Illinois Public Media News
Class sizes will be larger in Danville - and the preschool program would be drastically cut - if proposed budget cuts go into effect.
Administrators propose eliminating 26 teaching positions as well as five teaching assistants and three administrators in the high school and middle schools. The cuts would save close to $2 million. The cuts would also include supplies, textbooks and some extracurricular activities with low participation.
Superintendent Mark Denman says the biggest hit will be in Danville's preschool program, which is not mandatory for districts to offer except for special education.
"I do think the state will come through and provide some level of funding for preschool," Denman said. "But unfortunately, with the laws set by the state with budgeting and notice to staff, we have to make our decisions in March. If we don't, then we're obligated to provide the programs whether the state gives the money or not."
Demnan says 42 teaching and other positions would also be lost until the district is sure the grants that pay for those positions will be continued. He says the state owes District 118 nearly two-and-a-half million dollars in backlogged payments.
The Prairie Meadows subdivision in Savoy is among the areas that could be annexed into the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District later this year.
Managing Director Bill Volk says the CU-MTD Board has directed his staff to prepare annexation and legal notices for five areas. Public hearings will be held before the board takes a vote on annexation.
Prairie Meadows is the first major residential area of Savoy to be considered for CU-MTD annexation since the village and the transit district signed an agreement two years ago. Volk says that agreement protects some parts of Savoy from MTD annexation --- but not new residential areas.
"There are sections in Savoy that we cannot annex for 23 years, but other areas of Savoy, as they become annexable we are allowed per the agreement to annex that territory," Volk said.
The Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana is also on the CU-MTD annexation list. Non-residential areas up for annexation include the Clearview commercial development site in northwest Champaign, some industrial tracts near the Apollo Industrial Park in north Champaign, and Willard Airport.
Volk says the CU-MTD Board will not vote on annexing the territories until after the next fiscal year begins July 1. If annexation is approved, property owners would not pay taxes to the MTD until the summer of 2012.
Some University of Illinois students are taking their demand for two administrators' resignations to another level.
Members of Students for Chief Illiniwek found email exchanges that they claim show administrators conspiring to stop a student-sponsored Chief performance at the Assembly Hall last fall. Members of the Urbana campus' student senate are looking over a resolution calling for an investigation of Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renee Romano's involvement. And now the leader of a new group opposing Romano, Jerry Vachaparambil, says they may try to recruit help from state lawmakers.
"Because this is a public institution, they can admonish administrators for not acting in the best interest of the taxpayers or the students," Vachaparambil said.
Romano says the email exchanges were not meant to stifle students' right to free speech and assembly. She says they were a conversation between officials struggling with the on-campus performance in light of the U of I's decision to retire the Chief three years ago.
"Administrators often talk back and forth about, well, if we do this what's going to mean and how does that all work," Romano said. "But ultimately, they were able to have their event."
The Student Senate may vote next week on the resolution, which also targets Romano's associate vice chancellor Anna Gonzalez.
Champaign school superintendent Arthur Culver is guaranteed to keep his job through 2014 after a school board vote.
But Culver has volunteered not to take a pay raise as Unit 4 fights budget problems like most other Illinois districts. Tuesday night, board members evaluated Culver's performance and voted 4-3 to extend his contract one additional year.
Board president Dave Tomlinson says as a rule he had voted against extensions before. But he says Culver's work in bringing a nine year federal consent decree to an end merited a second look.
"There's one way the board can acknowledge to the superintendent that he has led us through probably one of the most difficult times in Unit 4, and that is with a contract extension," Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson says Culver and other administrators turned down raises last year even though their salaries are tied to the current teachers' contract, which called for 4% raises.
Danville State Representative Bill Black wants to know how quickly state leaders plan to help institutions like the University of Illinois with their overdue payments.
He says the arrival of more than $1 billion in federal stimulus funds earmarked for Kindergarten-thru-12th grade education should free up general state aid dollars initially designed for grade and high schools. Black is one of 10 GOP lawmakers who have signed a letter to Governor Pat Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes, urging them to use some of those dollars for higher education. Black says he wants them to develop a priority list. "Do you simply direct all of it to unpaid bills?," says Black. "There's nothing particularly wrong with that. But, what bills? Are you just going to take them in the order that they're late, or should we get together and say look, universities are in trouble, community colleges are in trouble, some of that money needs to be set aside to pay bills in our higher education system." The letter was also signed by Representatives Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Dan Brady of Bloomington. It requests a meeting with Quinn and Hynes.
Rose says this letter in intended to compliment the efforts of University presidents, who recently wrote their own letter to the Governor seeking a timeline for payments. A minimum of $4 billion is expected to come into the state's coffers through next month. The funds not only include stimulus dollars, but the $840 million proceeds of a pension bond sale, $1.5 billion from March and April tax collections, and $400 million from Illinois' Family Care settlement lawsuit. Rose says this letter in intended to compliment the efforts of University presidents, who recently wrote their own letter to the Governor seeking a timeline for payments. He expects the meeting to take place.
