Illinois Public Media News
U of I students at a sometimes contentious town-hall-style meeting on the Urbana campus Monday night accused administrators of not doing enough to bring the school through the current financial crisis.
Students from the GEO --- the union representing grad students on campus --- and the Undergraduate Graduate Alliance told administrators at the meeting they weren't doing enough to lobby lawmakers to pass an income tax hike to fund higher education.
Administrators, including Associate Provost for Budget and Resource Planning Michael Andrechak, said the administration was fighting hard for the U of I's survival --- but the state's fiscal problems are a big challenge.
"The state's economic situation is absolutely catastrophic", said Andrechak. "A tax increase is needed. It's very unlikely that one will occur prior to the election."
GEO incoming co-president Stephanie Sewall says the university has to increase the pressure on lawmakers. She says an expected tuition hike will prevent more students from attending the U of I.
"I wasn't convinced that fundamentally, preserving accessibility to public education is reflected in the decisions that are being made", said Sewall. "And more work has to be done on that."
Students at the meeting talked about the likelihood of 10 to 20 percent tuition hikes. But U of I interim president Stanley Ikenberry said earlier this month he believes the next tuition increase will be under 10 percent.
Student organizers of Thursday's Earth Day rally on the U of I Urbana campus focused on 'no more coal'.
Parker Laubach heads the Beyond Coal campaign as part of the Students for Environmental Concern, which sponsored and organized the rally. He proposes stopping upgrades to the campus' Abbott Power Plant and beginning the phase-out of coal on the university's campus.
But, Champaign City Councilman and Deputy Mayor Michael LaDue is surprised that the focus isn't more on reducing campus car traffic.
"Automobiles don't burn coal, but coal is a significant issue, "says LaDue. "I won't dismiss it. But on the University of Illinois campus, I think the presence of gas-guzzling automobiles is the preeminent environmental problem"
Reducing coal use was one of three actions proposed by student speakers during the rally.
The rally also featured LaDue and Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing reading proclamations on their cities' commitment to promoting environmental education and fighting climate change. Interim Chancellor Robert Easter also spoke about the university's commitment to environmental policies.
Thursday marked the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day.
An Illinois Senate panel has rejected proposed legislation that would allow Illinois school districts to hold classes only four days a week.
Only two of the 11 members of the Senate Education Committee voted Tuesday in support of the plan to allow local districts to give students a full school year of three-day weekends.
Although the measure received widespread backing in the House, committee members expressed concern that a third day off school would cause problems for working parents.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic State Sen. Michael Frerichs of Champaign, said the measure would simply allow districts to move to four-day school weeks, not mandate them to do so.
A number of rural districts had lobbied for the option in hopes of saving money.
A new wish list of capital projects for state universities includes $50 million for the eventual renovation of the biggest libraries on the University of Illinois campus.
But the request for capital money forwarded to the Illinois Board of Higher Education would have to pass muster with state lawmakers who are already battling serious financial troubles, and the U of I still hasn't received some of the funds it was promised from the last capital plan, passed last year.
U of I leaders want to transform the main and undergraduate libraries to meet 21st century needs. The library's assistant dean for facilities, Jeff Schrader, says some minor projects are taking place with money the system has on hand.
"We have just gotten approval to start on a $5 million envelope project which will involve replacing windows and masonry pointing. And we have another $2 million project on the FY 2010 capital development budget for the exterior renovation of the main library also."
The overall library plan totals more than $300 million dollars over the next eight years - it would eventually add a first-floor to the undergrad library, which is currently totally underground. It would become a special-collections library while the main facility would also be expanded.
The Illinois attorney general's office is again investigating claims that a central Illinois elementary school board violated open meetings laws.
Former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy filed the complaint against Pontiac Elementary School District 429.
He alleges the board didn't fully explain why it went into closed session and discussed issues in executive session that should've been discussed publicly.
The complaint involves meetings on Feb. 1 and Feb. 18.
School district attorney Jeff Funk says the district acted properly.
This is the second time the school board has faced allegations.Residents filed a complaint in February 2009. The school district faced no penalties in that case.
The Urbana School Board wants to focus its priorities before moving forward with proposed improvements for King Elementary School.
At a special school board meeting Tuesday night, Board President John Dimit said he had sticker shock when he learned of the projected seven-point-five million dollar price tag for all of the requested improvements. He asked architects and a steering committee studying the issue to set some priorities.
"I'm just asking you to go back and take a look at it and really determine what's important", explained Dimit. "And now I want somebody to think about, 'Oh my God, this is eight million dollars.'"
The proposed improvements are based on district goals for all schools and specific criteria for King Elementary. Some of proposed improvements include air conditioning, a new multi-purpose room, and separate parent and bus drop-off sites.
The Steering Committee will bring back a revised plan at an upcoming meeting. Dimit says they need to move quickly in order to begin work on the King school improvements by this fall.
Legislation that would let teachers and other school staff assist students with diabetes won't see any support from school nurses in Danville.
