Illinois Public Media News
Illinois has struck out in its attempt to get federal school-reform money.
The state was a finalist twice for "Race to the Top'' grants and hoped to get $400 million this time. But the U.S. Education Department named nine states and the District of Columbia as recipients in the final round of stimulus program funding.
Illinois House education leader Roger Eddy says the state's bid was hurt by its long history of local school control and concerns about its ability to continue the programs after federal money dried up. But the Hutsonville Republican says the State Board of Education worked hard to revise its application after Illinois missed out on the first round of federal money in March.
The top education leader in Illinois is diappointed the state got shut out on those funds. But state schools Superintendent Christopher Koch says the reform agenda will proceed. Reforms paid for with the federal money must be continued with state funds. Koch says he doesn't know if Illinois' budget problems played a role in the state's loss. He says there is already some federal money for changes and Illinois can gain from successes in the states that did get money.
The Mahomet Seymour school board has made official a tentative contract that's gotten unanimous approval from employees. The board cast a 7-0 vote last night to ratify the deal -- the co-president of the Mahomet Seymour Education Association said that earlier in the day, all of its voting members voted in favor. The vote follows a two day strike that disrupted the first days of school last week. The contract only runs for one year, as opposed to the two-year deal that the school board had initially insisted on - it includes a 2.6 percent pay raise for teachers, while teacher's aides and support staff will get 3.5 percent. Both sides will now have to open negotiations again next summer.
Teachers and students in the Mahomet Seymour district will put the start of their school year back in order.
A two-day strike that ended Friday postponed the first shortened day of the year. Now, students will return to class on Monday, which is the first shortened day of class. The school board and the teachers' union rank-and-file will vote Monday night on the one year tentative contract that put a short but bitter work stoppage to an end.
Mahomet Seymour Superintendent Keith Oates said it will not take much to get back on schedule - in fact, the district is using two allotted emergency days in the school calendar to account for the strike. But Oates said fixing the animosity in the community after the strike will be tougher.
"Obviously human nature is going to demand that it's a little bit different for a little while," Oates said. "And I think we all know that when an organization goes through something such as a strike it's going to take a period of time, depending on different folks, to work its way back to normal, I'm sure."
Oates said he plans to keep a regular schedule of visiting schools in the district and checking in on teachers. Joan Jordan head, of the Mahomet Seymour Education Association, said negotiations were contentious but -- for her - that is over, and she expects the strike to be a distant memory once kids return to school.
Teachers in the Mahomet Seymour schools will be back in their classrooms on Monday as a two-day strike ends with a tentative contract agreement.
The chief negotiator for the Mahomet Seymour Education Association, Linda Meachum, said school board negotiators offered a compromise Friday afternoon that led to the breakthrough. Meachum said teachers will receive 2.6% pay raise this school year. She said support staff and teacher's aides will get 3.5%.
But the two sides will have to negotiate again next year because the tentative contract is only for one year. Meachum said she believes that's important for both the district and the union.
"At least this way we know what we can live with for one year, and the board can begin to strategically plan for the future," Meachum said shortly after negotiations wrapped up. "We know that some (federal) stimulus money is coming in to the district, and we'll have a better idea of what our fund balance is going to be." Meachum also noted that the state's now-delayed payment schedule to schools might be clearer in a year.
Terry Greene, the president of the Mahomet Seymour school board, says the district had lobbied against a two-year contract but let go of that requirement as union bargainers compromised.
"They agreed to a one-year deal that we thought was responsible and fiscally fair," Greene said. "We want our kids back in school. Usually if you make a deal in which both sides are are a little unhappy it's probably the right deal, and that's just about what happened." But Greene still contends that the deal could have been sealed much earlier in the bargaining process.
Meachum said a ratification vote for the union's 260 members is set for Monday afternoon, after the first day back in class. The school board will cast its vote later that evening.
A US transportation administrator says research being done at the University of Illinois to boost innovations like high-speed rail may be one of the country's best kept secrets.
Peter Appel concluded a visit to campus with a tour of the ATREL facility in Rantoul. The site conducts various tests to prepare areas like Central Illinois for high-speed rail, and looks at different mixes of concrete and soil to see how they'll handle the weight of newer airplanes on runways. The facility testing equipment can even detect sinkholes in the earth's surface. Appel says railway engineering has been disappearing from a lot of institutions, calling the U of I an exception.
"The University of Illinois is advancing railway engineering more than any university in the nation," said Appel, who says the Obama administration's $8-billion investment in high speed rail includes replacing wood railroad ties with concrete. "As you pick the speeds up from 70 miles an hour to 80 miles an hour to 150 miles an hour, you need a lot more precision in the rail operations. Using, for example, concrete ties, helps drive that higher precision and ability for faster speeds. So that's the kind of developments that they're advancing here."
Appel says the U of I recognizes its role in advancing technology in high-speed rail, and that faculty in Urbana have been training professors elsewhere to teach courses in that area.
The electricity went back on at Parkland College in Champaign Friday afternoon, after a more than 12 hour outage to part of the campus that included its computer network. But a college spokesperson says they don't expect to have many computer-based services for students ready until Saturday.
Parkland spokesperson Patty Lane says a short in some underground wiring knocked out electricity for the college's computer network shortly after midnight Thursday night. With power restored, Lane says work is still underway to get the computer system up and running.
"Currently though", says Lane, "we have no student services for the main areas of Financial Aid and Student Life, and Admissions and Records and Advising, as well as Assessment."
