Illinois Public Media News
Up to 15,000 people are participating in one of the biggest rallies in the history of the Illinois state Capitol.
The secretary of state's office says about 12,000 people marched the streets of Springfield on Wednesday. Even more were on the Statehouse grounds, bringing the total to about 15,000.
The event was billed as a "Save Our State'' rally. It drew state employees, teachers and advocates from social service organizations.
Fired-up speakers urged the crowd to turn to the Statehouse. They shouted slogans such as "Show some guts!''
Don Dixon is a teacher at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign and a board member of the Illinois Education Association. He brought 20 students to the state capitol for the rally. Dixon says there will be more layoffs in his district unless the state puts more money into education.
We just laid off 153 people in the second round. The first round we laid off about 50. And it's only going to get worse," Dixon said. "The state has pretty much screwed up entirely as far as funding anything. So bills are being paid late. Eventually we're just going to have to close down if we don't get an increase in revenue and get some sillier things cut out."
Gov. Pat Quinn wants a 33 percent increase in the income tax, but House Democrats have been reluctant to back a hike.
An Illinois Senate panel has rejected proposed legislation that would allow Illinois school districts to hold classes only four days a week.
Only two of the 11 members of the Senate Education Committee voted Tuesday in support of the plan to allow local districts to give students a full school year of three-day weekends.
Although the measure received widespread backing in the House, committee members expressed concern that a third day off school would cause problems for working parents.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic State Sen. Michael Frerichs of Champaign, said the measure would simply allow districts to move to four-day school weeks, not mandate them to do so.
A number of rural districts had lobbied for the option in hopes of saving money.
Illinois home foreclosure activity during the first quarter of 2010 fell 4.6 percent from the previous quarter, but was still higher than the first quarter of 2009.
A report released Thursday by Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac shows Illinois with 45,780 foreclosure filings in the first quarter of 2010. Filings include default notices, auction-sale notices and bank repossessions.
The filings represent one in every 115 housing units in the state. That rate is nearly 17.5 percent higher than in the first quarter of last year and 9th-highest nationally.
Nevada again had the nation's highest foreclosure rate _ one in every 33 housing units.
Other states with foreclosure rates higher than Illinois were: Arizona, Florida, California, Utah, Michigan, Georgia, Idaho and Colorado.
University of Illinois Trustees could begin interviewing its 10 finalists for university president by the end of this week. The presidential search committee is not naming the finalists, but committee chair and trustee Pam Strobel says 8 of the 10 come from the public universities, and some have ties to the U of I. Five of them are current university presidents.
On Monday, she says the committee updated the rest of the Trustees on those finalists. Strobel says the board is on track to name a new president by sometime next month. And she says the finalists aren't concerned about the economic climate affecting the U of I, along with many other campuses. "And it seems to be almost an epidemic that is going on, affecting especially public universities in so very many states," says Strobel. "And so we are not alone even though we are in a very serious financial crisis... and the caliber of people who we are looking at seem to be very able to rise to the challenge." Strobel says the trustees aren't releasing when or where candidate interviews will be conducted. U of I board members met in closed session Monday in Chicago... and may interview some of those finalists when meeting again Friday. Stanley Ikenberry, the U of I's president from 1979 to 1995, has served as interim president since Joseph White stepped down last year amid an admissions scandal.
The newly-combined Carle Foundation Hospital and former Carle Clinic may have a deal with local governments over property taxes.
Up to now, Carle Clinic Association had been an independent for-profit firm. But now that it's been bought out by the Carle Foundation, it's got not-for-profit status under the name Carle Physician Group. That means it's no longer liable for property taxes at its clinic buildings - and that could cost government entities in Champaign County at least $2.4 million a year.
When the merger was announced last November, Carle CEO Dr. James Leonard was quoted as saying Carle would make payments to those government in lieu of taxes. Thursday, he said they're getting close to an agreement.
"We're not done with the discussions yet," Leonard said. "In terms of of their needs, they're very concerned -- particularly with the recession we've been in -- about the resources going forward. It's been an active, positive discussion."
Leonard wouldn't say when a final agreement on tax payments would come out. Meanwhile, he says the Carle Foundation would continue to challenge the state's decision to strip it of its tax-exempt status for some hospital properties. The hospital has put money into an escrow account as the case is still being challenged in court.
University of Illinois administrators are meeting with two 'green energy' student groups next week to decide if a plan for placing a wind turbine on the Urbana campus still has life. A $2 million grant awarded in 2005 will expire in three months, unless the U of I can find a funding source to pick up the remaining cost. With dwindling state funds, members of groups like the Student Sustainability Committee and Students for Environmental Concerns suggest the capital bill approved by Illinois lawmakers, or the U of I Foundation, could pay the remaining $1.7 million for the turbine.
