The Ypsilanti Community School Board Perpetrated a Sham This Evening

Dedrick Martin and Laura Lisiski should both tender their immediate resignations.

Ypsilanti Community Schools board president David Bates and the rest of the board pulled a fast one on the community this evening. After a rambling explanation of the plan to ask the Washtenaw Intermediate School District to provide an interim superintendent while the two current district bosses stay on for the remainder of their contracts, Bates led what he described as deliberation.

There was no actual deliberation among the members of the board, just a reiteration of the plan. The selection sub-committee had worked out the entire proposal falling last week’s meeting where they failed to make a decision. This meeting was nothing more than a rubber stamp of that plan.

One of the primary rationales for keeping Ypsilanti superintendent Dedrick Martin and Willow Run’s Laura Lisiski was that they would have to pay them anyway for the remainder of their contracts. Given that the all of the existing union contracts are being abrogated by the fact that the districts the contracts were made with will cease to exist at the end of the school year, to argue that the superintendents should be treated any differently is utterly asinine.

Nonetheless, if Martin and Lisiski actually cared about what was best for the district and its students, they would both resign and walk away, allowing the board to move forward with fresh blood in the leadership position without a massive payout that it cannot afford or a protracted legal battle.

Unfortunately, the cowardly actions of Mr. Bates and this board have left the new consolidated district in a very poor position to start this new era.

School district consolidation finally on the table, many years too late!

It’s long overdue, but under the threat of being taken over by an emergency financial manager, the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts are finally seriously considering consolidating into a single entity. While this absolutely needs to happen, it doesn’t go far enough.  Nearly six years ago, I wrote a post on this blog advocating the idea of combining Ypsi, Willow Run and the Lincoln school districts and the situation has deteriorated dramatically since that time.

A combined Willow Run-Ypsilanti district will have about 5,300 students, less than half the number in neighboring Ann Arbor. At the very least, Lincoln (which covers much of southern Ypsilanti Township) should be part of this blended district and I seriously believe that they should be talking about merging with Ann Arbor as well.

The system in Michigan that allows so many tiny districts as well as separate cities and townships hurts everyone this state. I’m a liberal and a believer that there is a place for government in providing essential services like education, infrastructure and so on. But I’m also a pragmatist that understands that we need efficiency in how we deliver those services.

Administrators tend to have high salaries and if we want great teachers we need to pay them a decent salary.  Having many small districts means we are paying for too many administrators leaving less for the rank and file teachers that have to educate the students. It also makes it much more difficult to offer students a variety of elective educational options.

It’s important for residents to participate at the neighborhood school level, but the reality is they need to be willing to give up a bit of the hyper-local control and take advantage of some “economies of scale” in managing schools.

As long as we’re finally talking consolidation, lets take it a few steps further and at least combine more services at the county level such as busing, food services and others. Hopefully, these first steps will finally get our schools back on a more sound financial footing.

Ypsilanti library still wrong on downloadable audio books

Several years ago the Ypsilanti Public Library starting offering its users access to downloadable audio books through a service called Netlibrary.com.  Unfortunately that service was riddled with DRM that wasn’t compatible with anything but Windows computers and PlaysForSure media players. Anyone using an iPod or a Mac was out of luck.  At least that service offered a choice of a couple of thousand titles and with a bit of tweaking the DRM could be stripped so that the files could be played on any device.

The library has now switched to different service that is apparently compatible with all platforms including iPods. Unfortunately, it is even less useful than the Netlibrary system. The service offers a grand total of 64 titles. That’s not a typo, it’s 64 titles. Loans are only available for one week at time and each title is only available to one user at a time. These are digital files, why are they only accessible to one person at a time? This is absolutely ridiculous.  Why even bother to offer a download service with so few titles? It seems like a complete waste of time and money.  If the library is not going to get serious about actually making downloadable content useful to patrons, it should just quit trying.

Eat at Grange! you won’t be sorry 1

grangeMASTHEAD2The Grange Kitchen and Bar is officially opening up on Thursday night in Ann Arbor and we were fortunate to get invited to attend a preview the other night.  Our friend Brandon Johns along with his wife Sara is at the helm for this new eatery on W Liberty in the space formerly occupied by Bella Ciao. Brandon and the crew have transformed the interior of the place from old world Italian to something with a bright, airy country kitchen feel.  That’s appropriate given Brandon’s emphasis on locally grown, seasonal ingredients. That also means that the menu will be changing up regularly as very elements of dishes become available and go away.

One example is the squash blossoms filled with goat cheese that were lightly battered in an almost tempura like coating and fried. These were amazingly tasty and didn’t feel at all greasy. Another of Brandon’s signature appetizers is the date, chorizo and blue cheese which always go quickly when he caters a party.

In spite of the fact that Brandon keeps the menu deliberately short, you’ll find yourself struggling to choose. Personally I went for the grilled halibut with a Portugese style seafood stew. The fish was perfectly cooked and sat amongst a bed of mussels, shrimp and house made chorizo sausage. The best part was the broth that surrounded it which was full of all the flavors combined.  Max had the grilled pork loin with chorizo and buckwheat dumplings while Sofia had the roasted chicken breast with crispy skin and Jules had the steak. The fillet was covered in a bacon-blue cheese crust and accompanied by whipped potatoes and red-wine syrup.

This may have been the first time that the kitchen staff worked together for customers other than the Grange team, but it didn’t matter. All of the food was perfectly prepared and beautifully presented. Our server was also very professional and very well prepared. She was able to explain the various items on the menu and what made selections like the squash blossoms special (that is that they are only available for about two weeks a year).

