TIME Television

Viola Davis Is Creating a Show About Detroit’s First Female Prosecutor

ABC's 2014 Summer TCA Tour Portraits
ABC's 'How to Get Away with Murder' actress Viola Davis poses for a portrait during ABC's 2014 TCA summer press tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 15, 2014 in Beverly Hills. Christopher Polk—Getty Images

Kym Worthy has been called 'the toughest woman in Detroit'

Viola Davis, who plays defense attorney Annalise Keating on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder, is trying her hand at exploring the other side of the courtroom. She’s producing a new ABC drama inspired by Kym Worthy, the badass Detroit prosecutor who has led the charge to investigate the city’s 11,000 backlogged rape kits. (Read more about her quest to revive cold cases here.)

Worthy, who has been called the toughest woman in Detroit, is known for prosecuting former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and perjury, which led to his resignation from office (along with other high-profile scandals.) A sexual assault survivor herself, she’s also revamped the way her office handles rape cases, pioneering a “victim-centered” approach that puts the emphasis on catching rapists rather than questioning victims.

MORE: Here’s what happens when you get a rape kit exam

Viola and her producing partner Julius Tennon will be joined by Debra Martin Chase (Sparkle) to create the new drama Conviction, which will be written by Jason Wilborn (Damages), Deadline reports. Worthy is on board as a consultant.

[DEADLINE]

TIME Education

Inside Detroit’s Plan to Woo Middle-Class Parents to Its Public Schools

Detroit Public School
Detroit Public Schools has closed more than 80 schools due to severe drops in enrollment. Sarah Butrymowicz—Hechinger Report

A central office war room and customer-service tips from Target

Dara Hill diligently scribbled notes as the principal of Detroit’s Nichols Elementary-Middle School led her and several of her neighbors on a tour of the school. A room for special education students was brimming with stuffed animals, but the hallways were sparsely decorated. Work displayed in the kindergarten classroom was charming and developmentally appropriate. But why were there six students sitting to the side during gym class?

Hill has two more years before she has to pick a school for her four-year-old daughter, but she and her husband are starting their search now because she is overwhelmed by the number of options in Detroit, and underwhelmed by the quality of many of them. To help with the decision, Hill joined The Best Classroom Project, a Facebook group formed to help parents navigate Detroit’s large and under-resourced school system. Since beginning in 2013, the group has grown to more than 250 parents, a mostly middle and upper-middle class mix of life-long residents and recent transplants. Several of them care about sending their children to public schools. And they are precisely the type of people Detroit school officials need to court as the city claws its way back from bankruptcy.

Thirteen years ago, Detroit’s school system had 200,000 students. Today, it has less than 50,000. It’s saddled with a $127 million deficit and its students perform well below the rest of the state. In the 2013-14 school year, for instance, just 14.6% of Detroit third-graders and 7% of city 11th-graders passed the state math test, according to Michigan education data. And graduation rates also lag. Sixty-five percent of students graduated from Detroit public schools in four years in 2012-13. The state average is 77%.

Such numbers make it tough to convince parents like Hill, a professor of education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, to commit to the city’s public schools. A statewide school choice system allows students in Detroit to attend any school in the district or pick from dozens of charter schools, but it also lets them apply to suburban schools. And many families with the means choose to bypass the system entirely and send their children to area private schools.

Keeping middle class families in the Detroit school system is particularly important because there are only so many of them. About 38% of Detroit households earn more than $35,000 compared to 56% of households across America, according to 2012 American Community Survey figures published by the Census Bureau. For the city to grow its tax base, the schools need to improve. But to significantly improve, the school system needs more students – and the money that comes with them.

“We recognize we’re a central anchor to the city,” says Roderick Brown, the district’s chief strategy officer and the man charged with finding ways to convince more families to pick the public school system. “Our success is tied to the success of the city.”

The War Room

Hill should be an easy mark for the school district. The daughter of German and Jamaican immigrants, she graduated from Detroit Public Schools in the 1980s and fondly remembers a time when black and white students would walk together to the Detroit Public Library after middle school. She met her husband in high school and stayed in the city after graduating, teaching first in the city and then in a nearby suburb.

She watched as Detroit continued a decline that began in the 1960s. And the city’s decades of struggle have been intertwined with those of the school system. Detroit Public Schools was first placed under state control in 1999 and then again in 2009 as test scores continued to falter. The district’s enrollment has fallen to 49,800 students as families moved or opted for charters that promised — but didn’t always deliver — better results. Nearly 40,000 students in the city now attend charter schools. Detroit Public Schools has shuttered more than 80 schools and the state has taken over 15 of the lowest performers in the past 5 years.