"I've found Mr. Quinn to be very accessible and open, as I have Mr. Hynes," says Rose. "So I expect we'll have an audience and be able to talk about this. But again, my point is there's not much to talk about because there's $4-5 billion coming in the door here. So just tell us when they're going to get paid. It's as simply as that." Black suggests that could free up about $ 250 million for the U of I, more than half of what the state owes the university. He notes the MAP grants, or Monetary Awards Program scholarships, are still owed that much as well.
A series of ad hoc committees have started the arduous task of identifying areas on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus that might find ways to make cuts or even raise some revenue.
'Stewarding Excellence at Illinois' is expected to last several months. One of the committees has already identified four areas for evaluation due to the higher education funding crisis. Graduate College Dean Deba Dutta chairs the Campus Steering Committee. He says his group is meeting twice a week, and expects to identify more areas over the next several months. "And we'll keep on doing this until we, as a campus, feel that we have looked everything that needs to be looked at," says Dutta. "I mean that's the general feeling. I can't say that there's going to be 15 projects, or 35 projects. But we have in this process, we have a lot of involvement of faculty, students, and staff."
The first four areas under review are the Institute of Aviation, Information Technology, The Office of Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement, and Allocation of undergraduate scholarships. Dutta says these areas are more administrative in nature, but he stresses that no cuts or other changes will be decided for some time. Faculty teams assigned to each of these projects will look at charge letters from U of I administrators. "We're not to limit them to think, ok, do this or do that," says Dutta. "Just trying to give an idea to consult with stakeholders, look at the value, how it aligns with the institution, and several other criteria that are spelled out on the web site.
Environmental experts are looking for a little creativity this week when it comes to diverting tons of old TVs, computers or cell phones from the landfill - or worse.
Electronic waste can create pollutants as well as lots of solid plastic or metal waste, and much of it will come from machines that are still in working order. A two-day symposium on the University of Illinois campus begins Tuesday to address the large-scale problem.
Tim Lindsey is with the U of I's Sustainable Technology Center. He says everyone involved in the process - from manufacturers to retailers to recyclers - are getting together to talk about reducing the waste stream, and new reuse methods can play a huge role.
"You can take a ten-year old Pentium 3 computer, you could refurbish it, load it with Windows 7, and for most applications it will perform as well as a brand new computerwith respect to word processing, surfing the internet, spreadsheets and so forth. It would do just as well," Lindsey said.
Lindsey says one future answer may be to rethink how we buy electronics. He says consumers might warm up to the concept of buying a shell computer or cell phone and occasionally improving its performance with the newest technology.
One immediate change following former Governor Rod Blagojevich's removal from office last year was the overhaul of four state pension boards. Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation last spring that not only changed the membership of those boards, but moved the chair of Illinois' Board of Higher Education into the same role with the State Universities Retirement System. Carrie Hightman has served in both capacities since July.
AM 580's Jeff Bossert spoke with her about the dual role, and the funding challenges faced by colleges and universities:
The city of Champaign has turned down 33-thousand dollars to help pay for enforcing underage drinking laws among college students for three years. It's part of a federal grant obtained by the Mental Health Center of Champaign County to study ways of fighting underage drinking in college towns. But the Champaign City County voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night to drop out of the program.
Councilwoman Deb Feinen said the grant - which she supported -- would have helped pay for law enforcement efforts to curb underage drinking that the city would likely do anyway.
But Councilman Tom Bruno argued that it would only contribute to efforts that drive student drinking to private apartments and away from bars, where he says there's at least some supervision. He said that drinking at private parties during events such as Unofficial St. Patrick's Day is "probably an even greater problem than if it occurs in a bar."
Bruno then challenged council members who had opposed other federal or state grants on principal to oppose this one, too, because he agreed with Bruno. "At this time", said Schweighart, "when money is very tight --- state's broke, cities are broke, federal government's broke, that we should be careful in accepting this grant in a small amount, or large grants in the amount of 30 million dollars that's coming down the pike".
Schweighart referred to the Big Broadband grant that's been sought for Champaign-Urbana, which he opposes. The mayor says he doesn't believe refusing the grant money will hurt Champaign's own efforts at controlling underage drinking.
After the meeting, Feinen defended her vote in favor of the grant.
"All of us have budget problems", said Feinen. "I recognize it's all tax dollars. But we had an opportunity to pay for something that we're going to be probably doing anyway, from another source."
The federal Juvenile Justice grant also involves the city of Urbana and the Univesity of Illinois. Champaign Police Sergeant Scott Friedlein says it will be up to the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, which oversaw the grant proposal, to decide if the program can continue without Champaign taking part.
A University of Illinois researcher back from Haiti says it was hard to separate his scientific work from the crisis surrounding him. Scott Olson is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He and a team of other geo-engineers examined if a process called liquefaction shook the Haitian soil so much that it could no longer support the structures on top of it - like the giant cranes at the capital's only port. The destruction blocked valuable aid from getting to victims. Olson sat down with AM 580's Tom Rogers to talk about the trip in both scientific and human terms.
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