Ask the Dow Foundation to Stop Funding the Mackinac Center’s Education Research

Photo Credit: Daniel Segura

Photo Credit: Daniel Segura

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has released a statement announcing that the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation (Dow Foundation) has given them one million dollars for “supporting research to help public schools become more responsive, measurable and efficient.”  Grace A. Dow, wife of Dow Chemical Founder Herbert H. Dow, established the Dow Foundation in 1936.  Grace was a teacher until the time of her marriage according to the foundation website.  Dow Foundation grants are given “for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes.”  The Dow Foundation supports many worthy causes and has given out over 531 million dollars since 1936.

While it is great that the Dow Foundation is donating a million dollars for educational research, it is troubling that the Mackinac Center for Public Policy is the organization conducting the research.  The Mackinac Center lacks the necessary credentials to be conducting bonafide educational research.  The Mackinac Center’s Director of Education Policy is Audrey Spalding.  Spalding is a journalism and economics major who previously worked as a reporter.  Spalding works under Research Director Michael Van Beek.  Van Beek holds two degrees in history.  It’s not just that the Mackinac Center lacks trained personnel to conduct educational research, it is that they also support initiatives that would be damaging to public schools.  For instance, the Mackinac Center supports the use of tax payer money for vouchers for private schools according to Van Beek.  However, 69% of Michiganders opposed vouchers when given a chance to vote on them in the year 2000. Additionally, the Mackinac Center oppose government collective bargaining, a right most public school teachers hold dear.

Educational research is a noble cause for the Dow Foundation to support.  However, supporting the Mackinac Center is not supporting education, it is supporting an organization with an anti-government political agenda.  There are many non-political organizations that would put the Dow Foundation grant to better use.  The American Education Research Association (AERA) might be a good candidate.  If you too believe that the Mackinac Center’s agenda for public schools is harmful, join me in signing the petition asking the Dow Foundation to rescind their grant to the Mackinac Center and instead give it to a more qualified and more deserving institution.

Posted in Mackinac Center, Schools | 1 Comment

Harbaugh’s Contract an Example of Gender Discrimination in College Coaching

Human beings are great at justifying pretty much any belief they have.  For instance, both the Bible and the U.S. Constitution were used to justify the continuation of slavery in the United States.  Likewise, people seem quick to justify multi-million dollar college coaching salaries for men’s sports but not for women’s sports. While not as nefarious as slavery, discrimination is still something we should be unilaterally against.  Which is why we should also be against the contract signed by Jim Harbaugh, University of Michigan’s new head football coach.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, the average salary of a Division I-A coach of a men’s team in 2013 was $531,826 while head coaches of women’s teams averaged only $140,457.  The University of Michigan men’s head coaches averaged $578,279 and the women’s head coaches averaged $175,339.  So the University of Michigan’s pay gap is not out of the ordinary for college coaching.  It is out of the ordinary among all professions though.  According to a report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), college educated women make 7% less even when controlling for “occupation, major, hours worked, parenthood, and many other factors.” While college educated women are paid 7% less than their male counterparts, college educated coaches of women’s teams are paid 379% less than coaches of men’s teams!

The most often used justification for such gender discrimination in college coaching pay is the amount of revenue generated by men’s sports.  According to the previously cited data from the U.S. Department of Education, University of Michigan (UofM) men’s teams netted almost $60 million while women’s teams actually lost a little over $20 million in 2013.  Some have said that paying more for coaches whose sports generate more revenue for their college is akin to paying salespeople for generating more revenue for their business.  Yet, that argument falls short when you consider Harbaugh is making seven million dollars this year while UofM’s President is making less than a million dollars.  Harbaugh is only in charge of the football program while Mark Schlissel is in charge of the entire University!  Surely, no General Motors car salesman makes more than the CEO of General Motors, let alone seven times more!  But more significant than that is understanding public universities are not private sector businesses.  At a public university, you should be paid for the amount of time you put in, your commitment to the program, and the quality of the outcome, not for the amount of revenue you raise.  That is how it works in the high school ranks.  The coaching contracts for Rockford High School and Clarkston High School reveal their head football coaches are paid the same amount as their head women’s basketball coach, assuming they have the same number of years of service.  These are two big time high school programs with multiple state titles in football, and I’m sure the football program brings in more revenue than the girl’s basketball program.   Other sports that require less of a time commitment pay less.

