Illinois Public Media News
In an effort to improve students' health, legislators want Illinois schools to share good ideas. The measure creates a database districts can access to learn about successful wellness programs offered at other schools statewide.
The legislation's sponsor, Plainfield Democratic Senator Linda Holmes, says many schools already have nutrition and physical education programs in place. But she says others don't even know where to start. "This gives you the ability to go to this database and it will have the best practices of other schools you can look and say 'wow look, we can incorporate this activity our school has this capability," Holmes said. "So it's everybody's best practices, leaving you as school coming not having to try and reinvent the wheel, but finding out what's working in others." Holmes adds that using the database would be voluntary.
Lawmakers also gave their seal of approval to creating a co-op-like relationship between farmers and schools, so local fresh foods can be incorporated into lunch programs. Both proposals now head to the Governor.
Mahomet-Seymour school students are scheduled to return to school tomorrow after a threat prompted school officials to evacuate the schools and ultimately dismiss students for the day.
The district received the threat at about 9:00 this morning. The threat involving bombs and firearms originally came to the Mahomet police department, which notified the school district.
Superintendent Keith Oates says the school doesn't often receive bomb threats, and this threat is different from others they've received in the past:
"It's rare and usually it involves just one building or a specific location within a building. So this is a first for us as far as involving all buildings," Oates said
Oates said canine units from the U of I and Urbana police departments swept the buildings and found nothing.
According to Oates, the district's crisis protocol was followed. It includes removing students to two churches. Oates says all of the students were picked up from these off-campus locations.
The University of Illinois is expected to name its next president by next week. Trustee Pam Strobel confirmed today that the announcement will come between now and next Thursday's U of I Trustees meeting in Chicago. She says the person is a sitting university president or provost. Her comments came after the Trustees' finance committee meeting.
Illinois lawmakers have yet to approve a budget, but Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says trustees still plan on a tuition hike for next year of 9.5 % based on the best information they have. After the committee meeting, he said the U of I will also consider a short-term borrowing measure to make up for a loss of state dollars. Ikenberry says it's frustrating that lawmakers haven't completed their work. He says trustees have to give both the U of I, as well as parents, time to plan. But Ikenberry admits the funds from that tuition increase will fall well short of covering roughly $46 million dollars in lost state support, and a number of comparable budget reductions will still be required.
"I think our philosphy going into this is to ask academic programs and students both to share in this... that's been our practice in the past," said Ikenberry. "And that's what kind of a recommendation would provide for." Ikenberry says it remains to be seen whether the U of I would act on a measure giving short-term borrowing authority to public universities. Governor Pat Quinn has yet to sign the bill. Ikenberry says unless legislators solve Illinois' overall financial crisis, he says borrowing will be likely.
The Illinois House on Thursday approved giving public universities the authority to borrow money to pay bills. The schools are owed hundreds of millions of dollars from the state.
The controversial change is being viewed as a temporary solution to university cash flow problems. The State of Illinois owes more than $700 million to universities... putting some in jeopardy of being unable to make payroll.
Under this proposal... the universities could borrow based on how much the state owes for the current fiscal year... which expires June 30th. When the state finally comes through.... the schools would be required to quickly pay off the loans.
Urbana Democrat Naomi Jakobsson endorsed the measure.
" When universities are able to do this short term borrowing, able to pay their staff and employees, our young people will continue to receive the world class education they should get from Illinois and that they will be able to get from Illinois", said Jakobsson.
Danville Republican Representative Bill Black concurred. Black says he understands there are concerns about schools taking on the debt ... but he sees no other available option.
"Unless you want the universities to close before the fall semester starts, I suppose you could vote no", said Black. "If you want them to stay open, I suppose as distasteful as it might be to some of us, I have no other alternative. I intend to vote for the bill."
Several lawmakers say they are concerned about allowing the schools to take on the debt... but others argue there is no alternative.
Lawmakers previously sent the Governor a plan to let community colleges establish a line of credit to also cover bills.
The University of Illinois will forgo much of a contract agreed to with consultants for its strategic planning process in light of budget problems.
The news comes as members of the U of I's Campus Faculty Association question the $450,000 contract with Kokomo-based Renewal and Transformation Group, or RTG, agreed to early this year. University Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the group will complete reviews that are on the table, but very little of that amount will be spent. The university has already paid more than $1 million of an agreement with RTG that dates back to 2006. CFA President and History Professor Megan McLaughlin says the U of I's cutting ties with the consultant justifies her suspicion that the contract wasn't needed in the first place. But she says the group isn't dropping its Freedom of Information request to learn what consultants have done for the U of I thus far.
"This is one consultant - there are many of them out there.' said McLaughlin. "There's a consultant firm, for example, involved in the new president's search... and a lot of other activities on campus. So we want to know what's going on with those as well." McLaughlin says administrators are providing little information on what these dollars went for when there are already people at the U of I capable of planning a long-range vision for the Urbana campus. The CFA contends around 1,000 faculty members would have been spared their 4 furlough days had the U of I not spent this money. The faculty group also says consultant fees would have paid the salaries of about 100 teaching assistants for a year.
A spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan calls a newspaper's report on alleged improper admissions at the University of Illinois a 'tortured effort' to smear the House Speaker.
