigan is very difficult to get under the RTA because you have to have 100 percent unanimous consent of all board members," he said. "We introduced a bill to make it a simple majority, the same as other transit project decisions within the RTA.

    "We think that's fair, and the bottom line is that will allow these other communities in the RTA — for instance, Detroit, Wayne County, Ann Arbor — to work together and do something that may not affect the other entities, but still definitely affects mass transit in Southeast Michigan."


    A closeup view of the railcar on display Friday afternoon.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    Hieftje said even if the changes Zemke has proposed don't pass, he thinks there's going to be support on the RTA board for Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail.

    "It makes so much more sense than the bus rapid transit, which actually is very, very expensive — hundreds of of millions of dollars to install," he said. "The infrastructure for this commuter rail line is being paid for by the federal dollars."

    Hieftje was adamantly opposed to having Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County included in the RTA last year, but that's no longer the case.

    "What's happened is we've had some good conversations," he said. "We pushed our case. I'm accepting reality here. It's obvious the state is not going to let us out, and the governor is really behind the RTA, so we don't have a choice there. And since we are in the RTA, we want to do everything we can to make it a success, so we're very pragmatic about it."

    Hieftje added, "I've had some very good conversations with leaders of the RTA, and also leadership in the other counties. I've met with people from Oakland and Macomb, and we've had some good conversations, and I believe there's some synergy moving forward."


    This map was on display Friday afternoon, along with information explaining the 38.2-mile corridor would have five stations (Ann Arbor, Ypsi, Airport Connector, Dearborn and Detroit), with four daily 55-minute roundtrips (all during peak periods), and three roundtrips on Saturdays and Sundays. Coordinated bus services would be provided by SMART, DDOT and AATA.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.

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    Restaurant patrons enjoy the nice weather and special meal prices on the last day of restaurant week.

    Chelsea Hoedl I AnnArbor.com

    Restaurant week came to a close Friday as patrons scrambled for reservations at the last eatery on their Ann Arbor bucket list.

    “It’s a great way to try new food even at places you’ve been to several times,” Baczkowski said. “Last year I tried The Melting Pot and really enjoyed it. I’m open to new things especially if it’s convenient.”

    As the time to take advantage of the deals ran out, Baczkowski decided to pack three restaurants into two days — Mani Osteria and Bar, as well as Gratzi , for lunch, headed next door to Prickly Pear Cafe to cram in one last stop with friends.

    “Mani was absolutely fabulous,” Baczkowski said. “The $15 I spent was totally worth it. I knew I needed to take advantage of the deals Friday too since it’s the last day.”

    For NeoPapalis , this restaurant week experience was the pizzeria's first since opening in October. As far as his expectation for business during the week, owner Joe Sheena said he really wasn't sure what to anticipate.

    “It went better than I had expected,” said Sheena. “I thought there would be an increase, but not to this extent. This week we’re up by about 30 percent as far as customer traffic is concerned — I would gladly participate again.”

    Sheena estimated about 40 percent of the sales from this week were restaurant week specials.

    “Our deals were pretty darn good and we exposed ourselves to a lot of new people,” he said. “This was a good thing for us and I was happy to participate."

    Also new to Restaurant Week was Liberty Street's What Crepe? which opened in February and offered a special that allowed patrons to try both the savory, as well as the sweet items on their menu.

    “Since we’re new to the area, we decided to prepare our menu so that people could try both parts,” manger Nicole Myint said. "That way they could get a feel for what our menu has to offer."

    Myint said What Crepe? definitely will be participating again after seeing the results from this week.

    “It’s been spectacular,” Myint said. “We were extremely busy. We literally had a line out the door this whole week for lunch and dinner. I feel like it brings in new customers and as a new establishment, that’s a really good thing.”

    Jerry Krebes, manager of R.U.B. BBQ Pub on Packard Street said he recommends eateries new to the area participate in the promotion to let residents know what they're all about. The restaurant has participated in the event twice and Krebes says brings in people who might not normally give it a try.

    “It gives people another reason to come and try you out if they haven’t already,” Krebes said. “We had a lot of people here this week who wanted to try us before, but didn’t give us a shot until now.”

    Krebes estimated customer traffic increased by about 300 people and the restaurant brought in between $5,000 and $6,000 more than they would in an average week.

    Arbor Brewing Company bar manager Ryan Luttermoser said events like this are especially appealing because of the across-the-board pricing for lunch and dinner.

    “I think it gives people the opportunity to try all of the different kinds of Ann Arbor fare at a reasonable price,” Luttermoser said. “It brings out people who can’t normally afford it or who just haven’t tried it.”

    Arbor Brewing Company has participated in Restaurant Week since it's first year and Luttermoser said they will continue that tradition

    “We like to participate," Luttermoser said. "We like to be a part of the community.”

    Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.

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