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

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    The neighbors of Michigan men's basketball coach John Beilein lined his street with decorations to welcome him home after the team's run to the national championship game.

    Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

    Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein didn’t get to come home from the Final Four in Atlanta to a championship parade, but his neighbors made sure his welcome home was special nonetheless.

    Lining Beiliein’s Ann Arbor neighborhood on Tuesday were trees wrapped in maize and blue plastic table cloths, bushes with streamers across the top and porches with Block ‘M’ flags.

    When Beilein came home from the team’s official reception at the Crisler Center, his neighbors gave him their version. About a dozen neighbors lined the street, including some neighborhood children as well.

    “When we were watching we were like we gotta do something. Everybody got into it. Everybody on the whole block,” said Janet Yaman, one of Beilein’s neighbors. “They’re just a wonderful family, so likeable and so approachable.”

    Albeit more modest than the reception at Crisler, or what the championship parade planned for the team in the event of a win on Monday would have been, Yaman said Beilein and his wife Kathleen seemed appreciative of the gesture.

    “Kathleen said that when they made that turn around the corner she said, ‘John look!’ and saw everybody,” Yaman said. “They were so stunned, they really were.”

    Yaman said that everyone in the neighborhood was happy to do their part.


    A mailbox on John Beilein's block was decorated in order to greet the Michigan basketball coach's return from the Final Four.

    Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

    “I just said 'how can I help?” said Joe Harris, who had the trees wrapped with maize and blue plastic and Michigan balloons on his mailbox. “It was really a pleasure doing…and the good news was it wasn’t raining.”

    Harris hadn’t hung his newly purchased his Block ‘M’ flag on his porch as of Thursday, but began to set it out.

    “I’m a little late on this,” said Harris, and a quick glance down the street revealed his porch was one of the few without a flag on the block.

    When the team secured its spot in the championship game, one of Beilein’s neighbors, Laura (who asked for her last name not to be used to protect the Beileins’ privacy) got on the phone and began to organize the welcoming party.

    “He’s a wonderful neighbor and a wonderful guy and we were just so proud of him and proud of the effort of the whole team and we thought we needed to give him a proper homecoming,” said Laura.

    It's no surprise that Laura was one of the driving forces behind organizing the homecoming. A Michigan alumnus who graduated in 1990 -- a year after Michigan's last national championship -- she knows a thing or two about giving a proper greeting after a championship run.

    “I have to say both (NCAA finals runs) were exciting, but being a student in 1989 was really fun,” Laura said. “Just being a neighbor of John and Kathleen they’re wonderful people, real down-to-earth, nice people, and we just wanted to say, 'great job.'”

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

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    Several Michigan legislators will discuss issues in the state's prison system at a statewide forum Saturday at Eastern Michigan University.

    prison conference.PNG

    Courtesy of Eastern Michigan University Diversity and Community Involvement

    State Sen. Rebekah Warren and state representatives Jeff Irwin, David Rutledge, Harvey Santana and Fred Durhal will discuss prison privatization, mass incarceration and prison reform along with leaders from several public organizations, including Mark Fancher, racial justice staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

    The conference is from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the EMU Student Center. Reggie Barnes, director for EMU Diversity and Community Involvement, said admission is free, but asked attendants to register beforehand to ensure there's enough food, which he said will be provided by Einstein Bros. Bagels.

    The conference's organizers, Roderick Casey and Lefiest Galimore, two local activists, said they wanted to unite people against Public Act 599, a law passed in January that allows private organizations to bid for state contracts for correctional services.

    "This is not only a threat to humanity, it’s a threat to the integrity of our political and our judicial systems," Casey said.

    The legislation was passed as part of an effort to reduce state corrections expenses. According to the 2010 Annual Report by the Michigan Department of Corrections, the corrections budget for that year was $1.93 billion.

    "The legislature has been pushing for this a long time," said Russ Marlan, public information officer for the MDOC. "We know what our per-day-per-prisoner costs are but what we don’t know is what those private companies could deliver those same services for. That’s what those legislators want to see. They want to see competition."

    But people critical of the legislation fear that a private company would have incentive to maximize its prison populations and a disincentive to rehabilitate inmates for successful assimilation into free society.

    "There’s no incentive for private corporations to rehabilitate," Galimore said. "That’s how they make their money."

    Marlin said the state would pay private companies a per-prisoner-per-day rate for their correctional services. This means that a private prison's revenue would be tied to its population.

    USA Today reported last year that Corrections Corporations of America sent a $250 million proposal to 48 states, offering to buy state prisons if the states could guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate for 20 years.

    Casey and Galimore also expressed concern for Michigan's Violent Offense-Fourth Felony law. Passed as Public Act 319 last October, the law requires 25-year sentences for anyone charged with a violent felony who has three prior felony convictions.

    "The prison system is set up to feed on itself," Galimore said. "I can’t believe our legislators would pass those kinds of bills."

    Casey called these policies a modern form of Black Codes, stressing that they strengthen the disproportionate incarceration and recidivism of black men.

    The MDOC 2011 Statistical Report said that 23,974 of the 42,904 inmates in Michigan prisons were "non-white." Marlan said black inmates make up 95 percent of the "non-white" prison population. That means there were roughly 22,775 black inmates in Michigan prisons in 2011, 53 percent of the total prison population.

    According to census information available at the state's website, 14 percent of Michigan's population was black in 2010.

    "It’s a form of modern slavery," Barnes said. "Guys go into prison. They get paid, 30, 40, 50 cents a day to do manual labor for the entire day. It’s almost like indentured servitude."

    Marlan confirmed that some Michigan inmates are employed, making license plates, officer and prisoner uniforms, road signs, habitat houses, and other products.

    "It’s primarily educational and vocational employment and skills training," Marlan said. "You not only teach them a skill, whether that be some sort of manufacturing or service skill. But you also teach them the soft skills of getting up and going to work, listening to supervisors, working with co-workers. That will be beneficial to them when they get out of prison."

    The inmates are paid rates ranging from $0.74 per hour to $3.50 per day. Marlan said the reduced wages help mitigate the costs of housing the inmates and providing them with food, clothing and health care.

    "All of that stuff is free of charge to them," he said.

    Marlan was going to speak at the conference but had to pull out, because a bid the MDOC issued a month ago in response to PA 599 is still open and could be legally compromised by his participation. The bid is a request for proposals from companies to manage around 900 custody beds for Level IV inmates, which are above minimum security but just below maximum security.

