Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois is testing a new parking payment system that aims to end the need to run outside to feed the parking meter.
The Verrus Pay By Phone system allows motorists to pay for parking by credit card, using their cell phone. U of I Facilities and Services spokesman Andy Blacker says Verrus will even send out a phone message when parking time is about to run out --- to give motorists a chance to buy extended parking time.
"For a large number of people that get tied up in a meeting, or class runs over, they don't have to worry about going out to find a parking ticket," said Blakcer. "They can actually use their cell phone to add time to their meter."
The convenience costs a little extra. Blacker said the Verrus Park By Phone system charges a 35-cent "convenience fee", on top of the university's standard parking rates. He said the fee is per transaction, so motorists will pay the same additional fee no matter how long they park.
The U of I is testing the Verrus system this fall at about 200 metered parking lots at four parking lots scattered around the U of I Urbana campus --- B1, C7, E3 and D22. Verrus provides its parking payment system in several cities in Canada and the United States, including Chicago. Blacker said they may expand its use at the University of Illinois, if the pilot program is a success.
An Illinois appeals court has agreed to allow Villa Grove student to keep his autism helper dog in school.
The Fourth District Appellate Court sided with the family of Kaleb Drew. They had argued that the boy's yellow Labrador retriever is a service animal allowed in schools under state law. The boy's mother had testified that the dog prevents the boy from running away, helps him focus on his homework and calms him when he has a tantrum. The appeals court upheld the November decision of a Douglas County judge. The court issued its opinion Tuesday.
The Villa Grove school district had opposed the dog's presence and argued that it isn't a true service animal. A telephone message for the school district's attorney was not immediately returned.
Governor Pat Quinn has renewed talk of an income tax hike for education.
The Illinois democrat said getting a 33% increase in income taxes past lawmakers would mean asking school districts to cut property taxes in return. If elected, he said his tax hike will pass the legislature by the end of this year.
During an appearance at the University of Illinois on Friday, Quinn noted how opponent, State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) wants to cut education by $1.26 billion, leading to an increase in property taxes. The governor said investing in education means local units of government should abate part of their property taxes.
"This university is a classic example of getting good jobs by having smart people," said Quinn. "So if my opponent - Senator Brady - wants to go around Illinois cutting and slashing education at every level - less scholarships, less early childhood education, less money for K thru 12 - he's on the wrong track."
The governor called the November 2nd election a "referendum for education." He said the difference between electing him and Brady will mean investments versus cuts.
Quinn called Brady a 'false prophet' by simply shifting the tax burden, but he would not say he had assurances from House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton that a vote on his 33% income tax proposal would take place.
Quinn also touted his efforts to start up a $31 billion capital plan for road construction, safer bridges, high speed rail, and sustainability initiatives like solar and wind power that will result in matching federal dollars. He was at the U of I Friday to address the 2010 Sustainable University Symposium. The university has signed the Sustainability Compact, which encourages institutions to use 'green' practices in their campus operations as well as academic and research programs.
University of Illinois scientists say they've found a destructive mildew in the state's pumpkin crop that could affect vegetables such as cucumbers and squash.
Plant pathologist Mohammad Babadoost said Wednesday that downy mildew has been found in pumpkin fields in central Illinois. He said the disease moves fast and can turn leaves brown in 10 days.
Babadoost said the impact on Illinois pumpkins grown for canning will be limited because many have already been harvested. But the disease can move to other vine-grown vegetables and fruits. The University says farmers should quickly spray fungicides.
Illinois has about 25,000 acres of pumpkins and last year produced almost a third of the country's crop.
A school in Tuscola will be back in session tomorrow even though nearly one out of every five students stayed home or were sent home with stomach pain or vomiting.
James Voyles is the interim superintendent in Tuscola, where absence levels at North Ward Elementary School were normal earlier this week. But he says today things changed.
"We had an unusually large number of absences to start the day, and during the course of the morning we had kids getting sick, throwing up, abdominal pain, some diarrhea, but but no fever," Voyles said.
Voyles says school is still on for tomorrow, but he asks parents not to send students back if they experience those symptoms. Tuscola's middle school and high school did not see the same illnesses today.
Voyles says just in case it may have been a virus at work, he called in custodians to give North Ward School a thorough disinfecting before tomorrow. He also says Douglas County Health Department officials have taken food samples, but he's not sure if food service had anything to do with the illnesses.
Illinois failed to win $400 million in the federal "Race to the Top" competition.
In addition to the District of Columbia, the U.S. Education Department named nine states to win the grant money, including Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. They will receive a portion of the $3.4 billion left in round two of the federal education funding.
