Voters in Champaign County will have the future of education funding in their hands when they hit the polls next Tuesday. At issue is a referendum to raise the county sales tax by a penny per dollar. The money would fund school building projects, pare down debt and potentially lower property taxes. As AM 580's Tom Rogers reports, after one failed attempt, the referendum's supporters are taking nothing for granted.
Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign School Board approved layoff notices for 80 teachers and other certified employees and 22 support staff Monday night. It's an annual practice that school officials say they dislike intensely, but are required to do.
Unit Four officials say most of the employees receiving Reduction-In-Force --- or RIF notices --- will be rehired for next year. But until they find out, they're in professional limbo. The high number of RIF notices results from the requirement to inform school employees of layoffs 60 days in advance ---- before their job status for next year has been finalized.
Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson cast the lone vote against the RIF notices.
"I voted no, because I hate RIF's, frankly, and this is part of the job I don't want to do", Tomlinson said.
But Tomlinson says he doesn't see a realistic alternative to the RIF notices. RIFed employees likely to be rehired are those who work parttime, are paid with grant money, were hired at the last minute, or have to comply with new certification rules.
The number of RIF notices sent out by Unit Four is roughly the same as last year, with just a handful of them representing jobs that have been definitely eliminated. Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd says that number could go up for next year, when school officials may have to cut additional jobs to deal with a projected decline in property tax revenue.
In Urbana, the District 116 school board sent out RIF notices to 52 teachers last week, and will vote on about five more next week.
CORRECTION: WILL broadcast reports on this story had incorrectly described the 80 certified employees receiving RIF notices as being all teachers, and put the number of support staff getting RIF notices at 23.
A $12 million bequest from a 1944 University of Illinois graduate will serve as a boost to areas in agriculture and liberal arts.
The gift comes from Arlys Streitmatter Conrad, who died in 2007. She lived in Speer, a small town near Peoria. She was the daughter of a farmer and teacher and wanted to honor both of her parents. So the money will be split between the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, or ACES.
Former ACES Associate Dean and U of I fundraiser Lynette Marshall also grew up in Speer, Illinois, where she says their families were connected. She and Conrad worked for more than 20 years to help establish a scholarship in Conrad's name, aimed at a junior and senior who planned careers in farming. Marshall also helped set up the financial donation. She says Conrad was happiest when talking with scholarship winners.
"In particular, young people who were hoping to go back to the farm and engage in production agriculture in her agricultural scholarships, or students that she met in the Department of English, when she felt like they really understood her goals for recognizing her mother in that way," says Marshall.
Marshall, who's now with the University of Iowa Foundation, calls Conrad a 'life-long learner' with an unending devotion to the U of I. Conrad attended the university on a 4-year scholarship, and her career included work with the U of I Airport and Alumni Association, and S and C Electric Company in Chicago, where she met her future husband, John Conrad. The 12-million dollar bequest will be part of the University of Illinois Foundation's $2.25 billion 'Brilliant Futures' campaign.
It didn't take long for organizers of the first-ever Illinois Marathon to find the volunteers they needed.
The marathon will be held on the streets of Champaign, Urbana and the U of I campus on the day before Easter. But local police said organizers needed to show by April 1st that they had 350 volunteers ready to help with traffic control, if they wanted to keep their special-events permits.
Marathon volunteer coordinator Mary Anderson says they issued the call for help on Monday, and by Tuesday night, they had enough volunteers signed up to ensure the race will take place. She says they're grateful for the response, but they could still use even more volunteers. Anderson says nearly 8-thousand runners have signed up for the Illinois Marathon and its related races --- and they'll need a total of 2-thousand volunteers. Volunteers will help staff the marathon and related events on Friday and Saturday, April 10th and 11th.
To volunteer to help on the Illinois Marathon, go to their website, www.illinoismarathon.com, and click on the volunteer link.
Higher education would get a slight increase in funding in a year when many other states are preparing their colleges and universities to accept flat funding or cuts.
Governor Quinn's budget proposal lifts operating funds for higher education by a little over one percent - in the University of Illinois' case, that means a nearly eight million dollar boost from the current year, to around 750 million dollars.
U of I spokesman Tom Hardy says that's not close to what the school requested, but it's realistic.
"When you look at what's been proposed here, you see an increase in operating appropriations for the University that makes us whole on the 2 1/2% cut that we received in the current fiscal year, and then adds another one percent on top of that," said Hardy.
Governor Quinn's proposal for a capital bill also includes U of I projects, including the long-postponed renovation of Lincoln Hall and money for a new engineering and computer building. But Hardy is expressing caution, saying the state hasn't passed a capital bill in several years.
Governor Quinn addressed the Illinois General Assembly at noon today.
An agribusiness leader from Greenville is Governor Pat Quinn's choice to serve as the next University of Illinois Trustee. U of I graduate Ed McMillan is a former CEO with Ralston Purina Company who now runs a consulting business. He's also stayed involved with the university, serving on its Alumni Association and U of I Foundation Boards, and heads the board of managers that oversees U of I Research Parks in Champaign and Chicago. Once his appointment is confirmed by the Illinois Senate, McMillan says he wants to draw on that research, working further to lure new technology to the campuses. And he says a 'nimble and creative' approach to higher education funding will help yield some of those benefits.
"That leads to the ability to attract and retain what I would call world class people to the institution in both teaching and research and development of tecnology and outreach," says McMillan. "That is, of course, very important to the college of ag and to agribusiness in Illinois, but outreach and extension is also very important to rural community and community development." The 63-year old McMillan is a 1969 agriculture science graduate. He's a Republican, and says he wasn't seeking out the office, but is honored to be asked. McMillan will replace Robert Sperling on the Board of Trustees, and will be one of three downstate voting members.
Mahomet Republican House member Chapin Rose calls McMillan a 'quality pick,' saying he's happy that Governor Quinn is following through on a recent pledge to tap U of I alumni groups for trustee considerations. Rose and other local lawmakers recently signed a resolution with that request.
Many people in the Champaign-Urbana area had a soft spot for Pages for All Ages, a bookstore that welcomed local readers for more than 20 years to its single store, first in Champaign, then in Savoy. Pages abruptly closed its doors for good this week, citing the economy. It's not been an easy go for independent book retailers over the last few years, especially as Amazon and other Internet outlets joined Borders and Barnes and Noble as major competitors. The director of the American Booksellers Association, Avin Mark Donmitz, says Pages fell by the wayside as the group's other members are preparing for a difficult immediate future. He spoke to AM 580's Tom Rogers.
Chancellor Richard Herman presided at a town hall meeting Thursday (Jan. 22) about the campus and university budget. The event was open to the campus community, and was broadcast live on WILL-AM. Among the topics Herman, Provost Linda Katehi and others discussed the state of the current budget and plans for meeting budget challenges. A lively discussion followed the formal presentation, with many in the audience asking questions and commenting on the information presented.
The president of the University of Illinois sent out an email to faculty, staff and students Wednesday, discussing the financial problems facing the university during the current recession. The economic downtown has already caused the U of I to postpone plans to either renovate of replace the 46-year old Assembly Hall on the Urbana campus. In a conversation with Jim Meadows, B. Joseph White said he hopes to avoid layoffs and unpaid furloughs --- but won't rule them out.