U of I Interim Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Steven Sonka says the turbine would appear to produce a reasonable rate of return, and would be an attractive option if financing were available. But he suggests there are more effective uses for that kind of money... including retro-commissioning of some campus buildings. "These are very high payoff in terms of energy savings, because it's the energy savings that pays back the initial investment,' says Sonka. "And we want to do those, too. But that's a question of financing as well. We've gotten grants in the past to change lighting in buildings, and those tend to have attractive payoffs." With Urbana campus energy costs exceeding $75-million a year, student groups contend the turbine would quickly show some benefits.
Sonka says the student proposals for paying for the turbine's remaining cost would be considered. He says discussions with other 'outside entities' are being considered, but wouldn't comment on them. The initial grant for funding the wind turbine came from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. On Monday, Governor Pat Quinn indicated his support for the project in a visit to campus, noting wind energy was one goal of the recently-passed capital bill.
Just over 600 employees on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus want to take advantage of voluntary separation programs offered early this year.
Friday is the deadline for applicants looking to leave their jobs or retire through the program. The incentive was offered earlier this year as a means for the U of I to cut costs amid Illinois' bleak financial picture. Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says human resources staff had no idea how many applicants they'd get, but she says the mere volume means employees won't hear word on a decision until the first week of May. Kaler says departments will soon have their work cut out for them when reviewing names. "Would allowing 'Person X' to separate save you money?,' says Kaler. "And obviously, if a unit has more than one person who's signed up, they would look at the whole picture. It might be that 'boy, we'd need to replace a piece of this person, but if that person also left, we could replace two people with one, or something like that." Kaler says the 613 applicants included about 350 civil service workers, and 180 academic professionals. Meanwhile, about 90 tenured faculty members, and another 16 adjunct professors and lecturers took advantage of a voluntary retirement incentive. About 30 applicants weren't eligible for the program, with about 20 more names to review. Human Resources on the Urbana campus offered the Campus Separation Incentive programs to anyone who had been on campus for at least four consecutive years. The retirement incentive applies to staff who meet State University Retirement System eligibility requirements. Eligible employees approved for either incentive would receive a lump sum payment of half their annual salary, with a maximum payment of 75-thousand dollars.
30 to 50 cadets at Rantoul's Lincoln's Challenge program could face expulsion over a fight in the academy's dining hall Sunday night.
The National Guard-sponsored academy is for students who dropped out of high school but want to rebuild their lives. National Guard public affairs director Major Brad Leighton says the fight apparently grew out of a dispute over a basketball game earlier yesterday. He says today staff are trying to sort out how the fight developed into an incident that brought about 20 Rantoul police officers to the hall, looking at surveillance tapes of the cafeteria.
No one was reported seriously injured.
Leighton says Lincoln's Challenge works on a military basis and has a zero-tolerance policy against fighting, so cadets involved may be kicked out of the program. Academy director Peter Thomas says the school is working as normal today.
Unemployment in Illinois rose slightly from January to February.
The seasonally adjusted jobless rate for February was 11.4 percent. That compares to 11.3 percent in January. There were 900 fewer jobs in Illinois in February.
Illinois Department of Employment Security Director Maureen O'Donnell says she's encouraged that the job loss pace is slowing in the state. She says a few more months of data are needed before it's possible to assess the path of recovery.
Illinois' jobless rate is at its highest level since July 1983. Since the recession began in December 2007, the nation has lost 8.4 million jobs and Illinois has lost 403,600 jobs.
The national unemployment rate in February was 9.7 percent.
The Illinois House wants to give struggling schools a chance at saving money by having students in class only four days a week.
The measure easily advanced to the state Senate. Supporters say costs like busing students and electricity would be lower. The sponsor, Danville Republican Representative Bill Black, says it would require schools that drop a day to have longer hours when school is in session. That way, students would still be in class the same amount of time.
But opponents, like Chicago Democratic Representative Monique Davis, say the state should avoid placing money problems on the backs of students and their families. "I don't believe that children should be told you can stay home alone for a full day and take care of yourselves, take care of your little brothers, take care of your little sisters because the state can no longer afford to educate you," Davis said.
Under the proposal, school districts interested in dropping to a four day school week would have to hold public hearings. The State Board of Education would also review the plan.
Public education faces one-point-three billion dollars in cuts next school year. Governor Pat Quinn is suggesting lawmakers approve a tax increase to plug that hole.
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