Illinois Public Media News
Area educators have issued urgent appeals for the state to maintain funding in areas ranging from transportation to early childhood education.
Champaign was the site for the last of the State Board of Education's six public hearings on the Fiscal 2012 budget. Champaign Unit 4 Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas testified that cuts to the district's early childhood program have meant 40 less students, with a waiting list of 100. He pleaded with the state board and legislature to increase funding in that area. "And the only winner is the state prison system when we don't get our children off to the best start that's possible," said Logas. "It's just such a shame to waste scare resources building prisons when we could be using that money on our youngest children. This is a just a total waste, a total lack of priorities. We should all be ashamed of ourselves." Logas also says maintaining court-mandated special education remains a very expensive proposition for many districts.
Cris Vowels is the principal at Urbana's Washington Early Childhood School. She says every year, the amount of the school's grant is questionable, and how many staff members can be re-hired. She says 70-percent of them were given Reduction in Force notices last spring.
"And so come August when I found out that we were indeed going to be fully funded, I was calling people on Friday asking them to come back to work on Monday," said Vowels. "Of course, I lost key staff members. Most particularly, my bilingual staff members who are in high demand around the state." Vowels suggests the state support a multi-year grant program for early childhood programs.
Former Champaign School Board member Margie Skirvin says the uncertainty of state payments has been the biggest problem among all districts. Representing the Illinois PTA, she says the group is backing a House bill that would shift the burden of funding education from property taxes to income taxes. Deb Foertsch, Illinois Federation of Teachers Vice President and a teacher at Champaign's Carrie Busey Elementary, says an easing of tax cap restrictions in affected districts could help save programs like bilingual and gifted education. And Jessica Schad, a second year teacher at Urbana Middle School, says she wouldn't have survived in her job if it weren't for a grant-funded mentoring program at District 116.
James Bauman, chair of the ISBE's finance committee, says most funding remains committed to general state aid, with about a billion dollars left for grant funded programs, include early childhood education. He says comments at Tuesday's Champaign hearing reflect those of others held around the state, and will help guide the State Board when it recommends an education budget to lawmakers in January.
Airline passengers are putting up with a new and often unwelcome level of security screenings, but a University of Illinois professor who studies aviation security said those searches may not be useful.
Thanksgiving-weekend travelers at the nation's largest airports reported few slowdowns or other problems with "backscanner" machines that give screeners revealing images of passengers. Those who turned down the scans are subject to intensive pat-downs.
Professor Sheldon Jacobson said he believes federal officials pay too much attention to searching for banned items, and that the high-level searches should not be the first line of defense against terrorists.
"The question is, is this an effective use of a very powerful technology? In our own research, we don't believe it is," Jacobson said. "We believe that using it for secondary screening is far more appropriate and will actually facilitate a far more secure system, which is very counter-intuitive in some sense."
Jacobson says more effective security should focus on a passenger's intent. He said the Transportation Security Administration needs to further its research on ways of filtering out passengers based on background checks and looking for behavioral red flags at the airport.
An East Central Illinois lawmaker says he will seek to derail a University of Illinois plan to shut down a center for police training.
University officials announced earlier this week they intend to close the 55-year-old Police Training Institute as part of a broader plan to cut costs. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) has suggested a plan to help subsidize the institute through a surcharge on people convicted of crimes.
"It's a concept that I've utilized in the past," Rose said. "We did the same thing on drug crimes to subsidize drug addiction task forces, and they're a pretty popular concept to taxpayers. Because why should the taxpayers be paying a cost when we could have the criminals themselves foot the bill for law enforcement training?"
Interim Chancellor Robert Easter said he wants to talk to Rose about the idea. Rose explained that his idea was actually suggested some time ago, but no administrators have responded to it until now.
"Parkland College inquired about opportunities to perhaps take it over, again keeping that economic development local here in Champaign County," he said. "But they (U of I administrators) didn't call them back either. I just wonder - how many $200,000 executives does it take to return a phone call at the U of I?"
Rose said he is insisting on a December 7th meeting with not only U of I leaders, but Democratic State House member Naomi Jakobsson and Senator Mike Frerichs, as well as a member of Illinois' Law Enforcement Training and Standards board. Rose said the Police Training Institute fits well with the U of I's mission.
