Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 23, 2010

U of I Officials Try to Remain Competitive

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees Thursday finalized its fiscal 2011 budget of $4.8 billion, which is a 3.9% increase over fiscal 2010.

At the meeting, U of I President Michael Hogan said the school's image has been badly damaged by last year's admissions scandal as well as the state's financial crisis.

A recent U.S. News and World Report poll shows the U of I's Urbana campus dropped out of the survey's top 10 ranking as one of the nation's best public universities. At the University of Illinois Board of Trustees' regular meeting Thursday, Hogan said the most striking trend in the report is that the U of I is not improving as fast as other schools.

"So, we need to understand what contributed to this decline," he said. "Cause believe me all good things come to highly ranked institutions."

Hogan said the U of I must concentrate on winning over transfer students who spend a year or two at a community college.

The U.S. News and World Report ranking indicates faculty resources are down at the Urbana campus. Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said last year, 25 faculty members earning around $106,000 left for better paying jobs.

"Our faculty are held in great esteem by institutions across the country," said Easter.

Hogan said the state's uncertain budget has left the university searching for other revenue streams. About 550 employees took advantage of the voluntary separation and retirement programs, which Easter estimates will save the university about $1.4 million a month.

In June, an Administrative Review and Restructuring (AAR) work group appointed by former President Stanley Ikenberry recommended that the university improve efforts to run its health programs. Following the recommendation, the U of I is considering a plan to hire a new vice president to oversee health services at its three campuses, and administer college of medicine sites in Chicago, Urbana, Rockford and Peoria.

The recommendation to hire a new administrator comes amid sluggish state support with about a $245 million backlog in payments to the university. The U of I has taken steps in recent months to consolidate programs as a way to cut costs, but Hogan said adding this new position would help fulfill the U of I's commitment to health sciences

"Most universities have long ago recognized the size, the complexity of the clinical enterprise, and have responded to it through a single vice president for health affairs, who among other things, can integrate that enterprise across all the campuses and all of its various sites," he said.

Hogan said about a third of the university's budget is dedicated to clinical support. The U of I Board of Trustees would have to vote to add another vice president.

At the Thursday meeting with the Board, Hogan also suggested re-naming the chancellors at the three campuses as vice presidents to re-affirm their role in helping him set a university-wide agenda.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 23, 2010

Details of Danville Teachers’ Contract Emerge

Details of a new teachers' contract in Danville have been released, following its approval by the District 118 school board Wednesday night. Union members ratified the contract last week.

The first year of the agreement includes one-time bonuses both for certified and non-certified staff, but no increases in base salary or automatic increases, according to a 'step pay' schedule . The second year does include step pay increases.

However, if talks on a new contract in 2012 drag on past July 1st, like they did for this contract, Danville teachers returning in September will not be getting step pay increases until a new contract is reached, according to District 118 superintendent Mark Denman.

"In the past, with the salary schedule, if we were still negotiating in September, people automatically move up," he explained. "It's not that they won't move up in the future, but there will be no increase until both sides can complete their negotiations."

The new contract keeps health insurance and retirement benefits basically the same as they have been. The contract also calls for a special committee to develop a plan that bases pay on student performance. Denman said the committee's findings could be implemented in a future contract.

Denman said compromise was the trademark of the new contract, and that neither side got everything it wanted. The Danville school board also approved a separate contract for secretaries and learning resource clerks.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 21, 2010

Body Found in Cornfield Identified as Missing U of I Professor

The Champaign County Coroner's Office has identified a body found near Longview Monday afternoon as that of a missing University of Illinois German Studies professor.

Coroner Duane Northrup has identified the man as 48-year old Frederick Schwink of Longview. He had been missing since September 9th, and his disappearance prompted a plea for help from local authorities. A farmer discovered the body in a car sitting in a cornfield northwest of Longview Monday. An autopsy was conducted Tuesday morning. Northrup said dental records were used to identify the body, and an inquest may be held at a later date. Schwink's death is under investigation by U of I Police, the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, and the Coroner's Office.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 20, 2010

Champaign County Clerk Will Sign Lease for Alternate U of I Polling Site

Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden will follow through with plans to make a vacant storefront the early voting site for the University of Illinois campus.

Shelden said he will sign a lease Tuesday to use the property on South Gregory Street, instead of the Illini Union's Pine Lounge. County Board Democrats and the U of I Student Senate oppose the move, saying state law dictates that the location of the polling site should be in a high traffic location, like the Union.

A spokesman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton also said public universities are legally obligated to provide the space, and that local elections officials will work with them.

However, Shelden said political activity in the Illini Union make it an unsuitable location for early voting, and he added the U of I cannot afford what state law mandates.