At Brandon’s last establishment over on Main St, the main courses and starters were also typically well prepared, but desserts were often a bit of a disappointment. This time, Brandon and Sara have taken the feedback to heart and Sara’s sister (this is definitely a family business) is now responsible for preparing desserts. Here again we could find nothing to complain about other than the fact that we were too stuffed to eat more. The blueberry roll, chocolate cake and the fruit and nut tart were all outstanding.

We haven’t had a chance to try the menu at the upstairs bar yet, but for those looking for something a bit lighter than the main menu, it looks like there will be great choices there too. Grange will be open for dinner every night except Sunday and you should definitely check it out.

Changes in the local restaurant scene

Just over a year ago coworker and friend Sara Johns and her husband chef Brandon Johns bought into the Ann Arbor restaurant Vinology. Brandon made tremendous progress with his attempts to create a dining experience based around fresh locally sourced foods.  Food went from being something of an afterthought to the wines at Vinology to coming front and center. Unfortunately the partnership with the majority owners didn’t work out and Brandon has moved on to a new project.

He and Sara along with my boss Rob Cleveland and another partner have bought Bella Ciao on Liberty St and will be transforming it. Bella Ciao will shut down later this month and then re-open in August as the Grange Kitchen and Bar. Brandon plans to continue the local food effort with a rotating menu based on what is available at different times of the year.

Hopefully with full control this time, things will work out better and the Grange will become a permanent fixture on the local restaurant scene.

By the way if you happen to be in downtown Ann Arbor around lunch time, you might want to hit Kerry Town and check out Monahan’s seafood market where they have a daily special that you can find posted on their twitter feed at http://twitter.com/MonahansSeafood. Sparrow’s meats is also doing sandwiches and salads at lunch now over by the checkout counter.

Vinology re-born, food now on a par with wine!

For wine lovers, Vinology has been one of the best places to go in the Ann Arbor area since it opened on north Main St. a couple of years ago.  With a big cellar and knowledgable wine specialists they held regular wine dinners and could always recommend the right wine to go with a meal.  Unfortunately, until recently the meal side of the equation was a bit of a mixed bag.  The menu had too many options and was of inconsistent quality.  For those who have equal or greater interest in the food rather than the wine, there is now great news.

My work colleague Sara Johns and her husband Brandon, recently bought a stake in Vinology.  Brandon was formerly the chef at the Chop House and practises his culinary craft in the kitchen of Vinology. The menu has been drastically pared down and several new dishes have been added.  We went to Vinology for Jules’ birthday dinner the other night and all the dishes were excellent.  The gnocchi with morels that I had was especially good and Jules loved her pan roasted chicken with a whole grain salad.  The asparagus salad with poached duck egg was also a fabulous appetizer. Brandon prefers to use local ingredients wherever possible and the menu will be adjusted periodically to take advantage of in-season produce.

If you’re looking for a great meal and you haven’t been to Vinology since the beginning of June, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Cuban food in Manhattan

I was on the road again this week, having spent a couple of days in Manhattan covering the New York Auto Show.  I can say with complete certainty that although New York and Chicago have better facilities than Cobo Hall in Detroit, we definitely have the best show in North America when it comes to newsworthy content.  One particularly annoying aspect of Manhattan is trying to catch a cab.  Although countless taxis drive by when you’re looking for one, finding one that doesn’t already have passengers can take forever.  After the Kia reception in Wednesday night I stood out in the rain for twenty minutes trying to get a cab.  However, once I finally got one and got back to the hotel it was worth it.  My Autoblog colleagues (John, Damon, Alex and Chris) and I walked about 6 blocks to one of Alex’s favorite restaurants in the city, Victor’s Cafe.  Alex lives in Connecticut and goes into the city fairly regularly.  Victor’s is a Cuban restaurant on W. 52nd and both the food and the service were absolutely outstanding.  I had the most amazing Paella that had shrimp, mussels, lobster, and chorizo.  The coconut flan for dessert was a great finish.  Even John who is a vegan and often has a hard time finding something he likes in restaurants enjoyed the Frijoles Negros.  If you’re ever in New York and looking for a great meal, check out Victor’s Cafe.

Racoon for lunch 3

On the way home today from my last day at the old job, as I was passing the Hyundai Tech Center I noticed a red-tailed hawk having lunch so I pulled into the driveway and grabbed my camera. I approached raptor slowly, snapping pics as I went. Eventually, the hawk decided I was close enough and headed off for the nearby trees.

Zingerman’s must be drinking their own Kool-aid 4

Jules and I stopped by Zingerman’s Roadhouse today with the intention of grabbing some lunch. The food is generally really good at the Roadhouse but it can be erratic at times. Fortunately we had to wait about ten minutes for a table so we perused the menu while waiting. Their prices have really gotten out of line. $9.95 for a burger and $2.50 extra for cheese? Please it’s not that great a burger. Frankly the Sidetrack burgers are better. $19.00 for a sampler plate of five mini-burgers or brisket? After a couple of minutes of pondering these prices we got up and decided to try the Quarter Bistro a few hundred yards away. It was an excellent decision. The food was really good, the service was excellent and the prices were much more reasonable. Franky I have the feeling the Ari and Paul and the team might be reading a little bit too much of their own press. If the quality of the food at the Roadhouse could always be counted on to be outstanding, the prices might justifiable. The reality is that they are not.