Illinois Public Media News
A series of ad hoc committees have started the arduous task of identifying areas on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus that might find ways to make cuts or even raise some revenue.
'Stewarding Excellence at Illinois' is expected to last several months. One of the committees has already identified four areas for evaluation due to the higher education funding crisis. Graduate College Dean Deba Dutta chairs the Campus Steering Committee. He says his group is meeting twice a week, and expects to identify more areas over the next several months. "And we'll keep on doing this until we, as a campus, feel that we have looked everything that needs to be looked at," says Dutta. "I mean that's the general feeling. I can't say that there's going to be 15 projects, or 35 projects. But we have in this process, we have a lot of involvement of faculty, students, and staff."
The first four areas under review are the Institute of Aviation, Information Technology, The Office of Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement, and Allocation of undergraduate scholarships. Dutta says these areas are more administrative in nature, but he stresses that no cuts or other changes will be decided for some time. Faculty teams assigned to each of these projects will look at charge letters from U of I administrators. "We're not to limit them to think, ok, do this or do that," says Dutta. "Just trying to give an idea to consult with stakeholders, look at the value, how it aligns with the institution, and several other criteria that are spelled out on the web site.
A section of Bunge North America's massive downtown Danville facility will close in two months.
About 100 employees will face layoffs when the plant's soybean processing operation comes to an end. Bunge spokeswoman Deb Seidell says the Danville site doesn't have the soy-oil refining facility that newer plants have.
"When you crush the soybeans and you get the protein meal and you get the oil, generally that oil needs to be further processed before it can go into the food stream," Seidell said. "From Danville it has to be trucked or sent by rail somewhere else to be refined because there's not a refinery attached to Danville."
But Seidell says there are no plans to build that refinery because the capacity for processing soybeans is outstripping demand. She says management and staff employees will receive outplacement assistance and severance while Bunge will negotiate with unions over the impact on other employees.
Bunge plans to keep its soy and corn elevators and dry corn mill open - they employ about 185 workers.
While one area county has gotten out of nursing home operations, the Champaign County Nursing Home appears to have turned a corner after a number of financial problems.
A week from today, Livingston Manor in Pontiac will have a new operator. Livingston County Board Chairman Bill Fairfield says while the level of care there is good, he says the facilities are nearly 50 years old, with one bathroom per wing. As a result, Fairfield says it's hard to find new patients. Livingston Manor has about 35 residents now, with 122 beds.
County officials have spent the last couple of years working with the non-profit Good Samaritan Home of Flanagan to assume operations at the Pontiac home. And by September 2011, Fairfield says Good Samaritan will have a new facility built, with the help of an economic development grant from the county.
"They have a couple of ideas on property, which would be somewhere in the vicinity of St. James Hospital in Pontiac, to build a new facility," said Fairfield. "And I believe that once they have a facility that is modern, with a private bath and all, that you will see the census rise."
Census has not been a problem of late at Champaign County's nursing home. Mike Scavatto is president of Management Performance Associates, the St. Louis based group that's helping with management of home. He's aiming for an average census of about 195 patients, and they're close to it now. But there's also been an increase in private pay residents, a lower percentage of them on Medicaid, and less contract nursing. But Scavatto says there are other goals in mind.
"We're very interested in expanding our services in dementia and doing more with rehabilitation. And I think those are the two key services that will help us out," said Scavotto.
The Champaign County Nursing Home closed out 2008 with a one-point-8 million dollar loss. Scavatto expects losses from 2009 to show a figure closer to 150-thousand dollars.
One immediate change following former Governor Rod Blagojevich's removal from office last year was the overhaul of four state pension boards. Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation last spring that not only changed the membership of those boards, but moved the chair of Illinois' Board of Higher Education into the same role with the State Universities Retirement System. Carrie Hightman has served in both capacities since July.
AM 580's Jeff Bossert spoke with her about the dual role, and the funding challenges faced by colleges and universities:
The Illinois Senate discussed the state's horrible budget problems but did it in a closed-door session that was off limits to the public.
Illinois lawmakers are defending their decision to bar observers from Wednesday's meeting, where national researchers presented details on how state budgets are suffering in the recession.
Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman says both Democrats and Republicans agreed to close the session to encourage "bipartisan dialogue.''
The Constitution requires "sessions'' of the General Assembly and its committees and commissions to be open. Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon says the Senate was not in session and senators did not comprise a committee or commission.
Public-access lawyer Don Craven doesn't believe the meeting was legal. He says it's unlikely there was anything discussed that couldn't have been said publicly.
Faculty unions and students say they're both opposed to the concept of furlough days as a way to cut costs at the University of Illinois.
A capacity crowd of around 100 attended at least a portion of Monday's 'teach-in' on the Urbana campus, in which faculty unions urged for more affordable and accessible education - without requiring furloughs, layoffs, and other cost-cutting measures. Students say lectures from groups like the Campus Faculty Association and Graduate Employees Organization were valuable, but a few were concerned their teachers took a common furlough day and cancelled classes in order to do it. Sophomore Eric Hessenberg says his history professor cancelled an 80-minute course in order to be at the teach-in, and he says that hurts instruction when it meets twice a week. "I guess my beef with this is that professors like to paint themselves as the good guys," says Hessenberg. "If they're so great in taking the high road, then why are they cancellling our classes? They've got all these research days, they could easy do this on that."
