Illinois Public Media News
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
Faculty at the University of Illinois will head up a team working to place more medical records on line, and keep them out of the wrong hands.
A $15 million grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services was awarded to 20 researchers from 12 universities, led by the U of I's Information Trust Institute. Computer Science Professor Carl Gunter is the lead investigator for a project called Strategic Healthcare Information Technology Advanced Research Projects on Security, or 'SHARPS.' Gunter says moving from a paper record system to one that's electronically based offers a series of challenges. He says threats to privacy can exist inside a hospital or in the process of transferring records between medical facilities, which requires patient consent.
Gunter says a third challenge exists for patients wanting to relay medical information electronically from their home... accessing those records as they would a bank account. "Allowing someone who may have health problems to get a blood pressure reading at home once a day," says Gunter. ''...and then their physician can track their position more closely, like outpatient care, where it uses individual monitoring devices to allow people to use networks to transfer their data back." Gunter says the federal grant will support collaborative efforts. His work will integrate cyber security research at sites like the U of I and New York University with medical facilities like Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
The grant will last four years. Three others totaling $45 million were awarded to other institutions in related areas.
University of Illinois Trustees could begin interviewing its 10 finalists for university president by the end of this week. The presidential search committee is not naming the finalists, but committee chair and trustee Pam Strobel says 8 of the 10 come from the public universities, and some have ties to the U of I. Five of them are current university presidents.
On Monday, she says the committee updated the rest of the Trustees on those finalists. Strobel says the board is on track to name a new president by sometime next month. And she says the finalists aren't concerned about the economic climate affecting the U of I, along with many other campuses. "And it seems to be almost an epidemic that is going on, affecting especially public universities in so very many states," says Strobel. "And so we are not alone even though we are in a very serious financial crisis... and the caliber of people who we are looking at seem to be very able to rise to the challenge." Strobel says the trustees aren't releasing when or where candidate interviews will be conducted. U of I board members met in closed session Monday in Chicago... and may interview some of those finalists when meeting again Friday. Stanley Ikenberry, the U of I's president from 1979 to 1995, has served as interim president since Joseph White stepped down last year amid an admissions scandal.
US Senator Dick Durbin says an overhaul of federal student loans will end years of students having to pay back a costly bank subsidy.
In a visit to Parkland College Thursday, Illinois' senior senator met with recipients of Pell Grants, a program that will add more than 20-thousand recipients in Illinois as the result of the overhaul. Durbin says the loans haven't kept pace with the cost of tuition, but they'll be increasing in value under this measure.
The overhaul also cuts out commercial banks and other lenders from the loan process. Durbin says the 45-year old loan program carried no risk to banks -- and they'd be paid in full -- even if a student defaulted on a loan:
"So banks were being given this opportunity to add to the interest rate on student loans in a risk-free environment. That is known in most circles as corporate welfare," Durbin said. "It cost us as a nation $8 billion a year that we were giving to banks and they were adding to the cost of student loans all around America. Students now struggling to pay back their student loans are now struggling to pay back this bank subsidy."
Federal student loan dollars will now be shifted to the direct loan program. For current 10-year loans, a person making $30,000 annually would have to pay $460 a month.
When the overhaul takes affects in 2014, Durbin says that amount will be reduced to just over $100 a month - and no more than 10% of someone's annual income when the program is fully implemented.
An internal City of Champaign investigation into a fatal police shooting last fall is winding down.
City attorney Fred Stavins says the two outside experts the city asked to conduct the study have completed much of their work looking into last October's shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington. Police say they confronted Carrington and another teenager as the two were trying to get into an acquaintance's home on Vine Street - an officer's firearm went off and hit Carrington during a scuffle.
Stavins says retired Urbana police chief Eddie Adair and retired McLean County Judge John Freese continue to meet, but their fact-finding portion of the review is generally complete - and he says that's only one segment of the overall investigation.
"There's been an internal investigation that involves police personnel", says Stavins. "And subsequent to that, there'll be another review by another group in the police department --- the Firearm Discharge Board."
