Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign School Board looked at additional options Monday night, as it considered making $2.2 billion in budget cuts. But some of the proposals unveiled two weeks ago are already drawing fire.
Proposals to lay off two elementary school band and strings teachers --- and perhaps cut the 4th grade program entirely --- brought a group of music supporters to the meeting. They included Edison Middle School 7th grader William Smith, who says his school's band is as strong as it is, because many members started their band practice in elementary school.
"I'm a tuba player, and Band is one of the favorite things I do", Smith told the school board. "And I can guarantee you that I wouldn't be in it today, if it wasn't for the Fifth Grade (band) program."
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says he received 15-hundred emails defending the elementary school band and strings program, and he did not support making any cuts.
"Dave Tomlinson's not going to vote for a cut in Band and Strings", Tomlinson told reporters. "I will support a reorganization, because I think there's some areas to do that in."
In particular, Tomlinson pointed to some elementary schools in the district, where Band or Strings enrollment was in the low single digits. He said instruction for students at those schools might be combined together.
Unit Four Finance Director Gene Logas presented nearly $2-million in additional proposed budget cuts and revenue enhancements last night --- giving the school board more options to choose from, on top of the $2.2 billion proposed two weeks ago. The new proposals include additional administrative cuts, and the elimination next year of an annual professional conference for school board members.
A public meeting on the proposed Unit Four budget cuts is set for Thursday, February 18th at a site to be announced --- Tomlinson says it will probably be held at a school gymnasium, in order to accommodate a large crowd.. The Unit Four School Board's final vote on budget cuts is set for March 8th.
In other action, the school board approved a $228,000 restructuring plan for Centennial High School. The school will get a new principal, and enact several reforms in an effort to meet learning standards under No Child Left Behind. Board members initially rejected the plan on a 4 to 3 vote. It finally passed 5 to 2, after the cost of the program was capped at $200,000. Board members said it wasn't right to spend so much on the restructuring plan --- including money for new staff positions --- when money was being cut elsewhere due to a lack of funds.
The union that represents a small group of University of Illinois employees is filing an unfair labor practice complaint over the university's furlough policy.
The chief negotiator for the Visiting Academic Professionals accuses administrators of ignoring the contract with the 300 employees when they began requiring many workers to take four unpaid days off this semester.
Alan Bilansky says the union is asking the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board to force the U of I to reverse the change it made to employee appointments - that change allows the furloughs to take place. But Bilansky says the state board likely won't act on the complaint any time soon, so VAPs will likely have to take unpaid days off this spring.
"We have to tell people, 'yes, you have to take your furlough days if your manager tells you too'", says Bilansky. "But yes, we are hoping to make everyone whole, once this is all resolved."
Bilansky says negotiators for the VAP and the U of I discussed the possibility of furloughs in ongoing contract talks, but nothing was agreed to.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the university is able to require furloughs from VAPs because the current labor contract does not specifically address the issue.
The University of Illinois plans to send out emails to its Urbana campus employees on Tuesday, providing details about its voluntary separation incentive program. The U of I is offering incentives for faculty and staff who retire or resign --- but only if the conditions are right.
The cash-strapped U of I is looking to save money by shedding some of its faculty and staff --- and it will pay a half-year's salary up to 75 thousand dollars for faculty and staff who resign or retire. But university spokeswoman Robin Kaler says campus units will only offer the incentives in cases where the employee's departure would provide a real savings --- because that person would not be replaced, or would be replaced at a lower cost.
"So for example, if you had someone who made $70,000 a year and you determined maybe that you could not replace that person if they went, spending $35,000 to recoup another $35,000 could be a savings for the university," Kaler said.
The incentive programs target civil service and academic professional staff who agree to resign or retire before next fall semester --- and faculty eligible for retirement who agree to retire before fall semester 2011. A two-month application window begins on Wednesday. The incentive program only covers the U of I Urbana campus, not the Chicago or Springfield campuses, or university administration.
University of Illinois employees planning to retire this academic year don't have to worry about unpaid furlough days affecting their retirement benefits --- if they act in the next few days.
The university says that employees who sign a retirement agreement by Tuesday, February 2nd, don't have to take furlough days --- or a voluntary pay reduction.
U of I spokesperson Robin Kaler says the furlough waivers are being offered to employees considering retirement, who may be concerned by how furlough days will affect their final year's salary --- and consequently their pension levels.
"We did not want that furlough program to doubly hit people, just because of that window within which they those to retire", says Kaler.
The furlough waiver offer is for employees on all three U of I campuses who plan to retire by the start of the next fall semester. Employees on the Urbana campus may still be eligible for cash benefits to be offered in a voluntary separation and retirement program to be unveiled next week.
Eastern Illinois University now has a furlough policy to deal with the financial crunch facing higher education. But unlike the University of Illinois, there are no current plans to implement furloughs at EIU.
And if administrators make that decision, President Bill Perry says most collective bargaining agreements on the campus at Charleston currently don't include furlough language, including those for faculty. As things stand, he says about a fourth of employees at Eastern would be impacted. Some contracts call for layoffs instead of furloughs. Perry says there are those who feel that's the best option since layoffs been part of those contracts for a long time. "Other people are of the opinion with furloughs no one loses their job entirely," says Perry. "Everyone in the group shares a little bit of the pain. So you can see the arguments on both sides as to the right way to proceed. Rarely in a university do you have unanimty on any issue, right?"
