Illinois Public Media News
A grade school expansion in Urbana is reaping the benefits of a sales tax approved by voters three years ago.
Students and local officials were on hand for a groundbreaking on Friday at Prairie Elementary School for a gymnasium, three fine arts classrooms, and 12 early childhood classrooms.
Prairie Principal Yavonda Smith said physical education classes throughout the day haven't been possible due to space requirements.
"The end project is that students will be able to have a new gym," Smith said. "Having a new gym is that we will able to able have P.E. all day long, without any interruptions. We all know that movement is very important for kids in grades K-5, and so that's why we're going to make sure that we utilize the gym every single day."
District 116 School Board President John Dimit said the expansion will also provide a public entrance, allowing for community events. He said the passage of the school facilities sales tax referendum in 2009 allowed planning to move forward.
"We have to admit the project ended up being a little more expensive than what we thought, and so we worked hard to put the financing package together, and the market treated us right, because the interest rates are low," Dimit said.
Early total estimates for the project are around $15 million. Construction for the new space will take about a year and a half.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The Champaign School Board has begun accepting applications to fill the seat of Greg Novak, who passed away on March 7.
Board member Tom Lockman is the contact person for applications, and he said he has already received a few of them. Lockman said he is looking for someone who possesses many of the qualities that Novak brought to the board.
"My hope is that we find someone who has great passion for the district and has a good working knowledge of the district," Lockman said. "That's what Greg certainly had and certainly brought to our board to a very large degree."
Applicants for the school board seat must be at least 18 years old, registered voters and residents of the Unit Four school district for at least a year. The Unit Four district includes Champaign, Savoy, Bondville and nearby unincorporated areas.
Application forms are available at Unit Four's Mellon Administrative Center in Champaign ... and at their website at champaignschools.org. Applications can be hand-delivered or mailed to the Mellon Center, at 703 South New Street in Champaign, IL 61820. Or they can be emailed to Lockman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline to apply for the Champaign school board seat is Friday, April 6th. Finalists selected for interview will be notified on the 10th. Lockman says the school board will interview finalists on Monday, April 16th, and could make their selection that evening.
An attorney, a teacher, an insurance office manager, a nurse, and a former mayor are running in Illinois' 106th House District race. They are all newcomers to state office, running in a legislative district that are making a bid for the Illinois House in a long stretch of Central Illinois that's seen its political landscape altered through redistricting.
The five candidates have held more than 15 debates and forums, but it was simple "meet and greet" time for the candidates at a recent Republican dinner in Pontiac.
The race for the 106th includes largely rural cities like Watseka, Dwight, and Gibson City; the campaign trail stretches from the Indiana border just east of the Illinois River. It is a politically conservative area, so much so that no Democrats are running for the seat.
Former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy said he has more going for him than simply name recognition. He touts his experience helping his city cope with a 2007 flood, and fighting efforts to close the Pontiac Correctional Center.
Now a full-time software designer, McCoy said he also has the necessary budgetary experience to view cuts strategically. He wants to see more of what he calls "true conservatives" elected to office to make those difficult choices, and to ensure government is limited in other ways.
"I'm the candidate who wants to go to Springfield to remove government from your life, and we see that every day," McCoy said. "They're talking about banning cell phones from a moving vehicle altogether. We need less government period, and that's a great place to start to solving our issues in the state."
The five candidates are in agreement in many areas. Each supports a concealed carry measure, keeping the Dwight prison open, and term limits for legislators, but the dominant issue for all appears to be the economy. Attorney Brian Gabor said he holds an edge in the 106th district since he's been an alderman on the Pontiac City Council for nine years and a small business owner.
"I know what my clients complaint about, and that's the overburdensome that the state puts on us," Gabor said. "That's the higher taxes. The tax increases that Governor Quinn put on us. Unless and until we reverse that trend in Springfield, that trend of being anti-business, things are not going to turn around - and that's what we need to do."
Gabor said he also has a better understanding of the plights of communities, since his law firm represents small towns, dealing often with state regulations and unfunded mandates.
