Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois will forgo much of a contract agreed to with consultants for its strategic planning process in light of budget problems.
The news comes as members of the U of I's Campus Faculty Association question the $450,000 contract with Kokomo-based Renewal and Transformation Group, or RTG, agreed to early this year. University Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the group will complete reviews that are on the table, but very little of that amount will be spent. The university has already paid more than $1 million of an agreement with RTG that dates back to 2006. CFA President and History Professor Megan McLaughlin says the U of I's cutting ties with the consultant justifies her suspicion that the contract wasn't needed in the first place. But she says the group isn't dropping its Freedom of Information request to learn what consultants have done for the U of I thus far.
"This is one consultant - there are many of them out there.' said McLaughlin. "There's a consultant firm, for example, involved in the new president's search... and a lot of other activities on campus. So we want to know what's going on with those as well." McLaughlin says administrators are providing little information on what these dollars went for when there are already people at the U of I capable of planning a long-range vision for the Urbana campus. The CFA contends around 1,000 faculty members would have been spared their 4 furlough days had the U of I not spent this money. The faculty group also says consultant fees would have paid the salaries of about 100 teaching assistants for a year.
A spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan calls a newspaper's report on alleged improper admissions at the University of Illinois a 'tortured effort' to smear the House Speaker.
The Chicago Tribune says 28 applicants to the University of Illinois' Urbana and Chicago campuses -- including relatives of donors, public officials, and political allies -- were helped by Madigan. The newspaper says relatives made campaign contributions totaling $50,000 to Madigan and $65,200 to the Democratic Party of Illinois.
The Tribune says it connected the applicants to Madigan through multiple sources and university documents provided through the Freedom of Information Act. The Speaker's spokesman, Steve Brown, says Madigan did get his share of requests for help to several universities. But Brown says his office has no way of confirming the 28 names were connected to the House Speaker.
Brown says there's simply no correlation between those applicants and those who helped Madigan's campaign: "They bring campaign contributions, but had to go back in the 90's to reach the dollar totals they report," Brown said. "That encompasses the state party, the local party, the Attorney General, which is why the Tribune would bring up the Attorney General I have no idea. It's a struggle to determine why anyone would make this into news."
Brown also notes some of those U of I applicants in the Tribune were denied, while others deemed unqualified but were admitted. He says that begs the questions of what the 'bureaucrats' at the university are up to.
In a statement provided to the newspaper, Madigan says he's intervened in admissions cases but he does so without considering political relationships. Interim U of I President Stanley Ikenberry says the university doesn't know of any instance in which Madigan "exerted inappropriate pressure.
Offers of buyouts are going out to more than 640 University of Illinois employees.
The Urbana campus began offering its voluntary separation packages over the winter to academic professional employees, with faculty being offered early retirement. This week employees who applied are finding out if their offers have been accepted - they'll be given contracts to sign within 30 days, and they'd leave their jobs by August. In exchange, they'd get 6 months' salary as an incentive.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says of the nearly 800 applicants, about 3/4 have been given the option to leave. "The goal of the program was to identify as many people as possible who were interested in retiring or separating from the university, willing to do that, and being able to reorganize, restructure in those given departments, to streamline a little bit," Kaler said.
Kaler says 483 academic professional employees have been approved to take buyouts if they want them. "Of those 483 that were approved, 211 of those positions will be refilled but at lower salaries. 272 of those positions will be eliminated."
Another 153 faculty members have been approved for early retirement, with 75 of those positions eliminated.
Kaler says if all employees leave as expected, the program will save the U of I about $25 million a year. She says the announcement was delayed by about a month because of the high number of applicants.
A state senator who hopes to take the University of Illinois to task for its spending was forced to cancel a hearing on the subject after none of the school's trustees showed up.
Sen. Martin Sandoval says trustees are irresponsible for not attending his hearing in Springfield on Tuesday. Members of the board of trustees oversee the University of Illinois' three campuses.
The Chicago Democrat says trustees chairman Christopher Kennedy has asked to meet with him Thursday.
Sandoval last week said he wants to hold hearings on university spending and tuition increase.
Interim university President Stanley Ikenberry has said he will ask trustees to OK a 9.5 percent tuition increase for the next school year.
A monthly gauge of the Illinois economy has backtracked after four months of improvement.
The University of Illinois Flash Index uses state tax revenue figures each month to measure economic performance. For April, the index was set at 91, down .08 from the month before. The index was still far from the 100 level that separates economic growth from contraction. It's also fallen back to its lowest level since last November, though it's still above the September figure that marked the low point of the current recession.
The index's author, U of I economist Fred Giertz, says Illinois's unemployment rate still hasn't followed signs of a national economic recovery. But he also thinks the April index may have been affected by an abnormal drop in the state's corporate tax intake in March, saying that might be a result of timing rather than a true drop.
Champaign's CommUnity Matters program is preparing for a third year of activities for at-risk youth. The program brings private and public agencies together to offer afterschool programs and summer day camps for younger students... and career-building programs for high school students. The program has targeted the Garden Hills neighborhood but is set to expand this year.
