Illinois Public Media News
Class sizes will be larger in Danville - and the preschool program would be drastically cut - if proposed budget cuts go into effect.
Administrators propose eliminating 26 teaching positions as well as five teaching assistants and three administrators in the high school and middle schools. The cuts would save close to $2 million. The cuts would also include supplies, textbooks and some extracurricular activities with low participation.
Superintendent Mark Denman says the biggest hit will be in Danville's preschool program, which is not mandatory for districts to offer except for special education.
"I do think the state will come through and provide some level of funding for preschool," Denman said. "But unfortunately, with the laws set by the state with budgeting and notice to staff, we have to make our decisions in March. If we don't, then we're obligated to provide the programs whether the state gives the money or not."
Demnan says 42 teaching and other positions would also be lost until the district is sure the grants that pay for those positions will be continued. He says the state owes District 118 nearly two-and-a-half million dollars in backlogged payments.
The Prairie Meadows subdivision in Savoy is among the areas that could be annexed into the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District later this year.
Managing Director Bill Volk says the CU-MTD Board has directed his staff to prepare annexation and legal notices for five areas. Public hearings will be held before the board takes a vote on annexation.
Prairie Meadows is the first major residential area of Savoy to be considered for CU-MTD annexation since the village and the transit district signed an agreement two years ago. Volk says that agreement protects some parts of Savoy from MTD annexation --- but not new residential areas.
"There are sections in Savoy that we cannot annex for 23 years, but other areas of Savoy, as they become annexable we are allowed per the agreement to annex that territory," Volk said.
The Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana is also on the CU-MTD annexation list. Non-residential areas up for annexation include the Clearview commercial development site in northwest Champaign, some industrial tracts near the Apollo Industrial Park in north Champaign, and Willard Airport.
Volk says the CU-MTD Board will not vote on annexing the territories until after the next fiscal year begins July 1. If annexation is approved, property owners would not pay taxes to the MTD until the summer of 2012.
An Urbana man was arrested Thursday at his apartment building, after a six-hour standoff with police. 57 year old Reginald Thurston is accused of holding a woman in his apartment, and striking an officer.
The incident started shortly before noon at Steer Place, a public housing apartment building on East Harding Drive. Building management had been contacted by relatives of the woman, who they believed was with Thurston. Management then called police, saying Thurston had been belligerent and made bizarre statements.
Urbana Police say that Thurston threatened officers, and struck one of them with a length of PVC pipe after he was pepper-sprayed. Thurston then threatened officers with a pellet gun and barricaded himself and the woman in his 6th-floor apartment.
Police SWAT teams were called in to help, and negotiators spent the afternoon communicating off-and-on with Thurston. Several other residents of the building were evacuated and Harding Drive was closed to traffic.
Police say Thurston surrendered peacefully shortly after 6 PM, and the woman with him was found unharmed.
Thurston faces charges of Aggravated Battery to a Police Officer and Unlawful Restraint.
Some University of Illinois students are taking their demand for two administrators' resignations to another level.
Members of Students for Chief Illiniwek found email exchanges that they claim show administrators conspiring to stop a student-sponsored Chief performance at the Assembly Hall last fall. Members of the Urbana campus' student senate are looking over a resolution calling for an investigation of Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renee Romano's involvement. And now the leader of a new group opposing Romano, Jerry Vachaparambil, says they may try to recruit help from state lawmakers.
"Because this is a public institution, they can admonish administrators for not acting in the best interest of the taxpayers or the students," Vachaparambil said.
Romano says the email exchanges were not meant to stifle students' right to free speech and assembly. She says they were a conversation between officials struggling with the on-campus performance in light of the U of I's decision to retire the Chief three years ago.
"Administrators often talk back and forth about, well, if we do this what's going to mean and how does that all work," Romano said. "But ultimately, they were able to have their event."
The Student Senate may vote next week on the resolution, which also targets Romano's associate vice chancellor Anna Gonzalez.
A Web site detailing Ilinois' financial outlook is now up and running. Governor Pat Quinn's office unveiled the site Wednesday.
The Website, budget.illinois.gov, opens with a video from the Governor's budget director ... David Vaught, who asks viewers, "Would you cut money from education and give more to health care? Or would reduce spending to both and spend more on road construction? Would you raise taxes? And by how much?"
Commenters can answer those questions ... or give other suggestions ... in a public comment section.
Vaught says within the first two hours ... about 250 people had done so. That's despite criticism that the graphs and figures don't make it easy enough for the average person to understand.
The site doesn't get into much detail about what the governor is planning. That will come March 10th, when Quinn gives his annual budget address.
But what it does include is telling. A reading of one table shows that the governor will suggest cutting more than two billion dollars in the next budget. Education ... from kindergarten to universities ... will have funding reduced, as well as public safety, economic development, and human services.