    According to the MDOC 2010 Annual Report, the average cost of annual incarceration for a Level IV inmate is $37,675. Proposals from private companies must present at least 10 percent savings to the state in order to be accepted. In other words, a private company would have to be able to house the inmates at an annual per person cost to the state less than or equal to $33,907.

    Despite the demand for lower costs, Marlan said any proposal accepted by the MDOC would have to include the same level of educational and rehabilitative services offered by the state.

    "It would have to provide all of the same services that we provide our Level IV prisoners," he said.

    Marlan said there's nothing in the bid asking companies to use prisoners for labor.

    "I doubt that they would because there’s some federal laws that go into prisoner labor—especially if you sell anything across the state line," he said.

    The most obvious company that would be interested in the bid is the GEO Group, which already has a facility in Baldwin. Marlan said other companies have been offered use of MDOC's correctional facility in Standish, which has been closed since 2009.

    Kody Klein is an intern for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at kklein@mlive.com

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    Patricia Green.JPG

    Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Green speaks to a crowd in 2011.

    Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Green resigned Wednesday, district officials announced in an email about 5 p.m. Thursday.

    She submitted her resignation to the Board of Education, according to letters from both Green and Board President Deb Mexicotte. It's effective 90 days from Wednesday.

    In her letter, Green shared her plan to retire this summer after 43 years as an educator, administrator and superintendent and her plans to do some "reflective writing" about her experiences in the profession.

    The Ann Arbor Public Schools hired Green in July 2011. She receives a salary of $245,000.

    School board Vice President Christine Stead said the board found out this news early Thursday morning, after Wednesday's regular board meeting had adjourned. She said the news is still new and she is still processing it, but she wasn't "entirely surprised."

    "I know it has been a really difficult time. ... Being in public education in Michigan is really difficult right now. Making the kind of cuts we're having to make ... it's a challenging environment for everybody," Stead said.

    "When anybody in a leadership role decides to retire and move on to something else, you of course want to thank them and acknowledge all their good work. ... And she did work really hard for our district and made a lot of impact in a lot of less public areas, in the administrative pieces and processes."

    Stead said she is sad and "definitely disappointed." She said when Green asked for a five-year contract when the board negotiated with her in 2011, Stead believed she was committed to the Ann Arbor community and the district.

    Board President Deb Mexicotte said she was surprised and found the retirement "unexpected."

    "I think Dr. Green saw Ann Arbor as a district to come to as a capstone of her career," she said. "I think she always thought she would be here as long as she could be. ... I just thought it would be longer and would have liked it to have been longer, considering the great progress that we've made under Dr. Green."

    Read Green's letter to the community:

    Dear Colleagues and AAPS Families:

    Last evening, I gave President Deb Mexicotte a letter in which I asked her to accept my resignation as Superintendent of Schools of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, effective 90 days from yesterday. I shared with her that I plan to retire during the summer after 43 years as a professional educator in public education. I have been blessed to have truly enjoyed my 43-year career and I thanked her and the Board for the opportunity to serve the Ann Arbor community during these past two years.

    To all my colleagues in Ann Arbor Public Schools, it has been a privilege to work with you and I wish you well as you continue to maintain the highest of standards for all of our children in the future. Ann Arbor is truly an outstanding school district with so many dedicated staff members who care enormously about children. Your commitment and dedication are beyond compare!

    As I retire, I hope to do some reflective writing about my many experiences in education, do some traveling, and reconnect with family and friends who I have neglected over the years!

    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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    Deb Mexicotte, president of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education, sent a letter to the school community on Thursday that was included in an email announcing Superintendent Patricia Green is retiring.

    Here is the full text of that letter:

    To the Ann Arbor Community -

    I am writing you today to announce that after 43 years in education, Dr. Patricia Green has informed the Ann Arbor Board of Education of her retirement, and has resigned from her position as the Superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools effective in 90 days.

    In the time Dr. Green has served our community she has made a lasting and positive impact in the areas of public school advocacy, interdepartmental collaboration, district budget and finance, staff hiring and development, student achievement and social development, and implementation of our Strategic Plan.

    In highlighting some of her many accomplishments I would like to start with her strong and effective advocacy at the State level. Her voice has been heard in changing legislative direction in areas such as the strengthening of proposed anti—bullying initiatives and the creation of a more equitable system for identifying and supporting both struggling and achieving schools.

    Her work with the University of Michigan on the Mitchell-Scarlett Teaching and Learning Collaborative, on the development of new teacher evaluation metrics and on the continuation of the elementary World Language program exemplified her willingness to reach out to all district partners and stakeholders to improve educational options for our students. When we needed additional help with transportation for our students, she collaborated effectively with AATA to develop additional high school bus routes. She also brought together a broad-based Ad Hoc Committee on Transportation that studied and reported on sustainability of our transportation system for the future.

    She has also forged new partnerships with local and national businesses. Most notably, the Ann Arbor Public School District was the only K-12 district in the United States to be chosen by Toyota to partner with them in developing a pilot program to advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education at the secondary level. She and her administrative team have been collaborating with Toyota for the past year and this summer, the first cohort of Ann Arbor administrators and teachers will travel to Singapore to study and receive training regarding best practices in STEM education. Because of her support of the arts, an “A” has been added to make it “STEAM,” to include arts education.

    At the direction of the Board, and through her extensive professional expertise and close collaboration with district staff, Dr. Green has set us on the path to creating a zero-based budgeting model and line-by-line accountability systems that will help us better understand and maintain our educational excellence. Dr. Green has worked closely with the WISD and other district Superintendents to identify new and continuing sources of revenue, and brought an additional 1.4 million dollars in Medicaid reimbursement to the district in her first few months of service. She was a staunch and tireless advocate for the recent passage of the Ann Arbor Technology Bond, and has also been a strong voice in developing sustainable and appropriate reimbursement strategies for the county-wide Special Education millage. Finally, Dr. Green helped forge partnerships with the AAPSEF and the PTO Thrift shops that now financially sustain important district initiatives that faced elimination due to budget constraints.

    Dr. Green has also needed to fill many key district positions that were left vacant through retirement, including several instructional cabinet positions and the principal position at one of our comprehensive high schools. She has hired exemplary staff for these positions and the district will benefit from their expertise for many years to come.