Josh Harms doesn't have government experience, but he is a member of one of the groups most impacted by Illinois' financial problems.
"I think it helps me immensely being a teacher, going in and saying the pension has to change because I'm in the pension," Harms said. "My wife is in the pension, my brother is in the pension, my sister-in-law is in the pension. I realize that it's got to give."
A special education teacher at Watseka High School, Harms wants local school boards and parents to have the most input on school policies, particularly in districts like his where 80-percent of students do not attend college, but still have to take additional science and English courses.
"It's so counterintuitive to me that you would take those kids who aren't college bound and force them into a college curriculum," Harms said.
Harms said the amount Illinois gives to state colleges and universities should be given to the students themselves, and those who don't finish school would repay the state in the form of a loan.
Tom Bennett is a former teacher, and a Parkland College Trustee. He said his experience sets him apart, as does his experience running a family farm and managing IT at an insurance office. The Gibson City resident said he will make connections across the political aisle in Springfield, and build a better business environment.
"I don't do much for the knee-jerk reactions," Bennett said. "I do my homework. I study the issues. I ask questions. And I don't go off in a corner, and flip a coin, or make a decision in a back room. I pull people in, I call people, and I expect folks to call me, too. That's the way I work."
Meanwhile, one candidate did not make the Livingston County dinner. Richard Thomas said he is temporarily given up his job as a nurse to campaign, and serve a single term in Springfield.
"I may have the smallest wallet, but I definitely have the largest ideas, and I think that's what democracy should be about," Thomas said.
The Dwight resident said his military background and experience forming coalitions in Springfield are at the root of his campaign for the 106th House seat. Thomas said his decision to run was born out of frustration with the way government currently operates, taking a cue from the Occupy Wall Street movement and Tea Party.
Thomas backs a welfare to work program that would let recipients do park and highway maintenance, as well as a plan to recall any elected official as soon as their first day in office
"We need a democracy in the 21st century that is more immediately responsive to we the people," Thomas said. "Imagine being locked in a bad state senator for 4 years or a bad state representative for 2 years in the 21st century."
When a winner emerges Tuesday night, he will have to wait to learn who he will face in November.
A spokesman for the state board of elections said after the primary, Democratic Party chairmen across the 106th district will meet and conduct a weighted vote to appoint a nominee. That person faces a June 4 deadline to submit nominating petitions in order to qualify for the November ballot.
(A map of the re-drawn 106th House District)
Blagojevich Enters Prison
Convicted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich never allowed himself to even think about spending the next decade of his life behind bars. Less than an hour before he began serving his 14-year sentence on corruption charges, he could hardly say that word: "prison."
State workers demonstrated at dozens of locations around Illinois on Thursday protesting Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed budget cuts that would eliminate 3,000 state jobs.
At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, about 20 members of AFSCME Local 2971 marched outside the State Regional Office Building on South 1st Street. The local represents state workers in a nine-county area. And its president, Rebecca Hardin, said the governor's cuts would close two state police dispatch centers in her region --- part of consolidation plan reducing the number of centers statewide to just four. Hardin said employees at the Ashkum and Pesotum call centers who are not laid off would have to transfer to Springfield or Des Plaines to keep their jobs.
"So they'll be in charge of counties that they're unfamiliar with," Hardin said. "It's going to put a lot of harm and risk on the troopers. It's going to be a very stressful job, because the people are so dedicated to handling the calls and knowing the areas, and they're not going to know those areas."
Quinn's proposals would also close state Human Service offices in Edgar and Douglas Counties. Residents of those counties who receive services such as LINK cards and Medicaid would have to travel to other counties when they need to visit a DHS office.
Other proposals around the state would close prisons in Dwight and Tamms, and a developmental center in Jacksonville.
AFSCME spokesperson Tara McCauley said none of the governor's cuts are needed to balance the budget. Instead, she says the governor and lawmakers should undo the tax breaks recently granted for corporations like Sears. Those breaks came one year after a lame-duck Illinois legislature passed a state income tax increase.
