Friday, October 30, 2009

WISD millage opponents funded by Ann Arbor real estate company

According to an article in, the opponents of the WISD millage proposal are outspending proponents by nearly $30,000. Most of the money has come from McKinley, an Ann Arbor real estate company.

Albert Berriz is the treasurer of Citizens for Responsible Washtenaw, an organization opposing the millage that would raise operational funds for local school districts. He is also CEO and president of McKinley.

Berriz was one of two community members on's editorial board, but resigned the position due to his involvement in the school enhancement millage campaign. came out against the millage on October 25, 2009.

The Washtenaw Intermediate School District millage election is on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009.

WISD Millage Proposal on the Ballot 11/3/09

On Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009, voters will be asked to approve a millage increase proposal for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD). Although a large part of what the WISD does is related to special education, the purpose of this millage is to enhance operational expenses for all students in the 10 school districts in Washtenaw County. All funds raised will be passed on to local school districts. Neither the WISD nor the state will receive funding from this millage.

For a thorough report on the proposed millage, the reasons for it, the pros and cons, and background information on state and
local funding for K-12 education, I recommend the article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle by Mary Morgan entitled Does It Take a Millage?, October 19, 2009. It includes links to more detailed information and websites supporting and opposing the millage. also provides coverage of the issue here.

According to the Ann Arbor Chronicle article:

  • The proposal on the ballot calls for collecting 2 mills countywide, each year for five years. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 in a property’s taxable value (about half the market value). For a home in Ann Arbor with a market value of $200,000, an increase of 2 mills would add about $200 to the $1700 now paid in school taxes. The increase would raise $30 million to be distributed among the county’s 10 school districts based on the number of pupils in each district.
  • State control of education funding: In 1994 with the passage of Proposal A, the state, with the approval of the voters, took away much of the local control of school funding in exchange for easing escalating local property taxes and creating more equitable funding across the state. Proposal A put a cap of 18 mills on local property taxes for schools, although school districts can raise additional local millages for building construction, repairs, and maintenance.
  • Plugging holes in the state School Aid Fund (SAF): The School Aid Fund is made up of pooled revenues from property taxes, sales, income taxes, and other sources. The state pays a per-pupil-allotment out of this fund which is a variable rate set by the legislature. With declining revenues for the SAF, the fund has been shrinking. The amount available for the current fiscal year is still in dispute and it is possible that as state revenues fall, further cuts could be made later in the year. In the past, money from the state’s General Fund has been used to plug holes in the SAF, but the General Fund revenues are declining sharply. Federal stimulus money has also been used, but is not expected to be available beyond the 2010-11 fiscal year.
  • Local school districts: School districts are still uncertain about how much money they have available this year and are even less certain about what happens next year. The state caps the amount that can be raised from local taxes for operating expenses, but the Washtenaw Intermediate School District is authorized to levy enhancement millages for operating expenses. The millage increase is being proposed to fill the gaps in state and local funding to maintain quality education and to provide some stability in funding over the next 5 years.
  • Pros & Cons: Opponents of the millage contend that the schools have not made sufficient changes to lower their spending and that residents are in no shape to absorb additional taxes. Supporters of the millage say that the schools have been cutting expenses and consolidating services as well as getting some concessions from the unions. They also point to the importance of maintaining quality education to promoting economic development in the county.

Everyone agrees that changes are needed at the state level. Among those changes suggested are moving to a graduated income tax, expanding the state sales tax to services, controlling retirement costs, and considering changing term limits for legislators, all of which would help in the state’s overall financial crisis.

Information on elections in Washtenaw County here.

Information on polling locations here.

Jill Barker
Friends of the Developmentally Disabled

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The University of Michigan studies thinking speed in children with cerebral palsy

This is a request for participants from the University of Michigan Adapted Cognitive Assessment Laboratory in a study of thinking speed in children with cerebral palsy:

The Adapted Cognitive Assessment Lab (ACAL) at the University of Michigan is actively recruiting students to participate in a Thinking Speed Study. Students must be:
  • Between the ages of 8 and 16 years of age.
  • Have a medical diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.
  • Have a parent/guardian present to provide written and informed approval for their child to participate in the study.
  • Have no medical or psychiatric condition that affects the tests, including changing doses of medication or a history of brain injury
Participants can expect to spend two to three hours in the study, and will be paid a $50.00 honorarium for their time and effort.

This study is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education and is approved by the University of Michigan’s Institutional Review Board (HUM00014311).

Standardized testing requires a child to speak, write, or point to answers. This study is designed to separate physical capability from measurement of thinking capability. The ACAL investigators conduct these tests through a computerized program that uses Visual Inspection Time and Assistive Technology. Visual Inspection time is measured by the amount of time a person needs to look at something before they can correctly make a simple judgment about what he/she just saw – slow movement does not mean slow thinking.

To learn more about how your child can participate in the Thinking Speed Study e-mail or call 734-936-6604 or 734-763-6189.

If you are interested in Cerebral Palsy research and Adapted Cognitive Assessment Laboratory studies you may also enroll your child with the University of Michigan’s engage Registry here.

