Illinois Public Media News
A tentative agreement has been reached between Champaign's Teamsters union and representatives of the First Student bus company.
The two sides met for about eight hours Friday discussing details of a new three-year contract for 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors in the Danville School District. Those employees have been working without a contract since August 1st, and have never publicly announced plans to strike.
"We're very pleased to have a tentative agreement," said Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the First Student bus company. "We very much value all of our employees - our drivers, monitors, mechanics, across the board - and take pride in the excellent work every day."
Richmond refrained from releasing details about the proposed contract, saying the union must first ratify the agreement. She said she expects union members to vote on the contract sometime within the next week.
Since July, the union had been demanding higher wages and benefits. Officials from Teamsters Local 26 did not return a call for comment.
(Photo courtesy of First Student)
Illinois released school-by-school test score data Friday, and it shows 2010 to be a watershed year: More than half of the state's schools are now considered failing under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Schools were supposed to get 77.5 percent of their students to meet standards in reading and math during the 2009-2010 school year, a significant increase from the year prior. That is one reason why more Illinois schools missed the mark than made it.
"The levels have gone up and that's what No Child Left Behind was designed to do, keep ratcheting up the levels each year," said Jesse Ruiz, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education.
Ruiz and other state leaders have said they want to see schools measured on "growth" once No Child Left Behind is reauthorized, which could happen early next year. Growth models look at how much students improve year to year, rather than the percentage of students who meet standards.
Most schools in the state did show improvement. But that often did not matter for schools, which can eventually face sanctions for failing to meet testing targets.
"Our AP exams are the best they've ever been, our ACT exams are the best they've ever been, and yet we didn't make the cut-off point, so it was very disappointing," said Sandra Doebert, superintendent of Lemont High School District 210 in the southwest suburbs. This was the first year Lemont has run afoul of the federal law.
Doebert points to the state's difficult high school test-which includes the ACT college entrance exam-as one reason 90 percent of the state's high schools failed to meet standards. Nearly everyone in the state agrees that Illinois elementary school standards are not rigorous enough, and that causes elementary school students to arrive at high school unprepared.
That's one reason the state board adopted new learning standards in June. New tests are being developed and will debut in the 2014-2015 school year.
Test scores released Friday show that Chicago schools posted the highest-and lowest-test scores in the state. At the high school level, city kids who test into Chicago's elite selective enrollment high schools again beat out posh districts like New Trier and Deerfield.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
Numbers released Friday show nearly 500 schools are at least 90 percent poor and 90 percent minority, but only one of them has also gotten 90 percent of its students to meet standards on state tests. Illinois Public Radio's Linda Lutton reports from the state's only "90-90-90" school.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
Heavy turnout has made an early voting site on the University of Illinois campus a success, according to the Champaign County Clerk.
Mark Shelden said when the Gregory Place location closed Thursday, 857 people had cast their ballot. Meanwhile, 2,981 had cast their ballots at Urbana's Brookens Center, meaning with absentee totals thus far, a total of 5,386 had already voted. But at the campus polling site, Shelden said only about 10-percent of the voters were U of I students. He said voters from all over the county came to the site over the 18-day early voting period, including faculty and people living in rural areas.
The campus polling site was mandated by a new state law, but Shelden suggested an alternative, if legislators are willing to fund it.
"You could do two or three days in Mahomet, two or three days in St. Joseph, a couple days in the western campus area and a couple of days in the eastern campus area," he said. "I mean, there are ways to do it that can be fair for everybody and at the same time, not overly tax all our resources."
Shelden selected Gregory Place over the Illini Union, saying the heavy political activity there made it inappropriate site for early voting. Democrats on the Champaign County Board and the U of I Student Senate opposed the decision, saying the Union would be free to use and easier to find.
David Pileski, who chairs the Student Senate's Committee on Governmental Affairs, said a more open dialogue with Shelden may have produced a compromise.
"There's Foellinger Hall, which houses a lot of space that students could vote early in, as well as other buildings that could be utilized on this campus had we dealt with it in advance prior to a couple of months," Pileski said.
This was the first election to include a state-mandated campus polling site. Nolan Drea, the Vice President of the Student Senate, suggested legislators write a stronger bill that specifies that all campus early voting take place at a university-owned location, like a campus union.
Shelden said voters have not complained about the Gregory street location, or paying the parking meters there. Champaign County's total of early votes for the 2006 election was less than 4,000. Shelden says with the additional absentee votes and ballots from voters in nursing homes, Champaign County will likely have cast more than 6,000 ballots before polls even open on Tuesday.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
Talks will resume Friday morning between Teamsters Local 226 and representatives of the First Student bus company, which runs transportation services in the Danville School District.
The two sides have been mulling over a new three-year contract for the district's 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors who respond to 56 routes. The union wants those employees to get higher wages and benefits.
After more than four months of contract negations, Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the bus company, said she had hoped to reach a resolution by now.
"We do believe that the compensation and benefits package that we've offered to the union representatives is a fair market value, especially given the current economic conditions," Richmond said.
Richmond would not release details of the proposed contract.
Union members have not formally announced plans to walk off the job and strike, even though its members have been without a contract since August 1.
A representative from the Teamsters Union could not be reached for comment.
The Rantoul Township High School board unanimously voted Monday night to suspend Superintendent Janet Koroscik over allegations of misconduct.
School Board member Marla Deem would not go into detail about the charges, except saying students and faculty have complained about Koroscik's leadership.
"There are just some issues that have been brought to the board's attention that we feel need to be addressed," Deem said. "It would be in the best interest of everyone involved not to let those issues out until the research has been completed."
Deem said she does not know exactly how long it will take before the school board concludes its investigation, but she said it could go on for at least a month.
Koroscik is not allowed on school premises during the suspension. She started working for the Rantoul Township High School District on July 1, 2009 on a three-year contract. She praised her own efforts in tightening security in the school, trying to boost test scores, and offering healthier food in the student cafeteria.
Still, she said during her tenure, she has had a tumultuous relationship with the school board, at times accusing its members of abusing their powers. Koroscik said she suspects that she is the target of a "witch hunt" brought on by a school board dissatisfied with her.
"I've done nothing wrong," Koroscik explained. "I just plan to get this situation resolved in the best way, so it doesn't hurt the school (and) the community."
Coincidently, the same day Koroscik was suspended, she returned to work full-time from medical leave, recovering from a blood clot in her leg. She said if the school board exonerates her, she would consider returning to work.
"I don't know how I could possibly continue to work with people who intentionally tried to destroy my career and never even gave me a chance," she said. "It was never my intention to leave Rantoul."
Koroscik refrained from saying whether anyone from the school board should resign.
While the school board investigates the charges, Principal Scott Amerio will serve as interim superintendent.
(Photo courtesy of Rantoul Township High School)
Community colleges will split more than $2 million in federal stimulus dollars for energy efficient projects and job training for students.
The Illinois Green Economy Network is a consortium of nearly 50 community colleges with members that include Parkland College, Lake Land Community College in Mattoon, and Danville Area Community College.
Warren Ribley heads Illinois' Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Ribley explained that the funds will also help dislocated workers, and allow them earn associate degrees as trained wind turbine technicians and similar jobs.
"We're far beyond seeing energy efficiency and renewable energy be sort of 'buzz words' and a fad," Ribley said. "It's here to stay. It has to be part of our domestic energy policy."
Danville Area Community College will get more than $400,000 to start up a wind energy technician program. Jeremiah Dye, an instructor in that program, has over 70 students right now, but expects that to grow. Dye said the funds will bring wind turbine components to campus.
"Right now, we have to travel to get to a wind turbine that we can actually have access to to do training and things like that," Dye said. "And you kind of wait for one to go down, and then they call and say 'hey, if you want to go along on this maintenance repair, you can. And so it really limits what I can do hands on. But with this grant, we're able to require some different real-world training situations."
Meanwhile, Parkland College is getting $375,000 to train analysts to inspect buildings for modern energy building codes, and Lake Land is getting a series of grants totaling more than $800,000 - projects there include the construction of two wind turbines and initiating a thermal efficiency program.
Ribley was at Parkland College in Champaign on Friday to announce the grants.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The University of Illinois dedicated the Timothy Nugent Residence Hall and the Student Dining and Residential Programs Building on Friday in Champaign. The dormitory and dining hall are both handicap accessible.
The dormitory, which is University Housing's newest residence hall in more than 40 years, features proximity readers and large elevators to accommodate wheel chair bound individuals. The rooms also include technology to help students get in and out of beds and showers.
"This building was planned with the notion that students with disabilities could use each and every part of the building," explained John Collins, director of University Housing.
The new dorm's namesake is Timothy Nugent, who is director of emeritus for the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES). Nugent established the center more than 60 years ago. He said society's views of people with disabilities have come a long way.
"I never expected anything this wonderful," Nugent said.
The U of I's commitment to providing accessible facilities for students with disabilities was an important factor for student John Burton, a junior from Indiana studying engineering, when he was deciding where to go to school. Burton, who has spinal muscular atrophy, praised the University for making Nugent Hall an inclusive dormitory for students with and without disabilities.
"It allows you to make friends and meet new people, so that's kind of nice," Burton said. "Although Nugent Hall is the first of its kind, we have the opportunity to lead the way for other universities to follow."
In addition to providing independent living for students with disabilities, the new dining facility will also reduce the university's carbon foot print by using less water and electricity. The dining hall will also use leftover residue oil that is processed from fried foods, and then convert it into bio-fuel for cars and buses on campus.
University president Michael Hogan said the new dining hall is the second green building of its kind at the U of I next to the Business Instructional Facility. Hogan said he predicts the environmental impact of the dining hall will save the U of I money, especially as it looks to trim its budget.
"If you can save your energy cost, you can save a lot of money, so anything that keeps our air conditioning bills down, anything that keeps the lights off when not necessary, anything that reduces our water use," Hogan stated. "That all saves the university money, and of course saves the planet."
The new dining hall is named after former U of I president Stanley Ikenberry, who estimated that the savings generated because of the dining hall's green technology could equate to "several million dollars" within the next 50 years.
"It's not jump change," he said. "It's very important to us."
Hogan said he hopes the U of I considers making more buildings on campus environmentally friendly. The rest of Nugent Hall is currently under construction. An additional 350 beds will be added by the fall of 2012.
Champaign's school board is scheduled to vote next week on the design of a new grade school in Savoy.
A Unit 4 board member who is an architect said the key to the new Carrie Busey Elementary building will be flexibility in educational space. Christine Chalifoux said older school facilities have a hard time helping some students, since many kids develop at a different pace while they are still in the same classroom.
The Savoy grade school will feature collaboration spaces that teachers can adjust based on different teaching styles. Chalifoux said Unit 4 is taking the right approach with this building.
"We try to teach the way the kids learn," Chalifoux said. "We need flexibility in spaces. We need places we can have break-outs so we can have large groups. We can have special projects and things like that, and that's really been important in all three of these new schools: BTW (Booker T. Washington), Garden Hills, and the new Carrie Busey."
Champaign School Board member Greg Novak said the collaborative space concept is already in place at Stratton and Barkstall elementary schools.
Savoy Village Trustee Joan Dykstra said the configuration of classroom space and open areas will pay dividends for the school district and neighborhood, but she said the school will get its share of use in evening and weekend hours as well.
"There's agreements too that the building will be able to be used for multiple events," Dykstra said.
Dykstra explained that the plans for the new grade school have also been well thought out for special education needs, adding that she appreciates the traffic pattern for buses and parents to pick up and drop off students.
The preliminary design of the Savoy school also allows the library to serve as the anchor, with classrooms grouped around it. A second story will be built to allow for additional outdoor play space. The new Carrie Busey school is scheduled to open in 2012.
A leading University of Illinois faculty member said it is good to see the Urbana campus initiating a process by which the contracts of faculty will be looked at before being renewed.
The review process concerns adjunct faculty member Kenneth Howell, who was told at the end of the academic year he would no longer teach courses on Catholicism. A student complained about an e-mail Howell sent to all his students regarding homosexual acts. Howell was later re-instated to the position after the Alliance Defense Fund threatened to sue the university.
The U of I's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure completed the review of Howell, which was released Monday by the online journal, 'Inside Higher Ed'. Urbana Faculty Senate Executive Committee Chair Joyce Tolliver said this report is important for all academics. "That is, I think the primary and most important recommendation of this report," Tolliver said. "That we get something in writing that would be a campus-level procedure to avoid this sort of ad-hoc decision making that we've had to make from department to department in the absence of any procedure to follow."
Tolliver has already met with Interim Chancellor Robert Easter to talk about setting up such a process for reviewing academic contracts. She would not give specifics of the panel's review of Howell. The Alliance Defense Fund threatened to sue the U of I when Howell was dismissed. An ADF attorney, Jordan Lorence, said the U of I Committee's report was correct in that all faculty, including adjunct professors, should be afforded academic freedoms to express opinions and given their due process rights.
"This faculty committee says 'look, we have to have some procedures in place to make sure that no one is just dismissed," Lorence said. "Not because they're a bad teacher, but because some people don't agree with what he's asserting in the classroom, and that would be a step forward for everybody."
It is not known how 'Inside Higher Ed' obtained the report. U of I Law Professor Matthew Finkin, who chairs the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, declined to comment, saying these are 'personal issues.' U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler issued a statement, stating 'the university appreciates the work of the committee, and agrees "with their assessment that teaching about religion versus advocating a religious belief or doctrine is a complex issue.
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