Illinois Public Media News
The state of Illinois' backlog of payments is starting to worry University of Illinois leaders.
Interim president designate Stan Ikenberry says the U of I is still waiting on more than $388 million in state funding that would normally be in their hands by now. But Ikenberry says the university has essentially been unpaid since the start of the fiscal year in July.
Southern Illinois University has warned that continued cash shortages could result in missed payrolls. But Ikenberry says the U of I has not faced that problem yet because of revenue from outside enterprises and research grants.
"The longer it goes on, the tougher the challenge," Ikenberry said. "In all fairness, the University of Illinois is probably in the strongest position of any university in the state, but even for us it's certainly an increasing challenge."
Ikenberry says the state needs to work sooner rather than later on a plan to resolve the budget situation through a combination of revenue increases and belt-tightening.
The author of the University of Illinois' Flash Economic Index says any noticeable recovery in unemployment may happen well after the statistics point to economic recovery.
In November the index measured 91, sell below the threshold for economic growth, but it's improved one whole percentage point in the last two months.
But U of I economist Fred Giertz says the state may not have seen its highest unemployment rate in the current recession just yet. Giertz says unemployment often lags behind economic improvement.
The Champaign Unit Four School Board will hold a special meeting next Monday night, to decide what to do about budget overruns for the expansion and renovation of Garden Hills Elementary School. At a study session this past Monday night, board members discussed the news that the project will cost 25 percent more than first estimated --- unless changes are made.
Mark Ritz of the architectural firm BLDD says the Garden Hills project is now estimated to cost 15-point-5 million dollars, in part because renovations requested for the present building are more extensive than expected. He says they could meet the original 12 million dollar estimate by cutting back on those renovations, and making the new wing a little smaller than planned. But Superintendent Arthur Culver says sticking to the original Garden Hills school plan at the higher price would be worth it.
"We can reduce costs", Culver told the school board, "we can reduce those classrooms down to a thousand square feet and so forth. But that's really not ideal. And I was just hoping that we could open our minds up to exploring, maybe going a little bit beyond what we originally expected."
Unit Four Finance Director Gene Logas says the district can afford the higher cost, because the bond issue for this and other construction projects will also be higher than originally planned. But school board members were torn on the question, and wanted more information.
Board member Kristine Chalifoux favored cutting back on the Garden Hills project to bring it in at the 12- million dollar level. But she says there were arguments on both sides.
"I'd love to have a big gym", says Chalifoux, "I'd love it for the community. But it will take away from what we can do --- educationally even --- at one of our other schools. Is that the trade off, we want to decide to make? Now, there's also the other side --- if you're going to do it, do it right, and we'll figure out the next one when we come to it".
Next Monday's special school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM, at the Unit Four Mellon Administrative Center.
Graduate workers at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus are a step closer to finalizing a new 3-year contract.
Members of the Graduate Employees Organization ratified the agreement between Thursday and Sunday, forwarding it to U of I administrators. The GEO unanimously voted to suspend a 2-day strike at a membership meeting last Tuesday night, after coming to agreement on protection for tuition waivers. The two sides had already agreed on items like salary, health care, and child care.
Spokesman Peter Campbell says the GEO's 26-hundred members had ample opportunity to cast a ballot from Thursday morning through Sunday, and he's not alarmed that about 350 members turned out for it. "Given all of the work and labor and energy that GEO members have invested, it doesn't really surprise me that this sort of final step would not have quite as high of a participation as the strike authorization vote," says Campbell. Campbell says a small portion of the votes, or just over 30, were against the agreement during the ratification vote. GEO members have been at work since last Tuesday evening.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the ratification will not require a vote from university trustees, as previously thought. She says the ratification vote could come yet this week, and involves five individuals, including the comptroller, interim Provost and Chancellor Robert Easter, and a chief negotiator. But Kaler says those campus leaders had yet to receive the contract from the GEO as of Monday afternoon.
Teaching and graduate assistants return to work Wednesday on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. The Graduate Employees Organization has ended its strike, after reaching a tentative agreement with the administration on a new three-year contract.
The official decision to suspend the strike was made by the GEO's strike committee Tuesday night, following a membership meeting in which members unanimously endorsed the tentative contract and the suspension of their two-day walkout.
Grad student workers had struck over tuition waivers --- and GEO spokesman Rich Potter says the university is promising in a side letter to the new contract, that any changes to the current tuition waiver policy will be subject to negotiation with the union. Potter says the language is a compromise, since the union had wanted the administration to renounce any discussion of a change in the waiver policy altogether.
A U of I news release says that "during the term of the three-year agreement, graduate assistant and teaching assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced while they hold qualifying assistantships, are in good academic standing, and are making proper progres toward graduation in the program in which they began."
GEO member and mathematics teaching assistant Dan Lior says tuition waivers had been the most important issue for him. And he says he's pleased that the union's efforts created progress on the issue.
"For me personally, the difference is that the union demonstrated the ability of the everyday person to make changes that matter", says Lior. "It's a shame that it had to come to a strike, but we still do have the power to influence the way things are run."
The tentative agreement also includes a ten percent raise over three years for the minimum graduate worker salary --- union spokesman Potter says that's an improvement, but still short of the Living Wage that the union had sought for all graduate employees. He says the GEO will continue to push for a Living Wage for all grad employees when the next contract is negotiated. The new agreement also includes two additional weeks of unpaid parental leave and increases to the university's contribution to health care premiums (reaching 75% in the third year of the agreement).
"I think we're very happy to reach agreement", said Urbana campus administration spokesperson Robin Kaler. "We absolutely value the work that our graduate assistants do, and we're very excited to move forward."