Unit Four Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michael McFarland says he measures CommUnity Matter's success by the children involved in its program - such as the Operation Hope program for high school s students:
"If you look at the results, last year we had 18 seniors, and they all are currently still in college, doing well", says McFarland. "We have seven seniors this year. And we feel really positive about the fact that when kids leave our schools, they'll have more than a diploma. They'll have choices and opportunities."
Among the high schools students in Operation Hope is Champaign Central sophomore Tuyrin Griffin,
"Before I got into it", says Griffin, "my grades were real bad. And then when I got into it, it helped me out a lot, and I improved a lot. And it made me want to do better. And it's teaching me more about colleges and stuff, and it's letting me know about stuff that I didn't know before."
Griffin and other Operation Hope members addressed the Champaign City Council Tuesday night, as they reviewed plans for expanding CommUnity Matters. The city, the Champaign Park District, and the Unit Four school district work together on the program, along with local agencies such as the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. Council member Deb Feinen says the willingness to collaborate is a key strength.
"Doing that probably isn't always easy", says Feinen. "It's probably easier to sort of just do it yourself, and nor share it out. But sharing it out is the piece that helps to make it so successful"
Two more partners will be joining CommUnity Matters...with the Parkland College for Kids program this summer and the Champaign County YMCA in 2011. The program also will be expanding into the northeast Champaign neighborhoods of Douglass Park, Beardsley Park, and Bristol Park.
Champaign City Council unanimously endorsed the expansion at its Tuesday night study session. A final council vote is expected in mid-June.
Illinois' top education official says schools should expect to receive all they state funding they've been promised for this year - but they shouldn't expect to get it before the end of the school year.
State school superintendent Christopher Koch says it would take a change in state law for the state to withhold funds permanently. But districts - and other state agencies and contractors -- have been waiting for the funding for months, and the statewide backlog has surpassed six billion dollars.
Koch says he can't tell schools when they can expect to see the money.
"You're not going to see it in this fiscal year", says Koch, "and even if the fiscal year's extended, we're not sure when money will be delivered. General state aid payments have been timely. Everything else has been delayed. Another large payment that school districts are awaiting are the reimbursements for transportation, special education costs. Those are in a category called Mandated Categoricals. Those are still pending --- one from December and one from April."
Koch says with the delays stretching back more than a year, it's getting increasingly tougher for school districts to plan their budgets several years down the line.
Koch was in Urbana Monday to salute eight Champaign County schools named to the Illinois Honor Roll - one of them, Urbana's Wiley School, has been discussed as a potential target for closing.
The Parkland College facility on Champaign's Mattis Avenue has been reopened after the Illinois Worknet Center inside the building received what Parkland called a "credible bomb threat."
The Mattis building had been evacuated after the threat, which a Parkland spokeswoman says was called in around 8:30 this morning. The University of Illinois' Emergency Ordinance Disposal team was called out to inspect the building but found nothing.. Parkland now says classes will resume at the Mattis building at 1:00 pm, with people now being allowed to return to their offices. The main Parkland College campus was not affected.
U of I students at a sometimes contentious town-hall-style meeting on the Urbana campus Monday night accused administrators of not doing enough to bring the school through the current financial crisis.
Students from the GEO --- the union representing grad students on campus --- and the Undergraduate Graduate Alliance told administrators at the meeting they weren't doing enough to lobby lawmakers to pass an income tax hike to fund higher education.
Administrators, including Associate Provost for Budget and Resource Planning Michael Andrechak, said the administration was fighting hard for the U of I's survival --- but the state's fiscal problems are a big challenge.
"The state's economic situation is absolutely catastrophic", said Andrechak. "A tax increase is needed. It's very unlikely that one will occur prior to the election."
GEO incoming co-president Stephanie Sewall says the university has to increase the pressure on lawmakers. She says an expected tuition hike will prevent more students from attending the U of I.
"I wasn't convinced that fundamentally, preserving accessibility to public education is reflected in the decisions that are being made", said Sewall. "And more work has to be done on that."
Students at the meeting talked about the likelihood of 10 to 20 percent tuition hikes. But U of I interim president Stanley Ikenberry said earlier this month he believes the next tuition increase will be under 10 percent.
Student organizers of Thursday's Earth Day rally on the U of I Urbana campus focused on 'no more coal'.
Parker Laubach heads the Beyond Coal campaign as part of the Students for Environmental Concern, which sponsored and organized the rally. He proposes stopping upgrades to the campus' Abbott Power Plant and beginning the phase-out of coal on the university's campus.
But, Champaign City Councilman and Deputy Mayor Michael LaDue is surprised that the focus isn't more on reducing campus car traffic.
"Automobiles don't burn coal, but coal is a significant issue, "says LaDue. "I won't dismiss it. But on the University of Illinois campus, I think the presence of gas-guzzling automobiles is the preeminent environmental problem"
Reducing coal use was one of three actions proposed by student speakers during the rally.
The rally also featured LaDue and Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing reading proclamations on their cities' commitment to promoting environmental education and fighting climate change. Interim Chancellor Robert Easter also spoke about the university's commitment to environmental policies.
Thursday marked the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day.
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