The furlough policy released by Perry Thursday afternoon calls for an employee to take up to 24 furlough days over a 12-month span. He says EIU would try to provide 30 days notice before the implantation of furloughs. Eastern raised its housing costs last week, and implemented a hiring freeze. EIU is still owed about $33 million from the state. Perry says a tuition hike could happen, but no figure has been discussed.
The University of Illinois will unveil incentive programs next week for faculty and staff on the Urbana campus considering resignation or retirement.
The programs have been in the works for several weeks. Deans, directors and department heads on the Urbana campus were given advance notice of the incentive programs Thursday in an email from Associate Provost for Human Resources Elyne Cole.
The programs offer a lump sum cash incentive for voluntary retirements and resignations --- equal to 50 percent of current annual salary, or 75-thousand dollars, whichever is less.
Civil service and academic professional employees working on the Urbana campus for at least four years in a row may apply for incentives covering resignations and retirements. Another incentive program covering retirements only is open to faculty and academic staff who are already eligible for retirement under SURS, the State University Retirement System. A two-month window for applications begins Wednesday.
In her email, Cole stresses that the incentive programs are voluntary, and that no one should be encouraged to participate, or discouraged from doing so. She describes the incentives as one way to address "challenging financial times" at the U of I.
A Springfield family has donated a rare bronze cast of Abraham Lincoln to the University of Illinois-Springfield.
The family of Rick and Dona McGraw donated one of only 15 bronze casts of an original Abraham Lincoln life mask to the University of Illinois Springfield. The original plaster mold was taken of Lincoln's face by sculptor Clark Mills in 1865... just two months before Lincoln's assassination. The mask shows Lincoln's tired eyes and face full of wrinkles from the toll of the Civil War.
The McGraw family got the mask when they bought the McDonald's restaurant in downtown Springfield. It was the only item the family saved from the restaurant when they remodeled the building.
The university plans to display the mask at Brookens Library.
University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says administrators and faculty should be more aggressive to communicate to the public what's at stake if state funding remains at a standstill. Speaking to the Urbana Campus Academic Senate Monday, Ikenberry said he and all other public university presidents in Illinois will soon be sending a letter to Governor Pat Quinn and legislative leaders.
He says it will contain two messages. The first is to urge all involved to quickly find a solution towards fixing Illinois' fundamental financial problems. Ikenberry says the second is that public institutions like the U of I have a reliable schedule of state payments. "It is possible for us to imagine drifiting on now for several months with no material change in the rate of reimbursement from the state," says Ikenberry. "That just begins to create a nightmare of a situation that I don't think we can tolerate without a much more aggressive public position to alert the public of what the dangers really are." The Academic Senate passed a resolution yesterday urging its members to address these problems before state officials and the public. It was written in response to the U of I furlough policy impacting 11,000 employees. Some are considering taking common furlough days as a means for educating their students on Illinois' financial crisis through campus rallies or even trips to Springfield to address the legislature.
A proposal to cut $2.2 million from next year's Champaign School District budget would eliminate jobs and reduce programs. But Unit Four officials say the cuts are necessary to keep the district's finances healthy.
The proposed spending reductions include the elimination of some teachers and teachers' aide positions, cuts in athletics, and the end of summertime Drivers Ed. The reductions would only cover part of a Unit Four budget deficit that has grown over the past three years to $3.9 million. But Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas told the Unit 4 School Board Monday night that there's just not much more they can cut.
"If there's anyone sitting there thinking tonight that there ought to be three or four million dollars of fat (in the budget), and it ought to be easy to present the Board of Education with that kind of a list, you're deceiving yourself", said Logas.
Logas says the rest of the funding gap would be covered by working cash bonds, a reduction in the district's fund balance, and a new fee for extra-curricular activities.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says he was particularly concerned by a proposal to save $300,000 at the high school level by cutting six full-time positions.
"We all are concerned that we set our high schools up for success", says Tomlinson. "So, generally speaking, we're going to look at every cut in detail, and make sure we're doing it appropriately and with the least possible interruptions in the classroom."
Unit 4 School board members will review the cuts over the next six weeks before taking a final vote in March. They voiced misgivings about some of the proposals last night, but did not question the need to cut spending.
Several school districts in Champaign County now have a chance to save more money when issuing bonds for school construction projects. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
The chance came last week when the Champaign County Board formally designated the county as a "Recovery Zone", ---- an area experiencing economic distress under terms set by the federal Recovery Act. That clears the way for eligible school districts to issue some of their school construction bonds as Recovery Zone bonds --- with the federal government picking up 45 percent of the interest charge.
Cameron Moore of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission says he's gotten "strong Indications" from the Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul City school districts that they would probably use the Recovery Zone bonds, as they prepare to issue bonds for construction projects in the next couple of months.
Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd of the Champaign Unit Four school district says they plan to use about about $1,300,000 in Recovery Zone Bonds as part of their bond issue next month. She calls the opportunity an exciting one, "because it certainly lessens the amount of money that the taxpayers pay for interest, gives us the lowest interest rate available to governmental entitites right now, and gives us more money to good things for our students in the schools." Shepperd says the rest of Unit Four's bond issue will be issued as Build America bonds. She says they are also subsidized under the federal Recovery Act, but at 35%.
The RPC's Moore says the Fisher and Rantoul Township districts could also use the special bonds. But the bonds can only be issued during 2010. The federal government is making $2,349,000 in Recovery Zone bonds available in Champaign County.
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