Illinois Public Media News
Negotiators for the University of Illinois and the union for Urbana campus graduate student workers have met three times this week. Now, the Graduate Employees Organization, or GEO, is holding a strike authorization vote.
The vote began at a membership meeting Wednesday night, and continues through Friday. GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says even if their members vote to authorize a strike, they'd like to avoid a walkout. He says the potential for a strike is having an effect on its own.
"It seems apparent that the pressure being exerted by moving up toward a strike and increasing the possibility of a strike, that that is having a positive effect on negotiations", says Campbell. "So I would say they're going better, but there's still a very long way to go."
Campbell says the U of I administration made a new comprehensive contract offer at yesterday's federally mediated bargaining session --- but he says GEO members overwhelmingly rejected it at last night's meeting. The union is seeking better wages, health care and child care, while the administration has cited tight finances.
Campbell says results of the strike authorization vote should be ready by Monday, or perhaps over the weekend. If the strike authorization is approved, a GEO strike committee would decide whether to call a strike. Campbell says a strike would NOT interfere with contract talks.
The Champaign school Consent Decree is now history. A federal judge in Peoria Wednesday accepted a settlement agreement between the Unit Four school district and the plaintiffs in the racial equity case, and formally terminated the decree --- ending seven years of court supervision.
In his Opinion and Order, Judge Joe Billy McDade wrote that the Unit Four school district and the plaintiffs had worked to produce "seven years of transformative progress toward a race-neutral educational environment that is most likely to continue after the Consent Decree ends". Unit Four spokeswoman Beth Shepperd says they look forward to more progress toward racial equity.
Yes, the Consent Decree is over", says Shepperd. "But we have learned so much and gained so many tools to make student successful, that we feel that we are at the beginning of just incredibly great things for our schools."
The attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, Carol Ashley, says while they wish more progress had been made already, the Champaign school district has come a long way in its understanding of the needs of African-American students.
"The settlement and the lawsuit came because the (school) board had turned a deaf ear for many years about minority complaints", says Ashley. "So, when you look at the state of affairs, you can say, at least there's progress in the administration's understanding of issues."
Ashley says there have been concrete accomplishments as well. She says Unit Four now has more African-American administrators and teachers than it did when the Consent Decree began. She says its methods of assigning students to schools is more fair and equitable. And she cites plans to expand and rebuild two schools in predominantly black neighborhoods as part of the gains made under the Consent Decree.
With the Consent Decree now lifted, the Unit Four district stands to save somewhere around 2 million dollars as year in legal and consulting fees it had paid to support the court supervision.
And as part of its settlement agreement with the plaintiffs, the Unit Four school district is creating an Education Equity Excellence Committee --- to advise the district on racial equity issues now that the Consent Decree has been lifted. Unit Four's Beth Shepperd says they received 27 applications from community members to serve on the panel, and Superintendent Arthur Culver will make his recommendations from that list later this month.
The outgoing and incoming leaders at the University of Illinois are asking units to set aside six percent of their current budgets.
President Joseph White and his interim successor, Stanley Ikenberry, say the university is dealing with serious cash flow problems because the state isn't keeping up with billings. The state is giving the U of I 719 million dollars this fiscal year, but White and Ikenberry say the U of I has seen little of that so far.
So chief financial officer Walter Knorr says campuses will have to hold back about 45 million dollars in this year's proposed spending, or about 45 million dollars. Knorr says the university has gotten used to holdbacks and recissions, such as last year when ten percent was set aside.
"In 2009 all we ended up with was a 2 1/2% recission. It ended up only being a slow cash payment cycle from the state," Knorr said.
Knorr says the university believes it can hold off any employee furloughs through the end of the calendar year and will try to avoid them next year as well. But the presidents' letter to campus officials still asks that hiring be limited to critical needs.
Protecting gay, lesbian and transgender students at school was the topic of a forum that drew over 300 people to Parkland College in Champaign last night.
A panel of teachers, school administrators, counselors and students discussed the impact of anti-gay bullying, and efforts --- both successful and unsuccessful --- to deal with it.
Panelist and teacher Stacy Gross helped found the Gay-Straight Alliance student group at Champaign's Centennial High School. She says the group struggled to win official school recognition --- and that its first promotional flyers were quickly torn down by opponents.
"Ultimately though, GSA just wove itself into the fabric of our school", said Gross. "And it became a normally accepted club. Now our flyers stay up way too long and we have to really make an effort to take them down."
Gross says she was inspired to act after mentoring a student who faced anti-gay harassment at Centennial. She says she still often hears anti-gay remarks from students, and notices teachers allowing them to go unanswered.
"Kendall J", one of the students on the panel, says he's openly gay at his high school, and also the senior class president. Still, he says he and his boyfriend were physically attacked by other students when they attended prom together. Other students came to their defense. To this day, Kendall says "I still endure ridiculous judgments and hateful glances by those who don't approve of my 'chosen lifestyle'. And I still hear how 'that's gay' and that comment is 'no homo' or how that guy in the tight shirt is a faggot. All these are reasons to make school safer for everyone". (None of the students on the panel gave their full names or identified their schools).
Illinois Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch opened the discussion by calling on the audience of educators, students and parents to check up on what their schools do to keep students safe, whatever their sexual identity.
"Make a point to check whether your anti-bullying policies include protection for youth on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity", said Koch. Make a point to ensure that all faculty and staff are aware of the policies, and are trained on how to enforce them".