The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees unanimously approved changes to the U of I's administrative structure during its Thursday meeting in Chicago.
The Board of Trustees gave the university the green light to hire a new vice president who will oversee the health science departments at the Chicago and Urbana campuses as well as at training clinics in Chicago, Urbana, Rockford, and Peoria.
The board also voted to expand the role of the vice president for technology and economic development to include a $716 million research portfolio that includes research on the three campuses. The office will streamline research-related policies and processes, which according to the university will eliminate redundancies.
The third proposal that the board approved was a measure that adds the title of vice president to each of the campus chancellors, and specifies that the president of the university will be known as the president of each campus.
University spokesman Tom Hardy said the administrative changes will help the U of I cut costs by allowing University President Michael Hogan to "establish clear lines of authority to begin to consolidate operations."
"You need leadership at the top to drive that process," Hogan said. "Without it, reform doesn't get done or doesn't get done effectively."
Hogan added that a strong administration will ensure the three campuses work together, and advance research opportunities while maintaining distinctive qualities that make each campus unique.
The changes come more than two weeks after the Urbana Faculty Senate rejected the restructuring plan, citing the cost of hiring an additional vice president as one area of concern.
Joyce Tolliver, who chairs the senate's Executive Committee, said the faculty senate is still concerned about some of the administrative changes, but she said she is encouraged that before each meeting, the Board of Trustees will start holding conference calls with chairs of different faculty committees on each campus. This is a move that she said will create more transparency between the Board of Trustees and the rest of the U of I community.
"It's not that there's anything that we asked about before that we're not concerned about now," Tolliver said. "All the questions are still there, but what I am confident about is that they will be answered going forward."
The Board of Trustees targeted a 2012 goal of reducing the university's administrative costs by five-to-ten percent.
Some of the recommendations for consolidating 'back-office' administrative functions throughout the University were outlined in a June report by the Administrative Review and Restructuring (ARR) working group, which made 43 recommendations for potentially $58 million in cost savings.
Champaign officials broke ground Wednesday on a new YMCA center in southwest Champaign.
Construction is set to begin on the $16-million facility in the next couple of weeks. The Y will include an eight lane pool, a child play center, and a gymnasium with an in-door track. Mark Johnson, a former University of Illinois wrestling coach who is now the Y's chief executive officer in Champaign County, said the center will be an excellent addition to the community.
"This is going to be a place that the rest of us can use on a daily basis," Johnson said. "We have problems with childhood obesity. We have problems with diabetics. We have problems with senior citizens. We have a problem with disabilities. This is going to be a welcoming place to everybody."
Talk about the project has been going on for about a decade, and up until a couple of years ago it never really took shape because of a lack of funding. However, that changed after Horizon Hobby Chairman Rick Stephens pledged $5 million to the $16-million project. Stephens said his contribution encouraged other people to step up and start donating.
"The reason we did this was for the community," Stephens said. "There was such a need for a new Y in this community. It's been a dream for a lot of people for a long time."
The project has raised about $12 million. Johnson said he is confident that it will be able to raise an additional $4 million by the time the project completed in early 2012. The new facility will replace the current McKinley Family Center and the Fitness & Family Center in Champaign.
The 75,000-square foot center will be located at 2501 Fields South Drive, which is just west of I-57. It will replace two current Champaign fitness center: McKinley Family Center at 500 W. Church St. and Fitness & Family Center at 707 N. Country Fair Drive.
(Design courtesy of the Champaign County YMCA)
The University of Illinois plans to close its Police Training Institute by the end of 2011.
The decision to eliminate the training facility comes after a budget review panel raised concerns about the institute's long term economic stability.
The latest in a series of Urbana campus reviews looking at cost-saving measures at the U of I said there is no justification for the university to provide $900,000 a year to train police officers.
"We believe this decision to be necessary because we cannot justify using resources to fund PTI that derive from student tuition and the shrinking state funding available for our core education and research missions," according to the 'Next Steps' letter released by Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter and Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs as part of a recent 'Stewarding Excellence' report. "Fundamentally, our primary mission of educating lllinois' undergraduate, graduate and professional students must remain a priority."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the university can no longer rely on tuition dollars to keep the program going.
"The university has a very proud history of supporting law enforcement training," Kaler said. "Funding for this purpose hasn't kept pace with the increase in costs, and so we had to review where this kind of training falls within the missions and the priorities of the campus as a whole."
