Illinois Public Media News
A tentative agreement has been reached between Champaign's Teamsters union and representatives of the First Student bus company.
The two sides met for about eight hours Friday discussing details of a new three-year contract for 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors in the Danville School District. Those employees have been working without a contract since August 1st, and have never publicly announced plans to strike.
"We're very pleased to have a tentative agreement," said Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the First Student bus company. "We very much value all of our employees - our drivers, monitors, mechanics, across the board - and take pride in the excellent work every day."
Richmond refrained from releasing details about the proposed contract, saying the union must first ratify the agreement. She said she expects union members to vote on the contract sometime within the next week.
Since July, the union had been demanding higher wages and benefits. Officials from Teamsters Local 26 did not return a call for comment.
(Photo courtesy of First Student)
Illinois released school-by-school test score data Friday, and it shows 2010 to be a watershed year: More than half of the state's schools are now considered failing under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Schools were supposed to get 77.5 percent of their students to meet standards in reading and math during the 2009-2010 school year, a significant increase from the year prior. That is one reason why more Illinois schools missed the mark than made it.
"The levels have gone up and that's what No Child Left Behind was designed to do, keep ratcheting up the levels each year," said Jesse Ruiz, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education.
Ruiz and other state leaders have said they want to see schools measured on "growth" once No Child Left Behind is reauthorized, which could happen early next year. Growth models look at how much students improve year to year, rather than the percentage of students who meet standards.
Most schools in the state did show improvement. But that often did not matter for schools, which can eventually face sanctions for failing to meet testing targets.
"Our AP exams are the best they've ever been, our ACT exams are the best they've ever been, and yet we didn't make the cut-off point, so it was very disappointing," said Sandra Doebert, superintendent of Lemont High School District 210 in the southwest suburbs. This was the first year Lemont has run afoul of the federal law.
Doebert points to the state's difficult high school test-which includes the ACT college entrance exam-as one reason 90 percent of the state's high schools failed to meet standards. Nearly everyone in the state agrees that Illinois elementary school standards are not rigorous enough, and that causes elementary school students to arrive at high school unprepared.
That's one reason the state board adopted new learning standards in June. New tests are being developed and will debut in the 2014-2015 school year.
Test scores released Friday show that Chicago schools posted the highest-and lowest-test scores in the state. At the high school level, city kids who test into Chicago's elite selective enrollment high schools again beat out posh districts like New Trier and Deerfield.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
Numbers released Friday show nearly 500 schools are at least 90 percent poor and 90 percent minority, but only one of them has also gotten 90 percent of its students to meet standards on state tests. Illinois Public Radio's Linda Lutton reports from the state's only "90-90-90" school.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
The job market in Illinois is showing a sign of improvement.
The unemployment rate for September in the Champaign-Urbana area fell from 9.4% in August to 8.3% in September - that's .4 less than at this time a year ago.
The state Department of Employment Security says every other metropolitan area in the state also saw a lower jobless rate in September compared to September of 2009 - the first time a statewide decrease has taken place since early 2007.
About 800 more people in the Champaign area were working in September over August according to the monthly figures. Danville's unemployment rate fell in the last month to 10.8% - Decatur's jobless rate dropped to 10.9%. Bloomington-Normal continues to have the lowest unemployment rate in Illinois at 7.2%.
Talks will resume Friday morning between Teamsters Local 226 and representatives of the First Student bus company, which runs transportation services in the Danville School District.
The two sides have been mulling over a new three-year contract for the district's 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors who respond to 56 routes. The union wants those employees to get higher wages and benefits.
After more than four months of contract negations, Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the bus company, said she had hoped to reach a resolution by now.
"We do believe that the compensation and benefits package that we've offered to the union representatives is a fair market value, especially given the current economic conditions," Richmond said.
Richmond would not release details of the proposed contract.
Union members have not formally announced plans to walk off the job and strike, even though its members have been without a contract since August 1.
A representative from the Teamsters Union could not be reached for comment.
Champaign's Virginia Theatre is nearing the end of renovations to its lobby and exterior, and will open again to audiences.
However, the nearly 90-year-old facility will be closing again in the next couple of years for handicapped accessible seating, plaster work inside the theater, and electric work. The $500,000 grant was part of the Illinois Jobs Now capital program.
Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said an exact closure date will be within two years of when the grant is initiated. So it could be as soon as next summer, but she said the key is to avoid conflicting with Roger Ebert's Annual Film Festival in April. The work is expected to take at least six months.
