Illinois Public Media News
Campus labor unions say University of Illinois administrators continually fail to address issues like affordable tuition, a living wage, and accountability.
The groups used the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education for a noon hour rally on Thursday. About 70 people went from the Alma Mater statue to the Swanlund Administration Building in protest.
Campus faculty association Vice President Susan Davis said this National Day was about addressing concerns for everyone they represent, ranging from food service workers, to students to faculty. Davis said U of I leaders are continually passing the buck and blaming their problems on the state's budget woes.
"What we hear from them is 'after the election we'll be able to do this, after there's a budget we'll be able to talk to you about this,'" she said. "In the meantime, they're making a lot of very radical changes to the administrative structure of the university, and probably also to the educational structure."
Groups like the Campus Faculty Association and Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) delivered three large report cards, giving U of I administrators an 'F' in the areas of access, diversity, and stewardship.
GEO Co-President Stephanie Sewell said changes in one area, like a tuition freeze, is not the panacea for the university's budget problems. Sewell also said that a tuition freeze should not keep the U of I from diversifying its student body by closing the cultural houses and consolidating them into one space.
U of I Associate Chancellor Bill Adams received the report cards when the union walked into the Swanlund building. He said many of these issues were already presented in the recent U of I Board of Trustees meeting in Urbana, but he said leaders are willing to continue the conversation.
"We are as concerned as they are about the issues that they raise," Adams said. "The issues of diversity. The issues of affordability. I think the one thing that is not mentioned there is quality, and the quality somehow has to enter into the equation as we move along."
President Michael Hogan will meet with some of these union heads at the University YMCA on Friday.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
A five year plan to move the John and Mary E. Kirby Hospital in Monticello to a larger nearby site has entered the final stage in the planning process.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded the hospital with a $31.2 million dollar mortgage loan.
The new hospital will include more surgical space and patient and procedure rooms. Inpatients will also have private suites, with a bathroom, shower and visiting space.
The current 16-bed hospital has undergone a series of renovations in the last several years, but hospital spokeswoman Michelle Rathman said the project will help the hospital address the community's changing health care needs.
"Family members will have accommodations in the rooms for them to stay with their loved ones in the hospital 24 hours," she explained. "Hospitals around the country have moved away from these things like 'visiting hours are over.' That's not the case because families are encouraged to be part of the healing process."
The loan is made possible through the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) Hospital Mortgage Insurance Program. By insuring the mortgage loan, FHA is enabling the hospital to obtain lower cost financing that is expected to save an estimated $4.6 million in interest expense over the life of the loan.
"FHA is helping to build state-of-the-art health care facilities like this all across the country," said FHA Commissioner David Stevens. "By helping to make these projects possible, FHA also contributes to the financial well-being of communities by creating jobs to stimulate local economies."
Rathman said the replacement hospital is expected to be an economic boom in Piatt County with a combination of construction jobs, more people shopping at local businesses, and new employment.
"Every new full-time employee equates to revenue spent in the community," she said. "Replacement hospital projects make a significant economic impact in so many ways."
Kirby Hospital currently employs about 200 people. Rathman said the new facility is expected to be completed by September 2011, and she projected that it will create up to 15 new full-time jobs over the next five years.
The 71,000-square-foot Kirby Medical Center will be built at the Market Street and I-72 exit northeast of Rick Ridings on a new street called Medical Center Drive. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for Saturday, Nov. 6 at 1pm.
(Artist rendering courtesy of the Kirby Medical Center courtesy of Kirby Hospital)
There's less than a month to go until Election Day, and one of the more contentious and expensive races is in the 101st District. Adam Brown, a 25-year-old Republican who's on the Decatur City Council, is trying to unseat four-term State Representative Bob Flider of Mount Zion. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports.
A Champaign manufacturer of semiconductors for solar energy has received a more than $2 million grant.
Federal stimulus money will boost production capacity at EpiWorks, and cut down its fossil fuel consumption. The funds will also let the facility add about 30 jobs. Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Warren Ribley was at the plant Tuesday to announce the $2.5 million Green Business Development Grant. Ribley said manufacturing through green energy has been a priority for some time. He said more than $6 million set aside for East Central Illinois is primarily aimed at renewable sources, and developing companies that support them.