I’m not naïve. I do not expect Division 1-A universities will reign in coaching pay on their own.  After all, they are in the midst of an arms race.  The only way to fix this problem is to do it as part of reforming the entire non-profit system.  After all, examples of outrageous compensation exist in all areas of the non-profit world. What we need is a maximum wage for non-profits.  For individuals who want to make a fortune, they should move into the private sector.  A public university should not be able to compete with a professional league when it comes to coaching pay.  Side note: The NFL is actually a non-profit that pays their commissioner 29.5 million a year.

If men’s coaches were paid less in college, and if pay were equalized, there would be more money to take care of the athletes who actually play the game that people come to watch. Money could be set aside to pay for future health issues that occur as a result of playing the sport.  The same day that Harbaugh was named UofM’s head coach, Governor Snyder signed legislation to prevent student athletes from unionizing.  So players will not be able to make these changes through old fashion organizing.

Before you go criticizing me as some leftist intellectual who is anti-football, consider that I coached football for the better part of two decades.  Before you criticize me for being a Michigan State fan, which I am guilty of, consider that I made UofM the focus of this article only because their coaching hire has been in the news non-stop these past several weeks and that makes this discussion timely.  Before you go discounting my entire argument, ask yourself if you would have used the Bible or the Constitution to justify slavery if you had a stake in the slave trade industry.  Just because you can justify your argument does not mean that it is moral, ethical, or that it should be legal.

Posted in Equality, Sports | Leave a comment

Fore! GVSU Charter Office Spends Your School Tax Dollars on Golf Outings

English: Golf balls. Français : Des balles de ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michigan charter schools are required by law to have an authorizer.  According to the law, “the authorizing body is responsible for overseeing compliance by the board of directors with the contract and all applicable law.”  To provide this oversight, the authorizer captures three percent of  per pupil funding for each student.  According to Bill DiSessa, a spokesman with the Department of Education, there are “few restrictions on how authorizers may use their 3% administrative fee.”  Without restrictions like most public school bodies have, authorizers apparently don’t mind spending your tax money on just about anything.


Case in point: Grand Valley State Charter Office puts on two golf outings each year, one on each side of the state.  Each charter school it authorizes can have four board members attend.  When I contacted GVSU about the golf outings, I was pleased to get a prompt response from Tim Wood who runs the GVSU Charter School Office (CSO). Wood said, “The GVSU CSO pays for the golf outing.  The outing is really an opportunity to thank volunteer board members, charter school administrators, and the profs that assist with our summer camp and campus visits for all their work throughout the school year.” When I inquired how they pay for the golf outing, Wood replied “The overwhelming majority of the GVSU Charter School Office (CSO) budget comes from the 3% administration fee.” 


GVSU authorizes 47 charter schools.  They have a staff of 22 people to oversee those schools.  Tim Wood ,who made $137,700 a year the last time it was reported, oversees the overseers.  Yet, GVSU and ten other authorizers were put on notice by the state of Michigan for “deficiencies in key factors of oversight.”  If GVSU’s football coach had performed as poorly as Wood has, surely he would have been fired and it would have been front-page news.


Recently, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers said Michigan only follows three of their 27 best practices!  When a charter advocacy group gives Michigan charter schools an 11 percent score, you know we have a “Wild West” type system.  I believe the state should pull the plug on all authorizers and create its own authorizing body.  The opposition to that plan would be strong because authorizers are making a lot of money off our pupils.  If charter authorizers have taught anyone anything, it is that Tom Brokow’s famous statement is true: It is easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.