Stavins says any ultimate changes to police policy or other outcomes of the report will be up to City Manager Steve Carter. He says the goal is to determine whether the Carrington incident should lead to changes in policy. But Stavins says it will not second-guess a state police investigation that cleared Chief RT Finney and Officer Daniel Norbits of criminal wrongdoing. Carrington's aunt has filed a wrongful -death lawsuit against the officers and the city.
A McLean County judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Urbana School District against a Normal-based district over a former teacher now imprisoned for child molestation.
In dismissing the lawsuit Tuesday, Judge Scott Drazewski said Unit 5 was immune from the civil action because it is a public body, and also said Urbana District 116 missed the legal deadline for filing.
The Urbana district was seeking $1 million, saying it wanted the money to help cover the $2 million it paid to settle claims filed by nine girls molested there by teacher Jon White after he left McLean County. Urbana officials say Unit 5 failed to disclose that White had been forced to resign.
White is serving 60 years in prison for molesting two girls in Unit 5 and the nine in Urbana.
University of Illinois administrators are meeting with two 'green energy' student groups next week to decide if a plan for placing a wind turbine on the Urbana campus still has life. A $2 million grant awarded in 2005 will expire in three months, unless the U of I can find a funding source to pick up the remaining cost. With dwindling state funds, members of groups like the Student Sustainability Committee and Students for Environmental Concerns suggest the capital bill approved by Illinois lawmakers, or the U of I Foundation, could pay the remaining $1.7 million for the turbine.
U of I Interim Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Steven Sonka says the turbine would appear to produce a reasonable rate of return, and would be an attractive option if financing were available. But he suggests there are more effective uses for that kind of money... including retro-commissioning of some campus buildings. "These are very high payoff in terms of energy savings, because it's the energy savings that pays back the initial investment,' says Sonka. "And we want to do those, too. But that's a question of financing as well. We've gotten grants in the past to change lighting in buildings, and those tend to have attractive payoffs." With Urbana campus energy costs exceeding $75-million a year, student groups contend the turbine would quickly show some benefits.
Sonka says the student proposals for paying for the turbine's remaining cost would be considered. He says discussions with other 'outside entities' are being considered, but wouldn't comment on them. The initial grant for funding the wind turbine came from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. On Monday, Governor Pat Quinn indicated his support for the project in a visit to campus, noting wind energy was one goal of the recently-passed capital bill.
The Champaign School District is sending out tentative layoff notices to 149 teachers and support staff on Tuesday. That's 46 more than last year, thanks to uncertainties in state finances.
The Unit Four School Board approved the reduction-in- force, or RIF notices Monday night on a 5 to 1 vote. School board member Greg Novak said he voted "no", because too many questions were left unanswered --- although he wouldn't say what the questions were.
RIF notices are a spring tradition for Illinois school districts, with most employees hired back in the fall, when state funding has been finalized.
But due to the state budget crisis, Unit Four spokeswoman Beth Shepperd says they can't predict how much funding will come out of Springfield this year.
"What we're doing is trying to be very reactive to what the state is doing to us", says Shepperd. "Currently, they owe us $1.7 million in payments, that we do not know when or if we will receive. We don't expect it this fiscal year."
Unit Four School Board Vice President Susan Grey says voting on the RIF notices was more difficult than usual, due to the state funding uncertainties.
"Of course we are very concerned", says Grey. "These are people, these are their jobs, their livelihood. And these decisions are not made or taken lightly. I think our administration has done a good job of trying to pull together changes that will have the least amount of effect on the district as a whole, and the students."
The increase in RIF notices is sharpest for support staff --- the 53 RIF notices going out to them is two-and-a-half times greater than last year.
Shepperd says Early Childhood and Reading Enrichment programs are among the hardest hit by the RIF notices. But she says the impact will be felt in other programs, because tenured teachers may take positions elsewhere in the district, forcing the layoff of non-tenured teachers.
Earlier this month, the Urbana School Board approved RIF notices for 139 employees --- also an increase from last year.
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