Illinois Public Media News
Champaign County Board members haven't had a raise in more than 20 years.
And based on a straw poll conducted Tuesday night, a majority of them don't want to change the method they're paid, earning a specific per diem per meeting plus mileage, rather than an annual salary. But the amount of that per diem has yet to be set. It's currently $45, an amount some call woefully short. Urbana Democrat Tom Betz said it's kept some people from serving.
"It costs them more in the evening to pay the babysitter than they're getting in the per diem," he said. "It has really happened. I know one very good board member we lost because of that. No entity goes 25 years without any salary increase. It's really kind of ludicrous."
Champaign Democrat Michael Richards agrees, saying his party has trouble recruiting candidates with the current level of compensation, but Mahomet Republican John Jay said a raise can't be justified after the sacrifices county employees have made.
"So I'm hoping that we don't raise it at this time..," he said. "..In due respect to our employees, and to the taxpayers of this county, until we get our county back into some kind of reasonable fiscal shape."
Urbana Republican Steve Moser said money was never an incentive for him to serve on the county board, saying it's no different from serving on a school board.
County Administrator Deb Busey suggests the board set compensation rates every 10 years, and prior to a change in county board structure. It's expected to have 22 members instead of the current 27 after the 2012 elections. Voters recommended the change in an advisory referendum last fall.
The rates for board members don't have to be set until about six months before a new county board is sworn in, but county board chair Pius Wiebel said he'd hope to do it much sooner.
In another straw poll, the County Board also rejected a suggestion that the title of county board chair become an elected member of the county rather than one chosen by county board members.
UI Faculty Senate Votes to Keep Institute of Aviation
In a narrow 57-to-54 vote, members of the University of Illinois' Faculty Senate rejected a proposal Monday to close the Institute of Aviation located at Willard Airport in Savoy.
A bill linking teacher pay with student performance has won final legislative approval and now heads to Gov. Mitch Daniels for his signature.
The Senate voted 36-13 for the merit pay bill, which is part of Daniels' expansive education agenda. Under the bill, teachers would be evaluated annually. Only those in the top two of four categories would be eligible for certain pay raises. Local districts would create their own evaluations, but would have to include objective measures of student achievement, such as test scores.
Districts wouldn't be able to place a student for two years in a row with teachers rated in the lowest category without notifying parents.
Supporters say it's right to reward the best teachers, while opponents say teachers aren't in the profession for the money.
Indiana Republicans have made two big gains in education policy. On Thursday a majority of the Indiana Senate approved what could become one of the most expansive school voucher programs in the nation. That comes just a day after the governor signed a new law that restricts collective bargaining for public school teachers.
Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels visited Valparaiso Thursday to tout the momentum he and the Republican-controlled legislature have seen for their education agenda.
Speaking on the collective bargaining issue, Daniels deflected criticism of being anti-union. He said, under the new legislation, teachers still have the right to bargain over salaries and benefits; they are only losing out on bargaining over things that have nothing to do with educating children. He cited things like like the color of paint inside teachers' lounges or the temperature inside of a school.
"This is the year we really transform Indiana for the better. I'm really very grateful for what the General Assembly has agreed to help us do," Daniels said before the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce at Strongbow Inn. "Now, we have to go and make that system work."
The restrictions on teachers' collective bargaining take effect July 1.
Republican lawmakers are expected to enact more changes in education before the end of the legislation session, which ends next week. Several include changes Daniels laid out in his State of the State address in January.
Next on the list is the school voucher expansion, which the Senate approved Thursday. It could be taken up again by the Indiana House next week. The measure would allow some parents to use public money to send their children to a private school.
"Choice will no longer be limited to the well-to-do in our state. If you're a moderate or low income family and you've tried the public schools for at least a year and you can't find one that works for your child, you can direct the dollars we were going to spend on your child to the non-government school of your choice," Daniels said during his visit to Valparaiso. "That's a social justice issue to me."
Opponents worry vouchers would siphon money from public schools. The voucher issue is contentious; so much so that House Democrats referenced it when they bolted from the statehouse last month.
Another item in Daniels school overhaul initiative would impose a merit pay system on teachers. If it passes, the provision would tie raises in teacher salary to annual evaluations. Unions say that system could short-change teachers who work with students who are tough to teach.
Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is offering a handful of specifics about what he'll accomplish in his first months on the job.
In the first question of a 70-minute interview before an audience Wednesday night at the Field Museum, Emanuel was asked to set some benchmarks he'll no doubt be judged on later: what he will have done 100 days after taking office.
"You want to rush forward all 100 days and I haven't even gotten 100 hours in yet," Emanuel said to the interviewer, Chicago Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dold. The paper endorsed Emanuel in his campaign for mayor.
Emanuel highlighted some of the things he's done in the transition, most notably key staff announcements.
Among his first moves in office, he said, will be to appoint a board to oversee economic development funds, reorganize some of city government and close what he called the "revolving door" for public employees who take jobs as lobbyists.
