Illinois Public Media News
The Illinois House wants to give struggling schools a chance at saving money by having students in class only four days a week.
The measure easily advanced to the state Senate. Supporters say costs like busing students and electricity would be lower. The sponsor, Danville Republican Representative Bill Black, says it would require schools that drop a day to have longer hours when school is in session. That way, students would still be in class the same amount of time.
But opponents, like Chicago Democratic Representative Monique Davis, say the state should avoid placing money problems on the backs of students and their families. "I don't believe that children should be told you can stay home alone for a full day and take care of yourselves, take care of your little brothers, take care of your little sisters because the state can no longer afford to educate you," Davis said.
Under the proposal, school districts interested in dropping to a four day school week would have to hold public hearings. The State Board of Education would also review the plan.
Public education faces one-point-three billion dollars in cuts next school year. Governor Pat Quinn is suggesting lawmakers approve a tax increase to plug that hole.
Champaign, Urbana and University of Illinois Police were conducting special patrols on the U of I Urbana campus Friday, following a report of a home invasion and aggravated battery early Friday morning.
Authorities say that as the occupant of an apartment in the 400 block of East Healy was opening her door... she was grabbed from behind, and struck in the face several times. She was treated at a local hospital.
The attacker is described as a 35-year old black male, 5 foot 10, 170 pounds, wearing a dark shirt, jeans, and tan hat.
A sketch is on line at www.publicsafety.illinois.edu
An Urbana man was arrested on the University Illinois Quad Friday afternoon, after allegedly snatching a woman's purse and threatening to use a syringe to stab passersby who pursued him.
Jeff Unger of the U of I News Bureau says U of I and Champaign Police have charged 20 year old Nathaniel Huff with robbery, aggravated battery and possession of a syringe. Authorities say Huff is not a student.
The incident occurred on the south end of the Quad, near Gregory and Lincoln Halls. Unger says Huff allegedly grabbed a woman's purse and ran off. But a number of people in the vicinity ran after and restrained him, despite Huff's threats to stab them with the syringe. No one was injured. Police aren't sure if anything was in the syringe.
In a season where the Fighting Illini's bid to make the NCAA tournament fell short, a study by Forbes magazine says it's still among the most financially viable college basketball programs.
The team ranked 5th in the magazine's study and tops among Big Ten Conference teams with a value of $20.8 million. Reporter Peter Schwartz analyzed 'dividends' that teams can generate, including money for academics and scholarships, their athletic conference, and their community at large. In Forbes' third annual ranking of the most valuable college basketball teams, Schwartz says the U of I's athletic department was also able to keep costs for basketball down while helping a lot of so-called 'non-revenue' sports like volleyball and tennis.
Schwartz also says being one of the primary attractions of the area doesn't hurt. "There's even more professional sports competition in and around the area as well, but at the same time, being in Urbana and not being in Chicago actually plays to the programs' benefit." says Schwartz. Schwartz says the Illini's most impressive figures include $7-million in gate receipts, and more than $4 million coming from season ticket holders. Schwartz says success on the court also plays a role into a team's financial success. The Fighting Illini are hosting at least one postseason game next week as part of the NIT Tournament. Schwartz says that will help a team, but it's not a deciding factor in its final ranking in the study.
Other Big Ten schools on Forbes' list of the 20 most valuable teams include Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Tops on the list was the North Carolina Tar Heels, with a value of $29 million.
University of Illinois trustees will continue to be appointed by the governor, rather than elected. The Illinois House voted down an effort to change how U of I board members are chosen.
The calls to return to an elected U of I board of trustees grew louder following a scandal last year over the role clout played in admissions at the Urbana Champaign campus. Seven members resigned under pressure and Governor Pat Quinn chose replacements.
The bill before the Illinois House on Wednesday would have seven U of I trustees elected by the voters --- three of the seats would be reserved for residents of Illinois' First Judicial District, which covers Cook County. In addition, six other trustee seats would be appointed by the U of I Alumni Association. And faculty trustees would be added to the student trustees who already serve on the board. The governor would continue to have a tie-breaking seat on the U of I Board, but would no longer appoint any of its members.
