Illinois Public Media News
The first recommendations for budget cuts and savings are coming out for the University of Illinois' largest campus.
Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said the Stewarding Excellence@Illinois program yielded ideas from 17 areas of campus. On Tuesday, Easter revealed the next steps in three of those areas, including information technology services. He said efforts like streamlining communication services and consolidating server rooms will cost money in the short term but bring several million dollars in long-term savings.
"If you have a server room in a college or even in a department, someone has to tend to it and there have to be environmental controls like heating and air conditioning systems at work," Easter said. "And getting all that consolidated where it's appropriate...should result in some significant savings over time."
Two other reports involve re-integrating graduate college admissions into the registrar's office and having the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics absorb more of the cost of athletic scholarships. Currently the DIA relies on tuition waivers for full and partial scholarships - but starting next year, the University will provide 100-thousand dollars less in waivers each year over five years.
Easter said the U of I already contributes less than most schools to athletics, which are funded mainly through sports revenues and donations, and he said the DIA already shoulders most of the academic cost.
"They are already putting about $6 million in tuition money into the campus, so it's not as though this is something new," Easter said. "They've been making very substantial contributions through their donors and their ticket sales and other things to the cost of educating student athletes."
Easter says individual colleges are also being charged with reviewing and reducing their costs.
A University of Illinois administrator said he hopes state leaders can give the University of Illinois some advance notice on how much money it will be able to use in its operating budget.
Members of a U of I Board of Trustees committee learned Monday that the state will likely owe the university more than $500-million by the end of the calendar year, combining the prior fiscal year with the current one. Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Doug Beckman said fiscal 2012 looks worse, partly because the state will not be able to rely on any federal stimulus funds. Beckman said it would help if the U of I knew sooner how much it could expect.
"We'd love to have more lead time, but we understand it's a very, very difficult political issue," said Beckman. "There's got to be a combination of cuts and revenue, it would appear, to balance this budget. That is a difficult process. There's hard decisions to be made. I think we would trade a 10-percent cut for certainty right now, at least I would."
Beckman stated that the U of I has to operate under the assumption that some state funds will be cut, and he said the university will adjust to a pension reform plan signed by Governor Pat Quinn in April. Beckman said it is a step in the right direction in that it reduces the state's costs. The plan reduces benefits for those hired after January 1st of next year, raises the retirement age to 67, and caps maximum benefits at just under $107-thousand.
A University of Illinois administrator says leaders are close to reaching conclusions on some budget reviews on different Urbana campus units.
The 17 areas reviewed by the 'Stewarding Excellence' project teams have ranged from the Institute of Aviation, to campus utilities, to the Office of Vice Chancellor for Research. Teams started looking at them in February to find ways to cut costs. Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said some departments will require further review, extending well into the fall. However, he said even for those in which his office is ready to make some changes, only some can be done at the top, while others require faculty involvement.
"We would make a recommendation if we wanted to make a particular change, a recommendation to the Faculty Senate, and appropriate committees," said Easter. "They would then have to work through that, so there may be an expectation that we'll just announce a final decision. In some cases what we'll announce is a recommendation."
Easter said many of the recommended changes will have to be forwarded to the U of I's Board of Trustees. He said other areas could be up for review.
"The steering committee that has been more or less directing this over the last several months, and they've continued their activity through the summer, have identified about 10 other areas where they think it would be useful for us to do some reviews," said Easter. "And we've not made a decision to pursue those, but that's something else we're looking at at the moment."
Easter said those areas aren't being identified.
A University of Illinois administrator says freshman class numbers show Illinois' economy has not driven students away.
Freshman enrollment is down only slightly, just over 6,930 students compared to 6,990 in the fall of 2009. However, Urbana campus Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said the U of I should better prove than it can recruit students from all walks of life.
"Obviously we're interested in students who come from a diversity of backgrounds within our state," said Easter. "The different economic levels, different cultural backgrounds, we want to have a diverse campus that's reflective of the population of the state."
Easter said he is disappointed the number of African American freshmen is down from a year ago. That number decreased by more than 17-percent, but the number of Latinos went up by 11 percent.
Easter also said the U of I's 885 new transfer students shows there is an increased emphasis on working with community colleges to help students who cannot afford a four year education at a public university.
He noted it is also a good class academically, with an average ACT score of over 28. There are 31,252 undergraduate students enrolled at the Urbana campus this fall, up from 31,209 a year ago, an increase of less than 1 tenth of 1 percent. Fall enrollment is up by more than five percent at both the Chicago and Springfield campuses.
With contract negotiations and a possible strike on the horizon, Danville school officials are trying to restore teaching positions that were cut in a series of layoffs last spring.
The state currently owes Danville's schools about $3 million in unpaid bills. Legislation President Obama signed in August doles out about $2.5 million to support education. The money could allow District 118 to hire more teachers and issue pay raises, which is one of the demands by union officials.