The Chicago Tribune says 28 applicants to the University of Illinois' Urbana and Chicago campuses -- including relatives of donors, public officials, and political allies -- were helped by Madigan. The newspaper says relatives made campaign contributions totaling $50,000 to Madigan and $65,200 to the Democratic Party of Illinois.
The Tribune says it connected the applicants to Madigan through multiple sources and university documents provided through the Freedom of Information Act. The Speaker's spokesman, Steve Brown, says Madigan did get his share of requests for help to several universities. But Brown says his office has no way of confirming the 28 names were connected to the House Speaker.
Brown says there's simply no correlation between those applicants and those who helped Madigan's campaign: "They bring campaign contributions, but had to go back in the 90's to reach the dollar totals they report," Brown said. "That encompasses the state party, the local party, the Attorney General, which is why the Tribune would bring up the Attorney General I have no idea. It's a struggle to determine why anyone would make this into news."
Brown also notes some of those U of I applicants in the Tribune were denied, while others deemed unqualified but were admitted. He says that begs the questions of what the 'bureaucrats' at the university are up to.
In a statement provided to the newspaper, Madigan says he's intervened in admissions cases but he does so without considering political relationships. Interim U of I President Stanley Ikenberry says the university doesn't know of any instance in which Madigan "exerted inappropriate pressure.
Offers of buyouts are going out to more than 640 University of Illinois employees.
The Urbana campus began offering its voluntary separation packages over the winter to academic professional employees, with faculty being offered early retirement. This week employees who applied are finding out if their offers have been accepted - they'll be given contracts to sign within 30 days, and they'd leave their jobs by August. In exchange, they'd get 6 months' salary as an incentive.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says of the nearly 800 applicants, about 3/4 have been given the option to leave. "The goal of the program was to identify as many people as possible who were interested in retiring or separating from the university, willing to do that, and being able to reorganize, restructure in those given departments, to streamline a little bit," Kaler said.
Kaler says 483 academic professional employees have been approved to take buyouts if they want them. "Of those 483 that were approved, 211 of those positions will be refilled but at lower salaries. 272 of those positions will be eliminated."
Another 153 faculty members have been approved for early retirement, with 75 of those positions eliminated.
Kaler says if all employees leave as expected, the program will save the U of I about $25 million a year. She says the announcement was delayed by about a month because of the high number of applicants.
A state senator who hopes to take the University of Illinois to task for its spending was forced to cancel a hearing on the subject after none of the school's trustees showed up.
Sen. Martin Sandoval says trustees are irresponsible for not attending his hearing in Springfield on Tuesday. Members of the board of trustees oversee the University of Illinois' three campuses.
The Chicago Democrat says trustees chairman Christopher Kennedy has asked to meet with him Thursday.
Sandoval last week said he wants to hold hearings on university spending and tuition increase.
Interim university President Stanley Ikenberry has said he will ask trustees to OK a 9.5 percent tuition increase for the next school year.
A monthly gauge of the Illinois economy has backtracked after four months of improvement.
The University of Illinois Flash Index uses state tax revenue figures each month to measure economic performance. For April, the index was set at 91, down .08 from the month before. The index was still far from the 100 level that separates economic growth from contraction. It's also fallen back to its lowest level since last November, though it's still above the September figure that marked the low point of the current recession.
The index's author, U of I economist Fred Giertz, says Illinois's unemployment rate still hasn't followed signs of a national economic recovery. But he also thinks the April index may have been affected by an abnormal drop in the state's corporate tax intake in March, saying that might be a result of timing rather than a true drop.
Champaign's CommUnity Matters program is preparing for a third year of activities for at-risk youth. The program brings private and public agencies together to offer afterschool programs and summer day camps for younger students... and career-building programs for high school students. The program has targeted the Garden Hills neighborhood but is set to expand this year.
Unit Four Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michael McFarland says he measures CommUnity Matter's success by the children involved in its program - such as the Operation Hope program for high school s students:
"If you look at the results, last year we had 18 seniors, and they all are currently still in college, doing well", says McFarland. "We have seven seniors this year. And we feel really positive about the fact that when kids leave our schools, they'll have more than a diploma. They'll have choices and opportunities."
Among the high schools students in Operation Hope is Champaign Central sophomore Tuyrin Griffin,
"Before I got into it", says Griffin, "my grades were real bad. And then when I got into it, it helped me out a lot, and I improved a lot. And it made me want to do better. And it's teaching me more about colleges and stuff, and it's letting me know about stuff that I didn't know before."
Griffin and other Operation Hope members addressed the Champaign City Council Tuesday night, as they reviewed plans for expanding CommUnity Matters. The city, the Champaign Park District, and the Unit Four school district work together on the program, along with local agencies such as the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. Council member Deb Feinen says the willingness to collaborate is a key strength.
"Doing that probably isn't always easy", says Feinen. "It's probably easier to sort of just do it yourself, and nor share it out. But sharing it out is the piece that helps to make it so successful"
Two more partners will be joining CommUnity Matters...with the Parkland College for Kids program this summer and the Champaign County YMCA in 2011. The program also will be expanding into the northeast Champaign neighborhoods of Douglass Park, Beardsley Park, and Bristol Park.
Champaign City Council unanimously endorsed the expansion at its Tuesday night study session. A final council vote is expected in mid-June.
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