Meanwhile, AFSCME is negotiating a new contract with the state, but McCauley said she does not think Quinn's proposed cuts have anything to do with the bargaining process. The current AFSCME contract expires June 30.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
As University of Illinois trustees met on Thursday on the Urbana campus, a new letter calling for the firing of President Michael Hogan was released, with the signatures of about 125 Urbana campus faculty.
The letter follows trustees' direction to Hogan last week to fix his relationship with faculty. But faculty members say they're not willing to wait.
In the letter, faculty called Hogan's short time in charge of the university a failure.
"We view it as essential that Hogan's failed Presidency be seen for what it is, and that a path be forged which can rapidly restore a healthy governance structure," the letter said.
Some members of the faculty have complained about Hogan's leadership style. They also fear some of his plans would reduce campus autonomy. Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Jean-Pierre Leburton signed the letter. He said he wants a university president who does a better job communicating with faculty and students.
"I would like a leader who understands what this campus is about, that the campus is mostly done by the faculty and students," Leburton said. "Then when a decision has to be taken, it's taken within the culture that exists here within the campus of Urbana-Champaign."
University spokesman Tom Hardy said trustees did not have the chance to go over the letter during their meeting on Thursday.
But Trustees did hear another letter, read by Don Chambers, the Chicago-campus professor who chairs the Faculty Senates Conference. That letter praises Hogan for the revisions he proposed for his controversial enrollment management plan.
"The recent sessions we had in working through these changes have been as I have said repeatedly a demonstration of shared governance at its best, and what can be accomplished when we work together," Chambers said.
U of I Trustees Chair Chris Kennedy says the board has been on campus since Wednesday, meeting with administrators and leading faculty members.
And he says during Thursday's executive session, there was a chance for trustees to share the results of one-on-one meetings with faculty, and share them with the president.
"We had a private session, during which we distilled, I think what we heard from all of the faculty," Kennedy. "University trustees have asked me to enter into a dialogue with the president, and provide a distillation of those thoughts, and I intend to do that."
Hogan's chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, resigned in January amid concerns over the enrollment policy. The plan was the source of an e-mail debate between Hogan and Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise.
Before the plan was revised, Chambers said there were five total concerns with the original enrollment management policy, but those concerns have been ironed out.
Chambers thanked the U of I's Board of Trustees and the administration for listening to faculty concerns about the enrollment management plan. He said Hogan's proposals should be sent to all three campus Senates on Monday, and that he believed they could come to a "positive conclusion" on the matter.
Given the positive comments by Chambers, University spokesman Tom Hardy said faculty comments in the letter calling on trustees to fire Hogan don't add up.
Last month, around a hundred faculty members signed a separate letter calling on President Hogan to resign.
13th Congressional Debate from Illinois Public Media on Vimeo.
The Democratic candidates running in Illinois' re-drawn 13th Congressional district took part in a debate Wednesday night on WILL-TV.
Bloomington doctor David Gill and Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten are competing in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
The candidates have different opinions about term limits. Gill, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives for the fourth time, said he support term limits for members of Congress.
"Just as we passed an amendment in 1951 to term limit presidents, we should do the same," Gill said. "A lot of my friends tell me the downsides to it. I think the upside outweighs the downside."
Meanwhile, Matt Goetten said he would oppose a constitutional amendment for term limits. He said there is a lot of institutional knowledge that could be gained by serving in office over a long period of time.
"I just don't see us getting to the threshold that we need to get to to even have that be an issue," Goetten said.
During the debate, the candidates also weighed in on gay marriage and contraception issues.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. Gill said DOMA should be repealed.
"I think our LGBT friends should be stood up for by true Democrats, and I think proudly stand up for them," Gill said. "They should have the freedom to marry is all 50 states of the union."
Goetten said he doesn't believe the law would survive a court challenge.
"DOMA is unconstitutional," Goetten said. "I believe it will be found such later this year. I, like Dave, am for equality."
The two Democrats were also asked about President Obama's decision to require contraception coverage for employees of Catholic institutions.
Goetten has described himself as a pro-choice Catholic who has always chosen life. Gill said he is the only 100 percent pro-choice candidate in this race, and he accused Goetten of ducking the issue. Goetten said he agrees with Gill that women should have access to contraception.
