Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 12, 2010

Energy Company Raises Concerns About Vermilion Power Station

Officials from Dynergy Inc. have raised concerns about the Vermilion Power Station's long-term stability.

The Houston-based company owns four power plants in Illinois, in addition to the Vermilion plant located near Oakwood. Dynergy spokesman David Byford said because of challenging market conditions coupled with the cost of transporting coal that is trucked to the plant, his company is looking at 'options' for the 54-year-old power station.

"For the short term, it's business as usual for the plant," Byford said.

Byford would not go into detail about what options the company's pursuing.

Dynegy may soon merge with the Blackstone Group for about $4.7 billion, which would include the assumption of Dynegy's debt. Dynegy Shareholders are scheduled to vote on the merger next week in Houston.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 09, 2010

U of I Administrators Vow to Set 2011-12 Tuition Early Next Year

University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said it is hard to say how much tuition will go up in the 2011-2012 school year, but he said students and parents 'won't stomach' another one of 9 to 10 percent.

Administrators plan to recommend the amount of that increase by January. The uncertainty over state funding the past couple of years has prompted the U of I to wait as late as June to approve the next fall's tuition.However, Hogan said administrators cannot continue to keep parents and students waiting.

"That doesn't work very well for us for planning purposes, and recruiting students," he said. "Because it doesn't allow us to tell students (about tuition), half of them get some form of financial assistance. So students that are applying here need to know sooner rather than later if they're getting in, and what their financial aid package will be. Or they go somewhere else."

Hogan made his comments following a presentation on tuition and affordability at the U of I Board of Trustees' Audit and Budget committee meeting. He said the drop of state support in the past decade has been 'staggering.'

Associate Vice President for Planning and Budget Randy Kangas said the U of I's appropriation is below what it was for the 1999 Fiscal Year, before adjusting for inflation. The university is currently owed about $320-million in state appropriations.

Hogan emphasized that last year's increase of 9.5 percent was one of the lowest tuition hikes in the country.

"So we've got to change the rhetoric of what we're looking at," Hogan said. "Rather than the one big bump (9.5%) to get a realistic understanding of what students are actually going to pay year in and year out as they go through a 4-year degree program.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 08, 2010

Task Force Looks at Home Stats to Close Champaign County’s Economic Gap

A Champaign County housing task force is studying the number of available homes in the area to identify housing needs and economic gaps that can be filled within the community.

The Regional Housing Task Force is made up of officials in Champaign County, Champaign, Urbana, the Housing Authority of Champaign County and the village of Rantoul.

In a preliminary report, the task force identified the city of Champaign as not having enough rental housing units in low-income and minority areas, specifically in sections of the city that border Urbana. According to the study, a five-year need exists for 127 additional rental units that are affordable to households earning less than $20,000.

The city's Neighborhood Programs Manager Kerri Spear said she hopes the report helps shed light on what can be done to curb homelessness in the whole county. Spear, who is part of the task force, said more rental housing units should be spread out across Champaign County to prevent the further concentration of poverty.

"Homelessness does not just impact one city," she said. "There's a need to create more affordable rental units."

The study also suggested that adding market rate homes to high poverty areas could help boost the economy.

The report also indicated that there is a surplus of owner occupied homes in Champaign. Between January 2000 and September 2010, a total of 4,129 new homes were built in Champaign County. Just in Champaign, many developers overbuilt "high end" single-family homes that are valued between less than $140,000 and more than $400,000, which has left about a three to four-year supply of extra lots within the city.

"So, there may be a surplus of housing units in one community," Spear said. "But yet if the people that need those units are in another community, do they have the transportation options available, or are there jobs in that area?"

Households with incomes of less than $20,000 were found to have a five-year surplus of housing units in Urbana and Rantoul.