With the closure of the 55-year-old training program, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh predicts that police training will be moved to the Illinois State Police Training Academy in Springfield. Walsh, who was trained at the PTI and now teaches there, said it is unfortunate that the program will leave the university.
"I think it is advantageous to have it part of the University of Illinois because the police officers then at least socially during the 12 weeks there here can interact with students from literally around the world," Walsh said. "I think it's a good thing for diversity training."
The PTI has cut its expenses by 45 percent in the last three years, and the report said the institute could improve its cost structure by trimming $666,251 from its budget. Still, the commission said the chances that the institute will latch onto additional funding or new partnerships are slim. The PTI is considered Illinois' flagship training facility.
(Photo courtesy of the Police Training Institute)
Illinois has nine casinos, and another is being built.
If a plan percolating in the General Assembly has success, Illinois' total count would jump to fifteen. There would be a city-owned one in Chicago, and others in suburban Ford Heights, a town near Waukegan, in Rockford, and in east-central Illinois' Danville. Scott Eisenhauer, the mayor of Danville, said the new casino would create about a thousand new, permanent jobs in the area.
"The other thing that is does for a community like ours is it brings tourism dollars to the community," Eisenhauer said. "We have some, but limited tourism attraction opportunities today. This boat would bring additional tourism opportunities, convention opportunities to our community. That again increases the amount of revenue our community could receive."
The measure's sponsor, State Senator Terry Link (D-Waukegan), estimated that adding the new casinos would generate an extra billion dollars for the state's coffers.
Another change would let horse tracks have slot machines. Anti-gambling activists warn of the social dangers associated with the legislation. They say adding casinos in Illinois would cost the state, which will have to pay more to help gambling addicts. Meanwhile, current casino managers say the expansion will lead to over saturation, and may shut their operations down. Link said they are just fearful of competition.
"Go to Las Vegas," Link said. "They just built what two or three new huge endeavors out there, and I didn't see any of the old ones close down. I didn't see 'for sale" signs put up on it. Did they take a little bit of a hurt there, yeah. But like I said, they're still making profit."
Details are still being finalized, but Link said the main tenants of the gambling expansion plan are solid. He added that he expects to call the legislation up for a committee vote Wednesday. However, despite Link's hopes of advancing the measure, Governor Pat Quinn has signaled his opposition.
The Interim Dean of the University of Illinois' College of Media said the next several months will tell a lot about the department's structure.
The latest in a series of Urbana campus reviews looked at Media and three other colleges with fewer than 40 faculty members for cost savings. While the 'Stewarding Excellence' report endorsed no specific restructuring plan, the project team said the College of Media must evaluate its internal structure for long-term viability. College Interim Dean Jean Slater said some shared services were underway when the study started, in areas like information technology and human resources, but she said it is too early to see what the cost savings might be.
"At some point we have to assume the cost somehow, but if two colleges are sharing one HR person, or the HR function, then the efficiencies go up and the cost would be reduced individually," Slater said. "But I think it's hard to put a number to that right now."
Interim Dean Jan Slater said the challenge now is finding how large a structure it can support, since the college is solely dependent on tuition, but she said nothing is off limits.
"We do have somebody from outside looking at our information technology structure within the college, how we work things with WILL," Slater said. "Should we be doing more of that? And so we're looking at those kinds of things. We're going to be doing a space study after the first of the year after the construction with Greg Hall is done."
The project team reviewing the college says its biggest challenges include the Department of Advertising's request to transfer out of the college, and adapting the Journalism Department to the changing nature of the profession.
Slater was named Interim Dean of the College of Media in July. When her term is up in July 2012, she said questions about the College's size and mission need to be answered. WILL and Illinois Public Media are part of the College of Media. The same campus project team also reviewed the Schools of Social Work, Labor and Employee Relations, and the Graduate School of Library Information and Sciences.
Two new reports released by the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society shed some light on the state of underrepresented minority students at the University of Illinois.
The first report, which looks at graduate education at the U of I, refers to campus data from the 2009 Strategic Plan Progress Report and population statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the study, African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians groups in 2009 comprised a little more than 30 percent of the state's population. Meanwhile, the percent of those groups represented in the U of I's graduate school was significantly lower at around seven percent.