Superintendent Mark Denman cautioned that while the money may provide some temporary relief to Danville's schools, he said it is not a permanent fix to Illinois' fiscal problems.
"If we hired a number of people back, and then next March the federal month is not coming any further in the next year and state funding isn't better," he said. "Then those jobs will have to be eliminated in all probability at that time."
Denman said the school district needs to submit proposals to the federal government outlining how it would spend the money. He said he hopes to go over possible spending options in a couple of weeks with the school board during its regular meeting.
In the meantime, the school board is scheduled to continue negotiations on Sunday with union members in an attempt to avert a possible strike.
The Champaign County Head Start program kicked off the new school year Thursday with 56 more children.
With the help of $810,000 in federal funding, the program has expanded its early childhood division to serve more infants and toddlers. Enrollment has been added to its existing center in Rantoul, and a new site in Urbana. Kathleen Liffick is the director of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission's Early Childhood Division. Liffick said the expansion only meets about 36 percent of the community's need for Early Head Start services.
"But it is a small step and we're glad to be able to do that," she said. "We will be certainly be looking for additional expansion opportunities should the federal government make those available."
Playground enhancements were also made with a $68,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois grant at sites in Rantoul, Savoy, and Urbana.
The new Urbana center is located at 108 South Webber Street. For questions about enrollment or to complete an enrollment application, call 217-384-1252 to speak with a family advocate.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission)
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said many of the nearly $600 million in carbon capture and storage projects announced Tuesday will help make FutureGen a less costly and more efficient operation.
The $575 million in stimulus dollars targets 15 states - including Illinois. About $312 million will go to large-scale testing of coal gasification technologies, and $90 million will examine the way carbon capture will operate in power plants, like the one in Western Illinois that is set to be part of the reconfigured plans for FutureGen.
Chu said the projects announced Tuesday will create jobs, and encompass many of the practices involved in FutureGen. "While the FutureGen project will test the system, we're also investing in the components of the system so that we drive down costs,' said Chu. "Our goal is to start to deploy scale commercially within 10 years."
One of the projects announced Tuesday involves $5 million that will allow the University of Illinois to further evaluate the state's geology. Rob Finley with Illinois' State Geological Survey said the funds will help with continuing research of the Knox dolomite and sandstone formations in the western portion of the Illinois Basin, and could help determine what site will best accommodate FutureGen's carbon emissions facility.
"Basically what we're looking for is to make sure that the site is picked, and can effectively keep the CO2 isolated from the atmosphere," said Finley, director of the Survey's Advanced Energy Technology Initiative. "So that site has to be safe, you have to make sure the CO2 is not going to leak out, that it's not going to affect groundwater in people's properties. So, anytime we have more geologic information about the regional geology, it helps us pick a better and safer site."
Finley said the $5 million project covers a lot of East Central Illinois, and he added that the DOE's specification on locating a storage site 100 miles from Meredosia is likely based on the cost of the pipeline, which can run about $1 million a mile.
Champaign County Board Chair and geologist Pius Weibel said bringing FutureGen to the county is geologically feasible, but he wants to know more about Department of Energy guidelines, which he said are constantly changing. Meanwhile, Assistant Energy Secretary Jim Markowski said that he expects an announcement on a city to host that site by next spring or summer.
Chu would not endorse or dismiss any of the 26 communities that have expressed an interest, saying they are under evaluation.
The democrat running for President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat pledged to increased veterans benefits during a campaign stop in Urbana.
U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias was joined by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Tammy Duckworth.
Gulf War veteran Jason Wheeler of Champaign expressed his frustration to the that he cannot get proper medical care because of federal regulations.
Wheeler was preparing to ship out to Iraq in 2002, but just weeks before he was set to leave the U.S., he jumped out of a helicopter as part of a training exercise, and crash landed on a tarmac. His parachute did not work.
"I have no feeling from both of my knees down. From my hands to my elbows, they feel like they're on fire," he said.
Because Wheeler's injuries occurred on American soil, he said he does not get the same quality of federal care that veterans get when they are injured overseas. He can still get treated through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but since he was wounded on American soil, Wheeler is ineligible for TRICARE assistance, a program through the Department of Defense.
"I got injured, and I could use a lift for my vehicle," he said. "I could use these little things that can help you out, and a gentleman like myself can't get this help. So, we don't want to let that happen to the next guy."
Duckworth said historic progress has been made in the last few years by the democratically-led congress to raise veterans' benefits, but she stated that there just is not enough money to go around to provide the same level of care for all wounded veterans.
"It all goes back to the money," she said. "We've got to dedicate the money and resources to take care of all of our vets."
Wheeler spoke to Duckworth after the forum, and he said her office will look into his medical claims.
