Illinois Public Media News
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.
After weeks of discussions and revisions, the Champaign School Board approved 2-point-3-million dollars in budget cuts and new revenue last (Monday) night. The move comes in reaction to delays and expected cuts in state funding.
Some of the changes to the Unit Four budget are permanent --- like the elimination of nine administrative positions and four high school-level positions. But others can only be done once --- such as plans to sell two plots of land to raise 435-thousand dollars. School board member Stig Lanesskog says he had misgivings about one-time items at first --- but no longer.
"I've become less concerned about that", says Lanesskog, "because the last thing I want to do is have, in this economy, more people lose their jobs earlier than they need to"
But board member Greg Novak says the board should have looked for more savings through permanent cuts --- in case delayed state payments don't arrive in time for the start of school next fall.
"Because what happens all too often, is we'll get to September, and your buildings' budgets are all that's left to cut", says Novak. "And that which we're trying to protect will be the only thing left to cut."
In all, Unit Four is cutting 1-point-9 million dollars in spending, and selling land worth an estimated 435-thousand dollars, for a total budget decrease of 2-point-3 million. Champaign school board member Susan Grey says she expects that the state's financial problems will keep their budgets tight for the next two or three years.
"And depending on what happens with the state budgets, there may be some cuts that are just completely out of our control", says Grey. "How do we fine $1,400,000. if the state does indeed cut our funding by at least ten percent. It could be more, we don't know."
Other school districts are also considering steep budget cuts --- including the Urbana and Mahomet-Seymour districts. The Urbana school board will be hearing public comment on their proposed budget cuts at meetings set for tonight Tuesday and Wednesday
Champaign Central graduate Bubba Chisholm scored the last basket for Illinois Sunday. The Assembly Hall crowd erupted in cheer for the outgoing senior, who earned a scholarship this semester after playing as a walk-on. But there wasn't much else to cheer about. Wisconsin's Badgers led the game throughout and capped the Big Ten season with a 72-57 victory over the Illini.
Illinois is now 18 and 13 on the season, and unlikely to reach the N-C-A-A Tournament without making an improbable run in the Big Ten Tournament. Head Coach Bruce Weber:
"It'll take a couple of wins now in Indianapolis to give us a shot, I don't know. A lot of things can happen over the week. I think we've shown we're capable, but we've got to do it on the court," said head coach Bruce Weber.
The Illini must face this same Wisconsin team Friday afternoon in Indianapolis. The winner of that game is likely to face the top seed, Big Ten co-champion Ohio State, on Saturday.
Illinois' women's basketball team trailed throughout the game Friday, as they lost to Ohio State, 66 to 55 in the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis.
Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson both scored 13 points for the Illini. 10th-ranked Ohio State goes on to Saturday's semifinal action. They'll face the winner of Friday night's game between Wisconsin and Purdue. . Also in the semifinals, Michigan State plays Iowa. Michigan State beat Michigan 61 to 50 in Friday's quarterfinals, while Iowa defeated Penn State 82 to 75.
Jenna Smith had 23 points and a Big Ten tournament-record 19 rebounds to help Illinois beat Indiana 59-53 in a first-round game on Thursday.
Smith also hit two key free throws in the final minute to end Indiana's season. Illinois had lost both regular-season games against the Hoosiers.
The Fighting Illini advanced to play No. 10 Ohio State on Friday in the quarterfinals.
Lacey Simpson had 12 points, eight steals and seven assists for Illinois (16-13). Simpson's steals total was the second-most in a tournament game.
Jori Davis scored 17 of her 20 points in the second half for Indiana. Jamie Braun scored 13 points, all in the first half, for the Hoosiers (14-16).
Illinois held Indiana to 27 percent shooting. The Fighting Illini have reached the quarterfinals each year since losing in the first round in 2004.
--- Cliff Brunt
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.
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