Illinois Public Media News
Like many others in Illinois, the Mahomet Seymour School District is looking at painful budget cuts as a way to cope with the state's revenue crisis. And at a special meeting last (Thursday) night, more than 150 came to a special school board meeting to defend the programs they care about.
Out of the $620,276 in proposed cuts, reductions in the number of elementary classes and the elimination of intramural sports and the enrichment program received the most criticism. Lisa Powell told Mahomet Syemour school board members she had moved to Mahomet for its schools, and that cutting the enrichment program would hurt.
"A gifted child's needs are not met in the standard classroom", said Powell. "So you are going to lose children. You are going to have children who are bored. And when children are bored, what do they do? They become a Problem."
The proposed reductions in the number of elementary school classes would lead to larger class sizes in every grade but first grade. Jeff Hamilton was one of several parents who asked the school board find an alternative.
"I have a first grader with Special Education needs", explained Hamilton. "Small class sizes are very important and need to be maintained to give my daughter the best opportunity she has to succeed in school and in her life."
Others suggested that some of the cuts could be avoided by dipping into Mahomet-Seymour's $2,000,000 Education Fund. But School Board President Terry Greene says that could be risky, leading to even more budget cuts down the line.
"It was just six years ago that this school district was $1.6 million in the hole", said Greene after the public comments were completed. "We don't want to go back to the day where we have to lay off people, cut programs, raise fees through the roof. So we're trying to be responsible, trying to be thoughtful."
Greene says the Mahomet-Seymour school board will continue budget discussions next week --- and take a final vote at its March 15th meeting.
A plan to move air traffic control radar services from Willard Airport to the Chicago area in five years isn't sitting well with the airport's manager.
Steve Wanzek says he's finding little justification for an FAA proposal to move those employees from Champaign to Elgin. The radar control workers monitor air traffic just outside of the visual range of the tower. Willard is getting an updated control tower... and Wanzek says plans are to leave those facilities out, since the radar employees can perform the same function elsewhere. Willard's radar facilities also serve air traffic in Danville and Decatur. But Wanzek says communicating with radar control in the suburbs means losing local knowledge of the region in the event of an emergency. "We get a pilot that's lost or whatever who might able to identify some kind of landmark," says Wanzek. "Whether it be an interection, or a sign, or something that the local controller might know something about because he lives here, and drives around here, and maybe he's driven by that sign or knows that intersection better than he would know if he was up in Elgin."
Wanzek also says losing those employees will hurt the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation, in which more than 250 students monitor the activites of both radar controllers and air traffic personnel on the ground. The FAA's change could impact 12 to 14 jobs. Agency spokesman Tony Molinaro says the agency continues to analyze the potential cost savings of those salaries, along with building Willard's new tower without a radar room. He also contends that only a handful of Willard employees handle multiple tasks. "The tower controllers would be sending the planes out from the runways and the radar folks are splitting them up or vice versa," says Molinaro. "People are coming from different directions, the radar folks are putting them in line, and then handing them over to the tower folks. Most of those people would stay where they are, cause we still need all those folks to be in the tower itself."
Willard Airport Air Traffic Controller Carl Jensen says he may consider relocating, but wants an explanation from the FAA regarding potential cost savings. He says it makes no sense to give some Willard employees a cost of living increase to do the same job from the Chicago area. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is also opposed to the plan.
A bill giving Illinois school districts the option of cutting their week a day short to save money could clear a House committee next week.
But Republican Sponsor Bill Black of Danville admits its chances for passing the full House are slim. The legislation was proposed last month at the request of a rural school administrator in Black's district. Jamaica School Superintendent Mark Janesky estimates the district would save $100,000 dollars a year by parking buses and leaving lights off for a day, and holding longer school hours on four days. Black says there's a big difference between the state dollars coming into a district like Jamaica and one in an urban area. "Some of these small rural school districts may be faced with the ultimate decision," says Black. "And that's to close, and tuition out their students to a surronding district, to consolidate, which is always an emotional issue, or to form cooperative high schools, which is a law I passed 3 or 4 years ago."
Black says a couple other rural school districts have contacted him with interest in making the change. If the bill passes, Janesky admits a number of issues would come up in a local public hearing, like child care for some parents. "Some of them who have younger kids at home - they rely on older kids to watch them, or they don't have any older children at home to watch them," says Janesky. "They may not like it at all. It may mean that they have to find another way to child care for an extra day. There's going to negatives and positives to how the community is going to react to it."
Black says some fellow lawmakers fear the bill would set a bad precedent, but he notes many school districts, including Danville, used to hold half-day school days because of financial problems. The State Board of Education is drafting an amendment to the bill to be sure it complies with school code. Representative Shane Cultra of Onarga is a co-sponsor of the measure.
If their budgets are cut by ten percent ... leaders of two state universities in Illinois say they'll have to lay off staff and raise tuition even higher.
Legislators are beginning to craft next year's Illinois budget ... and reductions in higher education spending is a strong possibility. One Senate plan would cut state appropriations to the state's public universities by ten percent.
University of Illinois interim President Stan Ikenberry told state senators Wednesday that amounts to a 74 million dollar blow.
"It would require draconian cuts in our staff", says Ikenberry. "Let me put it this way, this year, already, we have made roughly eight and a half percent of budget cuts plus we've instituted furloughs and layoffs."
Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard says a reduction in state support to higher education will inhibit the state's long-term economic growth.
"Continuing on the same old path of budget cuts and tuition increases will without questions further reduce accessibility and affordability to low and moderate income families", says Poshard.