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Mackinac Center Criticizes MEA Raises After Giving Their President An 18% Raise


The Free Press article that fails to mention the Mackinac Center’s President’s pay.

The conservative “think tank” Mackinac Center For Public Policy just issued a new report called “MEA Executives Take Big Pay Raises While Liabilities Continue to Grow.”  The Detroit Free Press liked it so much they made it into an article of their own and ran it on the third page.  Not surprisingly, there is more to the story than what appears in the Mackinac Center report or in the Free Press article.

The Mackinac Center uses the MEA Labor Organization Annual Report to highlight the pay increases of four of the Michigan Education Association’s (MEA) leaders.  Their report notes that Secretary-Treasurer Rick Trainor’s salary increased 44 percent, Vice President Nancy Strachan’s salary increased 16 percent, President Steve Cook’s salary increased 11 percent, and Executive Director Gretchen Dziadosz’s salary increased 6 percent.  The average raise of these four individuals is 19%.  Dziadosz was the highest paid MEA leader last year making $224,858.  I am told, but don’t have proof, that these salaries include reimbursements and therefore do not paint an accurate picture of these employee’s compensation.  However, let’s just assume that the Mackinac Center’s numbers are correct, and then let’s turn the spotlight onto the Mackinac Center itself.

According to the Mackinac Center’s 2012 and 2013 990 forms (they are a non-profit too), Mackinac Center President Joseph Lehman received an 18% pay hike.  Lehman was compensated a total of $233,401! So Lehman makes more than anyone in the MEA, and his percentage raise was greater than the raise received by three of the four MEA members that the Mackinac Center targeted. Unlike the MEA’s report, the Mackinac Center’s report leaves off some of their top staff members.  For instance, Audrey Spalding, their Director of Education Policy, is not listed on the report.  I was particularly interested in her compensation since I recently uncovered what I believe to be a major conflict of interest regarding Ms. Spalding’s service on a charter school board in Taylor.

Another reason that the Mackinac Center lacks credibility in this debate is that they don’t disclose their funding. We know the MEA’s executives are being compensated by 144,000 members who voluntarily pay their dues.  Meanwhile, the Mackinac Center operates via so-called “dark money.”  I’m sure if they would release their donor list we would find the names of some of Michigan’s billionaires, whose own wealth increased 22% last year.

Sure, executive pay is out of control everywhere, including in the non-profit sector.  Last year we learned that the President of the Susan G. Komen Foundation received a 64% raise and made $684,000!  Closer to home, I recently learned that Michigan High School Athletic Association President John “Jack” Roberts makes $251,109 from educational athletics!  Clearly, we need to reform what it means to be “non-profit.”

If, I say if, Michigan Education Association Executives took home big raises last year, then I’m disappointed in their leadership.  Yet, I’m wise enough to know better than to take the Mackinac Center’s word for it.  Since their inception, they have taken to undermining public schools, teachers, and workers of all kinds.  They are a propaganda machine for conservative millionaires and billionaires whose main goals are to profitize everything, pay as little tax as possible, and to destroy any organized opposition to their way of life (i.e. unions).  As long as our “free press” does as bad a job of reporting as the Free Press did in this instance, the Mackinac Center will continue to make progress for the millionaires and billionaires behind the dark money curtain.

Posted in Mackinac Center | Leave a comment

How One of Governor Snyder’s 51 Executive Orders Hampered Charities

Governor Snyder

Governor Snyder

Oh how conservatives have taken to bashing President Obama for taking executive action on immigration.  Even Saturday Night Live poked fun at Obama for using an executive order instead of waiting for Congress to pass a bill, which many believe would never have happened.  Yet, conservatives are pretty quiet on the 51 executive orders signed by Governor Snyder.  One of these executive orders caused serious problems for charities, even delaying much needed fundraisers for one charity by nearly two years!  What follows is just one example of executive action gone wrong.