    To improve student achievement, Dr. Green worked closely with instructional staff to develop comprehensive plans to address achievement and discipline disparities. These efforts have already shown measureable improvements in student test scores, and graduation rates and a decrease in class time lost to student suspensions. Her Community Builders program, implemented at all the district’s elementary schools and funded through the generous support of AAPSEF, celebrates supportive and cooperative learning environments and partners with our students as ambassadors for their own “peaceable” learning environments.

    Finally Dr. Green has been an active member of our community, devoting her time and resources to a number of our local civic and charitable organizations, including the Ann Arbor Rotary Club, the AAPSEF, the University Musical Society, the NAACP and the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra - to name just a few. She and her husband, Steve, have embraced all that Ann Arbor has to offer - the restaurants, galleries, festivals and cultural events - and have told me many times how enchanted they were from their first visit to Ann Arbor and how happy they have been to become part of our community.

    On a personal note, I have enjoyed a very productive and rewarding partnership with Dr. Green as we have worked together on any number of district focused efforts and events over the last few years. On behalf of the Ann Arbor Board of Education I would like to wish Dr. Green all the best in her retirement and thank her for her dedicated and exemplary work on behalf of our district’s students, parents, staff and community.

    The Board will be meeting in the very near future to discuss our next steps as we move toward the end of our academic year and through this very important leadership transition.

    Sincerely, Deb Mexicotte, President Ann Arbor Board of Education

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    Someone pried open the doors to two residences in the Parc Pointe Apartments in Ann Arbor Thursday, police said.

    Ann Arbor police Lt. Renee Bush said the two home invasions occurred between 11:15 a.m. and 1:52 p.m. Thursday in the 1800 block of Pointe Crossing Street. A maintenance employee discovered two apartments with the doors pried open.

    In one apartment, a TV was moved but not taken. In the second apartment, several items were moved around but only an iPad was reported stolen.

    At this point, police do not have any suspect information to release.

    Anyone with information on these break-ins is encouraged to call the Ann Arbor police anonymous tip line at 734-794-6930 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAK UP (773-2587).

    View Larger Map

    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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    As dawn broke Friday morning in Ann Arbor, Neil Sauter, 29, of Blissfield strapped his legs on to a pair of stilts and started walking.

    Sauter, who calls himself the “Michigan Stiltwalker” started his three-day-long hike to Lansing from the front steps of the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. Though the weather was damp, drizzling at times and about 36 degrees, Sauter walked on.

    Wearing long maize-and-blue striped pants that extended over the stilts and gave him the appearance of a 9-foot-tall giant, Sauter started at a brisk pace of about 4 mph.

    During Satuer’s “Walk for No Limits” tour, he’ll be fundraising for the non-profit agency, United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan. This is his second walk to date; the first of which he did in 2008 when he raised $85,000 for the foundation by walking 830 miles across the entire state.

    Sauter has a mild form of cerebral palsy, which causes his feet to turn inwards when he walks.

    The stilts help him to walk in the same way that his leg braces did.

    “I’m more coordinated on stilts,” Sauter said. “Stilts help me walk better, but for most people it would be a burden.”

    He developed the idea for the fundraising “Walk for No Limits” in 2008 when he was looking for something he could do to help the foundation that gave him a scholarship to Grand Valley State University.

    In the five years since his 2008 walk, Sauter has attended graduate school at Michigan State University and started a family. He walks on stilts at fairs and festivals as a profession.

    “I like adventure,” Sauter said. “It took a little while to get the logistics worked out to leave my life behind for a little while.”

    This year, Sauter will be breaking down his walks into weekend segments and focusing more on more populated areas.

    Traveling back roads by himself, Sauter said the walks are peaceful and give him a chance to enjoy Michigan’s beauty.

    He doesn’t travel with music so he can constantly pay attention to traffic and the road conditions.

    Navigating potholes and uneven surfaces on stilts can be challenging at times even for Sauter, who began stilt-walking in 2007 and does it professionally as an entertainer.

    “Generally, people are really friendly to me along the way. They think it’s kind of cool to see,” Sauter said. “People were really trustful (in 2008). People offered to drive my backpack ahead for me … if you give people the opportunity to do the right thing, they usually do.”

    In 2008, Sauter fell nine times on his “Walk for No Limits” tour.

    This year, Sauter said he modified his stilts to make part of the leg brace more secure - but it also means it will be harder on his legs.

    Sauter said his trips are broken into increments that average 22 miles per day. In the mornings, he travels at about 4 mph but by the afternoon when he’s tired, his pace is closer to 3 mph.

    From Ann Arbor, he’ll follow Pontiac Trail most of the way to South Lyon for lunch and then end in Brighton. Sauter will begin his Saturday walk at 7 a.m. at Brighton Library, traveling through Howell to Fowlerville for the night.

    Sunday morning, Sauter will leave Fowlerville to travel through Williamston and Okemos before ending in Lansing.

    He has planned four other walks in April and May throughout other parts of Michigan:

    • April 19-21 Midland to Flint
    • April 26-29 Muskegon to Grand Rapids
    • May 3-5 Petoskey to Traverse City
    • May 10-12 Escanaba to Marquette

    People can donate to Sauter’s cause in multiple ways: Through a secure online website, by handing him a donation when he walks by or through a series of dine-to-donate events. In 2008, Sauter said he raised $20,000 of the total $85,000 from people that handed him cash along his route.

    Specific Bob Evans location on certain days will donate 15 percent of the sale of a meal when diners present special printed fliers, available for download online.

    In Ann Arbor, the Bob Evans at 2411 Carpenter Road will honor the fundraising flier from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday only.

    Watch Sauter don his stilts and take off from Ann Arbor Friday morning:

    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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    A jury Thursday convicted a 25-year-old Ypsilanti Township man on nine felony charges for a brutal sexual and physical assault of a woman in March 2012.


    Dajuan Roberts

    Courtesy of the WCSO

    Dajuan Roberts was found guilty on three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of assault with intent to do great bodily harm and assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic violence and assaulting, resisting or obstructing police, according to Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Geoffrey Fox. He was acquitted on one charge of assault with intent to murder and one charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

    The convictions stem from a brutal incident on March 21, 2012, in the 500 block of Emerick Street in Ypsilanti Township.

    Fox said Roberts and his girlfriend were arguing about their sexual relationship. Enraged, Roberts struck the woman multiple times in the face and choked her to the point she almost blacked out, Fox said.

    “This assaultive behavior went on for several hours and included Roberts threatening to kill the victim with a knife he was holding during the assaults,” Fox said in a statement.