On top of that, in May, the district missed the deadline for applying for about $4 million in federal Head Start money because of technical problems. Officials said they would find money elsewhere to offer preschool to all students this school year, not just low-income ones, but to Hill, the incident is indicative of larger administrative problems. “There are things going on that are really good at many of the school levels, but as a district, it’s like, ‘Oh get it together,’” she said. “It just makes you wonder.”

The process of reassuring her begins in a conference room in the school system’s downtown headquarters that has been turned into a campaign-style war room. A translated quote from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” hangs on one wall, next to a poster titled., “THE QUESTION: How shall DPS compete and win the marketplace?” The answer: “Empowered DPS employee’s operating via synchronized, lean agile and leveraged work efforts.”

The business jargon is evidence of Brown’s time at General Motors, where he was a manager of strategic facilities planning at the nation’s largest automaker. He’s brought more than the lingo with him to DPS. Brown thinks in terms of markets and supply chains, and argues that along with improving academics, Detroit Public Schools also must improve the overall customer experience for students and parents. That’s why district officials invited Target to train school office workers in customer service. Among the tricks: smile when answering the phone to sound friendlier. “We didn’t do the best job of serving our existing customer base,” Brown says.

The effort to change that started in 2009, when then-Emergency Manager Robert Bobb launched an “I’m in” campaign encouraging families to enroll in Detroit Public Schools. Since then, improvements such as universal pre-kindergarten and increased test scores, have been advertised with flyers, open houses and old-fashioned door-knocking.

“You can’t win this on the defensive,” says Steve Wasko, the district’s assistant superintendent for community relations. “The only way to survive and thrive is to be on the offensive.”

The first step was trying to ensure basics like making schools safe. District officials gathered community volunteers to walk with children to school and are working with the city’s lighting authority to get broken streetlights near schools replaced before all of the other busted ones in town. And they designated 20 schools as community hubs, to be open 12 hours a day as resource-centers for parents.

The district has also launched new academic programs, including the three-year-old Benjamin Carson High School of Medicine and Technology, named for the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon who attended Detroit public schools. Many students there said they returned to the district from charter schools because they were attracted by Carson’s small size and focus on science. Yet even Carson has struggled. In the spring, in the school’s first year of state testing, only 9% of 11th-graders passed the state math test and just 1% passed the science exam. They fared better in reading and writing, with about 40% considered proficient.

Similarly, music or art is now taught at every elementary school, but many schools can’t afford to offer both.

But there has been progress. Last fall, enrollment barely dipped after a more than a decade in which it dropped by about 10% every year. Daily attendance is up to 86%, which is meaningful for a system that in 2011 had to return more than $4 million in state funding for having an average daily attendance rate below 75%. And some schools have begun to make gains on state tests that outpace the rate of improvement in the rest of the state.

Uphill Battle

Three weeks before Hill and her peers observed classes at Nichols, a group of volunteers with the nonprofit group Excellent Schools Detroit wandered around two pre-kindergarten classrooms at Bow Elementary School in a heavily blighted neighborhood in the Northwest of the city. In one room, a handful of children gathered around an iPad, while another group paraded through the classroom playing tambourines and wooden blocks. The volunteers made careful notes as the lights flickered. The day before, the power had gone out entirely. (Some schools in Detroit lost as many as 13 days of school last year because of power outages caused by the city’s outdated electrical grid.)

Bow, where 86% of students receive free or discounted lunch, is emblematic of the obstacles DPS faces as it attempts to shed its poor reputation. The school was one of 29 to receive a D this year in the influential rankings published by Excellent Schools Detroit. Only one K-8 Detroit Public School got an A.

For parents in the neighborhood, with few resources to get their children to schools miles away or little knowledge of how to navigate the school-choice process, the only other option is a similarly low-performing K-8 charter school across the street, which Bow’s former principal, Ernestine Woodward says has been drawing away students for years. Last summer staff from Bow knocked on every door in the neighborhood trying to get families back.

The school is doing the best it can with the resources it has, says Woodward, who retired at the end of last year. There’s not nearly enough money for the technology she would have liked, nor for social workers and other services to meet the needs of her students. But they do have afterschool and arts programs and make an effort to get parents into the school whenever possible.

Yet with a reputation for poor performance, it’s a school that Hill would never consider. And Nichols is out of the running, too, even though it should have been a good option. Nichols typically performs at or slightly above average on state tests. And it’s a five-minute walk from Hill’s home in Indian Village, one of the few neighborhoods that look untouched by Detroit’s downturn. But Hill found the class sizes were too large, and she didn’t like that the English curriculum required teachers to follow a script. She’s now leaning toward sending her daughter to a private school, underscoring how difficult it will be for Brown and DPS to convince parents like her.