The Park District got half of what it requested for the state grant, so Auteberry said the ADA compliance and other work will have to be pared down.
"So we're going to take a look at what we submitted, which initially included replacement of the current seating and replacement of all the plaster work inside the entire house," Auteberry said. "But it also included some acoustical infrastucture improvements upgrades, and electrical and lighting work on stage."
The next performance this year is the annual Chorale concert on New Year's Eve. Auteberry says the public will notice changes right away, including new carpeting, exterior and interior doors, and plaster work.
The Park District staff is also working with a sign company to take down the old theater marquee, and design for the new one to be put up in the next few weeks. The current work on the Virginia was paid for with a bequest from the estate of the late Michael Carragher, and other private funds.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign Park District)
The head of Illinois' economic development agency is defending the state's role in a plan that will mean a loss of jobs for central Illinois.
Warren Ribley, the director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said it was clear food processor Tate and Lyle was going to move jobs from Decatur. Ribley said the only question was whether or not the firm would relocate in Illinois or another state.
"After hearing all that we rolled up our sleeves and did what we could to make sure jobs stayed in Illinois," Ribley said. "As a result we were able to mitigate the loss of jobs out of Decatur."
Tate and Lyle, a food processor, with its U.S. operations based in Decatur will locate 160 jobs in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates. Illinois gave a mix of tax breaks and job training grants to keep the company in the state.
Ribley said it is common for large companies to want a presence near a major metropolitan area.
"Especially when you're looking at these large global international companies," he said. "Their board takes a different view and they look at different considerations. They don't have the same hometown connection."
Tate and Lyle has been in Decatur for more than 20 years after it purchased the A.E. Staley operation. Staley's ties to Decatur go back more than a century. Founder Augustus Staley started a football team in Decatur that later became the Chicago Bears.
It was announced this week that a Decatur food processing firm is moving some of its jobs out of Decatur.
During a debate at Millikin University Wednesday night, Illinois House candidates Democrat Bob Flider and his challenger Republican Adam Brown sparred over the severity of the decision.
Tate and Lyle reported this week that a new commercial and food innovation center will be established in Hoffman Estates, bringing 160 jobs to that area.
A spokesman says 80 Decatur employees will be offered the opportunity to move. Brown slammed the move considering Decatur has among the state's highest unemployment rates.
"It's truly unreal and well beyond me that the state of Illinois is subsidizing a $15 million dollar project not to bring a company to Illinois but to move it somewhere else in Illinois at the expense of downstate voters," Brown said.
Flider said he met with representatives of the company and says other options were to move the jobs out-of-state to Nashville or Indianapolis.
"I think it's shameful to politicize community leaders working to keep jobs and a company in Illinois," Flider said. "I think it shows the immaturity of Adam Brown."
The state parties have been dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the heated campaign for the 101st House District Race.
For politicians in a supposedly "blue" state, quite a few Illinois Democrats are looking vulnerable right now. Republicans could pick up a number of statewide offices, and also a few congressional ones. In fact, as Illinois Public Radio's Sam Hudzik reports, some Illinois voters will play a large role in deciding which party controls the U.S. House and the coveted speaker's gavel.
(Photo of Congressman Bill Foster (D-14) by Sam Hudzik/IPR)
Archer Daniels Midland's plan to buy a downtown building is one in a series of moves to spur economic growth in the area, according to a Decatur city official.
The agricultural processor has entered into an agreement with Reynolds Development to purchase the building adjacent to ADM's Global Technology Center on North Water Street. Moving 350 employees there from other parts of the city will boost the company's downtown workforce to about 700 people, about 17-percent of ADM's local workforce. The company will decide which employees move to the Reynolds building by the end of the year.
Decatur Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus said ADM's agreement is moving forward as soon as possible, and helping to complete a longtime vision.
"These are folks who will shop in downtown stores, who will eat in downtown restaurants, and will hopefully visit downtown entertainment venues," Tyus said. "We think it's just one more step in our producing a downtown that will be a 24-hour living environment, which is what we've been working towards for some time now."
The new ADM facility will still house a Regions Bank branch currently in the building. Meanwhile, Reynolds Development is planning another downtown development for luring in restaurants, office, and retail development. That facility will also house an insurance company that Reynolds operates. To add to the development, the city of Decatur has been negotiating with the state to take over jurisdiction of US Route 51, and move it out of the downtown area. Tyus said that will allow for the re-routing of truck traffic.
On Thursday night, Decatur's city council will be asked to approve an agreement with ADM to allow downtown additional parking for employees that will be moving into that area.
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