    The physical assaults soon escalated into sexual violence. Fox said Roberts forced himself on the woman while threatening to kill her if she didn’t do what he said.

    Fox said Roberts cut the woman with the knife and heated up a wire hanger so he could “brand” her with his initials.

    Roberts continued to assault and choke the woman until someone else in the home called 911, Fox said

    When he heard deputies were at the home, Roberts fled through a window in the back bedroom but was eventually arrested a short distance away from the home, Fox said.

    Records show he was arraigned on March 22, 2012, on all of the charges aside from the first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges, which came later. He’s being held in the Washtenaw County Jail on a $250,000 bond, court records show.

    Roberts’ trial began on Monday and concluded Thursday with the guilty verdict on nine of the 11 charges he faced. Jail records show he’s scheduled to be in court for a probation violation hearing at 1:30 p.m. April 18. It's unknown when he is scheduled to be sentenced.

    According to state records, Roberts was previously convicted of domestic violence in 2010 and pleaded no contest to two counts of assaulting and resisting or obstructing a police officer in 2011.

    Roberts faces a maximum of life in prison on each of the first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges.

    AnnArbor.com was not immediately able to reach Leon Weiss, Roberts' attorney, for comment on this story Friday morning.

    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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    Previous coverage:

    Ypsilanti Community Schools will don uniforms in black and Vegas gold next school year, however the mascot that will embody those colors will be chosen by a student vote.

    The joint Ypsilanti and Willow Run school board voted Thursday night on the school colors after receiving a recommendation from the new district's Naming and Mascot Advisory Committee. The Board of Education also decided to have students in grades 7-12 select the mascot by popular vote from: Trailblazers, Flyers and Grizzlies.

    If you're thinking, "Grizzlies?" You're not alone. It wasn't even in the running a couple of weeks ago.


    Willow Run's current mascot is the Flyers, and this is one of its logos.

    From WRCS

    The new district surveyed students, parents, alumni and community members on both the mascot and school colors. The surveys were overwhelmingly supportive of black and Vegas gold, but the mascot favorites varied drastically among survey participants, YCS Superintendent Scott Menzel said after Thursday's meeting.

    He said the same day the district launched its community-wide survey, the Ann Arbor Neutral Zone facilitated the first of several events involving high schools students from both Ypsilanti and Willow Run. The purpose of the events is community building and coming together to create a new school identity and culture.

    At the first joint meeting on March 23, the students discussed the new district's mascot choices, and the top vote getter from this group of about 50 students was the Grizzlies.

    "Well, obviously that wasn't on the survey and I'm not even sure how they came up with it," Menzel said with a chuckle.

    But Menzel said selecting a mascot that the students can support and that gives students a sense of pride is of the utmost importance to district officials, and one of the five guiding pillars throughout the creation of YCS has been student voice and empowerment.

    On the survey the district sent out were seven mascot choices: Bombers, Flyers, Liberators, Mustangs, Ravens, Royals and Trailblazers.

    Menzel said overall, Bombers was the most popular choice, but the name didn't resonate well with students. He also said school officials had some concerns because, while the name represents the history of the community as the nickname of the B-24 planes built in Willow Run, it also has a negative connotation.

    After Bombers on the survey, the general community favored Flyers next. But again, Menzel said this name was low on students' lists.

    On the survey, the No. 1 choice among students was Royals. However, the Royals was selected last by community members and second-to-last by alumni from both districts.

    Menzel said because of the conflicting survey results and the district's desire to have student input, school officials went back to the group of about 50 students from Ypsilanti and Willow Run and presented the survey results to them. Officials had another robust discussion with the kids and re-polled them. Royals still was No. 1, followed by Grizzlies and Trailblazers.

    The Board of Education decided Thursday night that a vote from students in grades 7-12 at both districts would be the final decision. On a yet-to-be-decided date next week, both districts will host a vote in which students will chose among Grizzlies, students' top pick; Flyers, the community's second choice; and Trailblazers, which was in the top-three among all groups surveyed.

    Menzel said Royals and Bombers were thrown out because of a lack buy-in from one or more key groups.

    The student ballots will be totaled and the name with the most votes will be brought back to the Board of Education for approval on April 25.

    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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    When it came time to mark Israel’s 65th birthday locally, organizers were delighted when they found out Noa, an Israeli pop singer known for building bridges between Jewish and Arab cultures, was on tour in the United States.

    They jumped at the chance to book her for a Wednesday evening concert at the Michigan Theater. The concert will feature musical director and guitarist Gil Dor, percussionist Gadi Seri, and the Yoed Nir String Quartet. The University of Michigan Hillel’s a cappella group, Kol Ha’Kavod, will open the show.

    “Noa is world-renowned and she’s an international star who just came off a world tour. She is a really incredible performer,” said Eileen Freed, who is coordinating Israel Independence Day project events, including the concert, for the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor.



    • Who: Israeli pop singer. With guitarist Gil Dor, percussionist Gadi Seri, and the Yoed Nir String Quartet. University of Michigan Hillel’s a cappella group Kol Ha’Kavod opens the show.
    • What: Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor presents "The Israeli Songbook," a Celebrate Israel 65th Birthday Concert.
    • Where: Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St.
    • When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17.
    • How much: $12 for students/$36 for adults. $65 tickets in a reserved section (general seating within the section) are also available. Go to www.jewishannarbor.org/celebrateisrael to learn more about Noa, sponsor the event or purchase tickets. For additional information, contact Eileen Freed at eileenfreed@jewishannarbor.org or 734-677-0100.
    “Noa is also known for her work in (peaceful) coexistence. She and her musical collaborators often work with Arab performers. Most notably, she and Mira Awad, an Israeli Arab, sang ‘There Must Be A Better Way’ as Israel’s entry into the Eurovision contest in 2009. It was sung in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

    “She represents the values of our Jewish community,” Freed added. “We strongly believe that Israel should be a Jewish and Democratic state and that there should be peace between Israel and her neighbors.”

    Known in Israel by her given name Achinoam Nini, Noa was born in Tel-Aviv in 1969 to a family originally from Yemen. She lived in New York City from age 2 until she returned to Israel at the age of 17. After serving in the Israeli Army in a military entertainment unit, Noa studied music at the Rimon School, where she met her longtime partner and collaborator Gil Dor.

    Her strongest influences come from the singer-songwriters of the 1960s, like Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. These musical and lyrical sensibilities, combined with Noa's Yemenite roots and Dor's strong background in jazz, classical and rock, have created the pair’s sound, manifested in hundreds of songs written and performed together. Noa plays percussion, guitar and piano.