The Champaign City Council will hear details about the report at its regular meeting Tuesday at 7:30pm at the Illinois Terminal Building. The task force then plans to present its findings during a public open house on Tuesday, November 16 from 5-6:30 pm at the City Building at 102 N. Neil St., Champaign.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2010

UI Urbana Faculty Senate Rejects Proposed Administrative Restructure

The University of Illinois' Urbana Faculty Senate has unanimously rejected administrative changes proposed by President Michael Hogan.

In a written three page statement, the Senate reported that plans to add a vice president, new duties for some administrators, and change titles for others simply have too many unanswered questions. However, Senate Executive Committee Chair Joyce Tolliver said U of I Trustees have been encouraged to refine the proposals, and discuss them further with campus Senators. Tolliver said one key area of concern is money, especially when the U of I's fiscal situation is dire.

"We are told that this is an investment we should make," Tolliver said. "That is probably true. I think some of us accept that logic, but many of us on the campus are very worried about where the money is going to come from in order to create new positions, and in order to do searches for re-defined existing positions."

Tolliver said the entire process for whatever changes occur needs to be slowed down.

"We were given an extraordinary tight time frame to respond to the proposed changes to the University administration," she said. "There are still entire areas in which we have asked for more information, and haven't been addressed."

A capacity crowd rejected President Hogan's plan at the Senate's regular meeting on Monday. The Senate's executive committee will send a much longer version of its statement to the Senates Conference, which is made up of elected officials from all three U of I campus Senates. That group will forward that document, along with its own advice on the proposed changes, onto the U of I Board of Trustees. Tolliver said the Senate is not afraid of change, but would like to seek out new ways to accomplish these goals.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 01, 2010

Quinn, Brady Urge Voters to Get to the Polls

Candidates for Illinois governor touted their efforts to create jobs and reduce the state's $13 billion budget deficit during campaign stops in Savoy.

Democratic Governor Pat Quinn returned to Savoy's Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Hall where he was joined by union members and state elected officials.

Quinn said while his Republican opponent, State Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington, seeks to cut the state's minimum wage and slash education funding by more than a billion dollars, he said his own initiatives while serving as governor have helped the state's unemployment rate begin to drop in the past nine months.

"We're not going to be tearing down Illinois; we're building up," Quinn explained. "We want to make sure we have the proper funding for our schools, and for our students."

Quinn touted his efforts to rescue Illinois' Monetary Awards Program, which provides grants to college-bound students. He blasted Brady for wanting to cut education programs and the minimum wage.

"If you're working 40 hours a week, you shouldn't have to live in poverty," Quinn said.

As Quinn was talking to supporters, Brady was nearby at Savoy's Willard Airport where he criticized Quinn's track record as governor, and reiterated his own plans to balance the state's budget without raising taxes.

"The last two years have been a failure for Illinois under (Quinn's) reign," Brady said. "Illinois needs a governor who will put the people first, not a governor who has secret deals, secret early release programs, secret pay raises, secret tax increases, and record unemployment."

Looking forward to Tuesday's legislative races, Brady predicted Republicans will set victory records across the state.

"We're going to do better than we've ever done," Brady said. "For too long we've had a Chicago-centric governance that needs to understand that there's more to Illinois than Chicago."

With Congressman and U.S. Senate hopeful, Mark Kirk, by his side, Brady also said he thinks Illinois voters will shift party leadership in the U.S. House of Representative by sending as many as four more Republicans to Congress.

Despite polls showing Brady ahead, both candidates are working to get out the vote until the polls close. The Green Party's Rich Whitney, Independent Scott Lee Cohen, and Libertarian Lex Green are also on the ballot.

(Photos by Jeff Bossert/WILL and Sean Powers/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 29, 2010

Tentative Contract Agreement Reached for Danville School Bus Attendants

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)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 29, 2010

Officials Seek Alternatives as Illinois Schools Fail

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)

Categories: Economics, Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 29, 2010

High Poverty, High Scores

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)

Download mp3 file

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 28, 2010

Unemployment Rate Shows Promise

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%.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 28, 2010

Contract Negotiations Continue Over Danville Bus Attendant Contracts

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.

Categories: Economics, Education

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