Early in 2012, a 501(c)3 non-profit that I am a member of began the qualifying process to hold charitable gaming fundraisers.  We went through all the steps required by the state including being recognized by the local township.  By winter, we received a notice from the Charitable Gaming Division that we were approved to conduct charitable gaming under PA 382 of 1972.  It turned out that notice was only good for making paper airplanes.  At about the same time we were approved, the Governor bypassed the legislature and issued an executive order that transferred charitable gaming licensing like poker, but not bingo or raffles, to the Gaming Control Board.  When I contacted the Gaming Control Board about an event we were planning, they refused to recognize us as an approved organization despite our approval letter.  A call the the Charitable Gaming Division hoping they would clear up the matter didn’t help.  I was told they were just as confused about the process as I was.  So, we were back to square one.

Actually, we were back to square negative one.  The Gaming Control Board’s Executive Director decided he should also throw around some executive authority and he created a moratorium on new locations.  We were told we could only host an event at our own venue, which wasn’t possible, or at an already approved venue.  No venues in our rural county, or any neighboring county, were approved that I was aware of, and the Gaming Control Board told me they couldn’t supply a list of approved venues to help us out!  So we began looking for a new home location that would work for holding a poker tournament. We found a location, submitted all the change of address forms to the State and Federal Government, and then resubmitted our application.  Now a year had passed.

Several weeks later, instead of receiving an approval, we received an additional list of questions to answer, many of which could have been put on the original application.  We submitted that information and waited the six weeks we were told it would take to get approved.  Six weeks passed and nothing happened.  When I called to complain, I was given some surprising news.  Charitable Gaming Board Executive Director Richard Kalm used the power under Governor Snyder’s executive order to issue a whole list of “emergency rules.”  When I called and asked to talk directly to Kalm to explain our situation, I was told he didn’t have time to talk to me.  Come to find out, I wasn’t alone in my frustration with Snyder and Kalm’s overreach.  A lawsuit was filed on behalf of charities and the Senate passed a bill to try to prevent the rules from being implemented. Neither were successful.  Republican Rick Jones called the regulations “extremely unfair.” So once again the rules for approval were changed on us mid-game and without notice. Now a year and a half had passed.

Once again we took to filling out more paperwork. This time we had to submit detailed information on our dealers, and even more information on our location despite the fact that a Gaming Control Board official had visited the location and met with the owners of the building!  After all of that, and more twists and turns that I won’t bore you with, we were finally approved nearly two years after starting the process!  Had we have known it would have taken that long, we probably would have opted for a bake sale.

One of Governor Snyder’s main weaknesses is his inconsistency.  He repealed the motorcycle helmet law causing as many as 12 more deaths a year, but then he acts unilaterally to complicate fundraising for all charities because of a few bad apples.  He passes right-to-work for most public employees, but he exempts policemen and firemen. He says he will make government more efficient, then he issues executive orders that confuse the people they effect and the people who are supposed to implement the rules. He says that Washington D.C. should be more like Lansing, then he uses the sameWashington D.C. tactics to get his way regardless of what anyone else thinks.  I’d be wiling to bet that Governor Snyder will continue to struggle with consistency and fairness over the next four years.  Then again, to make that bet I might have to file paperwork with the state, and I don’t have an extra two years on my hands!

Posted in Richard Snyder | Leave a comment

Five Great Contemporary Economic Justice Songs

If you’re like me, you are still seeing too much red from the recent mid-term elections to think clearly.  So, let’s talk about music instead of elections.   In the past few years, I have stumbled on five great songs with economic justice themes.  Three of the five artists are from Michigan, and one is from Wisconsin and plays shows in Michigan each year.  If you enjoy these songs, you might be interested in knowing that the progressive conference known as Netroots Nation has kicked off a fundraising effort to bring “today’s protest bands and artists into the national spotlight again.”  You can help them reach their goal by going to their Indeigogo page and contributing to the cause.  Thanks for listening.  Now take a listen.  

