Illinois Public Media News
A federal prosecutor said Springfield power broker William Cellini should not be getting a new trial. This comes despite revelations a juror in his case lied about her criminal record.
Late Thursday night, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald filed a legal response saying Cellini's conviction should stand. Fitzgerald argued the juror had her full civil rights because she completed probation for her convictions. He also said even if she were ruled ineligible to serve, Cellini's attorneys would have to prove she deliberately concealed convictions.
Cellini's attorneys contend she was dishonest, making her a biased juror.
The decision on whether or not Cellini gets a new trial is now in the hands of Federal Judge James Zagel.
Cellini this month was convicted of joining a conspiracy to trade state contracts for campaign contributions for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Teachers and principals' own report cards are getting a lot more attention.
The way educators are evaluated is changing across the country, with a switch from routine "satisfactory" ratings to actual proof that students are learning.
President Barack Obama's recent use of executive authority to revise the No Child Left Behind education law is one of several factors driving a trend toward using student test scores, classroom observation and potentially even input from students, among other measures, to determine the effectiveness of educators. A growing number of states are using these evaluations to decide critical issues such as pay, tenure, firings and the awarding of teaching licenses.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard recently unveiled a new report card and incentive pay program aimed at boosting the performance of school principals. And next year, Chicago Public School teachers evaluations will include criteria tied directly to student achievement. The specific metrics and achievement tests included in those evaluations must be agreeed upon by the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union, which will be renegotiating its contract next year. CPS expects half of its schools will be using the new form by next fall, before rolling it out to the rest of the district by 2013.
Two years ago, only four states used student achievement as a predominant influence in how teacher performance is assessed. Today, the number is 13, according to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. Ten other states count student achievement in a lesser but still significant way in teacher evaluations. In 19 states and the District of Columbia, teachers can be fired based on the results, the report said.
Even more changes are anticipated in coming months.
Obama said in September that states wanting relief from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law could apply for a waiver from the law's tough-to-meet requirements for student achievement in reading and math. To get a waiver, one thing states must do is come up with ways to use teacher and principal evaluations to make personnel decisions.
This week, 11 states applied for waivers, and an additional 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico say they will be seeking waivers, too.
In addition to Obama's waivers, a major driver has been the administration's high-profile "Race to the Top" competition, which had states competing for billions in prize dollars if they adopted stronger evaluation systems. Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said another factor is a growing body of research showing that teachers matter in how much students learn and an influential 2009 report by the New Teacher Project revealing that fewer than 1 percent of teachers surveyed receive unsatisfactory ratings - even in failing schools.
Historically, states have considered teacher evaluations to be untouchable, in part because of teachers unions.
"Once states started to see from other states that you could move this, the ball has continued to roll," Jacobs said.
States are using a combination of measures to evaluate educators. For example, in Minnesota, evaluation systems under development for teachers and principals will include feedback from superiors, fellow educators and parents. Thirty-five percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student test scores, but teachers will also be able to present a portfolio showing professional growth that includes student work and classroom video.
Some states, such as Georgia and Massachusetts, are testing or considering the limited use of student input. A study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found the average student can tell who is an effective teacher. It said students' feedback is more specific and useful to teachers than scores or tests alone.
Those opposed to linking test scores to evaluations say standardized tests are limited and don't necessarily reflect what's taught in the classroom. They say student performance can be affected by variables outside a teacher's control like a child coming from an abusive home, transferring midyear or being behind because a previous teacher didn't teach properly.
In recent years, however, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association unions have warmed to the idea of teacher evaluations based on student performance, with some caveats. In July, delegates to the NEA's national convention voted in support of a policy statement that called for a comprehensive overhaul of teacher evaluations. The AFT has worked for two years with dozens of districts to help develop such systems, said AFT president Randi Weingarten.
But the unions want evaluations developed at the local level with input from teachers and little reliance on test scores. In too many places, Weingarten said, systems are being rolled out too fast with serious implications for educators.
She said that has happened in the District of Columbia and Tennessee, though advocates of tougher evaluation systems have held both up for praise.
This year, Tennessee implemented a new system that has teachers rated every year and observed multiple times a year. Thirty-five percent of a teacher's evaluation is based on student growth on the state standardized test over time. Weingarten said the system has put the focus on test scores instead of learning and that there have been too many bureaucratic hurdles.
"Teachers are not nervous about taking responsibility," Weingarten said. "What they are nervous about is that all of this is being done to them, without them ... in so many places (not) having any voice in it whatsoever, and it's about thwarting and firing as opposed to about helping to improve instruction."
In the District of Columbia, controversial former Chancellor Michelle Rhee adopted a teacher evaluation system in part based on student performance, and teachers were among hundreds of school employees laid off under the new evaluation system. Some teachers like the recognition and pay increases in the system, but her policies played a role in the defeat of Mayor Adrian Fenty for re-election.