Gill and Goetten are competing to run against Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana, who faces challenges from Metro East residents Michael Firsching and Frank Metzger in the GOP primary.
The re-drawn 13th Congressional District stretches from Champaign-Urbana west to the Mississippi River and to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.
View the online chat room that was live during the broadcast
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
On his last full day of freedom, Rod Blagojevich gave a statement to reporters in front of his home on Chicago's North side.
Blagojevich first thanked people for their support over the last three years. He said the citizens of Illinois elected him twice to be governor of the state. He called that a privilege and an honor.
Blagojevich said he fought hard for the people during his time as governor and listed some key legislation that passed during his term. He faulted himself for possibly fighting too hard and not "having more humility."
The ex-governor paused as supporters chanted, "Free our governor," before turning his statement to address his wife Patti and his two daughters. He called going to prison the hardest thing he'd ever have to do.
"How do you make sense of all of this? What do you tell your children?" he asked.
Blagojevich regretted that he would be away from his daughters for more than a decade.
"It's hard for me to say that I have to go to prison. That's a hard word for me to say," he said.
His wife Patti stood by his side during the entire statement, trying to hold back tears. The ex-governor praised her for standing by his side and being a "great mom."
After his statement, Blagojevich didn't take any questions and the family returned to their home.
The 55-year-old Democrat is due to report to a prison in Colorado on Thursday to begin serving a 14-year sentence. He was convicted of 18 criminal counts during two trials, including charges that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
More than 50 reporters crowded onto the street near the former Illinois governor's home as television helicopters hovered overhead.
Neighbors and supporters hung a banner over the railing of Blagojevich's home that read, "Thanks Mr. Governor. We will pray."
Current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters Wednesday the state is a much better place than it was on January 29th, 2009, the day Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.
"We're going to have two governors, two former governors, in jail at the same time. That's something that we never, ever want to have happen," Quinn said. "And I think that it's important that the people of Illinois, who are good and true, always come out first."
Quinn said he wishes Blagojevich's family well.
Blagojevich had announced he'd make the statement starting precisely at 5:02 p.m., which enabled prime time news to lead with his remarks. Attorneys for the ousted Illinois governor say he wants to depart in a dignified way, without a media frenzy. That fueled speculation he'd try to slip out of Chicago undetected, but his spokesman says Blagojevich never entertained that idea.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin met Wednesday with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to talk about assisting the southern part of the state damaged by deadly storms.
A tornado tore through the Harrisburg area last month, killing seven people.
Assistance from FEMA would help with repairs and rebuilding, but the agency denied the state's request for federal help. FEMA had ruled that insurance, charities and state money could cover costs linked to the storm that tore through five southern Illinois counties.
Speaking after the meeting with FEMA, Durbin said Illinois is getting another chance.
"I still feel confident, having seen this damage and compared it to a lot of other disasters, that we have a good fighting chance for this federal declaration," Durbin said. "I want it to happen, the people down there have suffered enough. Seven people lost their lives, a lot of folks are out of their homes, the community has just pitched in in every way possible to help out. This federal declaration will help a lot of people get back on their feet."
Speculating about why Illinois didn't receive assistance from FEMA the first time, Durbin said application materials gathered were lacking information. He said he expects FEMA to get a revised application in less than a week, and then make a decision within a few days.
For the first time in twenty years, the Illinois G-O-P presidential primary will really matter. That is according to Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Hastert stopped in the Quad Cities on Wednesday as part of a state-wide tour to garner support for Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Hastert said after working with all of the Republican contenders over the years, he decided to support Romney.
"I have a lot of respect for Newt Gingrich. He's a smart guy and he's very articulate," Hastert said. "As you'll find with most of the people who worked with Newt aren't supporting Newt because he's sometimes very eccentric. You never know which direction at kind of a snap of a finger he'll decide to go."
Illinois voters will decide in next Tuesday's primary, how the state's 69 delegates will be divided.
So far in the campaign Romney is in the lead with 495 delegates with Rick Santorum in second at 252.
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