"Maybe if the state legislature properly funded the University or if Lincoln Hall wasn't in the middle of renovation, and had been completed like it should have been 4 or 5 years ago," he said. "I can give a variety of ways in which the university could have less problems with space if the state of Illinois had done what they were supposed to do."

Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs was a sponsor of a law ensuring that public universities will provide polling places. He said Shelden is trying to 'flout' state law by using the Gregory site for polling. Frerichs also said it 'smells' that the building is owned by JSM Development. One of that company's principals is former Champaign County Republican Chair Steve Hartman.

"This University did offer the space for free," said Frerichs. "He would rather pay money to a private developer than take the space for free, and that doesn't make sense."

Shelden said he did not base his decision decision on politics, but rather, finding a convenient location for voters at an affordable price. It will cost his $800 to lease the site.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 20, 2010

Champaign County Clerk Says Officials Are Prepared to Use Alternate Campus Polling Site

Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden believes the dispute over a University of Illinois campus early voting site has been settled, and local officials won't be taking him to court.

Many Democrats on the Champaign County Board and members of the U of I Student Senate want registration and voting at the Illini Union, but Shelden prefers moving it to a vacant storefront about a half mile from there. A new state law requires that each public university provide such a site in a high traffic location. Shelden contends the Union an inappropriate location for early voting because of heavy political activity... and it's hard for those off campus to get to. And he disputes the argument that voters won't find the alternate site at 700 South Gregory Street.

"I certainly would consider it high traffic," said Shelden. "And I think it's a little bit disappointing when people say, 'nobody can find that' or 'nobody knows where it's at.' It's across from Rosati's Pizza which is a really popular campus location. I just don't see that there's going to be any getting students there. It's actually closer to more people where they live than the union is."

Shelden says he's meeting with the student Senate on Wednesday with hopes of convincing them that the Gregory Street location will best serve voters. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton says county clerks don't have unregulated discretion over an early voting site. But Shelden says county board members have backed off on talk of going to court over the voting site. County Board Democrat Brendan McGinty also says he'd like to avoid legal action, but he does say students and U of I employees would prefer voting at the Union.

"The union, as I understand it, has set up to allow for parking in the circle drive up front," said McGinty. "It would be free as I understand it. The other location would come with a rent - I think it's $800 a month. There are a lot of people who think the logical location is the union. The clerk has a different opinion. The board doesn't have any control over it. " A resolution on paying for a campus early voting site is on Thursday's Champaign County Board agenda.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 17, 2010

UI Team Studying Space Usage Cites Technology as Top Concern

A team assigned with looking at the best use of space on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says classrooms need to be better set up with high-tech equipment.

U of I Physics chair Dale Van Harlingen led a team to examine Space Utilization, the last area to be reviewed this year as part of the 'Stewarding Excellence' initiative to trim expenses. Van Harlingen says space is handled well for the most part, and that unit administrators should have the greatest say over how classrooms are used. But he says it's bad for a campus of the U of I's stature to have classrooms that don't equal the facilities of where students learned previously. "The students have come to expect that," said Van Harlingen. "They come from high schools where large investments have been made in technology. And we should be matching that. We should be a model for that. We felt like there should be more space, more attention given to building buildings specifically for teaching - lecture halls, and classroom space instead of only responding to needs of donors."

Van Harlingen says a long-term problem of failing to invest in maintenance is partly to blame when being squeezed for space. Buildings like Lincoln Hall and a portion of the Natural History Building aren't being used now because of structural problems. "I think there's always going to be debate," said Van Harlingen. "I think everyone agreed you should renovate Lincoln Hall. But the question becomes - how far down that list do you go? Because for the same cost of renovating Lincoln Hall, you could build probably several, very good modern teaching facilities."

Van Harlingen also recommends that committees be formed to study space needs in more detail, and get out of all leased space in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 16, 2010

Danville Teachers, School District Reach Tentative Agreement

NOTE: This story was updated at 12:30 PM on Thursday, September 16th.

Parents in the Danville school district who called a special hotline Thursday morning were greeted with good news --- class would be back in session.

The resumption of classes ended a three-day strike by teachers and support staff. District 118 superintendent Mark Denman said he was happy to announce that the two sides had reached agreement on a two-year contract, in a seven-hour bargaining session Wednesday night.

"We have come to a good compromise between both sides that will be mutually beneficial for the district," he said.

The Danville School Board is set to consider the agreement Monday night. Members of the Danville Education Association approved the new contract overwhelmingly at a meeting before classes began Thursday morning, according to Sean Burns of the Illinois Education Association.

Burns said he believes that while union members had to give up some of the things they sought, they gained in other areas that go beyond money.

"Oftentimes, these are really about the relationships, and about people feeling like they're being respected," said Burns. "And I think that the DEA members were standing up for something that they believed in, and for their own self-respect and dignity. And I think that has a lot to do with why they overwhelmingly ratified the contract.