"We have to have a broad energy portfolio that depends on wind, solar, clean coal technology, and energy efficiency," said Ribley. "All of those things combined help reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum."
Joining Ribley Tuesday were a number of area city and school officials who have received stimulus funds to help their facilities become more energy efficient. Recipients include the cities of Tuscola and Arcola - each for building wind turbines. The Prairieview-Ogden school district is also installing a wind turbine, and Champaign's Bottenfield, Westview, and Robeson Elementary schools are getting new boilers and ventilators. Four of the grants are more than $400,000. The Arcola grant was just over $60-thousand.
During Ribley's visit to Champaign Tuesday, he also said the former Meadowbrook Farms site in Rantoul could one day soon resemble its old self. Earlier this week, Trim-Rite announced it was leasing and reopening the 2,000 acre site that closed earlier this year, and hiring 100 people when it starts operations next spring. Ribley said the newness of Trim-Rite's facilities, its size, and the state of the industry should mean more jobs soon after its spring 2011 opening.
"We are seeing a lot of interest in the food processing area, particularly in animal processing," he said. "That tells us that demand is growing, not only domestically, but internationally. So we think it's just the beginning. Illinois is a terrific workforce, it's a terrific location to move its product anywhere in the world."
Ribley added that several companies looked at the former Meadowbrook site before Trim-Rite committed to it. The company's president pledges the facility will use state-of-the-art equipment and be "the most modern hog processing facility'' in the country.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
A new operator is now formally in place for a pork processing plant that shut its doors more than a year ago.
Trim Rite Food Corporation is based in the Chicago suburbs -- produces hams, pork loins and other cuts for stores and restaurants. It's agreed to lease, retool and reopen the former Meadowbrook Farms plant west of Rantoul for 5.6 million dollars.
The state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity says Trim Rite plans to hire about 100 people for the plant later this fall -- the state agency has chipped in $767,000 in tax credits based on job creation and training.
Meadowbrook Farms was a farmer-owned cooperative that ran into financial difficulty soon after it opened the pork processing plant in 2004.
The Democratic and Republican candidates for Illinois treasurer are sparring over campaign contributions.
During a stop in Bloomington, Il. on Saturday, Republican State Senator Dan Rutherford of Pontiac accused his Democratic opponent, Robin Kelly, of accepting campaign contributions from banks, and he cautioned her to follow the state's campaign finance laws.
Kelly, who is the chief of staff for current treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, said Rutherford has violated campaign finance laws, and she added that there is no reason for him to be concerned because she has taken an ethics pledge to not take any money from banks or bank executives.
"I have not taken any money from any bank owners or any banks, whether we have contracts with them or not," said Kelly, who admitted that she has taken campaign contributions from banks during her time in the Illinois legislature. "I take money from bank PACS, but we don't do business with bank PACS. I think they've given me $500 hundred dollars."
Kelly accused Rutherford in September of violating pay-to-play laws by accepting $3,500 in contributions from several banks that do business with the treasurer's office. Rutherford later returned about $900 in contributions from Pan American Bank, which bid on a contract worth more than $50,000.
State law forbids candidates from accepting contributions from businesses bidding that much money. Rutherford said at the time he accepted the contribution, information about the contract was not made public by Kelly's office, but the treasurer's office maintains that it was public information with the Office of the Comptroller and the State Board of Elections.
With a month to go until election day, both candidates say they need to cover more ground before November 2nd. Rutherford said he plans on focusing his campaign in the Chicago region counties of Cook, Lake, Will, Kane, McHenry, and Dupage. Kelly said she plans to continue targeting the entire state. The third party candidates in the race include Libertarian James Pauly and Green Party candidate Scott Summers.
(Photos by Sean Powers/WILL)
Governor Pat Quinn's running mate said Illinois fiscal crisis will require more and "progressively harder" budget cuts in the year ahead.
Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate Sheila Simon said Quinn has proven he has the political courage to balance the budget --- because of his record of support cutting spending, while proposing a controversial hike in the state income tax.