    This is not Noa’s first visit to the area; she performed a University Musical Society concert here about 15 years ago, Freed said, and last year played to a sold-out crowd at the Berman Center for Performing Center at the Detroit Jewish Community Center.

    “I saw Noa 16-17 years ago,” Freed added. “She was fabulous. … The musical quality of this concert is going to be incredible.”

    While Celebrate Israel honors Israel’s birthday, members of the Ann Arbor community who share Israel’s birth year will also be recognized.

    “We have a group of about 19 people all turning 65 and they will be recognized at the event,” Freed said. “We are celebrating their birthday with Israel’s birthday. We will not be able to have a cake, but we will sing happy birthday.”

    Among the honorees are Ron and Lonnie Sussman, who were born in 1948, less than two months after the State of Israel was declared. Lonnie Sussman remembers “feeling connected and proud that we were the same age. In my family, trees were planted in honor of all life events including birthdays, and somehow that also strengthened the connection.”

    Elliot Eisenberg recalls that when he was 13 years old, the Chicago Federation held an Israel Independence Day event honoring the Bar Mitzvah year of Israel and boys, like him, who were celebrating the same milestone.

    “We all received a plaque,” recounts Eisenberg. “I kept it with me throughout my adulthood, and it reminded me of this special connection to Israel.”

    This is one of many events in the United States and around the world marking Israel’s 65th birthday.

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    Medical technology startup Epsilon Imaging is preparing to launch its second product in late April according to a report from Concentrate Media. The cardio oncology application will allow doctors to see if cancer medications are negatively impacting a patient’s heart.


    From Epsilon Imaging Website

    The company, which has a staff of 12, recently hired a director of sales and an additional software developer. According to the Concentrate report, Epsilon will look to begin fundraising shortly for a Series B round worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million.

    Epsilon’s first product, Stress Echo, is installed at 12 hospitals across the country. The ultrasound technology helps doctors measure the strength of a patient’s heart muscles.

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

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    Anna Borowicz and the Pioneer girls tennis team is our AnnArbor.com Team of the Week.

    Mlive Media Group file

    If you’re going to spend a week covering one Washtenaw County girls tennis team, it’s tough to go wrong with Pioneer.

    The Pioneers finished fourth at last year’s Division 1 state finals. Before that, they had been either state champions or state runners-up for eight consecutive years, including titles in 2005 and 2010.

    And after the team won this week’s AnnArbor.com Team of the Week poll, we’ll be learning plenty more about this year’s batch of Pioneer tennis players throughout next week.

    We’ll have a package of stories, including features and game coverage, plus photos, throughout next week. Pioneer has three matchups scheduled: Monday at home against Adrian, Wednesday at Saline and Saturday against Clarkston.

    The Pioneer girls are our second Team of the Week for the spring season. This week, we’ve been hanging out with the Skyline boys lacrosse team, which is on the upswing headed into a big Friday night matchup with Pioneer.

    Want to see your team get our Team of the Week treatment? Check back Monday, when next week’s poll opens.

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    When practicing, don't spend too much time on the practice range. The putting green is jst as, if not more, important

    Editor's note: With the long winter finally coming to a close and with people looking to get out to the golf course, we are introducing a weekly golf advice column from contributor Kyle Dobbs. Dobbs is a former professional and University of Michigan golfer. He grew up in Ann Arbor and won the individual Big Ten title for the University of Michigan men’s golf team his senior year in 1997. While it's unlikely you'll get to the level of Dobbs, hopefully his expert advice can help you maximize your potential on the course this season.

    When you think of a Masters champion, the long drives are entertaining and it's always fun to watch a shot stuck close to the pin on No. 16, but the green jacket is worn by the work done on the putting green. The greens at Augusta National are arguably the most revered in golf. The fairways are wide and the course is short by PGA tour standards, yet year in and year out the Masters maintains an extremely difficult test of golf.

    This test is found on the putting green.

    Mondays were my travel days while playing professionally. I would arrive at the airport at 5 a.m. and from there it was literally planes, trains and automobiles. Once I had arrived at the next week's venue, I had only one priority for the day -- to familiarize myself with the greens for the week in a hurry.

    I would register in the clubhouse, grab a sandwich, then stroll over to the practice green and spend two-three hours casually rolling a few putts. My goal, as a caddy of mine nicknamed "The Growler" put it, "Just learn the tennnnnndancies," in his aged raspy voice.

    Lynn, a.k.a "The Growler", for 20 years caddied for one of the game's greatest putters on the PGA Tour, Ben Crenshaw. Wouldn't you know it, Crenshaw has won the Master's twice, is playing in the tournament for the 42nd time this weekend, and is renowned for his touch or "feel" as a putter.

    Other than Crenshaw himself, who better to learn from than his caddy? Growler spent hours with me on the putting green teaching me how Crenshaw would prepare his game. Crenshaw key was to enjoy the opportunity to learn the greens and their tendencies of break and speed.

    No putt is perfectly straight and every golf course is different. If you have played golf down in Florida, grain is an understatement. Though we don't experience grain much here in Michigan, we still have factors such as green side pond, run off drains and over all pitch creating impact on the green's tendency of break. The best way to shave a few shots off your round is to capitalize on understanding these tendencies.

    Are you ever going to win the Masters? I'm guessing no, but the same techniques Crenshaw used to do so may be able to help you on the course.

    If there is one thing that is constant about the game of golf it is that conditions are constantly changing. On a dry hot summer day, as the moisture in the green dries up it can drastically change the speed.

    Over the years I have found a few practice drills that helped me incorporate feel for learning and reading the tendencies on the golf course and I think they can help you, whether you're a scratch golfer or just picking up the game:

    1. Use the entire practice green: Find two cups on the practice green that are the furthest apart or putt from fringe to fringe. The goal hear is to develop feel for the speed of the green. Is the tendency for the ball to roll out an extra few feet or is it stopping shorter than yesterday due to a rain storm the night before.
    2. Tee it up: Grab a handful of tees and place one tee in the ground for a starting position then place four tees at various lengths about a yard apart from the original tee. My game is to roll three balls to each of the four tees, never leaving a putt short of the target tee but never going past a grip length from it.
    3. Go high or go home: Find two cups 15-20' apart. Putt a few to one cup then reverse and putt to the other. The key is to never leave one short, always have the putt approach from the high side. So if the putt is right to left, make sure the ball never rolls short left of the cup, always in or above if missed.