GEO spokesman Rich Potter says they hope to schedule a ratification vote for this week.The agreement would then go the U of I Board of Trustees for their vote. If approved by both sides, the contract would be retroactive to the start of the semester.
The strike by University of Illinois graduate student employees may be winding down.
Their negotiating team has reached a tentative agreement with the U of I over language in their contract regarding tuition waiver security.
The university says the tentative agreement will guarantee that grad assistants and teaching assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced as long as they're in good standing, hold their assistantships and are making reasonable progress toward graduation.
The contract offer also includes items the two sides agreed on last Saturday, including higher stipends, more subsidies for health insurance and parental accommodation periods after the birth or adoption of a child. That disagreement led GEO members to walk out.
At a rally this afternoon on the U of I quad, spokesman Peter Campbell said members meeting tonight at the Wesley United Methodist Church will determine whether the strike will be suspended - he expects a ratification vote in the next few days.
A new committee to advise the Champaign school district on equity issues is now in place. The Unit Four School Board approved members for the Education Equity Excellence --- or Triple E Committee --- during a special meeting Monday night. And they named ten community members to serve on the panel, including notable local African-Americans such as local N-double-A-C-P President Jerome Chambers and former school board member Nathaniel White.
But the new committee is supposed to study equity issues for all Unit Four residents ... so its members also include white, Asian-American and Latino residents. In the last category, bilingual education teacher Lily Jimenez says she hopes the committee can be a voice for families --- especially Latino Families.
"I would love there to be, kind of like an open forum for Latino families", said Jimenez, "to just come and share their experiences with the district. You know, things that they like, things they would like to see different. And then just start a dialog, to see what things the district is doing well, and what things they could do better."
School Board member Susan Grey says that after years under the Consent Decree, she welcomes the feedback from community members.
"I like having a measure of accountability from our own community", says Grey. "Not court oversight, but community oversight".
Other members of the Triple-E Committee will represent the Unit Four administration, teachers union and school board.
School Board member Susan Grey says the board must meet at least twice a semester, but can meet more frequently. She says it can also recruit more members for subcommittees focusing on specific topics. Grey expects the Triple-E Committee to hold its first one oro two meetings before the year is out.
The Ten Community Members Named to the Unit Four EEE Committee:
Virginia "Ginny" B. Holder --- attorney
Lily Jimenez --- bilingual teacher
Annette McDonald Jones --- Dir. of Trust Services, U of I Foundation
Dr. Christina N. Medrano ---surgeon
Karl Radnitzer - education professor, Milliken University
Melodye Benson Rosales -- commercial and educational publishing
Jamar Brown --- member, Champaign Human Relations Committee
Rev. Jerome C. Chambers - President, Champaign County Chapter of the NAACP
Nancy Hoetker --- President, Champaign PTA Council
Nathaniel C. Banks -- former Unit Four School Board member
Family members of Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott say they appreciate the outpouring of support they've received in the wake of his death.
The family issued a statement through Chicago Public Schools on Monday after Scott's body was pulled from the Chicago River on Monday.
An autopsy and investigation into the death are under way. Police say officers were called to the city's River North neighborhood at about 3:15 a.m., where they found his body in the water.
The Scott family's statement says arrangements for a public memorial service will be announced soon.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Rev. Jesse Jackson are among the leaders expressing shock over Scott's death.
Picket lines sprung up around four University of Illinois buildings this morning.
Several hundred Graduate Employees Organization members and supporters picked up picket signs and walked in circles near the entrances of the English and Foreign Languages buildings as well as Davenport and Gregory halls. They wore ponchos or carried umbrellas against today's cold rain.
After negotiations Saturday resolved every issue but one, Graduate Employees Organization leaders opted to call a strike beginning today. GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says currently most teaching or research assistants on the Urbana campus have all or part of their grad school tuition waived as part of their compensation for their work. But Campbell claims the U of I won't put it in writing that those waivers will go on.
"The purpose of a university -- especially a public land-grant university -- it to provide open, accessible and high-quality education, and tuition waivers are an important part of that," Campbell said. "It wouldn't cost the administration anything to provide a contractual guarantee of protection for tuition waivers."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler contends that the GEO didn't bring up the guarantee demand until the night of the talks. "The University offered Saturday night that if the Board of Trustees would ever want to change the general rules that affect tuition waivers, we would bargain with the GEO on that."
Kaler says faculty have been asked to make arrangements to hold classes in different locations or make alternate assignments for students during the strike. Campbell says faculty were alerted about picket sites before the strike, and many switched locations. U of I police say the strike has been uneventful so far, aside from a few complaints about excessive noise on the Quad.
Picket lines are expected in front of an unknown number of University of Illinois Urbana campus buildings Monday morning.
After negotiations Saturday resolved every issue but one, Graduate Employees Organization leaders opted to call a strike beginning Monday. GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says currently most teaching or research assistants on the Urbana campus have all or part of their grad school tuition waived as part of their compensation for their work. But Campbell claims the U of I won't put it in writing that those waivers will go on.
"The purpose of a university --- especially a public land-grant universities is to provide open and accessible and high quality education, and I think tuition waivers are an important part of that", said Campbell. "And again, it wouldn't cost the administration anything to provide a contractual guarantee, protection for tuition waivers."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler contends that the GEO didn't bring up the guarantee demand until the night of the talks.
"The university offered Saturday night that if the university board of trustees would ever want to change the general rules that affect tuition waivers, we would bargain with the GEO on that", said Kaler.
Kaler says faculty have been asked to make arrangements to hold classes in different locations or make alternate assignments for students during the strike. Campbell says faculty have been told of picket sites, but he wouldn't say where strikers would be stationed for the picketing, scheduled to begin at 8 AM Monday morning.
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