The Care of Students with Diabetes Act has already passed the House, and Senate vote could come this week. A community activist from Chicago says insulin shots, counting carbohydrates, and other care is a simple process nowadays. Suzanne Elder says her diabetic daughter was handling those duties herself by the time she was 8. Elder says caring for a diabetic person has become much easier over the past 20 years. "Most kids don't use syringes anymore," says Elder. "Most kids use pens, most kids use pumps. So they even speak with a nomanclature that outs them as out of date and untrained. And yet, we still are not about undoing nurses or taking them out of school. We just want everybody trained in the basics."
Danville school nurse Judy Pendleton contends teachers, secretaries, and other school staff should not be handling duties like monitoring a child's carbohydrates in addition to their regular jobs. "That person would be responsible for doing a blood sugar," says Pendleton. "That person would be responsible for drawing up and adminstering insulin, and that person would also be taking orders from the parent. Having been through nursing school, sometimes, even at that you have to make snap decisions." The legislation saw overwhelming support in the House. Danville Republican Bill Black says the measure was drafted by House GOP Leader Tom Cross, who also has a diabetic daughter, and carefully researched the bill before proposing it. Black estimates that a few thousand children in Illinois schools attend one without a nurse, forcing the child to attend elsewhere or for the district to call 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency. He says the bill isn't intended to replace nurses - just to give districts another option.
Faced with a $5.5 million budget cut proposed by Governor Quinn, the University of Illinois Extension says it will close 12 of its regional Extension Centers around the state, and eliminate 46 administrative positions.
The regional centers house Extension Educators, who will now do their work elsewhere. Extension spokesman Gary Beaumont says the goal is to trim expenses, with a minimal impact on the services they provide.
"What we're trying to do is reduce rental costs, and keep more people around", says Beaumont, "especially the people who deliver education programs. So that's why the Centers have been targeted. And our goal is to move our educators to county offices."
Extension Centers in Carbondale, Effingham, Macomb, Mount Vernon and the Chicago suburb of Matteson will close on or about June 30th. Centers in Champaign, Springfield, East Peoria, the Quad Cities, Rockford, Edwardsville and the Chicago suburb of Countryside will close as soon as possible, depending on their leases
Beaumont says the 46 administrative positions being cut will result in fewer than 46 people leaving, because many of those positions have been vacant. In addition, Beaumont says some of the administrators have applied to leave on their own, under the U of I's Voluntary Separation program.
But the closures and job cuts are only the first phase of reductions planned by the U of I Extension. Beaumont says plans are being made to consolidate county offices down to just 30. And he says there will eventually be cuts made in the number of Extension educators and civil service secretarial positions.
The third annual Champaign County Moonwalk begins next Friday, April 16th. The event is meant to inspire county residents to walk a combined total of 238,700 miles -- the distance from Earth to the moon - in 8 weeks.
Jamie Kleiss , of the U of I Extension, organizes the Moonwalk and brought the event to Champaign County, after it was launched in Peoria. (Another Moonwalk is held annually in the Quad Cities). Kleiss, who says she had just enjoyed a walk during her lunch hour, says there are many benefits from simple regular walking:
"Better sleep, better mood, your digestion is better, the benefits are endless", says Kleiss. "It helps regulate blood sugar. So even for anybody who doesn't have any chronic diseases, it still can be great. And it's a lot of fun --- and it's nice to get outside."
Kleiss says regular walking can also lead to weight loss, but that depends on the person's fitness and current activity levels. Anyone interested in weight loss through walking should speak to their physician first.
So far, Kleiss says, 93 teams and 50 individuals have signed up for the Champaign County Moonwalk, for a total of 839 participants. She's hoping to double that number by next Friday, which would be in line with last year's participation.
There will be a Moonwalk launch party on April 15th at the Parkland College Planetarium.
Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says he's lowered his own projections for how much tuition new students will go up at the University of Illinois next year. . Ikenberry says he's backed away from worst-case projections of 20% tuition increases, and is now projecting increases of 9 or 9.5%. He says that's because of success in reducing university spending, and because Governor Pat Quinn's proposed budget wouldn't chop the U of I's appropriation as severely as he feared. However, Ikenberry still expects the university to lose somewhere around $45 million in state funding, which he says would be a 6% reduction.
"The range of possibilities is pretty large out there", says Ikenberry. "But right now, at least in the short term, we think we can see the outlines of next year's budget. It's going to continue to be difficult, but we think manageable within the framework of a 9.5% increase."
U of I trustees are scheduled to vote on a tuition recommendation until their May 20th meeting in Chicago. But Ikenberry says he wanted to get his projections out now, to help students and parents.
"This is a tough time for students and parents", says Ikenberry. "So we're trying to make the decision as early as we can, so they have a basis to plan, but also to hold that number as low as we responsibly can make it."
Ikenberry says a 9.5% tuition increase can still be affordable when considering that it stays the same for students during their undergraduate enrollment. Over that period, he says the increase amounts to about 3.5% percent a year.
The increased tuition would come to about $10,337 a year at the Urbana campus, plus room and board. At the Chicago campus tuition would be about $9,092, and $8,068 in Springfield.
-- additional reporting from the Associated Press
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