Speaking to reporters at the Illinois News Broadcasters' Association convention in Bloomington over the weekend, Simon said the voters she has been meeting around the state are ready for the difficult choices ahead.
"I think most folks know that what's coming up ahead of us is not Easy Street," said Simon. "There's going to be some sacrifice involved, in places where probably everyone can say, 'wow, I wish you didn't have to cut there.'"
Simon chided Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady for refusing to propose specific budget cuts until he was elected and had made a thorough audit of state spending.
When reminded that Governor Quinn had not yet released full details of the spending cuts he has made so far, Simon said that those cuts were plainly visible to the people around the state directly affected by them. Simon noted the governor's cuts in state leasing and travel by government employees.
Sheila Simon is the daughter of the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon. Her opponents for lieutenant governor are Republican businessman Jason Plummer, the Green Party's Don W. Crawford, Libertarian Ed Rutledge, and independent Baxter Swilley - who is the running mate of Scott Lee Cohen.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Pilot training at the University of Illinois' Willard Airport will go on for now, but its future is not guaranteed if academic faculty at the Institute of Aviation are reassigned elsewhere.
As part of a campus-wide cost-savings program, a committee has recommended that all academic curricula at the Institute be either discontinued or transferred elsewhere on campus.
Interim chancellor and provost Robert Easter says the Urbana Campus Senate will be asked to approve the changes - but so far, he says no place on campus has been found for the Aviation Institute's Human Factors degree program.
However, Easter stresses that current students have nothing to worry about. "We feel that when we accept a student into a program, we take on an obligation to provide the educational experiences that get them to the degree they plan to take," said Easter. "We would just stop.accepting new students."
Easter says a consulting firm based on campus will study the feasibility of existing pilot training at Willard without the academic program.
The changes have sparked concerns that air traffic would fall off considerably at Willard - enough to endanger the future of commercial air service. Easter says the committee found little evidence to support that. Though federal regulators may drop the rating of the airport's control tower, he says it wouldn't reduce operating hours, which airlines rely on for passenger service.
Champaign County Administrator Deb Busey said lagging state dollars and a poor economy mean further cuts to county departments, but she said departments are being asked to make 4% average cuts for fiscal 2011. She said they should be able to maintain their current level of services.
The full budget plan will be unveiled next month, with a vote by the county board in November. Some county departments have already seen furlough days, including the State's Attorney's Office, Court Services, the Supervisor of Assessments, and Emergency Management. Many positions were also left vacant. Decreased revenues, including state income tax dollars, have led to the new cuts, but she said she believes the worst is over.
"From this point forward, hopefully with some stabilization of the economy, we should be able to maintain this going forward," she said. "We don't anticipate a great deal of growth anytime in the near future, but hopefully we've reached the point where have reached the point where we should not have to continue cutting."
She said part of that preparation is also knowing to expect less and less in state revenues.
"This budget anticipates a fairly substantial reduction in state revenues," said Busey. "This budget is balanced, with the anticipation that those revenues are going to continue to be at a lower level than what we saw in 2008, and prior to that."
Busey added only possible impact on the public from the new cuts could come in a delay of requests for information.
Details of a new teachers' contract in Danville have been released, following its approval by the District 118 school board Wednesday night. Union members ratified the contract last week.
The first year of the agreement includes one-time bonuses both for certified and non-certified staff, but no increases in base salary or automatic increases, according to a 'step pay' schedule . The second year does include step pay increases.
However, if talks on a new contract in 2012 drag on past July 1st, like they did for this contract, Danville teachers returning in September will not be getting step pay increases until a new contract is reached, according to District 118 superintendent Mark Denman.
"In the past, with the salary schedule, if we were still negotiating in September, people automatically move up," he explained. "It's not that they won't move up in the future, but there will be no increase until both sides can complete their negotiations."
The new contract keeps health insurance and retirement benefits basically the same as they have been. The contract also calls for a special committee to develop a plan that bases pay on student performance. Denman said the committee's findings could be implemented in a future contract.
Denman said compromise was the trademark of the new contract, and that neither side got everything it wanted. The Danville school board also approved a separate contract for secretaries and learning resource clerks.
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