Leigh Ragsdale is an Officer-At-Large with the Graduate Employees Organization. None of her classes were cancelled, but the furloughs are creating a new problem for graduate workers because what their supervisors have asked of them. "And what's happening is they're asking us as grad students to cover their classes and their responsiblities which obviously presents a problem," says Ragsdale. "We already have our own job responsilibities and shouldn't be forced into doing the jobs of our professors during those furloughs."
U of I sophomore Rebecca Bauman says her English teacher will have to condense her lectures by cancelling one of two meeting times this week. But she was also asked to attend some of the lectures on higher education funding for a class on human rights. University spokeswoman Robin Kaler says furloughs should be taken in a way that doesn't hamper students' education. But she says it's good that that students and faculty spend some time discussing challenges at the U of I.
Sony's purchase of a Champaign-based medical technology company will allow it to use lasers for more than consumer electronics.
iCyt is located in the University of Illinois' Research Park. Its flow cytometry machines count, examine, and sort cells, doing research as well as testing for diseases like AIDS and various cancers. The machine uses a laser that shines onto cells, optics that collect the light from them, and computers that process the information. iCYT founder and CEO Gary Durack says that laser technology isn't far removed from what Sony does with a CD or DVD player. He says Sony plans on keeping ICyt in Champaign, adding that's important while so many seek help from Springfield or Washington, DC to solve our economic problems.
"We can help build businesses here, we can create jobs here, we can work to make the University of Illinois the greatest research institution in the United States, and recognized for that," says Durack. "We can get on board with all kinds of things in this community to get together to build it." ICyt has 44 full-time employees, but Durack expects that number to grow soon. Financial terms of Sony's purchase of the company weren't disclosed.
Leaders of Illinois' public universities are making a unified appeal for the money the state government owes them.
Illinois has been trying to deal with a deep budget deficit by putting off payments to creditors - including nearly three quarters of a billion dollars to higher education.
University of Illinois interim president Stan Ikenberry says his institution is 431 million dollars in debt because of the lack of payments, and leaders owe it to the people of Illinois to find a solution. He says that solution will include painful budget cuts.
"And it's going to require revenue increases. Very unpleasant, very difficult for any public leader lawmakers to think about," Ikenberry said. "But I think both cuts in expenditure and revenue increases will be essential before any solution can be brought about. The third essential element will be some strong leadership and bipartisan cooperation."
Ikenberry says the financial crisis is not a total surprise because the state's fiscal situation has been in decline for nearly eight years, but he's surprised that's it's gotten as bad as it has.
Several other university leaders joined Ikenberry at a Chicago press conference to call for the state money to be released.
Peoria-based Caterpillar has joined the growing list of supporters of the FutureGen coal-burning power plant planned for Mattoon.
And the heavy equipment maker is the first member of the FutureGen Alliance not tied directly with energy production. The alliance now has 11 members committed to providing financial resources to get FutureGen off the ground, they include Chicago-based utility giant Exelon, and St. Louis-based coal company Peabody Energy. Monday's announcement drew praise from officials like Governor Pat Quinn and Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson. Coles Together Vice President Anthony Pleasant admits Caterpillar's backing may appear a bit unusual at the outset. "The rest are power generation companies, and clearly that's not what Cat does." says Pleasant. "But Cat's always been environmentally friendly. Just days ago, their headquarters in Peoria was LEED certified. They reduced energy by 40%, and water usage by 50%. So it's something they clearly invest in." In a release from the company, a Caterpillar official says the company has long been committed to technologies and policies that slow, stop, and reverse the growth of Greenhouse gas emissions.
Pleasant notes that Caterpillar also makes mining equipment. He says this move is a good sign that other companies not related to energy production will support FutureGen, and calm federal officials' concerns over cost. The price tag of the facility now stands at about 1-point-8 billion dollars, with the Department of Energy expected to handle just over a billion of that. Two years ago, the Bush Administration pulled the plug on the project due to cost overruns. A DOE announcement on whether FutureGen will be built could come later this month.
Explosive growth" is how the Eastern Illinois Food Bank describes a more than doubling of food recipients over the last four years.
The food pantries in 14 counties supplied by the food bank report more than 100 thousand people received food from them last year. That's 133% higher than the number of recipients in 2005, the last time the "Hunger in America" study was compiled.
Jim Hires directs the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. He says his agency saw an identical increase between 2001 and 2005. Hires believes the economic downturn is partially to blame for the continued increase, but he also thinks his agency and member food pantries are doing a better job of finding those in need.
"Our numbers were going up anyway because of our efforts to reach more people," Hires said. "Even at our best effort we were still only reaching about half of the people who are in need. So we were taking steps. Couple that with the recession and all of a sudden it just ballooned almost out of control and really had us scrambling to meet the need."
Hires says a change in federal commodity policy has led to more surplus food going to the Eastern Illinois Food Bank, letting the agency use its money in creative ways to find more food.
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