State Representative Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet)... a U of I alum... was among those who say electing trustees would guarantee accountability.
"If the body wants to condone what took place at the University of Illinois, by all means vote no", Rose told his fellow lawmakers.
The plan was defeated, with 44 yeas, 69 yays and one member voting present. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) voted against the measure, while Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Plainfield) voted for it..
Skokie Representative Lou Lang (D-Skokie)...who also graduated from the U of I ... says he voted against it because it leaves out other universities. He adds it's too soon to tell how the current board is doing....
"Because it singles out one single university", says Lang, "a university where it has new trustees and we don't know how well they'll perform, I think the bill is ill advised."
Other lawmakers argued the public would wind up voting for trustees with little knowledge of the candidates.
The measure was sponsored by Olney Republican --- and U of I alum --- David Reis. Its co-sponsors were all Republicans from the east-central Illinois region where the university is based --- Rose, Bill Black, Shane Cultra and Bill Mitchell. Area Democrats Naomi Jakobsson and Robert Flider also voted for the bill.
Every spring, school boards in Illinois announce tentative layoffs, known as RIFs or 'reduction in force' notices. The majority of those receiving RIF notices are usually hired back by the next school year. But that may not be the case with the Urbana school district.
The Urbana School Board voted last Tuesday night to give RIF notices to 139 employees - both teachers and other staff. That's almost 3 times as many RIF notices as were given last year. And they include some of the 20 positions that were eliminated by the Board as part of budget cuts approved Sunday evening.
More than half of those getting RIF notices are usually hired back, once grant funds are received and the state budget is finalized. But Urbana school officials say it's not clear how many of the teachers and staff receiving RIFs will be hired back. And School Board President John Dimit said these RIF notices do not take into account the budget cuts proposed by Governor Quinn in recent weeks.
"Quite honestly, the budget as presented by the Governor would have made those cuts deeper, way deeper," Dimit said.
Dimit says they've been warned to expect the state's budget problems to extend for several years. In fact, the Urbana School Board will start looking ahead to the 2011-2012 school budget after next week's spring break. Looking this far ahead isn't typical. But Dimit says there are certain decisions the Urbana Board will need to make that will require advance planning.
The staff affected by the RIFs will be notified today Wednesday.
A group representing University of Illinois faculty members say they want access --- if not a vote --- to the Board of Trustees.
The University Senates Conference --- which represents faculty senates on all three U of I campuses, is asking the Board of Trustees to grant a non-voting ex officio seat for a faculty representative on several of the board's standing committees. That representative would also present a brief report at each board of trustees meeting.
Urbana campus education professor Nick Burbules presented the request at Wednesday's Board of Trustees meeting. Burbules says the university's financial crisis may require major changes, but that those changes can't occur without faculty support.
"If we are to be partners in the sacrifices ahead, we need to be partners in the conversation about those sacrifices", said Burbules, reading a statement prepared by the University Senates Conference. "If major and potentially disruptive institutional changes are on the horizon, the faculty who are being asked to continue their unflagging efforts on behalf of this institution, must believe that these changes are about continued academic excellence, and not just cost-cutting."
Burbules says the Faculty Senates Conference would like a faculty member to one day have a vote on the Board of Trustees. But he says that's not part of their current proposal --- instead the non-voting faculty member would keep trustees abreast of what's happening on the U of I campuses, and discuss ideas with them. A bill that would provide faculty with a voting seat on the board passed an Illinois House committee Wednesday. It would also make nearly half the voting seats on the board elected, not appointed.
U of I Board Chairman Kennedy Christopher Kennedy says he's inclined to support the faculty proposal, in the interests of shared governnance. But he wants to poll other trustees before making a formal response.
But Trustee Carlos Tortolero indicated his support right away for inclusion above the committee level. "I, for one, would like to see the day when, instead of being in the back room, you guys are at the table with us", Tortolero told Burbules. "I think that's what partnership is."