“Can the public schools really appeal to us?” she says. “I don’t know that they have the resources or the ability to do that right now.”

This story was produced by the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME Autos

Ford Recalls 65,000 Fusion Vehicles

There are no known accidents caused by the issue

Ford has recalled 65,000 Fusion cars for noncompliance with a regulation on “theft protection and rollaway prevention.

The automaker announced Tuesday said that it is not aware of any accidents or injuries caused by the issue, but said that it would voluntarily fix the more than 56,000 affected vehicles in the United States, as well as 6,000 in Canada and 2,300 in Mexico.

The 65,000 vehicles recalled Tuesday is small in comparison to General Motors’ notorious recall this year, when more than 1 million vehicles worldwide were pulled over a faulty ignition switch that caused the deaths of at least 30 people.

TIME cities

Judge Approves Detroit Bankruptcy

The Motor City just took a major step toward recovery

Detroit marked a major milestone along its road back to economic health on Friday, when a judge approved its economic recovery plan, less than a year and a half after the Motor City became, by far, the biggest-ever U.S. public entity to declare bankruptcy.

The Michigan metropolis had been gripped in a steep decline for years leading up to its declaration of bankruptcy on July 18, 2013. The departure of the auto industry from Detroit took with it a large chunk of employment opportunities, and precipitated a mass movement of people out of town, spurring urban decay that was exacerbated by the housing and financial crises.

In February 2014, the city presented its plan, which included deep cuts to pension payments for general city retirees and smaller cuts to police and fire pensions, as well as new funds pledged to improve city services and speed up demolition of empty and decrepit buildings strewn throughout the city.

The plan that Judge Steven Rhodes approved on Friday cuts pension payments by just 4.5%, averting deeper cuts with an infusion of cash into the pension system from the state of Michigan and private foundations. Under the plan, Detroit sheds $7 billion in debt and invests $1 billion in city services. Detroit’s bankruptcy timeline, under a year from the day the city turned out its pockets to a judge approving the recovering plan, is unusually quick—Vallejo, California, for instance, spent three years in bankruptcy.

The deal also negates the need to sell off the city art museum’s world class collection.

[AP]

TIME Detroit

Detroit Bankruptcy Plan Approved by Judge

Detroit Exteriors And Landmarks
The Detroit skyline and the Renaissance Center on Aug. 13, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Paul Marotta—Getty Images

(DETROIT) — A judge has approved Detroit’s plan to get out of bankruptcy by cutting pensions, erasing billions of dollars of debt and promising nearly $2 billion in better services for a city desperate for a turnaround.

Detroit’s exit from the largest public filing in U.S. history took less than 16 months, lightning-fast by bankruptcy standards. The success is largely due to a series of deals between the city and major creditors, especially general retirees who agreed to accept smaller pension checks.

Judge Steven Rhodes found the overall plan is fair and feasible, a key threshold in bankruptcy law. He announced his decision Friday.

No significant critics were left at the end of trial last week. Bond insurers with more than $1 billion at stake settled for much less.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

The largest public bankruptcy in U.S. history is reaching a climax, with a judge set to decide whether to approve Detroit’s plan to emerge from Chapter 9 with buckets of debt emptied and $1.7 billion pledged to improve the quality of life in the struggling city.

Judge Steven Rhodes promised to announce his decision early Friday afternoon in a downtown courtroom. His task: to declare whether the plan is fair to creditors and feasible for the years ahead, the key standard under bankruptcy law.

All major critics have been silenced, particularly two bond insurers who dropped their opposition in exchange for cash, real estate and long-term leases on some city assets. General retirees voted in favor of a 4.5 percent cut in pensions and the elimination of annual cost-of-living payments. Detroit also is shedding $7 billion in debt.

“I think we’ve met all the conditions we need to meet, but he’s the final voice,” emergency manager Kevyn Orr said of the judge.

Orr, who ran Detroit for 18 months until late September, took the city into bankruptcy with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s blessing in 2013.

“No one has said it’s not feasible. No one has said it will not provide adequate services,” Orr said of the bankruptcy exit plan. “Everybody said, ‘It’s skinny, so we’ll be on a little bit of a diet for a while.’ That’s OK.”

With Rhodes’ decision, the case could be concluded in just under 16 months, lightning speed by bankruptcy standards. That was largely due to the series of deals between Detroit and creditors, especially retirees who agreed to accept the smaller pensions after Rhodes last year said they had no protection under the Michigan Constitution.