    Try to incorporate a few of these drills into your warmup to assess the daily tendencies. Have a great season and take time to enjoy the opportunity to learn the greens and their tendencies as Crenshaw does.

    Schedule a lesson with your local golf professional and have them assist you in developing your short game.


    Have any questions for Dobbs about his advice or want some more tips? Leave questions in the comments below and he'll gladly help you out.

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    file photo

    The University of Michigan Museum of Art has agreed to join the Google Art Project, which aims to increase access to the world's art treasures.

    More than 150 museums participate in the project, which collects images of artworks, and information about them, in a central online location. More than 40,000 high-resolution images are already online. UMMA is part of the first group of university museums to join.

    From today's announcement:

    The potential impact might not be so farfetched: In a matter of several years, Google Art Project could have the type of effect on the international art museum world and cultural literacy comparable to what "googling" has meant for Internet searchers—a greater access to information and broader understanding of the connection among cultures.

    On Friday, April 19, the University of Michigan Museum of Art joins a list of many of the most renowned international art museums participating in the Google Art Project, an online virtual journey to a front-row seat to some of the most fascinating artworks in the world. The project, which was launched two years ago, has grown from about a dozen museums to more than 150 museums in 40 countries. More than 40,000 high-resolution objects are available to be viewed.

    The news media is invited to UMMA at 9:30 a.m. Friday for a special gathering in the museum apse, where UMMA Director Joseph Rosa will be joined by Mike Miller, a U-M graduate, who is head of Ann Arbor, Google. Rosa and Miller will demonstrate the current online features of the Google Art Project and discuss the potential for increasing the popularity of art, visitation at art museums and elevating the discussion about art history and the visual arts.

    Rep. John Dingell, who represents Michigan's 12th Congressional District, will be also in attendance. Dingell sponsors an annual art competition for high school students and serves on the House Committee for Energy and Commerce. He is also an outspoken advocate for improving cultural literacy in K-12 education.

    "The Google Art Project is very important to us," Rosa said. "We serve as a cultural nexus for the university, but we also understand our global responsibility in making the arts accessible to the masses. Not to negate the value of seeing a work of art in person, but we believe that it is just as important to interact with this visually literate generation in the digital space as well.

    "We see value in both visitors to our museum, and to our website and online collections. It is an opportunity to allow for students and educators to make connections and interpret art without physical barriers."

    UMMA is among the first group of American university art museums to participate in the project, joining Yale University, Princeton University, Rutgers University and the University of Texas. Featured art museums include Tate Gallery, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Uffizi, Florence, Italy; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; White House, Washington, D.C.; Australian Rock Art Gallery at Griffith University, Brisbane; Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar; and Hong Kong Museum of Art.

    Curators selected 60 images from UMMA's collection, which collectively reflect the expansive range of the museum's encyclopedic collection, including works from Claude Monet, James Abbott Whistler, Eastman Johnson, Gurcino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri), Tiffany and Hosoda Eishi. UMMA has more than 19,000 objects, including artwork from artists in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe.

    The Google Art Project aims to increase the popularity and accessibility to art museums at a time when many museums are struggling financially. Generally, revenue is derived from attendance along with public support and private fundraising. At UMMA, revenue is generated through annual allocations from the university's general budget, fundraising and earned income. There is no admission charge to the museum.

    Further, the ease in which to access the Google Art Project provides K-12 teachers with a valuable tool for teaching art history, Rosa said. Annually, about 5,000 K-12 students visit UMMA, and the museum's education department provides tours and outreach to a range of pubic, private and charter schools.

    For more information, see the Google Art Project page, or the UMMA homepage.

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    UM Angell Hall PillarMullan.jpg

    A man leaves Angell Hall, one of the largest classroom buildings at the University of Michigan.

    Eli Gurfinkel | The Ann Arbor News

    The average University of Michigan professor earns an annual salary of $110,200 and receives another $27,500 worth of benefits, according to a new report by the American Association of University Professors.

    U-M salaries are the highest of any public university in the state.

    A breakdown of average pay in 2012-13 by faculty rank:

    • Full professors: $148,700 salary, $32,900 worth of benefits.
    • Associate professors: $101,100 salary, $26,800 worth of benefits
    • Assistant professors: $88,600 salary, $24,900 worth of benefits
    • Instructors: $66,100 salary, $20,800 worth of benefits

    According to the report, more than 90 percent of U-M's full and associate professors are tenured. Less than 2 percent of assistant professors are tenured.

    Michigan public universities' average faculty salaries

    • Michigan: $110,200
    • Michigan State: $94,600
    • Wayne State: $86,400
    • Michigan-Dearborn: $85,200
    • Michigan Tech: $82,800
    • Western Michigan: $80,800
    • Eastern Michigan: $77,900
    • Central Michigan: $76,700
    • Oakland: $75,800
    • Ferris State: $73,300
    • Michigan-Flint: $70,200
    • Grand Valley State: $69,900
    • Northern Michigan: $65,700
    • Source: AAUP

      Note: Lake Superior State and Saginaw Valley State universities were not included in the AAUP's report.

    Full professors averaged a 3.5 percent pay increase over the previous year, the report states.

    The report includes the salaries of nearly 2,150 U-M faculty. Medical school faculty are not represented in the report, although law, dentistry, nursing, engineering and business professors are.

    How does the average faculty salary at U-M compare to salaries at other institutions?

    The average salary among U.S. doctoral institutions, both public and private, is $96,700. When only considering public institutions, the average salary drops to $89,700. U-M faculty pay ranks in the top 20th percentile of pay at doctoral institutions.

    The average salary among four-year doctoral institutions in the Midwest region that includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin is $94,000.

    Michigan's other two research universities, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, offer average salaries of $94,600 and $86,400, respectively. Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti offers an average salary of $77,900.

    A breakdown of full professor salaries among U-M's top competitors. (2012 data from U-M.)

    • Harvard University: $203,699
    • University of Chicago: $197,788
    • Stanford University: $192,915
    • University of Pennsylvania: $181,812
    • Yale University: $180,431
    • Columbia University: $180,321
    • Univ. of California at Los Angeles: $159,808
    • Univ. of California at Berkley: $152,521
    • University of Michigan: $148,763
    • University of North Carolina: $143,983
    • University of Texas: $140,583
    • University of Maryland: $136,359
    • Ohio State University: $130,143
    The average U-M salary is on par with the average faculty salary offered by fellow Big Ten schools University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ohio State University and under the $142,000 average salary offered at Northwestern.

