Illinois Public Media News
The Consent Decree --- which for eight years dictated how the Champaign school district should address racial disparities in education --- is being lifted. The school board and attorneys for the plaintiffs reached an agreement yesterday (Wednesday) that's meant to lift the financial burdens of the consent decree, while keeping its accomplishments in place.
The Unit Four School Board ratified the settlement agreement on a 6 to nothing vote last night. And that gave Board President Dave Tomlinson the chance to say something he had been waiting to say for a long time.
"With this agreement, all court and attorney oversight for the decree has ended," Tomlinson announced to reporters following the school board meeting. "Unit Four has satisfied all of the requirements of the decree, and all motions to extend the decree will be dropped,"
Attorneys for the plaintiffs had filed motions seeking the extension of the Consent Decree on three issues --- north side classrooms, special education and alternative education. But plaintiffs' attorney Carol Ashley says the extension is no longer needed, because the settlement agreement commits Unit Four to several measures meant to follow-up on those issues --- from an equity policy committee to review the district's progress, to passage of board resolutions confirming plans for the additional classrooms.
Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley has worked on the case since the first civil rights complaints were filed 13 years ago. The Consent Decree agreed to in 2002 kept those complaints from going to trial, and Ashley says that was the best solution for all concerned.
"These are difficult issues to deal with, states Ashley. "But the collaborative process used int his case I think was beneficial to African American students, and to the community at large, and to the school district."
The settlement agreement means that a federal court hearing on the Consent Decree set for August 3rd in Peoria will not need to be held.
The Champaign School Board is holding a special meeting tonight, July 29th, to vote on a settlement of the Consent Decree for racial equity. The meeting is scheduled for 7 PM at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 South New Street in Champaign.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says representatives of both Unit Four and plaintiffs in the case reached an agreement at a settlement conference Tuesday to end the Consent Decree immediately. Details are to be released at a news conference at 8 PM, pending school board approval of the agreement.
The Unit Four school board agreed to the Consent Decree in 2001, to avoid a civil rights lawsuit on charges that African-American students were not receiving the same quality of education as white students. Besides changes in how classes are taught, and students assigned to schools, the Consent Decree has cost Unit Four millions of dollars in legal and consulting fees. School District officials were anxious to have the decree expire as scheduled this summer. But attorneys for the plaintiffs had been pushing for a partial extension.
The Champaign School Board holds a special meeting tonight (July 29th) at 7 PM,followed by a news conference. Both will be held at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 South New Street in Champaign.
The previously scheduled board meeting is to discuss the Consent Decree. School Board President Dave Tomlinson won't say what the news conference is about. But representatives of Unit Four and plaintiffs in the Consent Decree on racial equity matters met Tuesday in Peoria. The settlement conference was held to see if the two sides could reach an out of court settlement of their differences, prior to a court hearing set for next week.
Champaign School officials want to end the Consent Decree this summer. Attorneys for the plaintiffs have argued it should be extended in three specific areas.
Representatives of the Champaign Unit Four School District and the plaintiffs in its consent decree meet this morning in Peoria to discuss a possible settlement.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says such meetings are common prior to a court hearing. He says it gives both parties a chance to reach an amicable agreement out of court. However, Tomlinson says if any proposals about the Consent Decree come about, they won't come from the school district.
"The plaintiff's wouldn't be making any offers to settle so the district's not making any offers to settle. We're certainly willing to hear those offers if there are some made," Tomlinson said.
Neither Tomlinson or Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley would comment on whether attorneys for the plaintiffs will make any proposals at the settlement conference. But Tomlinson has called two special school board meetings --- for Tuesday and Wednesday nights --- to discuss the Consent Decree behind closed doors. The federal court hearing on the Consent Decree is scheduled for next week.
The Consent Decree on racial equity was due to expire this summer, but attorneys for the Plaintiffs want to extend it in three areas --- special education, alternative education and new classrooms on Champaign's north side. They say Unit Four has not made sufficient or fast enough progress in those areas. The school district says they've made progress and that any efforts that fell short were still made in good faith.
The Safe Haven Tent Community will leave the back yard of the St. Jude Catholic Worker House by the end of July. But Safe Haven and its supporters hope to convince Champaign city officials that semi-permanent housing is better than no housing at all --- and that they should be allowed to stay somewhere in the city. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
Supporters of relocation aid for tenants who are forced to leave condemned buildings took their case to the Urbana City Council last Monday night. The idea was sparked by the sudden closures recently of apartments in Rantoul and Champaign, after their owners failed to pay utility bills.