The most unusual feature is an $816 million pot of money funded by the state, foundations, philanthropists and The Detroit Institute of Arts. The money would patch holes in pension funds, prevent even deeper cuts to retirees and avert the sale of city-owned art at the world-class museum.

It took more than two years for a smaller city, Stockton, California, to get out of bankruptcy. San Bernardino, a California city even smaller than Stockton, still is operating under Chapter 9 protection more than two years after filing.

“Chapter 9 is an open book. It’s not going to look the same from case to case,” said Melissa Jacoby, who teaches bankruptcy law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law school. “One shouldn’t look at Detroit and say, ‘We’re going to do exactly that.’ That would be very difficult to do.”

She noted the “high level” of involvement by the governor and Legislature in the Detroit bankruptcy as well as federal judges who acted as mediators to broker settlements between the city and creditors.

MONEY municipal bonds

Muni Bonds are Beating Stocks This Year. What to Know Before You Jump In.

Municipal bonds are on a tear. On Monday The Wall Street Journal noted that the normally staid $3.7 trillion sector has returned 8.3% so far this year, outperforming the Dow Jones Industrial Average and highly rated corporate bonds. Readers of MONEY’s print edition shouldn’t be surprised. Our April issue argued these bonds could “make a bid for comeback investment of the year.” If munis are just getting your attention now, here are four things you need to know:

Munis benefit some investors more than others

Munis’ interest payments are exempt from federal and sometimes state and local income tax. That means, all other things being equal, those who pay higher tax rates enjoy a bigger benefit. Just how good a deal is it? Because municipal bond buyers are well aware of the tax perks, muni bonds typically yield less than Treasuriess. So to find out if munis make sense for you, you need to look at the difference between these two yields and compare with your tax rate.

The question can also be complicated factors like where you live and whether you are subject to the alternative minimum tax or the new Medicare tax on investment income.

But there is a basic rule of thumb. Start by subtracting your tax bracket from 1. So if you are in the 33% bracket you are left with 0.67. Then divide the municipal bond’s tax-free yield by the resulting number. Finally compare the result to the yield on a taxable investment. Right now the 10-year Treasury yields about 2.3%. Top-rated muni bonds with similar 10-year durations are yielding 2.1%. The upshot: A muni investor in the 33% tax bracket could grab an after-tax yield of 3.1%. For an investor in the 25% bracket, the after tax yield falls to 2.8%.

Munis aren’t risk free

Although munis may offer an after-tax yield advantage, it comes at a cost. While Treasuries issued by the Federal government are considered iron-clad, municipal bonds’ credit risk can range from triple-A to junk, not unlike bonds issued by companies. While you can certainly buy bonds backed by, say, the State of New York or California, many municipal bonds are issued by less august entities — a particular city or school district. Still others may be backed by a particular stream of revenues — like the tolls collected on a particular road. In all there are more than 15,000 issuers, according to Moody’s. Even counting small issuers, municipal defaults are rare. But political impasses — like the 2008 California budget deadlock — can give the markets jitters, driving down prices. Sometimes, as the news out of Detroit or Puerto Rico show, the problems really are serious.

Where you live has a lot to do with the fund you should buy.

Municipal bonds may carry state and local tax perks. For instance, income from municipal bonds issued by a particular state is typically exempt from state income taxes for residents of that state. In other words, New Yorkers who own New York bonds get a state tax break on top of their federal income tax benefits. That’s why there’s a proliferation of municipal bond mutual funds targeting individual states, especially populous and high-tax ones like New York, California, and New Jersey.

There are some wrinkles that may surprise you, though: Bonds issued by territories like Puerto Rico are exempt from state taxes everywhere. That’s helped make them far more popular than they might otherwise be. (They may even turn up in funds labelled “New York.”) So Puerto Rico’s fiscal problems have had a real impact on individual investors on the U.S. mainland.

If you’re just buying now, the deals are less attractive

Of course, while the tax benefits of municipal bonds can seem attractive, taxes should never be your only consideration for an investment. You also have to judge whether the price you’re getting will turn out to be a bargain, and the yields the bonds are offering now are looking a bit thin. (Remember, as bond prices rise, yields fall.) Muni bonds had a rough 2013, declining about 2.6% at a time when Detroit’s fiscal problems were continually making headlines. But munis haven’t just snapped back. They’ve put together their longest string of monthly gains in two decades, according to the Journal. Such a sharp rally can only mean that investors’ return prospects have gotten a lot less rosy.