    The salaries of highly ranked private institutions top what Michigan offers. The average salary at Harvard University is $157,000; at Princeton University it's $153,100; and at Columbia University it's $158,100.

    Meanwhile, U-M's average faculty salary is on par with those offered by top public institutions. The average faculty salary at the University of California's Berkley campus is $130,600; at U-C's Los Angeles campus it's $135,700; at the University of Virginia it's $109,400; and at the University of Texas at Austin it's $103,600.

    Meanwhile, pay figures reveal a gender gap among the top echelon of teachers at U-M. There are 765 male full professors and 278 female full professors who had their salary reported to the AAUP. The average male salary among full professors at U-M is $155,300, while the average female full professor earns $130,400.

    Kim Kearfott, head of U-M's faculty senate, and Frederick Askari, leader of the faculty government's Committee on the Economic Status of the Faculty Members, could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.

    Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at kelliewoodhouse@annarbor.com or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.

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    A University of Michigan Hospital and Health Centers employee is on leave Friday after university police launched an investigation into fraudulent prescriptions the man was accused of filling.


    Courtesy of U-M Police

    University of Michigan Police spokeswoman Diane Brown said a local pharmacy notified police Tuesday that a man was filling fraudulent prescriptions. Brown said preliminary review of the case shows the man may have been doing this since August.

    “The employee has been put on leave during the investigation,” Brown said.

    The investigation is in its early stages and no charges have been filed against the employee, Brown said. It’s not clear what position the man had at the hospital.

    Brown did not immediately know the man’s age Friday afternoon. She said he was getting prescription drugs, but the exact type of the drugs was still under investigation.

    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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    Ann Arbor police are investigating a home invasion reported Thursday evening where a window was smashed allowing a suspect to enter a home and steal items.

    Ann Arbor police Lt. Renee Bush said police were sent at 6:24 p.m. Thursday to a home in the 200 block of Packard Street. Bush said a window was broken at the home, allowing someone to enter.

    Many items in the home “had been disturbed,” Bush said. Jewelry, a laptop, cash, DVDs and CDs were reported stolen.

    Suspect information was not available Friday morning.

    Anyone with any information about this incident is encouraged to call the Ann Arbor police anonymous tip line at 734-794-6930 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAK UP (773-2587).

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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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    Want to see 10 to 20 tiny drones fly over the Michigan Stadium field?

    Come Robotics Day Monday and you'll have the chance.


    An Xbox gamepad is used to steer a robot during last year's Robotics Day at U-M.

    Chris Asadian | AnnArbor.com

    University of Michigan is hosting its annual Robotics Day on Monday, April 15. It's a conference highlighting what's developing in the field of robots and showcasing some of the university's latest research in the area.

    This year's event will focus on autonomous vehicles, a topic that was also popular during last year's event.

    Gov. Rick Snyder will kick off the day discussing how such vehicles factor into the state's future. In his January State of the State address, Snyder said he supported autonomous vehicle licensing in Michigan. He and other state officials are hopeful that Michigan can solidify its place as a hotbed for autonomous vehicle research.

    Some 3,000 cars, and a few bicycles and motorcycles, equipped with vehicle-to-vehcile wireless communication technology are driving around Ann Arbor this year, testing exactly what happens when vehicles try to communicate with each other on the roads of a metropolitan area.


    Are self-driving cars critical to southeast Michigan's future? That question will be discussed Monday during Robotics Day.

    USDOT photo

    And while the deployment is testing safety features that allow technology-equipped cars to tell drivers when they are in danger of crashing or when there's excessive traffic, the pilot project is being closely watched by folks who see self-driving cars becoming reality in the not-so-far future.

    Several universities will showcase their robotics projects throughout the day and industry and government groups will be in attendance.

    Sen. Carl Levin will also talk at the event, as will autonomous vehicle expert Alberto Broggi, who will discuss what is believed to be the longest test for autonomous driving— an 8,000 mile trip from Italy to China.

    The school expects a turnout of 450 to 500 attendees.

    Robotics Day takes place Monday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Michigan Stadium Jack Roth Stadium Club. Parking will be available on the Michigan Stadium concourse. Snyder's talk begins at 9:15 a.m.

    The flying display of robotic aerial vehicles over the Michigan Stadium field takes place at noon.

    Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at kelliewoodhouse@annarbor.com or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.

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    Superintendent Patricia Green addresses the class of 2012 during a commencement ceremony at the Convocation Center at Eastern Michigan University on June 7, 2012.

    Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com file photo

    In her resignation letter, Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Green urged the Board of Education to continue the work she started in moving the district to zero-based budgeting.

    She gave no reason, other than plans to retire, for stepping down at this time.

    The superintendent submitted her letter of resignation to board President Deb Mexicotte early Thursday morning at the end of the board's regular meeting. AAPS officials announced Green's departure to the public in an email at about 5 p.m. Thursday. Both Green and Mexicotte issued a statement to the community.

    Green's statement to the public said she will be retiring after 43 years in public education and indicated she plans to spend her retirement traveling, reconnecting with friends and family, whom she has neglected, and doing some reflective writing about her experiences in education.

    Neither the formal resignation letter, which was obtained by AnnArbor.com, nor Green's statement to the community, elaborates on her decision to retire. Attempts to contact Green Thursday and Friday for an interview have been unsuccessful.

    Last fall, Green, members of her executive cabinet and the finance department began moving the district away from a method of budgeting called "bottom-line accountability" toward "line-by-line accountability" — the first step in zero-based budgeting. In an interview with AnnArbor.com in early March, Green said the district is in the process of changing all its budget documents and tools to account for each expenditure under every department and building budget.

    She explained zero-based budgeting forces officials to identify and prioritize school programs and expenditures. Then each year, the line item starts at zero and "gets funded to the target," Green said. She added it is like turning the budget process on its head — justifying expenditures rather than debating what to cut.

    Green wrote in her resignation letter dated April 10 that zero-based budgeting is "absolutely essential to the future of the district." She also stated she is "certain" Chief Financial Officer Nancy Hoover will be able to "lead the charge" on this initiative.

    Green appointed Hoover, director of finance, to the CFO position in late February, giving her additional responsibilities, after Deputy Superintendent for Operations Robert Allen resigned to take a job in North Carolina. Green decided not to refill Allen's position and said she wanted to review how the district is organized. It is unclear how Green's resignation will impact her preliminary plans to restructure the district's central administration.