Last night's forum was sponsored by the East Central Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, part of a statewide Safe Schools Alliance which has held similar forums in Peoria and Bloomington-Normal.
Researchers at the University of Illinois are part of an international group of scientists that's decoded the DNA of the domestic pig.
Their research may one day prove useful in finding new treatments for both pigs and people, and perhaps aid in efforts for a new swine flu vaccine for pigs.
Larry Schook is the U of I biomedical science professor who led the project. He says the pig is the ideal animal to look at lifestyle and health issues in the United States. That's because pigs and humans are similar in size and makeup, and swine are often used in human research.
Researchers announced the results of their work today at a meeting in the United Kingdom. Schook says they'll spend the meeting discussing ways to use the new information.
A monthly gauge of the Illinois economy has made a bit of a rebound.
But the University of Illinois Flash Index cautions about putting too much into an October reading that jumped seven tenths of a percent above the previous month. Economist Fred Giertz says the first substantial improvement in the index in two years is evidence of an improving economy. But he says future months may show a much slower recovery, especially if employment doesn't rebound as well.
"Productivity has been increasing even during the downturn, so when demand starts going up again and people start buying more things it's going to take awhile before we start hiring back a lot of people because firms have become more productive, more efficient in the interim," Giertz said. "They don't need as many people as they used to, so it takes a little bit longer."
The Flash Index measures tax revenue each month from corporations, income and sales. Any number over 100 indicates economic growth - the October index came in at 90.7.
A week after announcing his resignation, former University of Illinois Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman is a finalist for a university president's job in New Mexico.
On Tuesday, a search committee at New Mexico State University listed Herman's name among five finalists. The chair of that committee, Del Archuleta, says Herman was among 18 people who interviewed for the job among 60 applicants. And Archuleta says a search firm helping in the process was well aware of the admissions scandal that prompted Herman to step down at the U of I.
"We think the search consultants really explored that,' says Archuleta. "And then the amount of interviews that we've had to date, reference checks, etc. made it such that at least at this point we've felt that he, with the great career that he's had, should be considered by our university as a possible president." The presidential search committee included former Illinois basketball coach Lou Henson. Archuleta says Herman is a finalist not only because of his record, but like the U of I, New Mexico State University is a land grant university, and believe he'd be able to garner the attention of state lawmakers, and lure in research funds.
Next week, finalists for the President's job will visit the campus in Las Cruces, New Mexico for 3 days of interviews with faculty, the community, and the University's Board of Regents. A decision is expected by November 19th. At the U of I, Herman is now serving in the role of special assistant to interim President Stanley Ikenberry. He's slated to start as a math professor next July, earning $244,000 a year as he takes a 1-year sabbatical before returning to the Urbana campus.
The next generation of the nation's electricity backbone will need stronger systems to protect it from attacks.
That's why the federal government is setting up an institute dedicated to computer security as it puts more than three billion dollars into improving the electric grid. The University of Illinois' Information Trust Institute will be a part of that effort, helping design software that keeps the improved power network safe from hackers.
Institute director Bill Sanders says the threat exists because the so-called "smart grid" will involve much more computerization than the current system.
"There's much more computerization, both on the distribution side -- and the distribution side is the kind of equipment you might have in your house that actually delivers the power to your house and the feedback and control there -- and on the transmission side, a wide-area data network that supports power generation and transports that power to somewhere near your house," Sanders said.
Three other universities are taking part in the five year, $18.8 million research program. The smart grid is expected to be more efficient and help consumers track and adjust their own power usage.
Spending cuts and a new working cash bond issue are the recommendation from the Champaign School District's finance director as a way to get the district through the new couple of years.
Gene Logas told school board members Monday night that he thinks the district should cut two million dollars from next year's budget, while issuing 2 million in working cash bonds. Another 2 million dollars would be cut from the budget the following year. Logas says the changes are needed to counter a decrease in state aid, a declining district fund balance and falling tax revenue due to tax caps and slow growth in the Consumer Price Index.
"I looked at the possibility of making no cuts at all", says Logas. "Making no cuts at all, though, sets us up with that five-million dollar deficit for next year, and puts us in a very precarious position. I just don't think we can do that."
Logas says even with a cut in spending, Unit four's fund balance will be lowered --- but will remain at an acceptable level.
But while the Unit Four school board considered possible budget cuts, it also considered new spending, thanks to the new school construction sales tax. Architects presented initial plans for the district's new magnet schools ---- a new Booker T. Washington school and an expanded Garden Hills school.
Preliminary designs for the new Booker T Washington School calls its classrooms "learning studios" with easy access to common areas, renamed "piazzas". Meanwhile, an expanded Garden Hills school building would include large spaces for art and music studies, and a stage that could be directed to both indoor and outdoor audiences.
School board members were impressed by the designs, although some wondered if all the ideas would be practical. Board member Susan Grey said that when they take a vote November 9th, board members will keep affordability in mind.
"The architects are going to throw all this cool stuff at us, and we're going to go, 'wow, that's great!' ", says Grey. "Then, when you actually start putting dollar figures to these things, there's things that may change along the way, because we have that stewardship, that responsibility, to our taxpayers, to use those dollars in the best possible way."
Champaign County's new school facility sales tax will pay for the new school buildings. A vote on the school designs is expected November 9th. Work on next year's budget will continue through the winter.
The University of Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team is nearing the start of a new season. But because of a new edict from the coach, you shouldn't expect to get any practice updates from players who use the social networking site Twitter. Rob McColley of the Champaign-Urbana website Smile Politely reports for AM 580.
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