Illinois Public Media News
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.
The University of Illinois Flash Index recorded its lowest level since September.
The index fell in May to 90.6, its second consecutive month in decline following a six month increase. Fred Giertz of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs compiles the Flash Index. He said the drop isn't attributable to any one cause.
The recovery is kind of slowing and not as strong as people thought and hoped," Giertz said. "May was also a bad month for the stock market, so I think there's some lack of confidence now. It's been too much of a downturn. Next month it will be important to see where it goes from there."
Giertz says he expects the economy to get better but it will be a slow process. He says unemployment is still high and the state is going to experience a more painful recovery than it has experienced in recessions in roughly the past 20 years.
The Flash Index is a weighted average based on state corporate, personal income and sales tax receipts. Any number below 100 indicates economic contraction.
University of Illinois administrators will renew their efforts to place a wind turbine on the Urbana campus.
In 2005, the U of I had initially sought three turbines for the south farms. Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Steve Sonka says cost overruns caused former Chancellor Richard Herman to put the project on hold. But administrators are now asking the Clean Energy Community Foundation to extend a $2 million grant for the turbine. The grant was set to expire July 1st... but Sonka says administrators should be able to extend the use of those funds for enough time to get the turbine in place. Sonka says turbine costs have gone down, and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter was supportive of what the U of I would make back on a single turbine over time. "Chancellor Easter asked the F&S (Facilities and Services) people to look at the return, and for our portion of the investment, it's a reasonably attractive financial and energy saving environmental return," said Sonka. "A simple payback period 7 to 8 years is pretty attractive for a capital investment."
Sonka says the campus has undertaken many energy saving projects since 2005, including the replacement of inefficient heating and cooling systems - and pursing the turbine now makes sense. The grant would be partnered with funds from a $500,000 student fee, and Sonka says U of I would sell bonds to cover the remaining cost, around $2 million. Sonka says a new state procurement law taking effect in July also forces the university to wait until then to send out requests for proposals. Members of the U of I Student Sustainability Committee applauded the move. President Suhail Barot says the turbine is another factor that will help move forward the campus climate action plan of reducing energy use by 40% by the year 2025.
The Urbana School Board met for more than three hours Tuesday night on plans for a new Early Childhood Center. But board members -- already worried about state education funding -- could not reach a consensus on the project, which would be funded by the countywide sales tax for school construction.
Two board members want to build a new center on a new site. A third member supports building on the site of the current Early Childhood Center on Broadway. But school board President John Dimit says the district should close one of its existing elementary schools for early childhood use.
With no agreement on where to build, the Urbana school board will vote next week to commission an architectural program -- essentially a formal description of the features the new building would contain. Dimit says they can make that move before deciding whether to build a new building or convert an old one..
"We've been operating under some assumptions of a just a general 40,000 square feet," Dimit said. "I'm concerned that we get that programming down to a little bit more detail, and that's something we can do without having a particular site in mind. As a matter of fact, it may dictate the type of site that we eventually choose."
Tuesday night's school board meeting was attended by several people who spoke against closing an existing school to convert to early childhood classes. The group "Keep Urbana Neighborhood Schools" submitted a petition with 777 signatures, asking the Urbana school board to keep all six of its current elementary schools open.
In the fall of 2012, students attending Champaign's Carrie Busey Elementary will be going to class in Savoy.
Unit 4 board members and village officials held a dedication ceremony Tuesday at the future site of Carrie Busey Elementary School, in Savoy's expanding Prairie Fields subdivision. Champaign Superintendent Arthur Culver says the neighborhood is well prepared for a school, with an adjoining park, and streets for accommodating buses. "People like to go that's close in proximity to their homes," said Culver. "People will be excited, it will be less of a burden on transportation on the folks that live in Savoy, and of course, everybody's always excited about getting a brand new, LEED certified, state-of-the-art educational facility."
Unit 4 school Board President Dave Tomlinson credits the passage of the countywide sales tax referendum for getting the school built. He says it will also create about $80 million in construction jobs between the new Carrie Busey and renovations at other school buildings. All staff and most students from the existing Carrie Busey elementary are expected to transfer to the new school. Once it's built, the current building will serve as a transitional center while renovations at other Unit 4 schools take place.
Savoy Village President Robert McCleary says the wider streets and park in that neighborhood are ready to accommodate school buses, and more than 400 students. "As a long-term resident of this area, a lot of the old infrastructure at Central (High School) and Edison downtown (Champaign), something will have to be done," said McCleary. "So in a lot of communities, they move that sort of stuff out to the outside edge of the communities. And Savoy's definitely on the edge of the community." Carrie Busey is a 'three strand' elementary school, with three sections of each grade level from kindergarten through 5th grade. Construction on the new school starts next summer. Work is expected to wrap up by July of 2012.
The University of Illinois is the first in the Big Ten to draft a long-term plan to make the campus more sustainable.
The ambitious plan calls for an end to the use of coal to provide power on the Urbana campus within seven years. It also proposes a 40 percent reduction in energy use by the year 2025 and a carbon-neutral campus by 2050. The plan is part of a nationwide effort by college campuses to make climate-action plans.
Dick Warner heads UIIUC's Office of Sustainability. He says higher education is the perfect place to begin concentrating on stemming climate change.
"I think the most important impact a decade from now will be the way these issues and concepts are in the minds of students who come here and then move onto their next chapter as citizens somewhere," Warner said. "So the way that we teach about this and behave about this is very important."
The U of I's biggest electricity and steam-heating source is the coal-fired Abbott Power Plant. Warner says in two years, the campus will add more specific details to the plan, but Abbott could either be converted to another power source or closed altogether. He says the plant needs $177 million in deferred maintenance.
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