As states develop new methods of rating teachers, challenges include training school districts to use the new systems and finding ways to evaluate teachers of subjects that don't have standardized tests, said Janice Poda of the Council of Chief State School Officers.
To ease growing pains, some states like New Jersey, which asked the Obama administration this week for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, have opted to try evaluation systems in only a limited number of school districts before going statewide. Among the 11 states that asked for waivers this week, much of what was included on teacher and principal evaluations was preliminary but already in the works. As other states submit applications, more changes in evaluations are expected.
"I absolutely think it's important for teachers to get feedback about their practice," said Poda, the council's strategic initiative director for the education workforce.
"I think all teachers should be on some kind of a continuous growth plan so that they can always be learning new things and improving their practice, and I think that's true for leaders as well," Poda said.
A Chicago-based wind energy company will start preliminary work on placing 30 turbines in northeastern Champaign County.
After hours of debate in the county's Zoning Board of Appeals, the county board Thursday night unanimously approved Invenergy's special use permit and a road agreement in a matter of minutes. The company will also place 100 turbines in Vermilion County as part of what's called California Ridge Wind Farm.
But Invenergy Vice President for Development Kevin Parczyk said for a while, there will be little to see in the area north of Royal, where the wind farm is locating in Champaign County.
"Because it's spread out over such a large area, there's a lot of things that people don't even see happening," he said. "And really where it's going to be happening is probably in mid to late spring, you'll start seeing the turbines arriving, and then they'll start popping up. A lot of prep work has taken place, and it will for the next six months or so."
"Today is a momentous day," County Board Democrat Alan Kurtz said.
Parczyk said the work of wind farm construction is very sequential, and is constantly moving, but he expects work in an area north of Royal to start this spring. He said the wind farm will mean 150 to 200 construction jobs, plus those for local vendors who provide stone, concrete and other needs for completing the project.
Parczyk said public road work and foundation excavation is underway in Vermilion County, where the county board approved Invenergy's permit last month.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The Chicago Cubs have hired Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum as their new manager.
The Cubs announced the move Thursday and said he would be introduced at a news conference Friday at Wrigley Field.
Sveum replaces Mike Quade, who was fired after the season by Theo Epstein, the team's new president of baseball operations.
Epstein and Sveum worked briefly together in Boston, when Epstein was the team's general manager and Sveum served as the Red Sox third base coach during the 2004-05 season.
At the time, Sveum was often criticized for an aggressive approach that led to runners being thrown out at the plate. But the coach with the nickname of "Nuts" was part of a championship team and is a believer in the advanced statistical analysis that Chicago's new leadership loves and is counting on to build up the farm system.
"I do my due diligence and video work and prepare as much as anybody," Sveum said before he was hired. "As far as the stats, those are what they are, and we can use them to our advantage. It's a big part of the game now. It's helping us win a lot of ballgames, the stats and the matchups. That's just part of the game now, and you use what you can."
Sveum was also under consideration by the Red Sox for its managerial vacancy and interviewed twice with the team.
Sveum began his pro career as a switch-hitting shortstop for the Brewers and had a 25-homer season before his career was slowed after an outfield collision. In 12 seasons with Milwaukee and six other teams, he batted .236 with 69 home runs and 340 RBIs in 862 games. He was drafted by Milwaukee in the first round (25th overall) in 1982.
Sveum re-joined the Brewers as a coach in 2006 and briefly filled in as the team's interim manager during the end of the 2008 season.
Sveum did well in his limited run as Milwaukee's manager. After Yost was fired following a 3-11 slide in September, Sveum led the Brewers to their first playoff appearance in 26 years, winning six of seven down the stretch and capturing the wild card on the final day of the regular season.
Milwaukee then decided to hire a more experienced manager in the offseason and went with Ken Macha, who lasted two seasons. Sveum stayed on as the hitting coach and oversaw one of the best offenses in the National League last season. With Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder leading the way, the Brewers hit an NL-high 185 homers and were third with a .261 batting average on their way to the NL Central title -- well ahead of the Cubs.
Sveum emerged as the Cubs' leading candidate after an in-depth interview process that included such candidates as Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux and Indians coach Sandy Alomar, Jr., among others.
He'll take over a team that finished last season 71-91 and hasn't won a World Series in 103 seasons.
Four Republican congressmen from Illinois are in a federal courtroom in Chicago for a trial on the state's new Democrat-drawn congressional map.
Congressmen Judy Biggert, Peter Roskam, Don Manzullo and John Shimkus are scheduled to testify.
Court proceedings are expected to last through Friday.
Illinois Democrats dominated the map-making because they control the General Assembly and the governor's office. The new map drew Republicans out of their districts and lumped incumbent GOP members together or threw them into Democrat-friendly territory.
The fight over Illinois' map is an important one nationally. Democrats are out to try to regain control of the U.S. House in next year's election after losing it in 2010 as part of a GOP wave that sent five freshman Republicans from Illinois to Congress.
Police have arrested a suspect in the murder of Angelica Vasquez of Danville.