Artist: Mute Flutes
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Song: American Dream
Best Line: “Some say the government has come to save us.  Some say the government is here to steal.  Well then I just keep on working and paying all these bills: I am a cog within this corporation’s wheel.”

Artist: Willy Porter
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Song: How to Rob a Bank
Best Line: “Some say I’ll need a driver, a Nixon mask and gun,
but let me tell you brothers and sisters that’s not how you get a bank job done.
You can’t walk in there brazen with an Uzi like Patty Hearst.
I’m gonna secure myself a seat on the board of directors first.
That’s how you rob a bank.”

Artist: Drew Nelson
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Song: Promise Land
Best Line: “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa that’s how it is.  Just gettin’ by is the plan. Welcome to the world of the working poor.  Here in the promise land.”

Artist: Keb Mo
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Song: More for Your Money
Best Line: “Way back then daddy had his own business.  He was a self made man; he was independent.  Then they opened a store that took a city block.  What ever you need you know they got. It was a high price to pay to get more for your money today.”

Artist: Joshua Davis
Location: Traverse City, Michigan
Song: Working Man’s Hymn
Best Line: “Some people hungry for the green back bill, some folks hunger for the top of the hill, some people just trying to get a decent meal. I know that we can turn it around.”

Posted in Wexford County | Leave a comment

MLive Gets Lambasted by Readers for Making Endorsements

There was a time that newspapers were purposefully partisan.  People chose their newspaper based on their political leanings, like one might chosoe Fox News or MSNBC for their T.V. news today.  I can only assume that newspaper endorsements that occur today are left over from that bygone era.  These days it seems like bad form to claim to be objective and then endorse any politician.  I guess I’m not alone in that opinion.  Yesterday, MLive endorsed our controversial Attorney General Bill Schuette.  That was enough to send their readers into a conniption fit.  Here are a few of my favorite comments against MLive’s endorsement.

Tyler wrote “Media shouldn’t be endorsing anyone.  Any respectable mass media outlet is supposed to be politically impartial.”

Dan wrote “Mlive’s credibility is in question with this revelation.” 

Meeko wrote “Yet again what a shame.  Mlive . . . should stick to bringing us the news. Just pathetic.”

Donna wrote “‘Over the next four years, we hope to see Schuette’s priorities more in line with those of Michigan’s general population. We would advise him to follow his own words and receive instead of broadcast.’ The editorial board can write that claptrap and still endorse Schuette?”

Matt wrote “Why doesn’t MLive just come out as being partisan? Most people know this is the case.”

Jake says “This is why I only read the comments (not your articles) for entertainment.”

Matt says “Dear MLive: The moment you post YOUR editorial board’s endorsements as an article, it becomes YOUR endorsement, regardless of how you try to spin it. Also, just because something is long-standing or traditional doesn’t make it right. Every time you post an editorial board endorsement, you get major backlash from almost every commenter. Perhaps you should take a moment and actually listen and pay attention to your readers–they don’t want you publishing the editorial boards endorsements, so perhaps it’s time to stop this practice.”

MLive responded to several of these complaints stating “Editorial board opinion pieces and endorsements are a long-standing component of journalism.”  There are a lot of longstanding traditions that should be killed off.  Newspaper endorsements should be at the top of the list.

Note: Several other papers across the state released their endorsements and they were met with similar ire from their readers.  Kudos to smaller papers like the Traverse City Record Eagle who did not endorse either candidate, and the Cadillac News who does not endorse any candidates.

Posted in 2014 Election | Leave a comment

State Rep Uses the Pledge of Allegiance to Justify Discrimination Against LGBT People


Phil Potvin in his Phil Potvin hat.

Phil Potvin, Republican Representative of the 102nd District, is a “fortunate son” of a successful businessman.  To further borrow from the lyrics of the Credence Clearwater Revival hit, Potvin seems “born to wave the flag.”  In fact, Potvin likes the flag so much that it covers the bill of his Phil Potvin hat.  Anyone who loves the flag that much surely loves the Pledge of Allegiance too.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t use it to, say, defend your homophobic views.