Vaught says it's dire, but realistic ... and says it still leaves Illinois with an 11 and a half billion dollars deficit.
Vaught says cuts will occur with or without a tax increase.
Illinois lawmakers are advancing a plan to do away with the Lieutenant Governor's office, which has been vacant for over a year.
While there have been calls to abolish the position before, there's now a powerful backer of the idea. Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan says the time has come. "Many over the years have spoken to the wisdom of eliminating the office," Madigan said. "I think this is an opportunity, and we should take advantage of the opportunity."
The often-ridiculed office has no official duties, only those assigned by the Governor. Madigan's plan would make the Attorney General the next in line in order of succession. The office of Lieutenant Governor has been under scrutiny since Scott Lee Cohen was forced to give up the Democratic nomination this month after allegations of violence against women surfaced.
Madigan's measure would take effect in 2015 and won't impact the upcoming election. A House committee has given approval over objections from Republicans concerned it could crowd out public initiatives on the fall ballot. The entire General Assembly must still pass it and 60 percent of voters would then need to agree for the change to occur.
Champaign school superintendent Arthur Culver is guaranteed to keep his job through 2014 after a school board vote.
But Culver has volunteered not to take a pay raise as Unit 4 fights budget problems like most other Illinois districts. Tuesday night, board members evaluated Culver's performance and voted 4-3 to extend his contract one additional year.
Board president Dave Tomlinson says as a rule he had voted against extensions before. But he says Culver's work in bringing a nine year federal consent decree to an end merited a second look.
"There's one way the board can acknowledge to the superintendent that he has led us through probably one of the most difficult times in Unit 4, and that is with a contract extension," Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson says Culver and other administrators turned down raises last year even though their salaries are tied to the current teachers' contract, which called for 4% raises.
The city of Champaign is looking for a new council member to represent a portion of southwest Champaign.
Dave Johnson says he will step down from his District 5 council seat after next week's council meeting - in a news release from the city, Johnson says he will be moving to Cleveland to accept a new job. Johnson was elected to his first term last April. Council members will discuss the succession process next Tuesday - whoever the full council chooses from applicants will have to have lived in Champaign for at least a year and be a District Five resident. That person would fill Johnson's seat until the next consolidated election in 2011.
The debate over extending Olympian Drive moved to the Champaign City Council chamber last (Tuesday) night. Council members gave their preliminary endorsement for an intergovernmental agreement with Urbana and Champaign County to complete the 27-millon dollar extension.
Council members also heard comments from landowners in the area of the extension who oppose the project. They say that the road --- and the development it would attract --- would destroy hundreds of acres of high-quality farmland. They found an ally in Councilwoman Marcy Dodds, who cast the lone "no" vote Tuesday night.
"Farmland is an amenity, not an obstacle," Dodds said before the vote. "It's sustainable economically, and it speaks to our quality of life. We need to stop looking at concrete like it's the last word in economics."
But John Dimit of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation told the council that the impact of development on farmers would not be as bad as they feared.
"We all know 1600 acres --- that's been the touted amount that this land --- would open up for urban development. That's not going to happen overnight," Dimit said. "It's not going to happen at all if the road's not developed. But it'll happen gradually if the road is out there. So, many of the farms out there, I think will be able to continue in agricultural interests.
Backers of the Olympian Drive extension say it would provide a needed route between I-57 on the west side of Champaign-Urbana, and US 45 to the east. The project depends on a mix of state, local and federal funding. The Champaign City Council will take a final vote on the intergovernmental agreement on March 16. Urbana and the Champaign County Board will also vote on the proposal this spring.
After mold and ventilation problems delayed the completion of the new Champaign County nursing home, the county board went after the nursing home's builders to collect damages. Now the last of those efforts is completed.
Arbitrators have ruled that Otto Baum Company, one of the prime contractors on the project, must pay Champaign County $405,000 for problems caused by mold found on wood during nursing home construction. After outstanding bills owed to Otto Baum are paid, the county will be ahead by nearly $150,000. Rantoul Township Republican Stan James serves on the county board's facilities committee. He says the settlement of the mold issue frees the county board up to focus on other concerns.
"That's one less thing on our plate, and now we can move on. We've got bigger budget issues to tackle and a host of issues due the economy that we need to be focusing on," James said.
While Champaign County is receiving some money in the binding decision, the arbitrators say the county also shares in the responsibility. The arbitrators' report say that the county, Otto Baum Company and construction manager PKD all should have known that unvented heaters were not adequate to keep mold away from wood used in nursing home construction.
Damages from Otto Baum, plus previous awards from other firms involved in nursing home construction are providing Champaign County with about $1.3 million in payments to help make up for extra costs and delays in nursing home construction. Facilities Committee Chairman Steve Beckett estimates that the payments fall $300,000 to $500,000 short of the county's expenses.
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