Illinois Public Media News
A US transportation administrator says research being done at the University of Illinois to boost innovations like high-speed rail may be one of the country's best kept secrets.
Peter Appel concluded a visit to campus with a tour of the ATREL facility in Rantoul. The site conducts various tests to prepare areas like Central Illinois for high-speed rail, and looks at different mixes of concrete and soil to see how they'll handle the weight of newer airplanes on runways. The facility testing equipment can even detect sinkholes in the earth's surface. Appel says railway engineering has been disappearing from a lot of institutions, calling the U of I an exception.
"The University of Illinois is advancing railway engineering more than any university in the nation," said Appel, who says the Obama administration's $8-billion investment in high speed rail includes replacing wood railroad ties with concrete. "As you pick the speeds up from 70 miles an hour to 80 miles an hour to 150 miles an hour, you need a lot more precision in the rail operations. Using, for example, concrete ties, helps drive that higher precision and ability for faster speeds. So that's the kind of developments that they're advancing here."
Appel says the U of I recognizes its role in advancing technology in high-speed rail, and that faculty in Urbana have been training professors elsewhere to teach courses in that area.
The electricity went back on at Parkland College in Champaign Friday afternoon, after a more than 12 hour outage to part of the campus that included its computer network. But a college spokesperson says they don't expect to have many computer-based services for students ready until Saturday.
Parkland spokesperson Patty Lane says a short in some underground wiring knocked out electricity for the college's computer network shortly after midnight Thursday night. With power restored, Lane says work is still underway to get the computer system up and running.
"Currently though", says Lane, "we have no student services for the main areas of Financial Aid and Student Life, and Admissions and Records and Advising, as well as Assessment."
It was a bad time for a power failure at Parkland, as students are preparing for classes that begin on Monday. Lane says they hope to have Registration and other student services available Saturday, perhaps with expanded hours. She says updates will be available at the Parkland College website, as well as its Facebook and Twitter pages ---- and at Parkland's main phone number, at 217-351-2200.
Labor unrest is affecting higher education, including University of Illinois campuses in Urbana and Chicago
Members of one UIUC union rallied Thursday outside a residence hall just as freshmen are moving in for their first semester. Ricky Baldwin is an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1000 employees. He claims that administrative cost increases are taking place while union members have seen their pay stagnate.
"The money that the University is spending on all kinds of things at the top shows us that the university does have money," said Baldwin "It just doesn't want to spend it on the basic operations -- the students, the workers, the instruction at the university."
The SEIU and the U of I are in contract talks... but members say they are not close to striking in Urbana. That cannot be said in Chicago, where about 3000 SEIU employees are threatening a Monday walkout.
At another hall complex Thursday, U of I president Michael Hogan and chancellor Robert Easter met incoming students. During the visit, Hogan said the university faces the prospect of more budget cuts and state payment delays, making salary increases even harder to achieve.
"We've just taken another 46 million dollar reduction in our budget, so that's the subject of ongoing negotiations, and I certainly hope we can reach a settlement," Hogan said. He says it's unlikely the school will see any of its current-year funding from Springfield until next January at the earliest. He says he's been assured that all of the U of I's fiscal-2010 funds will be in their hands in the next few months.
Mahomet-Seymour teachers are going on strike, cancelling all classes and school activities until further notice.
An 11th hour meeting between the union and school district failed Wednesday night - the fourth meeting with a federal mediator. Union Co-President Joan Jordan said administrators left without responding to their latest contract proposal. She said the Mahomet Seymour Education Association's 1-year plan is essentially the first year of a 2-year proposal proposed by the district one night earlier. It includes a 3-point-1 percent average increase in the teacher salary schedule. Jordan said the district refuses to budge from a 2-year contract.
"And because they keep crying poor and saying they just don't have the money... and they have the money, but we're going to decimate all their funds, which isn't true either." said Jordan. "We gave them what they wanted, we just don't want more than one year. Because if things are so uncertain, then we need to bargain again starting in December when we know better what's coming from the state. "
Jordan said administrators plan on meeting with the union again at 6:30 Thursday evening.
Mahomet-Seymour School Board President Terry Greene said the union is putting the district's financial health at risk by asking for unreasonable raises and benefits. He said it is hard to deal with a moving target, adding that the union changed its proposal late Tuesday after it appeared a tentative deal was in place, and he said one contract proposal would mean $700,000 in deficit spending in one year.
"This board of education won't support that, and I don't think our community will support that," said Greene. "So just because we have a fund balance and cash reserve that we've worked years to build up to protect ourselves for difficult times - which we're in, doesn't mean it belongs to the MSEA. Just because we have it doesn't mean it's theirs. It belongs to the taxpayers."
The school board has scheduled a special meeting for Friday to allow the continuation of sports and other activities during a work stoppage. Mahomet-Seymour's first home football game is scheduled for a week from Friday. Administrators say this is the first teacher strike at Mahomet-Seymour schools.
The professor at the heart of a controversy over religious studies at the University of Illinois doesn't believe there's a permanent resolution to the dispute.
Kenneth Howell has accepted the U of I's offer to return to teach an introductory course on Catholic teaching, more than two months after he was let go. A student who was not in the class had complained of an email Howell had sent to one of his students defending the church's views on homosexuality and natural moral law.