When Potvin was asked by the Northern Express Newsweekly if he supported expansion of Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals from discrimination, his entire response was “No. We are one nation under God, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.” 

Let’s set aside for the moment that he actually got the pledge wrong.  In my book, freedom would mean that you are free to love who you want, and justice would mean that an employer shouldn’t legally be able to fire you from your job because of who you love.  I guess Potvin and I read different books.  I imagine he doesn’t share my appreciation for Credence Clearwater Revival either.

Posted in Equality, Phil Potvin | Leave a comment

Governor Candidate’s Lack of Presence “Up North” Could Prove Costly


Perhaps the only Mark Schauer sign in Wexford County.

If you live in a strong Republican or Democratic area, or in a gerrymandered district, you are probably used to your vote not meaning much.  However, your vote for Governor and Senator will matter come November 4th.  While Gary Peters has a pretty comfortable lead, and will likely be our next U.S. Senator, the Governor’s race is a toss up.  Mark Schauer is slightly behind Governor Snyder in the polls, but the race is within the margin of error.

Considering the tightness of the Governor’s race, you would think that the candidates would be crisscrossing the state looking for votes.  While that may be true, neither the criss nor the cross are occurring in Northern Michigan.  For instance, I live in Wexford County. Mark Schauer made one campaign stop here.  That occurred over a year ago and was held during the work week at 2:30 in the afternoon.  Governor Snyder hasn’t made any campaign stops here to my knowledge.  When it comes to getting supporters yard signs, the Snyder campaign has made them available at a local Republican campaign office.  To get a Mark Schauer sign I was told I would have to drive 44 miles to Clare.  In fact, in the 21 most Northern Counties in the Lower Peninsula only 3 have locations where Mark Schaur’s yard signs can be can be obtained.  I know yard signs don’t vote, but a total lack of presence by the Schauer campaign cannot be beneficial.

When Lon Johnson became the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, he said the Democrats would “fight everywhere.” Since Johnson had just attempted to win election as a state representative “up north” in the 103rd district, I was convinced. However, I haven’t seen any change between this election and the last one in the Democratic Party.  I also haven’t seen any change in the Republican Party who count on votes “up north” without actually working for them.  If Schauer or Snyder lose by a few percent or less, you have to wonder if  their general disregard for pretty much all of Northern Michigan didn’t contribute to the loss.  It’s never wise to take voters, or votes, for granted.

Posted in 2014 Election, Richard Snyder, Wexford County | Leave a comment

Moolenaar Disses Voters in Favor of Special Interest Meeting


Moolenaar speaking with a Chamber of Commerce supporter.

Republican John Moolenaar is acting like a congressman even before he finds out if will become one.  That’s right, he is already putting special interest before his constituents.  Moolenaar had agreed to debate Dr. Jeff Holmes at Alma College on Monday, October 20th.  Both men are running for the right to represent the 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The Holmes campaign expected hundreds of people to show up to the event.  A week before the debate was to occur, Moolenaar got an offer he couldn’t refuse.  He was invited to meet with a handful of Chamber of Commerce members in Cadillac.  So Moolenar contacted Alma college last Tuesday to cancel.  Holmes was left to attend the debate alone.

Dr. Holmes' supporters greet John Moolenaar.

Dr. Holmes’ supporters greet John Moolenaar.

Supporters of the Holmes campaign greeted Moolenaar in Cadillac holding sings reading “We Demand a Debate” and “Public Discourse=Democracy.”  One person asked Moolenaar why he was afraid to debate.  Moolenaar only said he wasn’t afraid and walked into the meeting where a half dozen people awaited his arrival.  If Moolenaar is not afraid to debate, then he must be afraid to tell the Chamber of Commerce no.  For that reason, and many more, he will probably fit right into a dysfunctional Congress should he win the seat on November 4th.  The constituents on the other hand, will be the ones who will lose.

Posted in 2014 Election | Leave a comment