"The University has a persistent problem of inequity," said U of I African American studies Professor Jennifer Hamer, who helped write the study. "This is a public university, a flagship public land-grant university, and we don't have a population that represents the state, let alone the nation."
The report also found that in fall 2009, there were no Hispanic, African American, and American Indian students enrolled in many graduate level programs.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler issued a statement saying the university is committed to diversity in higher education, including graduate education.
"We have worked for many years to attract the best and brightest minority students to campus," Kaler said.
Hamer said she has been encouraged by conversations with the university's administrators about diversifying the campus.
"They clearly see diversity as a value to the campus," Hamer said. "Now, the question is how do they respond to that? Well, I think once you define something as a value, you set policy and practices that emphasize it."
Kaler noted some examples of campus-wide initiatives dedicated to attracting minority students to Illinois:
"Many initiatives across campus are dedicated to bringing excellent minority students to Illinois. For example, the Young Scholars Program in ACES, LAMP (LIS Access Midwest Program) in GSLIS, SURGE (Support for Under-Represented Groups in Engineering) and SROP (Summer Research Opportunities Program) and the Graduate College Fellows program in the Graduate College. Recently, the P&G Science Diversity Summit, a collaborative event among the College of ACES, College of Engineering, College of LAS and the Graduate College, brought partners from minority serving institutions to campus to create new partnerships and initiatives to support diversity in graduate programs at Illinois."
The second report released involved 11 focus groups with 82 minority students who were interviewed about their reactions to 'racial microaggressions' made in the residence halls (elevators, chalkboards, dorm room doors) and elsewhere on campus.
The report defined racial microaggressions as "race-related encounters that happen between individuals. Individual level encounters can be verbal, nonverbal, or behavioral exchanges between people. Microaggressions can also occur on the environmental level, which are race-related messages that individuals receive from their environment."
The report is coauthored by Drs. Stacy A. Harwood who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning; Ruby Mendenhall, an Assistant Professor in the departments of Sociology, African American Studies, and Urban and Regional Planning; and Margaret Browne Huntt, the Research Specialist at the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society.
Hunt said students who were interviewed perceived racial slurs negatively, even comments that were considered harmless.
"What we were finding is that the students were receiving the various forms of racism to be as hostile, derogatory," Huntt said. "Some students actually contemplated leaving the university because of these forms of racism that take place."
Students in the study that saw racial slurs written in dormitory elevators stated that they were more upset about the slurs not being removed immediately.
"I went to the front desk and I told them about it and it was a Caucasian girl there and she was just like, we've been hearing about it all day, and she kind of blew it off," one student said. "Then my floor had a meeting about the whole situation and my RA told me that nobody told them about the racial slurs on the elevator."
The report concluded that faculty and students should undergo training to help identify and stop racism, even when it is presented in an unintentional and subtle way.
"Some students won't speak up in class cause they feel like when they do say things, students won't believe their experience," Mendenhall said.
Huntt and Mendenhall said they are not sure if offensive racial comments at the U of I correlate with the number of underrepresented minority students as this was not part of their study.
University of Illinois officials are holding a forum Saturday afternoon to address the U of I's response to the recent wave of campus violence.
On Monday, a student was sexually assaulted in a dormitory bathroom. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renée Romano said that attack prompted U of I officials to organize the meeting, which she hopes will help inform parents about what they can do to protect students.
"Students are in a lot of contact with their parents," Romano said. "So parents can remind their students to lock their doors, remind their students to use safe walks, to walk with friends, to use safe rides, and that sort of thing."
The university in recent weeks has agreed to hire more police officers, installed dozens of security cameras, and activated a call center where operators who can answer questions about the attacks. Romano added that she hopes this town hall meeting will encourage students to come forward if they witness violence.
"If they report a crime or if they see something suspicious, and perhaps they've been drinking," she said. "They're not going to get a drinking ticket."
U of I Police Chief Barbara O'Connor reported that police have made more than 25 arrests related to the campus assaults and robberies.
The town hall meeting will start Saturday at 3pm at the Illini Union's Courtyard Cafe. The event will be streamed live at http://illinois.edu/here_now/videos.html as well as for viewing at a later time. Questions may be phoned in during the meeting at 217-244-8938.
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