Illinois Public Media News
The one-cent school sales tax that Champaign County voters approved in April still needs the county board's approval. That's why several area school officials turned out for Wednesday night's county board Policy Committee meeting. Several of them told the committee about how the sales tax would provide money for building new schools and renovating old ones. And like Mahomet Seymour school board member Becky Ryherd, they mentioned how the sales tax would also allow school districts to lower their property tax rates. "Tax abatement was the one thing that's always caught the public's ear", Ryherd said. "They want to see a different way to fund schools.
Ryherd's own school board has promised to commit one third of its sales tax revenue towards property tax relief. But some Policy Committee members, like Republican Alan Nudo, worry that some school boards are modifying their tax relief promises, now that the sales tax has won voter approval. "If there is a difference between what was promised before the April election, and what now a board resolution shows, we need to know why", says Nudo.
The Policy Committee voted unanimously to send the school facilities sales tax to the full Champaign County Board for a final vote on June 18th. County Board Chairman Pius Weibel says he'll ask school districts to explain in writing, any changes they've made since the election in how they plan to use the sales tax money. But Nudo worries that once enacted, the county board has little say over the school sales tax, It has no sunset provision. State law says it can't be repealed by a county board, as long as a school district is using to pay off bonds.
University of Illinois Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman says a review of the admissions process was underway months before revelations of a 'Category I' list of applicants wound up in recent media reports. But he told the U of I's Academic Senate Executive Committee Wednesday that the forming of a task force to manage inquiries will bring more information out in the open, including how applicant appeals are conducted.
"Admissions felt for a long period of time that we needed to have a readily accessable appeal process," says Herman. "It was always possible, but we didn't make it as easy or as transparent as we would have liked to. And that what's going to happen."
The admissions office wants its applicant appeals to be available on line. Herman did tell the committee that 'careless language' was used to characterize the U of I's admissions office, and that staff there shouldn't be blamed for anyone who may have been enrolled ahead of someone more qualified. Herman says it's unfortunate the Chicago Tribune identified the roll of tracked applicants as a 'clout list.' The university suspended the use the list this week. Committee Chair Nick Burbules says the problem regarding admissions isn't unique to the university or even the state, but he says the U of I shouldn't waste time finger pointing. Burbules says the most important issue is moving forward, and making sure that students are treated as fairly as possible.
The University of Illinois will suspend the use of its list of applicants for admission whose names were submitted through political connections.
While the 'Category I' list is suspended, a task force of U of I personnel will spend the summer reviewing the process by which many applicants were the subject of such inquiries. This announcement comes three days after the Chicago Tribune reported the existence of what it called a 'clout list' of people who may have been accepted to the university ahead of those with better qualifications. Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the article raised some red flags, and it's time for the task force to make sure all students are admitted based on merit.
"The Category I system has raised a number of legitimate questions, and we simply want to create a process that can ensure the integrity of admissions," says Kaler.
The list consisted of the names of about 160 Urbana campus applicants on behalf whom admissions inquiries were made by public officials, alumni, and others with political influence. The task force is expected to have about six members, and include one or more faculty representatives. Its full makeup and timetable will be announced shortly, but Kaler says the group is expected to complete its work before the next admissions cycle begins in September. President Joseph White and chancellors of the three university campuses met Monday to discuss admissions issues.
University of Illinois President Joseph White wants to meet with admissions officials to be sure no inappropriate pressure was placed on them to enroll students who otherwise may not have been.
Friday's Chicago Tribune makes reference to a 'clout list' of prospective students who it contends received special consideration over the last five years. The newspaper says one such student who was admitted after initially being rejected by the U of I is a relative of convicted political fundraiser Tony Rezko. White says no one should feel pressure to admit a student because someone with political clout takes an interest.
"I have made it clear from the time I'm president that I will never exert such pressure and I never have," says White. "And that admissions officers and other people in the University are not to succumb to such pressure - that admissions decisions are to be based on the merits." White says he will often forward information to admissions officers regarding a prospective student, but that doesn't mean he's urging that the person be enrolled to the U of I. The president does say that lists of inquiries about a hopeful student, some through the urging of politicians, aren't unusual at institutions like the U of I and University of Michigan, where he served as interim president. But White says the Tribune was wrong to call the U of I list 'secret.
Senator Roland Burris is in the midst of a two-day tour through some central Illinois cities while still denying offering to pay for his appointment to the Senate.
On Wednesday Burris toured the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - he watched a brief presentation on supercomputers, toured a soybean research lab and met with U of I chancellor Richard Herman.