During the forum, Duckworth also touted the efforts of democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias in pushing for Illinois veterans to have access to affordable mortgages, and helping start a scholarship program for children of soldiers killed in action. Giannoulias would not give a deadline of when he hopes American troops should begin to pull out of Afghanistan, but he said the attention in Washington should be on fixing the nation's economy, improving infrastructure projects, and bolstering education programs.
The state treasurer is in a tight race against Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), who released a statement ahead of the forum in which he outlined his support of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
Kirk helped write the resolution authorizing the 2003 invasion into Iraq. After speaking with veterans, Giannoulias blasted Kirk for misleading the public leading up to the war. He noted Kirk's false statements that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Giannoulias said Kirk showed a lack of judgment for supporting a war that cost thousands of American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.
The Kirk campaign pointed out members of congress in both parties made that claim.
A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed Kirk and Giannoulias neck-and-neck with 34 percent of support among voters, followed by the Green Party's LeAlan Jones with six percent, Libertarian Mike Labno with 3 percent, and 22 percent of voters stating that they are undecided.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Despite an Attorney General's ruling, a Champaign County Board member still believes there's a way to block a coal mine from locating in the southeast part of the county.
Democrat Alan Kurtz wants to force out Sunrise Coal and find a way to lure in FutureGen's carbon storage facility that's part of new Department of Energy plans. Kurtz says the State's Attorney's office could allow Champaign County to intervene if there are health, safety, or welfare concerns involved with the coal mine. He says that would overrule the 1993 ruling discovered last week, saying non home-rule counties like Champaign can't use zoning to regulate mining for fossil fuels. The Terre Haute-based Sunrise is buying mineral rights to locate a mine south of Homer.
Kurtz says a mine could pollute water, cause flooding and hurt farmland in that area. He says he doesn't care that Sunrise intends to use a less invasive mining technique. "Room-and-pillar may be supposedly safer than longwall mining," said Kurtz. "But the key is even with room-and-pillar, eventually there have been subsidence and sinkholes that appear in the land above. It could be 20 years from now or 30 years from now." Sunrise is expected to locate primarily in Vermilion County. But Kurtz says if more coal is found, nothing would keep Sunrise from submitting applications for additional land in Champaign County. Meanwhile, Kurtz says he's called Senator Dick Durbin's office about the reconfigured FutureGen, which now includes a site for storing carbon emissions pumped from a power plant in Western Illinois.
"I've asked Pius (County Board Chair Pius Weibel) who's a geologist to check and see if Champaign County has the facility to be able to house this project," said Kurtz. "Why? Because it's worth $400 million in new economic development. It's worth 350 new jobs here in Champaign County. And it's cleaning up the coal." About 25 communities, including Decatur and Marshall, have shown an interest in bringing the new facility. Kurtz contends an underground aquifer in Champaign County's Newcomb Township contains the pipelines that would accommodate the plant.
A proposal that will be introduced later this fall in the Illinois House of Representatives seeks to put an immigration law similar to the one passed in Arizona on the books.
State representative Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) is co-sponsoring the measure with Republican Randy Ramey (R-Carol Stream). Mitchell said a centerpiece to the measure would cut Medicaid services to people who are not U.S. citizens by modifying the Illinois All Kids program, which provides health coverage for children regardless of immigration status.
"We're spending millions of dollars on health care for illegals," said Mitchell. "It's time to say enough is enough."
Illinois is just one of nine states that offers Medicaid to undocumented immigrants. According to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, 1.6 million children are covered under the All Kids program, and a little more than three percent of those covered are undocumented.
"If you're going to do something in which you specifically target children, and make it so that they're not eligible for certain services and accesses, that's not only cruel and heartless, it's just absolutely mind-boggling," said Linus Chan, a staff attorney at the Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic at DePaul University. "That's not going to solve the problem of undocumented immigration."
Mitchell said with a $13 billion budget deficit, Illinois is in no shape to be offering health care services to people living in the country illegally. He said an influx of undocumented immigrants coming to the state are weighing down on the number of available jobs, and contributing to higher taxes going to support education and health care services.
He added that the legislation will also create more stringent regulations for employers who hire undocumented workers, and include language allowing law enforcement officials to ask for someone's paperwork when a "reasonable suspicion exists that a person is here illegally." Mitchell noted that the color of a person's skin would not qualify as a "reasonable suspicion."
Chan said he is worried pushing people out of the state could have dire consequences on Illinois' economy. He took note of a 2006 study released by the Texas comptroller's office, which indicates that eliminating illegal immigration could reduce that state's workforce, personal income, and gross state product.
Mitchell said the legislation will be introduced in November. Since Arizona passed its controversial law in April, other states have considered similar proposals, including Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.
(Photo courtesy of mk30/flickr)
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