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Adapted Cognitive Assessment Lab
325 E. Eisenhower, Suite 100
Ann Arbor, MI 48108

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Update on Washtenaw County programs and other budget news

Donna Sabourin, the Director of Community Supports and Treatment Services, attended the last Friends of the Developmentally Disabled meeting on September 24th, 2009 and was able to give us an update on CSTS vocational services to people with DD.

Without knowing how much the Washtenaw Community Health Organization will be getting from state general funds, the WCHO granted an extension of the contract with CSTS for 90 days. Some cuts to CSTS were made final by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, but these cuts did not affect vocational and skill-building services.

According to Donna, the WCHO would like CSTS to continue providing vocational services and to take in two other programs that were contracted to other providers. A work skills program that has provided supported employment services to one group of consumers for 10 years would go to CSTS along with a program for another group of consumers that has has had three providers in 5 years. By taking in these two programs, there will be less choice in providers for employment programs, but it will give the second group of consumers more stability. CSTS has also said that the agency can provide these services without increasing staffing, saving money for the WHCO.

At the time of the Friends meeting, Donna said that a tentative agreement on concessions from the employees union had been reached. According to, October 7, 2009, Washtenaw County workers union gives up raise to save jobs, the membership of AFSCME Local 2733 has indeed agreed not to take a previously agreed on 3% raise in 2010 and to forgo a salary adjustment in 2011. The agreement will save $5.2 million over the next two years and 120 - 150 county jobs. The union has also agreed to take 8 "bank days", similar to furlough days.

Bob Guenzel, Washtenaw County Adminstrator, according to, had high praise for the union:
I want to give a special pat on the back to our labor partners...They really came through and, remember, they didn't have to sit down to the table with us at all. They stepped up and, in my mind, really put the county first and put services first.

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners also voted unanimously to restore over $442,750 in human services funding in exchange for $450,000 in capital expense reductions. It appears that the county is on the verge of having a balanced budget for the next two years.

The state is operating on a continuation budget for 30 days while the legislature continues to negotiate a balanced budget. At the September WCHO meeting, there was discussion of the likelihood of severe and unprecedented general fund cuts to the Michigan mental health budget. The state seems unwilling or unable to come up with a long term solution to deficits in mental
health funding. The impact of reduced general funds for mental health will be felt more by people with mental illness than by those who are developmentally disabled.

The WCHO October meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 from 6 - 8 p.m
. at the LRC, 4135 Washtenaw Ave, Ann Arbor. For a schedule of official meetings in Washtenaw County, you can view the calendar of events here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Danny B. is thirty-three. Heavens, what does that make me?

Danny was born on the morning of October 2nd, 1976. He was small, but vigorous, the doctor said. As you can see, he looked a little worried in his first picture. As it turned out, he had a right to be worried.

A precipitous drop in his blood sugar was followed by seizures and brain damage (severe, as it turned out). Danny was transferred to Stanford Hospital from our smaller hospital in Redwood City, California, where he spent the next two weeks. One of the kinder
neurologists at the hospital told us that it might take him longer to learn to walk and talk than it takes other children. We are still waiting.

During that first year we made regular visits to the Stanford Neurology Clinic on Brain Damage day, as I began calling it. In those days Danny was having almost continuous small seizures which made him cranky. Unless he was eating or sleeping, he screamed. We were ushered into a small holding room, always painted a pale green, to wait for several hours before we were seen by the "pretend" doctor, an intern or a resident. Then, with our screaming child, we would wait for another hour for the "real" doctor to appear. He would ratchet up Danny's seizure medications and tell us to come back in a few weeks.

Finally, at one visit, we waited over three hours with our shreiking
infant before a new intern, the "pretend" doctor, walked in the room and said, "What seems to be the problem today?" I wanted to scream at this fool and tell him to look at the records before he walked in the room and "pretended" to be helping our son. John, my husband, was much cooler and told him calmly that if the "real" doctor was not in there to see us within ten minutes, we were going home. We waited twenty minutes and then walked out.

It felt like parent liberation day to us. When we got home, we received a phone call from the "real" doctor, furious that we had walked out. John asked him why they scheduled patients to wait for three hours before being seen? The "real" doctor said, fuming, that Stanford is a teaching hospital and they can't predict when patients will be seen. John said we lived close enough that they could just call when they were almost ready to see us and then we wouldn't have to wait three hours. Interestingly enough, the neurologist wrote an almost apologetic letter to our pediatrician about the incident. We switched to a private neurologist after that. By this time we knew our limits when it came to putting up with unhelpful people and felt a little more in control of the situation with our poor baby boy.

Danny at ten, still not walking and talking, still screeching but not quite as much as he used to, and still having all kinds of problems secondary to cerebral palsy and the brain damage he suffered at birth, but isn't he cute? And his new school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was his and our salvation, especially with the birth of our second son with cerebral palsy and our sweet newly adopted daughter.

Danny is now an exuberant young man, still having "Danny Days" now and then. He had his first party on Thursday as a favored alumni at his old school with yogurt pie for everyone. Today, he celebrated with cupcakes at his group home. Tomorrow, his grandparents will come over to have lunch and blueberry pie, one of Danny's favorites. Eating big gooey desserts is one of his greatest pleasures. His happiness is our happiness.

Happy birthday, Danny Boy!