Howell says the incident will not affect his teaching, except perhaps for a broader scope of issues covered at the end of the course.
"I'm going to give a general lecture on natural moral law because that's the essential part of Catholicism," said Howell. "Then I'll ask them (his students) if they want me to deal with the question of capital punishment or just war or homosexuality, and they will choose."
The U of I is now paying Howell for his work as an adjunct professor - until his removal in May, Howell had been paid by the St. John Catholic Newman Center, where he has now been reinstated as the head of the center's Institute for Catholic Thought.
A faculty-student committee on the Urbana campus is looking into the general issue of outside involvement in academics - Howell says he has not been asked to appear before that committee.
Teachers in the Mahomet-Seymour School District could vote to go on strike on Wednesday, the day before classes are to begin.
The two sides are at an impasse after meeting twice over the weekend with a federal mediator, in meetings that latest about 12 hours total. The teacher's union currently has a strike vote scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
The President of the Mahomet-Seymour Education Association, Joan Jordan, said while the two sides have seen agreement in more areas, teachers' primary concern is insurance. She said the school board's proposed increase is 90-percent less than what was paid in previous contracts, meaning higher premiums for its members. Jordan said that means union members making as little as $16,500 would see a loss in pay.
"They've got money. They don't want to spend it." said Jordan. "But there are real people with lives attached to this though. I just hope that they'll come back and offer us what they should have started with."
The teacher's union has rejected the district's offer for a 2-year contract with salary increases of more than 2-percent for the first year... and just over 3-percent for the second. School Board President Terry Greene called the offer 'extremely generous' considering the economic times. The union proposed a 5-percent raise in the current year and 6-percent the next. Greene said combining that with the insurance teachers are seeking, that means Mahomet Seymour would be cutting programs, laying off employees, and class sizes would 'explode' a year from now.
"The days of 5 and 6-percent salary increases, at least for the short term, are over." said Greene. "And Cadillac insurance plans for families, while it would be nice to provide that, we don't have enough money in our school district to solve that problem."
Jordan said the union hopes to meet again with the board prior to Thursday.
A federal mediator will sit down with administrators and teachers in the Mahomet Seymour district in hopes of bringing progress to contract talks.
Thursday night, Mahomet Seymour Education Association members rallied before a negotiation session - union president Joan Jordan and Unit 3 superintendent Keith Oates says those talks made some headway. The next step is a 6:00 session tonight with a mediator who was called in on short notice - if there's no deal tonight another session is set for Sunday afternoon.
Jordan says salary, insurance and contract language issues are still unresolved. She says teachers don't want to start the new school year next Thursday without a contract agreement - last week they filed an intent to strike notice.
The Champaign School Board has unanimously approved a new three-year contract for nearly 500 support staff. This comes six months after negotiations began between the Champaign Educational Support Professionals union and the school district, and more than a month after the old contract expired.
The contract includes a 65 cent pay raise for teaching assistants after one year, and a 50 cent increase each year for the following two years. Board President Dave Tomlinson says teacher assistants in Champaign have traditionally made less money compared to aides in nearby school districts.
"We tried to bring them up to a comparable area over the three year period," he said, adding that teacher's aides are with students as much as teachers are during a seven hour day.
The contract also covers other positions, including custodians, maintenance personnel, and food service workers. They will see their annual salaries go up by around two-point-two percent.
Union President Mary Logsdon was congratulated by members of the school board, including Tomlinson and Superintendent Arthur Culver. Logsdon described the new contract as a victory for the union given the state's financial crisis, but she added that many of its members were not completely satisfied with the final outcome.
"You know, there are still people out there who are going to have to work two or three jobs in order to pay their bills," she said. "We're only going to get so much."
Tomlinson said he anticipates the school board cutting about two million dollars from the budget next year. Students are scheduled to return to class on August 19th.
Union members have ratified a new three-year contract for nearly 500 support staff in the Champaign School District --- and the school board will take its vote Monday night.
The three-year contract was ratified by members of the Champaign Educational Support Professionals union Thursday night. Union President Mary Logsdon says many members weren't happy with the agreement. But she says it's the best that could be done, considering the economy and the state's fiscal crisis.
"I mean it's a hard time to negotiate right now", says Logdson. "I feel like what we were able to do, I'm pleased with. You always want more, but like I say, with the times the way they are, I felt like we did pretty well by our membership."
Logsdon declined to give firm details prior to the school board's vote. But she said there was at least one bright spot --- pay for teaching assistants.
"We were concerned about our teaching assistants, with their pay parity with other districts, and we were able to improve upon that", says Logdson.
The contract also covers custodians, food service worker, bus drivers and other non-teaching jobs in the Champaign Unit Four District. The old contract expired June 30th.
Radical Vietnam War protester William Ayers is retiring after more than 20 years as an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Education Dean Vicki Chou says Ayers' retirement will become official later this month.
Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, an anti-war group held responsible for a series of bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.
Ayers' past became a political issue during the 2008 presidential campaign because President Barack Obama served with Ayers on the board of a Chicago charity. There's no evidence they were ever close friends.
Chou said Ayers' retirement had nothing to do the controversy surrounding him, adding he was a "good colleague'' and hundreds of students cherish they were taught by him.
A spokesman for the university said Thursday that Ayers would not be available for comment.
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