Danielle Chynoweth of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice says that in such cases, the city should provide emergency funding to help displaced tenants find new housing. The former Urbana alderwoman says the city could recoup the money through fines on landlords whose negligence led to the shutdown. Chynoweth says there's little danger of the landlords being unable to pay.
"The first question the Council should ask its staff is how many condemnations have happened against landlords that were bankrupt," Chynoweth told the Council. "I think you will find not very many in Urbana. So in most cases, you'll have recouped the costs."
But Urbana Neighborhood Services Director Libby Tyler says the proposed level of relocation assistance --- at least 2-thousand dollars for each displaced tenant ---- is too expensive for the city. "You can imagine situations where a municipality would not be able to afford to condemn an unsafe building, would not be able to afford the relocation costs," Tyler said.
She also worries that money might sometimes go to tenants who don't need the help. Tyler says Urbana will work with Champaign and other agencies to create a coordinated plan for helping displaced tenants. That plan could be ready in the fall. Meanwhile, Tyler says Urbana already has a small fund for tenant relocation assistance, and the city may look for ways to boost it.
Last week's sudden closure of a residential hotel in Champaign forced dozens of people to look for a place to live on short notice. It also forced the City of Champaign into action - not just to condemn the Gateway Studios for lack of utilities, but to help arrange housing for those residents, most of them low-income. Housing advocates see the evictions - and a similar incident at the Autumn Glen apartment Complex in Rantoul - to call for changes in housing policy in Champaign and Urbana. Former Urbana alderman Danielle Chynoweth has brought a proposal to the Champaign and Urbana city councils to offer cash assistance for relocation to people left homeless by condemnation - the landlord would be held responsible for that money. She spoke with AM 580's Tom Rogers.
The head of Champaign's Neighborhood Services department, Kevin Jackson, told AM 580's Jim Meadows last week that while rental help is available from agencies, some of it is based on the applicant's background. Jackson says the city is open to discussion on permanent policy changes.
The Champaign school district's Consent Decree has been extended a few weeks past its scheduled June 30th expiration date --- due to scheduling problems with the judge overseeing the case. Federal Judge Joe Billy McDade has extended the racial equity decree until he can schedule a hearing on motions filed by plaintiffs in the case. School Board President Dave Tomlinson says McDade had no open dates in June --- and the hearing may not be held until July 20th or later.
Tomlinson and plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley says this extension of the Consent Decree is only due to scheduling problems. Ashley is seeking a multi-year extension until the Unit Four school district works out problems she says remain with achieving goals set by the decree. But Tomlinson says the district has made a good-faith effort towards all the Consent Decree goals.He says the district's objections to the extension were overturned.
Champaign city officials say they did what they could to help residents of Gateway Studios, who were forced to move out when Ameren turned off the gas and electricity yesterday (Tuesday). The owners had fallen behind in its utility bills, but residents paying for rooms by the week or the month didn't learn about the impending shutdown until late last week.
Neighborhood Service Director Kevin Jackson says the city worked with local service agencies to make sure everybody who lived at the Gateway had a place to stay last night, and help in finding more permanent living quarters. Now, Jackson says he now wants to look to the future. "I know, going forward, we want to learn from this to see if there is something we could do from a local policy standpoint to prevent something like this from happening again," Jackson said.
Prevention was also on the minds of several people who came to last night's city council study session, but were not allowed to speak. After the meeting, they met in small groups with Jackson and about five city council members. The group was organized by Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice. Many of them said the city of Champaign should have a policy in place to identify motels and apartment complexes in danger of closing, so residents have more advance warning. They also called for a special city fund help people who face motel or apartment closings through no fault of their own.
University of Illinois Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman says the recent damage to a Native American exhibit are 'malicious' attacks that impact everyone in the campus community.
In a mass e-mail sent Tuesday, Herman decried the vandalism on the 'Beyond the Chief' exhibit on Nevada Avenue, the most recent occurring over the weekend. He says the U of I has the widest interpretation of free speech and expression, and will not tolerate acts of intimidation, violence or hate. And the director of the U of I's Native American House, Robert Warrior, says American Indian students on campus are echoing those comments. "They're questioning what kind of environment they're having to learn in. How safe is this place?," says Warrior. "And even if it seems physically safe to be on campus most of the time, how safe are the ideas that students are expressing? How safe do they feel, and how welcome do they feel on campus?"
Warrior notes the work of 'Beyond the Chief' artist Edgar Heap of Birds has been on display for more than 20 years in several other communities, and has remained undisturbed. He says the U of I exhibit made up of metal signs has been strengthened to make further attempts to damage the art more difficult. Herman says he's confident the culprits responsible for the damage will be caught.
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