Emanuel on Wednesday night also mentioned something he says would not be accomplished quickly.
"I want the culture and the mindset in city government to be one of, we all...deliver a service to the people who are paying the bills," he said.
Emanuel told the audience that won't happen in 100 days - or even in a thousand.
The Lincoln Trail Library System says Champaign's library may no longer charge out of town residents a $200 fee to check out materials.
The head of the system says she understands why Champaign's library started charging the fee for residents of Mahomet and Tolono last fall. Champaign library Director Marsha Grove said reciprocal borrowing had become much higher through patrons from neighboring towns than in Champaign and Urbana. Last year, the library lent 700,000 items through the Lincoln Trial system, while Champaign -Urbana residents borrowed about 200-thousand.
Grove said the plan was to evaluate the fee after six months, and the library is sticking to it.
"The board and I will very carefully look at the all the facets of this, and do so, as we have always done, with our primary concern of serving our residents right here in Champaign," Grove said. "That's what we want to do well."
But Lincoln Trail Director Jan Ison said she's surprised to hear the Champaign Public Library board would wait about a month before deciding whether to waive that fee, and she said residents of rural towns still pay taxes for library services.
"They are not non-residents in a legal sense," Ison said. "A non-resident would live outside of any tax-supported public library. And so the residents of Tolono and Mahomet, of those library districts, do pay taxes. Now, those taxes may not be as great as Champaign's tax, which is one of the reasons the board understands that they should perhaps be restricted."
Libraries in the Lincoln Trail system are allowed to limit the items a non-resident patron can check out to five, but Ison called the special use fee 'unacceptable' to both the Lincoln Trail System and Illinois State Library.
The Lincoln trial board said libraries that continue to charge the fee could lose their reciprocal borrowing privileges. Ison said the idea is get Tolono and Mahomet patrons using their local libraries more often.
But no decisions are expected soon. Neither the Champaign Library Board nor the Lincoln Trail Library board will meet until the 3rd week of May.
Residents of a mobile home park that has become a center of Champaign-Urbana's Hispanic community has no central place to go in an emergency. As Jose Diaz of the investigative reporting unit CU-Citizen Access reports, residents want the situation to change.
Despite a court order barring Bernard and Eduardo Ramos from accepting tenants at the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, they continue to do so, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
The Ramoses were found guilty Monday in Champaign County court of failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines ($100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems).
The judge in the case, John Kennedy, also issued an injunction, preventing the Ramoses from housing tenants until Cherry Orchard is brought up to code.
The Ramoses submitted a notice of appeal following the ruling.
Public Health administrator Julie Pryde said her department sent a health inspector to Cherry Orchard twice after the verdict. About 20 vehicles were discovered on the property. The health inspector spoke to a tenant who said she confronted Bernard Ramos about media coverage surrounding the trial. Pryde said the tenant was told by Ramos that he is appealing the court ruling, and that there's "no reason to move."
"It's clear that he has been moving people in almost continuously since we told him to stop," Pryde said. "He's actually gone out of his way to tell people that it's ok that they continue to live there."
Pryde said her department is working with different state agencies to help find remaining Cherry Orchard tenants permanent homes.
"I can't even begin to imagine how much time has been spent on this Cherry Orchard situation, and you know none of that money comes back to these agencies," she said.
This is not the first time efforts have been made to find emergency homes for Cherry Orchard tenants. Back in January, Pryde organized a meeting with groups including the Salvation Army, the United Way, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to help get tenants into safe, permanent housing.
Pryde said she would like to see increased enforcement to ensure that the court order is followed. A request for comment from the Champaign County State's Attorney was not immediately returned.
Bernard Ramos and his family have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County; however, several are now or have been under foreclosure during the past few years - with at least seven sold in sheriff's auctions since 2008, according to an analysis of Champaign County Recorder's Office documents.
Cherry Orchard is located right outside of Rantoul, and has traditionally housed migrant workers.
The Indiana Senate has approved a bill that would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and give Indiana some of the country's tightest abortion restrictions.
The Republican-ruled Senate voted 35-13 for the bill, which would prohibit state funding to organizations that provide abortion and cut off some federal money that the state distributes. It also would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.
Opponents say the bill is "unconscionable'' and would keep low-income women from getting health screenings, birth control and other services Planned Parenthood provides.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana says the bill is unconstitutional and vows to take the issue to court.
The bill now moves to the GOP-led House for consideration.
Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says the state should give government employees an option between pension plans and then defend the change in court.
The Republican said Tuesday he thinks giving current employees a choice between the current, guaranteed payment pension plan and a new 401(k)-style program would not run afoul of the state constitution. The constitution bars cutting retiree benefits.
A major union says the idea wouldn't raise the same "constitutional red flags'' as simply reducing benefits.
But the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees says Rutherford's proposal wouldn't fix the state's pension problems.
Rutherford says the state cannot afford to fund pensions in its current form. He says the switch would help restore solvency.
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