It was a bad time for a power failure at Parkland, as students are preparing for classes that begin on Monday. Lane says they hope to have Registration and other student services available Saturday, perhaps with expanded hours. She says updates will be available at the Parkland College website, as well as its Facebook and Twitter pages ---- and at Parkland's main phone number, at 217-351-2200.
Labor unrest is affecting higher education, including University of Illinois campuses in Urbana and Chicago
Members of one UIUC union rallied Thursday outside a residence hall just as freshmen are moving in for their first semester. Ricky Baldwin is an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1000 employees. He claims that administrative cost increases are taking place while union members have seen their pay stagnate.
"The money that the University is spending on all kinds of things at the top shows us that the university does have money," said Baldwin "It just doesn't want to spend it on the basic operations -- the students, the workers, the instruction at the university."
The SEIU and the U of I are in contract talks... but members say they are not close to striking in Urbana. That cannot be said in Chicago, where about 3000 SEIU employees are threatening a Monday walkout.
At another hall complex Thursday, U of I president Michael Hogan and chancellor Robert Easter met incoming students. During the visit, Hogan said the university faces the prospect of more budget cuts and state payment delays, making salary increases even harder to achieve.
"We've just taken another 46 million dollar reduction in our budget, so that's the subject of ongoing negotiations, and I certainly hope we can reach a settlement," Hogan said. He says it's unlikely the school will see any of its current-year funding from Springfield until next January at the earliest. He says he's been assured that all of the U of I's fiscal-2010 funds will be in their hands in the next few months.
Mahomet-Seymour teachers are going on strike, cancelling all classes and school activities until further notice.
An 11th hour meeting between the union and school district failed Wednesday night - the fourth meeting with a federal mediator. Union Co-President Joan Jordan said administrators left without responding to their latest contract proposal. She said the Mahomet Seymour Education Association's 1-year plan is essentially the first year of a 2-year proposal proposed by the district one night earlier. It includes a 3-point-1 percent average increase in the teacher salary schedule. Jordan said the district refuses to budge from a 2-year contract.
"And because they keep crying poor and saying they just don't have the money... and they have the money, but we're going to decimate all their funds, which isn't true either." said Jordan. "We gave them what they wanted, we just don't want more than one year. Because if things are so uncertain, then we need to bargain again starting in December when we know better what's coming from the state. "
Jordan said administrators plan on meeting with the union again at 6:30 Thursday evening.
Mahomet-Seymour School Board President Terry Greene said the union is putting the district's financial health at risk by asking for unreasonable raises and benefits. He said it is hard to deal with a moving target, adding that the union changed its proposal late Tuesday after it appeared a tentative deal was in place, and he said one contract proposal would mean $700,000 in deficit spending in one year.
"This board of education won't support that, and I don't think our community will support that," said Greene. "So just because we have a fund balance and cash reserve that we've worked years to build up to protect ourselves for difficult times - which we're in, doesn't mean it belongs to the MSEA. Just because we have it doesn't mean it's theirs. It belongs to the taxpayers."
The school board has scheduled a special meeting for Friday to allow the continuation of sports and other activities during a work stoppage. Mahomet-Seymour's first home football game is scheduled for a week from Friday. Administrators say this is the first teacher strike at Mahomet-Seymour schools.
The professor at the heart of a controversy over religious studies at the University of Illinois doesn't believe there's a permanent resolution to the dispute.
Kenneth Howell has accepted the U of I's offer to return to teach an introductory course on Catholic teaching, more than two months after he was let go. A student who was not in the class had complained of an email Howell had sent to one of his students defending the church's views on homosexuality and natural moral law.
Howell says the incident will not affect his teaching, except perhaps for a broader scope of issues covered at the end of the course.
"I'm going to give a general lecture on natural moral law because that's the essential part of Catholicism," said Howell. "Then I'll ask them (his students) if they want me to deal with the question of capital punishment or just war or homosexuality, and they will choose."
The U of I is now paying Howell for his work as an adjunct professor - until his removal in May, Howell had been paid by the St. John Catholic Newman Center, where he has now been reinstated as the head of the center's Institute for Catholic Thought.
A faculty-student committee on the Urbana campus is looking into the general issue of outside involvement in academics - Howell says he has not been asked to appear before that committee.
Teachers in the Mahomet-Seymour School District could vote to go on strike on Wednesday, the day before classes are to begin.
The two sides are at an impasse after meeting twice over the weekend with a federal mediator, in meetings that latest about 12 hours total. The teacher's union currently has a strike vote scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
The President of the Mahomet-Seymour Education Association, Joan Jordan, said while the two sides have seen agreement in more areas, teachers' primary concern is insurance. She said the school board's proposed increase is 90-percent less than what was paid in previous contracts, meaning higher premiums for its members. Jordan said that means union members making as little as $16,500 would see a loss in pay.
"They've got money. They don't want to spend it." said Jordan. "But there are real people with lives attached to this though. I just hope that they'll come back and offer us what they should have started with."
The teacher's union has rejected the district's offer for a 2-year contract with salary increases of more than 2-percent for the first year... and just over 3-percent for the second. School Board President Terry Greene called the offer 'extremely generous' considering the economic times. The union proposed a 5-percent raise in the current year and 6-percent the next. Greene said combining that with the insurance teachers are seeking, that means Mahomet Seymour would be cutting programs, laying off employees, and class sizes would 'explode' a year from now.
"The days of 5 and 6-percent salary increases, at least for the short term, are over." said Greene. "And Cadillac insurance plans for families, while it would be nice to provide that, we don't have enough money in our school district to solve that problem."
Jordan said the union hopes to meet again with the board prior to Thursday.
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