    Green, whose salary is $245,000, signed a five-year contract when she came to the district in July 2011 from North Allegheny School District in Pennsylvania, where she had served as superintendent since 2002. Prior to working in Pennsylvania, Green worked for Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland. She and her husband still have a home in Maryland, where her husband lives and owns an orthodontics and periodontics practice.

    Read Green's formal letter of resignation to the board:

    Dear President Mexicotte:

    Please accept my resignation as Superintendent of Schools of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, effective 90 days from today. I plan to retire at that time after 43 years as a professional educator in public education. I have thoroughly enjoyed my entire career and I thank you and the Board for the opportunity to serve this community.

    I urge the Board to follow up on my assessment that the District must move from bottom line accountability to line by line accountability and to fully implement the template developed under my leadership to utilize zero based budgeting (ZBB). Currently, we have put in place the action steps to continue to implement line by line accountability, which have been underway since October 2012, and I am certain that our Chief Financial Officer will lead the charge to migrate fully to ZBB. I believe this is absolutely essential to the future of the District.


    Patricia P. Green, Ph.D.
    Superintendent of Schools
    Ann Arbor Public Schools

    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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    Teachers and support staff within the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts received layoff notices Friday, officials confirmed. The layoffs become effective June 30.

    Nearly 350 teachers and support staff from the Ypsilanti Public Schools district received pink slips, according to Ypsilanti Human Resources Director Sharon Irvine.


    Teachers and support staff within the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts have received layoff notices.

    AnnArbor.com file photo

    Irvine said the notices stem from a board action that was taken on Feb. 4. Irvine said the timing of the notices was developed by consolidation staff to make sure all of collective bargaining agreements were met.

    Ivine said the support staff who received notices were positions such as custodians, bus drivers and maintenance workers.

    Irvine said current teachers should know by the end of April whether they will be rehired. Irvine wasn't sure what the timeline is for the non-instructional staff. The rehiring process is being handled by two separate consultants, Irvine said.

    Willow Run teachers union president Kathleen Miller said 93 Willow Run teachers received notices Friday. Miller said she's been told about 80 percent of current teachers from both districts could be rehired, but she said that number may change.

    "It truly evolves around the student population," Miller said. "I have kids in my class that are saying, "I'm going here or there." A lot of good teachers may not be brought back because the parents just aren't trusting the process... The community has to get involved and support this (new district) or there will be a lot of teachers without jobs."

    Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for AnnArbor.com.Reach her at katreasestafford@annarbor.com or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.

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    041013_Larky_Office _CS-2.jpg

    Gregg Hammerman (left) and Adam Blank aim to help consumers realize their potential discounts through their startup, Larky.

    Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

    Not every startup can do everything “in house.” Most rely on an elaborate network of programmers, designers and funders that can be difficult to manage as it spreads out across the country, or even the world.

    When economic development professionals and technology gurus talk about making Ann Arbor into a regional and national tech-center, they often speak of a necessary “concentration” or “density” of technology companies. While the world is indeed flattening and allowing people to work with each other remotely and wirelessly, physical proximity can be catalyst for the magic that occurs when people with big ideas meet the ones who can bring them to fruition.

    Luckily for Larky, a startup that launched March 19, Ann Arbor’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has developed to a point that the founders were able to find almost everything they needed extremely close to home.

    Larky is the brainchild of Gregg Hammerman and Andrew Bank, who were frustrated by their inability to use discounts they were due from being members of organizations or using certain credit cards. The pair came up with an idea for an app that could be used to both show you where discounts were available and alert you to nearby money-saving opportunities.

    “We’re all entitled to these different perks from museum memberships and other places, but no one can remember what they all are,” Hammerman said.

    “So from a consumer standpoint it’s great. There’s no charge, and you're able to take advantage of all of the discounts and benefits that you should have already known about.”

    Like many tech companies, Larky is able to offer its services to consumers for free by offering details of their habits to the organizations that they belong to. Once an organization signs up with Larky and puts its benefits into the system, Larky tracks what deals members use.

    “There’s a monthly analytics fee, and they don’t get individual user data, but we can tell the organization how many of its members signed up and what they’re searching for,” Hammerman said.

    “That can help them build their program more effectively because if they are trying to get more hotel discounts but more than 90 percent of their members are looking for restaurants, they’re wasting their time. We can also tell them in a conglomerated fashion that your members are also members of these other groups.”


    Larky users add new associations by searching, browsing or noticing popular programs.


    Bringing this technology to launch was no easy task for the co-founders, but Hammerman said the company was able to find much of the support that it needed from other small Ann Arbor companies.

    “We worked with Logic Solutions for software development, and Phire Branding really helped us with our design,” he said. “And we print most of our materials at Kolossos, so they’re local, too.”

    While the company has been acting locally, Hammerman and Bank have been thinking nationally. Some of the largest membership organizations in America, including AAA and the AARP have signed up to put discounts on Larky as well as a number of large alumni associations. The company also features deals available to owners of Visa, American Express, and MasterCard credit cards.

    As part of its goal of attracting vendors and organizations large and small, one of Larky’s most recent additions is the getDowntown program in Ann Arbor. In addition to the unlimited Ann Arbor Transit Authority bus usage, go!pass holders get discounts at a number of Ann Arbor locations.

    “getDowntown is about riding the bus but it’s also about making downtown a more vibrant place and supporting local businesses,” program director Nancy Shore said.

    “This service will add value to the go!pass that downtown employees can get and will hopefully get them into the door of more downtown local shops and restaurants. We want the pass to be something everyone has in their wallet, not just to use on the bus and Larky will help us do that.”

    Housed in North Coast Investors' offices, Larky plans to expand slowly as it adds more organizations and discounts to its application. The company raised a $650,000 seed round that they hope will sustain them until they become revenue positive.

    “What we told our initial investors we would do is build the product so we can have something useful for the world, and sign up a lot of partner associations. We essentially wanted to prove there was a business here,” Hammerman said.

    “If we do raise a next round the pitch would be ‘we’ve proven that organizations will pay to work with us, that users are excited and engaged, and now if we have more money we can take the next step.’”

    The next step might be the creation of an Android app or a more intense marketing campaign. The company’s current marketing strategy primarily hinges on associations and organizations telling members that this new service is available to them.

    Hammerman said the company plans to stay in Ann Arbor as it grows. With so many local partners and customers, it’s tough to see why it would leave.

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

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