“It’s difficult to find real value in the muni market these days, but if you already own munis, you should stick with what you own because it’s hard to replace that income,” Jim Kochan, a senior investment strategist at Wells Fargo Advantage Funds recently told investment bible Barron’s. “Whenever we’ve been at these yields in the past, it’s never been a good time to buy, because the market usually corrects.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 28

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Income inequality isn’t beyond our control. Smart policymaking could increase the efficiency of the U.S. economy AND narrow the income gap.

By Jason Furman in the Milken Institute Review

2. A “Paris Club” making and enforcing rules for managing Europe’s economic woes could offer stability for the long term.

By Robert Kahn at the Council on Foreign Relations

3. Fresh, community-based food offered at convenience stores and gas stations could change the way people in Detroit eat.

By Chris Hardman in Civil Eats

4. Reader as publisher? How crowdfunding journalism changes the relationship between news outlets and their audiences.

By Catalina Albeanu in Journalism.co.uk

5. Balancing privacy concerns is key to a future where learners are empowered to use data and truly take control of their networks and their futures.

By Catherine M. Casserly in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 16

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Accountability in education is essential and non-negotiable, and testing works. Just not in reading.

By Robert Pondiscio in Flypaper from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute

2. Carbon capture technology is costly, but could be an interim solution for climate change. And a carbon tax could pay for it.

By David Biello in Yale Environment 360

3. Immersive public art is improving lives and safety in one Detroit neighborhood — and serving as a model for other communities.

By Anna Clark in High Ground News

4. Presidential pool reporters are circulating their own news reports to bypass pressure from the White House Press Office.

By Paul Farhi in the Washington Post

5. Unregulated campaign cash and elected judges together undermine the independence of our judiciary.

By Norm Ornstein in The Atlantic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Budgeting

Guess Which U.S. City Is the Most Expensive

141014_REA_EXPENSIVELIVING
Nikreates—Alamy

Hint: It's not NYC.

On average, American households spend the largest share of their annual expenditures on housing. The average family spends $16,887 on housing per year, equating to 33% of the average household’s annual expenditures. But how much do those expenses vary from city to city, and which places are the most expensive?

Well, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released a report (link opens PDF) detailing Americans’ average annual expenditures on housing and related items. And contrary to popular belief, New York City is not the most expensive city to live in. Two U.S. cities have overtaken it.

A breakdown of housing costs

The BLS took a deep dive into all the costs of housing, rather than simply comparing the cost of rent or average mortgage payments. Their analysis also took into account utilities (electric, water, and natural gas), household furnishings and equipment (textiles, furniture, floor coverings, appliances, and the like), housekeeping supplies, and other household expenses. What they found was that average annual expenditures on housing were far higher in both Washington, D.C., and San Francisco than in New York.

most-expensive-city-no-longer-nyc_large
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The data is current as of 2012, and housing costs in the District of Columbia and San Francisco have risen since then. In D.C., the rise in housing costs is being led by the redevelopment and gentrification of the downtown area, which in turn is being triggered by the high relative number of government and government-related jobs, particularly in the defense contracting sector. Baby boomers are also moving from the suburbs into the city.

In San Francisco, housing costs have always been high, but they’re spiking because of a confluence of factors. The continued boom in technology companies in Silicon Valley — most notably Apple, Google, and Facebook — means that a growing cadre of high-paid employees want to live in the area. Add in a longtime lack of housing development in the city, and you have a rise in housing prices that has become a contentious issue in the San Francisco Bay area as longtime renters are priced out of the city. TechCrunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler provides a great, in-depth piece on San Francisco’s housing problem.

The difference in annual housing costs between the two most expensive cities and the national average is a staggering $10,000. Excluding New York City, the difference between the two most expensive cities and other major U.S. metropolitan areas is over $5,000 annually. If you’re thinking of moving, it’s smart to compare costs carefully before moving to one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.

National differences in housing cost

While the above data is just from major U.S. cities, we have other data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showing the real value of housing dollars in each state compared with the national average.

real-value-of-housing_large

You can see that generally, coastal states are more expensive than non-coastal states, as many people enjoy living near the ocean. You can also see that the Northeast on average is more expensive than the rest of the country except for California. These high costs, coupled with better weather and low to no income taxes, are why many retirees move south to Florida, Texas, etc.

If considering moving to a more expensive city, you should be sure the benefits will be worth the extra expense. For instance, while I pay a high cost of living to live in New York City, the quality of life that I get in the city makes it well worth it, in my opinion. While New York state is ranked poorly in terms of the happiest states in the U.S., New York City is ranked in the top quartile by happiness among U.S. cities, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The most important thing is to live in a place where you are happy. While the main determinants of happiness are the same for everyone, the specifics vary. Be sure that an increased cost of living comes with an increased quality of life.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser