Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign School Board received a promise of a classroom boycott if the new Booker T. Washington School project on the north side goes ahead without significant changes.
Terry Townsend and Robert Brownlee say the new Washington School's parking requirements and bus traffic will cause congestion. Townsend says he fears the school will lead to forced buyouts of homes to make room for parking, and higher property taxes that will lead to gentrification.
"They're going to force poor people out of their homes", says Townsend. "They're going to make it so it's very difficult for people that live there to continue to live there. And it's changing the character of that neighborhood.
Townsend wants a smaller Washington School to be built, and guarantees that neighborhood children be guaranteed seats in the new school. He says if the district doesn't change its plans, he'll organize a classroom boycott for the first week of school in August. But Champaign school board members are defending the new Washington School plans. Vice-President Susan Grey says the building will be an asset that local residents can use themselves.
"It can be a place for gatherings and community meetings", says Grey. "And I would certainly hate to think that the community in the Douglass Park area would think that we wouldn't want to open our school for community use. Because I think we will."
Meanwhile, the Champaign School Board approved bids Monday night for eight of the ten construction contracts for the new Washington School. The other two contracts came in over budget, and the district is downsizing some of its building plans in hopes of attracting lower bids.
Architects for the new north side school presented proposals last (Monday) night for using cheaper building materials in some parts of the new building, in the hopes of shaving 1-point-7 million dollars off the building's cost. Board member Greg Novak endorsed the changes --- but he warned against going too far.
"I mean the fact that we never did the grading we were going to do at Barkstall", says Novak. "It's come back to haunt us. There's been some things at Stratton that have come back to haunt us. So in some ways, I understand we need to make some cuts, and we need to do some trimming. And in some ways, I don't want to go too far in that direction."
Unit Four school board members voted unanimously to accept eight construction bids, while rejecting two. Changes will be made to the two outstanding projects, to make sure those two projects are less expensive, before resubmitting them for bids.
A University of Illinois Geology Professor says the discovery of a century-old construction problem in the Natural History Building produces lingering ones for research, and fall classes. Inspections of termite damage last week showed metal reinforcements were improperly placed on the building's addition in 1908. There's no time estimate yet for repairing the building.
Stephen Marshak directs the U of I's School of Earth, Society, and Environment. He says a few summer classes had to be moved immediately to another part of the building. Marshak also questions how lab research will continue when staff can't gain access, and that a lot of lab materials are delicate, and can't be easily moved. Marshak says if part of the building is still closed this fall, classes with a lot of students will have to move as well. "So we're thinking of reconfiguring some rooms that are being used for other purposes in the stable part of the building to accomodate some of the geology classes in the fall," said Marshak. "We're not going to be able to set those up though until they give us the go ahead to actually move cabinets of rock specimens and cabinets of maps and things that we need access to. And right now, we're told that we're not allowed to move those yet."
Marshak says the U of I's Facilities and Services Department will determine when materials can be moved and where. Meanwhile, Marshak several offices are looking for a place to move to. He says until his staff knows what the time frame is for repairs to the building, departments will wait until moving their research to other rooms. Marshak estimates about 25 graduate students have been displaced.
Illinois coaches and officials are welcoming Nebraska to the Big Ten though few Illini teams have recent experience against the Cornhuskers.
Athletic Director Ron Guenther on Friday called Nebraska a good fit for the Big Ten. The Big Ten accepted Nebraska Friday after the Cornhuskers opted to leave the Big 12. The move is part of what could be major shift in college athletics. Illini football coach Ron Zook welcomed Nebraska's strong football tradition. Men's basketball coach Bruce Weber said he expects the Cornhuskers to be a tough opponent. Illinois football is 2-7-1 all time against Nebraska but the two haven't played since 1986. Illini men's basketball is 7-2 against the 'Huskers but hasn't played them since 1990.
A University of Illinois Administrator says the school can take the lead in moving some textbooks to the web.
A $150,000 grant from the U-S Department of Education will enable administrators to pick one or two books as a kind of pilot project. Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles Evans says the first advantage of the funds will be saving students the cost of a textbook. But the U of I will also be able to share these open source textbooks with other schools, like Parkland College and Northwester, where professors on those campuses can add their own lessons. The grant is intended to last one year, and could be continued... but Evans says one hope is for faculty to initiate their own on-line textbooks.
"We know how to publish a textbook," said Evans. "So we want to wet their appetites to doing more in that work.- because there are commercial entities who are in this field already. We could go back for another grant to do more, but I think there are organizations and other corporations that would be interested in working with our faculty." Evans says the on-line initiative was spearheaded by US Senator Dick Durbin, who's been vocal about the rising cost of college textbooks. Evans says another key to the grant is helping community colleges. "Once we come up with a topic, we will bring in community college faculty to say, 'how can we best work with you in this topic?," Evans said. The grant was announced by U-S Senator Roland Burris' office on Thursday.
About 350 employees on the University of Illinois campus have a tentative contract agreement with their employer. The two-year agreement would cover about 350 visiting academic professionals - on Thursday night their bargaining unit announced that members had ratified the agreement. No details have been announced yet. The U of I Board of Trustees will vote on the tentative agreement in July.
Governor Pat Quinn's signature extends the power to borrow money to Illinois' community colleges.
Earlier this week legislation that the governor signed gave the same ability to state universities - nearly all public higher education institutions are awaiting backlogged payments from the state, and many of those schools say the delays have prompted them to cut budgets and scrape to make payroll.
In signing the borrowing authority bill in Danville Wednesday, Governor Quinn said the two-year schools now have another tool to work through the state's budget crisis. Republican Representative Bill Black admits that the new borrowing power is only a Band-Aid.
"I know some of you in the media looked at the three bills and said 'this doesn't solve all the problems' -- no it doesn't, and I don't think the governor will give any the indication that it does," Black said. "But they're all small steps that we can take, and when the state gets back on its feet - and it will -- I think the bills he's signing today will help."
Two other bills the Governor signed Wednesday allow more frequent state payments to community colleges and let the state Community College Board limit some travel reimbursements. Colleges would still have to get the approval of their trustees to issue more bonds.
A member of the Champaign school district committee aimed at reviewing equity areas is frustrated by the group's lack of progress after one semester.
The Education Equity Excellence Committee was mandated by a court through Unit 4's consent decree settlement. Melodye Rosales says some members fail to understand that they're supposed to help guide district administrators, and have things the other way around based on vague language on how the committee operates. The triple-E committee is assigned with looking at academic progress among minority students in areas like special education, Advanced Placement courses, and discipline areas. The panel is also reviewing the results of a racial climate study done at Unit 4 by a University of Illinois psychology professor. It's one Rosales contends was a waste of district resources.
"We could do it for free," said Rosales, implying there were other departments at the U of I, like its Informatics Institute, where such a study wouldn't require thousands of dollars. "I gave them a road map on how to do it for free every year. We could get a general idea of what happens, we could work with the university, they could process the information. We don't need to spend $58,000 or $74,000 on something that's not even worth the paper it's written on at this point and time." Rosales also contends Unit 4 has done a poor job of promoting the Triple-E committee, and needs to be meeting more often.
But Champaign School Board President and committee member Dave Tomlinson says the committee is taking the right approach to focusing on broad issues, and is glad the panel plans to expand its meeting schedule in the fall. "I think the committe has got a large task and we need to make sure we keep the district moving in the right direction, and also to make sure the community feels involved," said Tomlinson. "I think we're on that path, and we've got a varied group of people here that has the information that they need to make the decisions." A task force will lay out that meeting schedule before the triple-E committee meets this fall.
A bill designed to change Illinois' often-abused legislative scholarship program is heading nowhere, and that means lawmakers may avoid one more touchy vote before the fall election.
The Senate faces a deadline next week to consider Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of the measure. But a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton says senators have no plans to return to the Capitol by then.
Cullerton is a Chicago Democrat who sponsored a series of restrictions on the scholarships rather than support an outright ban passed by the House.
Quinn vetoed Cullerton's proposal on May 11, saying he preferred to eliminate the program.
Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon says this particular bill is dead but the issue isn't.
Relatives and friends have been looking for two weeks for a missing University of Illinois student but so far have no leads.
Police in Urbana say Nizam Ahmed was last seen May 17 packing up his car at the mosque in Urbana where he lived. He was supposed to arrive in Indianapolis to visit relatives later that day.
Urbana police Detective Matt Quinley says investigators have no reason to believe foul play was involved. He says they've received no tips about the 23-year-old Danville native.
Relatives say he left his cell phone behind and there's been no activity on bank accounts.
Ahmed's father, Syed Ahmed, says hundreds of people are praying for his son.
More and more adults are going back to college to resume their studies or start from scratch - but they also fear standing out in a class of 19 or 20 year old students.
But the head of the adult re-entry center at Champaign's Parkland College says that's one common misconception of higher education. Billie Mitchell's program helps about 450 older students navigate the college routine, and she says those students make up a growing percentage in many Parkland courses.
"The younger students learn a lot from the experienced students and vice versa," Mitchell assured. "So don't be afraid of that -- very seldom is it going to be 24 19-year-olds and only one person who's raising a family and that sort of thing."
But Mitchell says another misconception among returning adult students is that they can jump right into college again without much planning. She says financial aid is among the facets of college life that adult students have to prepare for well before any deadlines. That's why Parkland is hosting a "transitions" workshop next month for students who are considering juggling college with their family and career lives. The workshop is set for July 8th.
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