But the visit is being overshadowed by Burris' appearance in a wiretapped phone conversation released by a federal judge this week. In it, Burris is heard telling the brother of former governor Rod Blagojevich that he'd "personally do something" for Blagojevich's campaign fund if he were appointed to the Senate. Burris says he never gave any money and has been open about it.
"We said that we would look at this transcript and might have to supply some additional information. That's all that we did. There was no attempt to do any wheeling and dealing to not disclose," Burris told reporters. "That did not take place."
Burris said the Illinois House impeachment committee didn't ask about the conversation with Robert Blagojevich when Burris testified - and that's why he said he hadn't mentioned it. He says he's been transparent with that committee, US Senate investigators and others.
The General Assembly no longer wants to put a restriction on how old someone must be to attend the University of Illinois.
No matter how smart or qualified, anyone under the age of 15 cannot enroll at any of the UI's three campuses -- which meant, of course, that a 14-year old high school graduate who last year had wanted to attend the Urbana-Champaign campus could not.
Representative Naomi Jakobsson says in the end, the student enrolled at nearby Parkland College, but it wasn't ideal. The legislature sent a measure to the governor that removes any restrictions.
Jakobsson admits the college lifestyle may be a bit mature for the younger set, no matter how smart they are. "There is a lot that goes on and one has to consider the maturity level of the student, to make sure that they're really able to be in a situation where there aren't kids around," Jakobsson said.
UI hopefuls still have to meet other requirements. They include four years of high school level English and three years of math, or demonstrating the equivalent level of knowledge and skills.
A memorial service is scheduled for this Saturday at the University of Illinois College of Law for John Cribbet. The former Urbana Campus Chancellor died Saturday in Urbana after a long illness.
Cribbet was chancellor from 1979 to 1984, and dean of the College of Law before that. He was on the law school faculty for more than 60 years, both before and after his chancellorship. Current U of I Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman said through a news release that he remembers Cribbet as a "larger than life figure", who brought a sense of wisdom and purpose with him, "even in the simplest encounters".
As Chancellor, Cribbet is credited with hiring football coach Mike White, and planting the seeds for the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. As a law professor, he was considered a pioneer in the field of property law. His textbook, "Cases and Materials on Property" is now in its 8th edition.
Cribbet, a native of Findlay, is survived by his wife, two daughters and their families. A memorial service will be held this Saturday, May 30th, at 2 PM, in the Max L. Rowe Auditorium, at the U of I College of Law Building in Champaign.
Trustees at The University of Illinois are making some big changes to its struggling online degree program.
Trustees first approved Global Campus in 2006. It was designed to be a branch of the University of Illinois solely online, just like the Urbana-Champaign or Springfield campuses. Only 400 or so students are currently enrolled. Administrators were expecting thousands.
The new Global Campus plan will make the three U of I campuses control the online format. But Trustee Larry Eppley says he's concerned the new version will run into the same problems the program encountered when it was first created.
"We got caught up tripping over ourselves when we couldn't even convince everyone to allow their online programs to be listed on Global Campus," Eppley said. He said the new format will put more pressure on the three campuses and faculty.
The three campuses are expected to present their online programs in July.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to reform the public pension system to save money would actually cost $95 billion extra over the next three decades.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press show Quinn would cut in half the amount of money the state would put into retirement systems for state employees in the next five years. But those short-term savings would be accompanied by much larger long-term costs.
The total cost would be $532 billion through 2045, up from $437 billion under the current pension plan.
Representatives of employees' unions and a legislative finance commission criticized the idea.
Quinn is trying to close an $11.6 billion deficit by raising income taxes and cutting spending. He has proposed lowering pension benefits for new employees to save money.
25 high school seniors from Champaign are among the first to take their courses in an accelerated setting.
They were honored Tuesday night as the first year of Unit 4's Academic Academy comes to a close. Principal Rhonda Howard says the graduates were formerly students at Central or Centennial High Schools but were falling behind on class credits and needed more advice on how to pursue a career. 67 students in all are enrolled at the school.
The Academy is based on five sessions of classes rather than two semesters, and the classes are smaller, providing for more one-on-one time with teachers. Howard says not every teen fits the mold of the traditional high school schedule.
"Many of our students have full time or part time jobs, and some of them have children. They have obligations outside the school setting that at times attendance has been difficult for them. So we have been able to offer that accelerated pace and help them catch up," Howard said, adding that students who have to miss school can take computer-based courses on line.
Each applicant to the academy must complete one year of school in a traditional setting, but past attendance, behavior records and current credit totals are also considered. In the academy's next year, Howard says she hopes to build on the school's list of guest speakers from the community and get more students involved in job shadowing programs and college visits.
The 25 seniors at Champaign's Academic Academy will also graduate with their home schools late this month.
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