Poshard says SIU has had a hard time this year because the state is so behind on making its payments to the school.
He says a borrowing plan approved Wednesday by the Illinois Senate would help SIU.
It would allow Illinois' nine public universities to take out short-term loans that would have to be paid back within a year.
Poshard says SIU has received only 23 percent of the money it's owed from the state. Ikenberry says the U of I has received 18 percent of its appropriation.
According to a proposed retirement agreement, the departing chancellor of the University of Illinois' campus in Springfield will retain his $273,500 salary for 14 months after he leaves the post this fall.
The agreement released Wednesday will be voted on by the university's board of trustees at its meeting next week. It comes as UI officials say they are under severe financial constraints.
Sixty-five-year-old Richard Ringeisen has been the UIS chancellor since 2001 and is expected to step down Oct. 31. He would then serve as special assistant to the president and consultant for long-range planning through Dec. 31, 2011, before retiring completely.
UI interim president Stanley Ikenberry defended the retirement package, saying Ringeisen's compensation is at about the expected level for a major academic officer at the university.
The University of Illinois says a junior there has won a $30,000 prize for developing an affordable prosthetic arm for people in developing countries.
The winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize for innovation is Jonathan Naber, a major in materials science and engineering.
Naber has been working with the Illini Prosthetics Team to create an arm that is functional, durable and easily made. He plans to travel to Guatemala this summer to field-test the prototype at a prosthetics clinic in the Central American nation.
The prize is funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program and is administered by the UI's Technology Entrepreneur Center.
160 acres of farm property for growing fruit in Southeast Urbana is being sold by the University of Illinois Foundation, the university's fundraising arm.
The successful bidder for the Pomology Farm, or Pell Farm, is not being disclosed, but the property was listed for sale at $3.2 million. U of I Foundation spokesman Don Kojich says it still had debt on the site adjacent to Meadowbrook Park , that was in excess of $7 million in Fiscal 2009. "The pomology operation had moved from the university so the foundation didn't need the land anymore,' says Kojich. "We're looking to find a way to relieve ourselves of the debt of the property and prepared it for sale."
Kojich says he expects the Foundation to close on the sale within the next couple of months. In 2006, the U of I and its Foundation conducted a land swap, giving up the Pell Farm in exchange for tracts of land used for the South Farms, as well as property near Willard Airport.
The U-S Commerce Department has awarded $22.5 million for Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband project. Now, the Champaign and Urbana city councils and the university of Illinois have 30 days to decide if they'll commit matching funds to the project --- a combined total of $1.3 million.
Champaign City Councilman Will Kyles says he's looking forward to a March 16 council meeting with the consultant the two cities hired to review the Big Broadband proposal. Kyles says he wants to ask Doug Dawson about his concerns with the long-term financial viability of the Big Broadband plan.
"I think it's more the sustainability piece that we're concerned about, as in his report he's projected that we would eventually start losing money. And he also talked about how technology is always changing. So I'd definitely want to talk to him," said Kyles
The federal stimulus money announced Tuesday would fund two major components of the Big Broadband project --- the installation of underground fiber-optic rings making up the backbone of service, and fiber-to-the-home installation of the service in areas considered underserved by broadband providers.
Two other components did not win federal funding. They're both aimed at expanding computer access for underserved populations. Big Broadband proponent Mike Smeltzer says efforts are already underway to re-enter those components in the 2nd round of federal funding.
The bid has been awarded, and the long-awaited transformation of one of the University of Illinois' most-used buildings should be underway by the end of the month.
On Tuesday the state awarded the largest bid for the $66 million project to a Peoria contractor. That clears the way for work to begin on Lincoln Hall, which has been empty for more than a year because of deteriorating conditions.
Joe Vitosky is with the U of I's Office of Capital Programs and Real Estate Services. He says when Lincoln Hall is finished in the summer of 2012, it will be a completely upgraded facility.
"Classrooms on the first and second floors, with offices on the third and fourth floors," Vitosky said, listing the changes. "The closed backstage area of the theatre will be converted to a new classroom. We'll have office space on all four floors, we'll replace the floor, ceiling and wall finishes, abate asbestos materials, and we'll be purchasing movable equipment."
But Vitosky says the theater and lecture hall which hosted thousands of U of I students over its 100-year history will still be there.
The U of I unsuccessfully tried to get the classroom facility updated for more than a decade until state lawmakers funded it last year as part of a capital construction program. Vitosky says despite remaining questions over how the state will fund the capital bill, the money is in hand.
The University of Illinois will lose another leader. The head of the Springfield campus, Chancellor Richard Ringeisen, announced his retirement Monday.
Ringeisen says his decision to leave UIS after nearly a decade has everything to do with wanting more time with his grandchildren, and nothing to do with the university's financial troubles. Delays in state payments have led to furloughs and layoffs. Further cuts -- possibly as high as 15% -- are expected.
Ringeisen says he will stay on until the end of October, then he and his wife will move to South Carolina. "It will be difficult to leave a job I love. An institution I love. And a city that has become a wonderful home to Carolyn and me," Ringheisen said.
Ringeisen says since he became chancellor he's proud of overseeing a nationally recognized online degree program ... expanding athletics ... developing a fine arts program ... and transitioning a two-year school into a more traditional four-year one. "The kind of small public arts university that Illinois did not have," Ringheisen said. "Well, it has one now."
Ringeisen says the search for a successor will begin soon, but that one won't be in place by the time he leaves. He says the provost could take over in the interim with a new chancellor on board early in 2011. Ringeisen says he'll stay on even then as a special advisor to the university president.
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