Union Vice-President Corey Pullin, who has been with District 118 for 11 years, said this was Danville's first teachers' strike since 1977. He added that this strike was a sign of how serious his membership was about the contract.

"To my knowledge, we hadn't even taken an intent-to-strike vote since '87," said Pullin. "So just doing that, preparing for all this, was a big step for our members."

Neither side is releasing details about the new contract, until the Danville School Board considers it on Monday night. Pullin acknowledged there is agreement that the district will use federal stimulus money to bring back some laid off staff members between now and the next school year, but Denman has cautioned that while the money may provide some temporary relief to Danville's schools, it is not a permanent fix to Illinois' fiscal problems.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2010

Danville YMCA, Boys & Girls Club Helping Out While Strike Continues

The Danville teacher's strike has prompted a couple of community organizations to help working parents.

The executive director of the Danville Family YMCA, John Alexander, said the facility's Days Off program has been extended and operating as if it were a holiday or other day that kids have off from school. He said staff from the YMCA's Before and After School programs have helped out, with child care available from 7 am to 6 pm. The center allowed 22 kids to stay there on Tuesday. With the strike lasting at least through Wednesday, Alexander said he expects that total to go up, but he said some parents still are not sure what to do.

"We're getting calls from parents - they're trying to look at their options," said Alexander. "Especially if they have maybe a relative that's willing to watch the kids a couple of days, they may bring their children in on those other days when a relative or friend may not be able to take care of them. So they're trying to judge just exactly how to take care and handle this situation."

Alexander said the Y's before and after school staff will be available as long as the District 118 strike goes on.

"Their hours are longer because of the fact that we're open from 7 to 6, but we're also not conducting those school responsibilities and what we call our Y-Kids program at each of those for schools," said Alexander. "So, it's a little bit of a trade off in that case. Longer hours, but we do have a rotation of staff to try and pick up the slack."

The YMCA charges $21 a day for the Days Off program. The Boys and Girls Club of Danville is also providing child care in the wake of the District 118 strike. The next negotiations for the teacher's union with the school board and a federal mediator are set for 6 pm Wednesday.

Categories: Community, Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2010

First of Stewarding Excellence “Next Steps” at UI Released

The first recommendations for budget cuts and savings are coming out for the University of Illinois' largest campus.

Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said the Stewarding Excellence@Illinois program yielded ideas from 17 areas of campus. On Tuesday, Easter revealed the next steps in three of those areas, including information technology services. He said efforts like streamlining communication services and consolidating server rooms will cost money in the short term but bring several million dollars in long-term savings.

"If you have a server room in a college or even in a department, someone has to tend to it and there have to be environmental controls like heating and air conditioning systems at work," Easter said. "And getting all that consolidated where it's appropriate...should result in some significant savings over time."

Two other reports involve re-integrating graduate college admissions into the registrar's office and having the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics absorb more of the cost of athletic scholarships. Currently the DIA relies on tuition waivers for full and partial scholarships - but starting next year, the University will provide 100-thousand dollars less in waivers each year over five years.

Easter said the U of I already contributes less than most schools to athletics, which are funded mainly through sports revenues and donations, and he said the DIA already shoulders most of the academic cost.

"They are already putting about $6 million in tuition money into the campus, so it's not as though this is something new," Easter said. "They've been making very substantial contributions through their donors and their ticket sales and other things to the cost of educating student athletes."

Easter says individual colleges are also being charged with reviewing and reducing their costs.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2010

Next Danville Teachers Bargaining Session Set for Wednesday

Contract negotiations will resume this week between the Danville school district and teachers and support who are currently on strike.

The meeting will be the first between negotiators for District 118 and the Danville Education Association since Sunday's 14-hour session with a mediator that ended with teachers and support staff walking the picket line Monday morning.

The strike canceled classes and nearly all extracurricular activities in Danville schools. One exception was made for the North Ridge Middle School girls' softball team, which was allowed to continue competition at a state Class AA regional tournament in Tolono. The North Ridge team won the title game against Unity Monday night, with a score of 8 to 7. The school board for District 118 allowed the game only because the tournament had started before the strike, and a qualified coach was found who was not among employees on strike.

The school district and the DEA argued their cases through news releases on Monday. Both sides said they were ready to return to the bargaining table, and accused the other side of being unreasonable.

One issue mentioned by both District 118 and the union was how to spend $2.5 million in expected federal stimulus money. The school district says spending some of the money for salary raises would go against its intended use to hire back laid-off teachers along with new ones. The DEA questioned whether the district would use any of the money for bringing back teachers who were laid off at the start of the school year.

The school district and union members will meet Wednesday at 6 PM at the Jackson Administrative Building.

Categories: Education, Politics

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