Champaign resident George Harold Chapman, 41, is accused of the murder. Vasquez's body was discovered on Sept. 27, 2011 on the 1400 Block of Rising Road in Champaign. An autopsy revealed that she had died from suffocation. Police say Chapman bound Vasquez's hands and had attempted to destroy evidence by burning her body.
With assistance from the Champaign Police Department's detective division and the United States Marshal's Office, the Champaign County Sheriff's Office investigators located Chapman in South Carolina on Thursday at around 7:30 a.m. He will be extradited to Champaign County, and arraigned on murder charges.
The Champaign County Sheriff's Office maintains that it is still pursuing the investigation both in Champaign County and out of state.
State officials are considering new rules that could greatly expand the number of Indiana's public schools subject to state takeover in a move coming a couple months after that was done for the first time.
The proposal before the State Board of Education could put more than 100 schools in 76 districts in jeopardy of takeover because of low student test scores and other factors.
Assistant state schools superintendent Dale Chu tells The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/vbatUb ) that the tougher proposal is aimed at better identifying struggling schools and getting extra support and guidance to them more quickly.
Superintendent Jeff Butts of the Wayne Township district in Indianapolis says the new rules would unfairly force districts to scramble to turn around schools in a matter of months.
An economic official in Danville says the expansion of mobile broadband in the area adds a missing sales tool in parts of rural downstate Illinois.
AT&T's mobile broadband has now expanded to rural cities like Rossville, Tilton, and Georgetown, and St. Joseph. The company is now offering a 3G network, with hopes of expanding it to 4G if AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile USA is approved.
Vermilion Advantage President Vicki Haugen says employers of all sizes, ranging from to ThyssenKrupp, to farmers, to a winery in Oakwood stand to benefit.
"So you look at communities like Hoopeston or Oakwood, off of the interstate (I-74), or some of the other communities that have business development," said Haugen. "They have been at an unfair disadvantage just because of the lack of quality connectivity. This is a key to today and in the future."
Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the legislature's 2010 vote to modernize Illinois' telecommunications act made the expansion possible. AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza says the company has boosted its infrastructure by $3-point-8 billion the last 3 years, due in part to that legislation.
Besides Danville, 11 other cities are impacted, including Hoopeston, Westville, and Tilton in Vermilion County, and St. Joseph and Gifford in Champaign County.
The Champaign City Council is considering a four-cent a gallon motor fuel tax --- a level that would be higher than a similar tax in Urbana, but lower than one in Danville.
City officials say recent budget cuts have reduced spending on street maintenance, at the same time that a "complete streets" strategy is making the work more expensive. At Tuesday night's city council study session, Councilman Tom Bruno said Champaign needs the additional money to avoid the congested streets of big urban areas.
"One only needs to drive in the Chicago area, or the suburbs or southern California to appreciate how blessed we are to have a lack of traffic congestion in Champaign," Bruno said. "If we want to keep that, if we want to maintain that, we have to be able to fund our streets."
Bruno said motorists wouldn't see any change in gasoline prices, because gas station owners absorb the cost to keep customers coming to buy snacks, cigarettes and liquor. But Councilwoman Karen Foster was doubtful, saying the gas tax could hurt other Champaign businesses that use motor fuel in high quantities.
"That will have a huge impact on them by having to buy bulk fuel," Foster said. "It's in the thousands of dollars, it's not just when we go to the pump and you have another $1.20 or $5 on your pump. It's thousands of dollars to these businesses."
Mayor Don Gerard joined four other council members to endorse the motor fuel tax on a 5 to 4 vote. A final council vote is expected in December or January.
In other action at the Tuesday night session, the Champaign City Council voted to give the public an additional opportunity to speak during their meetings.
A city council study session grew raucous three weeks ago, when several people alleging excessive force by police in the arrest of Calvin Miller were not allowed to speak. The council eventually suspended the rules to allow public comments --- but public comment on issues not on the agenda is usually allowed only at regular council meetings only, not study session. Council members changed that rule Tuesday night, voting unanimously to allow public comment on any topic at study sessions as well. Councilman Tom Bruno said the important thing was to keep the rules consistent and clear.
"Because there were people who maybe wanted to speak that night, who stayed away because our rules were clear that there wasn't going to be any public participation that night," Bruno said. "So as long as our rules are clear, I think there's unanimity among us that we like public participation."
Also on Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council voted to approve a new council district map reflecting 2010 census results.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he's "very optimistic'' a budget deal can be worked out to keep seven state facilities he'd planned to close open through the fiscal year.
Quinn told reporters Wednesday in Chicago that he hopes lawmakers can get it passed when they return to Springfield on Nov 29.
He says there have been good budget negotiations with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. Earlier this year, Quinn said nearly 2,000 workers had to be laid off and seven state-run centers closed because the state didn't have the money to operate them. A bipartisan commission of lawmakers rejected closing the facilities that include a prison (the Logan Correctional Center) and centers for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill.
Quinn says changes need to be made in how the developmentally disabled are care for.
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