NOTE: This story was revised on 3/12/10, to note that the Faculty Senates Conference request applies to board activity at the committee level, and to note Illinois House legislation affecting the Board of Trustees.
The Urbana School Board is close to approving $2 million in budget cuts, to cope with the state revenue crisis.
District 116 board members held a special meeting Wednesday night to continue work on the budget cuts. As it stands, the district will lay off teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels, along with two school nurses, and the district's public relations director. Building and athletic budgets will be cut by ten percent, and comp time will replace overtime pay district-wide.
School Board president John Dimit says they tried to avoid cut that eliminated whole programs. But he says the budget reductions go beyond just trimming the fat.
"We've been into the bone all along", says Dimit. "Any time you're cutting six elementary teachers, six middle school teachers, six high school teachers --- we're cutting in. We're eliminating options for our students. We're increasing class sizes."
But Dimit says the two million in cuts may not be enough, if the 1-point-3 billion dollars cuts in state education funding proposed by Governor Pat Quinn comes to pass.
"The depth of cut that the governor proposed today (Wednesday) is deeper than the base assumptions that we had established when we created out $2 million goal", Dimit says. "If that cut comes to pass, our goal would have been substantially higher than two million."
Governor Quinn says a state income tax increase could prevent the cuts in school funding. But if the statewide cuts take place, Dimit says the Urbana school board might have to resort to deficit spending next year to get by --- or else look for additional spending cuts that don't involve personnel.
The Urbana School Board will fine-tune its proposed budget cuts at a special meeting Sunday night before taking a final vote. Dimit says board members want to see if they modify some reductions so that they have less impact on school programs.
The chairman of the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees says the state budget unveiled by Governor Pat Quinn calls into question Illinois' commitment to higher education.
Chairman Christopher Kennedy says the $697 million that the budget provides the U of I for the next fiscal year makes it difficult for the school to compete when hiring faculty. "There's some question as to whether or not this state takes higher ed as seriously as do other states," says Kennedy. "And if we continue to underfund, if we continue to decrease the funding, if we continue to not meet the obligations that the state has declared that they would meet to these institutions of higher ed.. people will simply not move to Illinois to take those leadership positions." Kennedy addressed Wednesday's U of I Trustees meeting as Quinn unveiled the budget in Springfield. The $697 million appropriation is $45 million less than the state promised this year - that amount coming through one-time federal stimulus dollars. The state now owes the U of I about $500 million - more than that when including $28 million in yet unpaid student assistance through the Monetary Awards Program, or MAP grants.
U of I Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says the university may seek authority from the legislature to borrow money, but will only do it as a last resort. He has yet to see how much Governor Pat Quinn's budget proposal for a 1% income tax hike would generate for colleges and universities. But Ikenberry called the idea a step forward towards Illinois' financial crisis. On a positive note, Ikenberry says the U of I is becoming more self-reliant through private fundraising. He says the University of Illinois Foundation has raised more than 80% towards its $2.25 billion goal in its 'Brilliant Futures' campaign.
The main source of power to the University of Illinois campus burns coal, but a student group wants to convert it to something cleaner.
Environmental groups have also gotten behind a call to make Abbott Power Plant a natural-gas-burning plant. It was built 70 years ago and has burned coal ever since, except for a period in the 1970s when the U of I converted it to natural gas. The university reverted to coal to demonstrate cleaner burning methods using Illinois coal.
Parker Laubach heads Students for Environmental Concerns. He acknowledges that natural gas would also emit carbon dioxide, but it would be a good first step to other alternative sources.
"We want to take incremental steps," Laubach said. "We don't want to be ridiculous and ask to shut down Abbott Power Plant -- we know it's not feasible or reasonable. But they've burned 100% natural gas in the past, and because of that, we feel that they can do it again. There's really no reason why not."
University officials have not yet returned calls seeking a response.
Laubach says the U of I is proposing to to spend $230 million on improvements at Abbott - money he says would be better spent on conversion to cleaner sources. He says research on cleaner coal burning is useful, but so-called carbon-capture technology hasn't been tested on a large scale.
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