The state has paid out $529 million to the Illinois State Board of Education, but still owes an additional $770 million. Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch said he does not know if the Illinois' budget woes hurt its chances at being awarded the grant money.
"We were definitely interested in getting these funds," he said. "We believed that Illinois had moved far enough to be competitive nationally."
This was Illinois' second time as a finalist in the competition. University of Illinois education professor Debra Bragg was part of a committee that helped prepare the state's application for the grant.
"There was a very extensive proposal writing activity that the state engaged in," said Bragg. "It felt that we had put together a very strong and even better proposal than the first one."
Koch said he thinks Illinois fell short in its proposal to use incentives to bring highly-qualified teachers and administrators to low-performing schools. He said he plans to use other federal and state grants to develop new models that prepare educators, evaluate students, and allow districts to share software and resources across the Internet.
(Photo courtesy: House of Sims/Flickr)
Illinois has struck out in its attempt to get federal school-reform money.
The state was a finalist twice for "Race to the Top'' grants and hoped to get $400 million this time. But the U.S. Education Department named nine states and the District of Columbia as recipients in the final round of stimulus program funding.
Illinois House education leader Roger Eddy says the state's bid was hurt by its long history of local school control and concerns about its ability to continue the programs after federal money dried up. But the Hutsonville Republican says the State Board of Education worked hard to revise its application after Illinois missed out on the first round of federal money in March.
The top education leader in Illinois is diappointed the state got shut out on those funds. But state schools Superintendent Christopher Koch says the reform agenda will proceed. Reforms paid for with the federal money must be continued with state funds. Koch says he doesn't know if Illinois' budget problems played a role in the state's loss. He says there is already some federal money for changes and Illinois can gain from successes in the states that did get money.
The Mahomet Seymour school board has made official a tentative contract that's gotten unanimous approval from employees. The board cast a 7-0 vote last night to ratify the deal -- the co-president of the Mahomet Seymour Education Association said that earlier in the day, all of its voting members voted in favor. The vote follows a two day strike that disrupted the first days of school last week. The contract only runs for one year, as opposed to the two-year deal that the school board had initially insisted on - it includes a 2.6 percent pay raise for teachers, while teacher's aides and support staff will get 3.5 percent. Both sides will now have to open negotiations again next summer.
Teachers and students in the Mahomet Seymour district will put the start of their school year back in order.
A two-day strike that ended Friday postponed the first shortened day of the year. Now, students will return to class on Monday, which is the first shortened day of class. The school board and the teachers' union rank-and-file will vote Monday night on the one year tentative contract that put a short but bitter work stoppage to an end.
Mahomet Seymour Superintendent Keith Oates said it will not take much to get back on schedule - in fact, the district is using two allotted emergency days in the school calendar to account for the strike. But Oates said fixing the animosity in the community after the strike will be tougher.
"Obviously human nature is going to demand that it's a little bit different for a little while," Oates said. "And I think we all know that when an organization goes through something such as a strike it's going to take a period of time, depending on different folks, to work its way back to normal, I'm sure."
Oates said he plans to keep a regular schedule of visiting schools in the district and checking in on teachers. Joan Jordan head, of the Mahomet Seymour Education Association, said negotiations were contentious but -- for her - that is over, and she expects the strike to be a distant memory once kids return to school.
Teachers in the Mahomet Seymour schools will be back in their classrooms on Monday as a two-day strike ends with a tentative contract agreement.
The chief negotiator for the Mahomet Seymour Education Association, Linda Meachum, said school board negotiators offered a compromise Friday afternoon that led to the breakthrough. Meachum said teachers will receive 2.6% pay raise this school year. She said support staff and teacher's aides will get 3.5%.
But the two sides will have to negotiate again next year because the tentative contract is only for one year. Meachum said she believes that's important for both the district and the union.
"At least this way we know what we can live with for one year, and the board can begin to strategically plan for the future," Meachum said shortly after negotiations wrapped up. "We know that some (federal) stimulus money is coming in to the district, and we'll have a better idea of what our fund balance is going to be." Meachum also noted that the state's now-delayed payment schedule to schools might be clearer in a year.
Terry Greene, the president of the Mahomet Seymour school board, says the district had lobbied against a two-year contract but let go of that requirement as union bargainers compromised.
"They agreed to a one-year deal that we thought was responsible and fiscally fair," Greene said. "We want our kids back in school. Usually if you make a deal in which both sides are are a little unhappy it's probably the right deal, and that's just about what happened." But Greene still contends that the deal could have been sealed much earlier in the bargaining process.
Meachum said a ratification vote for the union's 260 members is set for Monday afternoon, after the first day back in class. The school board will cast its vote later that evening.
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