Illinois Public Media News
A monthly gauge of the Illinois economy has made a bit of a rebound.
But the University of Illinois Flash Index cautions about putting too much into an October reading that jumped seven tenths of a percent above the previous month. Economist Fred Giertz says the first substantial improvement in the index in two years is evidence of an improving economy. But he says future months may show a much slower recovery, especially if employment doesn't rebound as well.
"Productivity has been increasing even during the downturn, so when demand starts going up again and people start buying more things it's going to take awhile before we start hiring back a lot of people because firms have become more productive, more efficient in the interim," Giertz said. "They don't need as many people as they used to, so it takes a little bit longer."
The Flash Index measures tax revenue each month from corporations, income and sales. Any number over 100 indicates economic growth - the October index came in at 90.7.
A week after announcing his resignation, former University of Illinois Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman is a finalist for a university president's job in New Mexico.
On Tuesday, a search committee at New Mexico State University listed Herman's name among five finalists. The chair of that committee, Del Archuleta, says Herman was among 18 people who interviewed for the job among 60 applicants. And Archuleta says a search firm helping in the process was well aware of the admissions scandal that prompted Herman to step down at the U of I.
"We think the search consultants really explored that,' says Archuleta. "And then the amount of interviews that we've had to date, reference checks, etc. made it such that at least at this point we've felt that he, with the great career that he's had, should be considered by our university as a possible president." The presidential search committee included former Illinois basketball coach Lou Henson. Archuleta says Herman is a finalist not only because of his record, but like the U of I, New Mexico State University is a land grant university, and believe he'd be able to garner the attention of state lawmakers, and lure in research funds.
Next week, finalists for the President's job will visit the campus in Las Cruces, New Mexico for 3 days of interviews with faculty, the community, and the University's Board of Regents. A decision is expected by November 19th. At the U of I, Herman is now serving in the role of special assistant to interim President Stanley Ikenberry. He's slated to start as a math professor next July, earning $244,000 a year as he takes a 1-year sabbatical before returning to the Urbana campus.
The next generation of the nation's electricity backbone will need stronger systems to protect it from attacks.
That's why the federal government is setting up an institute dedicated to computer security as it puts more than three billion dollars into improving the electric grid. The University of Illinois' Information Trust Institute will be a part of that effort, helping design software that keeps the improved power network safe from hackers.
Institute director Bill Sanders says the threat exists because the so-called "smart grid" will involve much more computerization than the current system.
"There's much more computerization, both on the distribution side -- and the distribution side is the kind of equipment you might have in your house that actually delivers the power to your house and the feedback and control there -- and on the transmission side, a wide-area data network that supports power generation and transports that power to somewhere near your house," Sanders said.
Three other universities are taking part in the five year, $18.8 million research program. The smart grid is expected to be more efficient and help consumers track and adjust their own power usage.
Spending cuts and a new working cash bond issue are the recommendation from the Champaign School District's finance director as a way to get the district through the new couple of years.
Gene Logas told school board members Monday night that he thinks the district should cut two million dollars from next year's budget, while issuing 2 million in working cash bonds. Another 2 million dollars would be cut from the budget the following year. Logas says the changes are needed to counter a decrease in state aid, a declining district fund balance and falling tax revenue due to tax caps and slow growth in the Consumer Price Index.
"I looked at the possibility of making no cuts at all", says Logas. "Making no cuts at all, though, sets us up with that five-million dollar deficit for next year, and puts us in a very precarious position. I just don't think we can do that."
Logas says even with a cut in spending, Unit four's fund balance will be lowered --- but will remain at an acceptable level.
But while the Unit Four school board considered possible budget cuts, it also considered new spending, thanks to the new school construction sales tax. Architects presented initial plans for the district's new magnet schools ---- a new Booker T. Washington school and an expanded Garden Hills school.
Preliminary designs for the new Booker T Washington School calls its classrooms "learning studios" with easy access to common areas, renamed "piazzas". Meanwhile, an expanded Garden Hills school building would include large spaces for art and music studies, and a stage that could be directed to both indoor and outdoor audiences.
School board members were impressed by the designs, although some wondered if all the ideas would be practical. Board member Susan Grey said that when they take a vote November 9th, board members will keep affordability in mind.
"The architects are going to throw all this cool stuff at us, and we're going to go, 'wow, that's great!' ", says Grey. "Then, when you actually start putting dollar figures to these things, there's things that may change along the way, because we have that stewardship, that responsibility, to our taxpayers, to use those dollars in the best possible way."
Champaign County's new school facility sales tax will pay for the new school buildings. A vote on the school designs is expected November 9th. Work on next year's budget will continue through the winter.
The University of Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team is nearing the start of a new season. But because of a new edict from the coach, you shouldn't expect to get any practice updates from players who use the social networking site Twitter. Rob McColley of the Champaign-Urbana website Smile Politely reports for AM 580.
The University of Illinois is facing its first lawsuit stemming from the role clout played in the school's admissions policy.
The scandal has already forced the University's President and the Urbana-Champaign campus chancellor to step down. Now a Taylorville man, Jonathon Yard, is taking the school to court. Yard's suit could become a federal class action case. He alleges he was unfairly denied access to the U of I.
The court papers go on to say Yard had a solid academic background, which was part of admissions requirements the university cited. But the suit points out the school failed to mention the existence of a clout list, which favored those with political connections.
Yard's attorney Larry Drury says he is are alleging the university has criteria on which they accept applicants other than that which is stated in their catalogs and brochures.
An investigation determined some on that clout list were accepted even though they lacked other qualifications.
A university spokesman says the school anticipated such actions and is prepared to vigorously defend the U of I.
The chairman of the U of I Board of Trustees says chancellor Richard Herman's decision to step down was not made overnight.
Chris Kennedy says trustees had conversations with Herman about voluntary resignation since the first meeting containing all six new trustees last month. But he says Herman and outgoing president Joseph White determined their own schedules over the past few weeks.
"I would like to say that was a part of a master plan, but in fact it really came out of Chancellor Herman and out of Joe White individually, both of whom I think really saw their life's work as protecting the best interests of the University of Illinois," Kennedy said.
Kennedy believes the transition in leadership will be orderly, even though starting Monday the U of I will not have a permanent president, chancellor or provost. He says there will be no interim chancellor, and interim president Stanley Ikenberry will handle some of the administrative duties along with interim provost Robert Easter.
University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy says Richard Herman will be hard to replace as chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus.
Herman says he'll resign next Monday after months of pressure over the university's admissions scandal.
Trustees are to meet Friday to accept Herman's resignation and revise his employment agreement, since Herman will stay on as a faculty member. Kennedy says the next chancellor will have to bring a strong vision for science and research to the job.
In his resignation letter, Herman says he's been honored to work at the university. He came to Illinois from the University of Maryland in 1998 and became permanent chancellor in 2005.
Herman's name appears often in e-mails detailing preferential treatment the school gave well-connected student applicants. The Faculty Senate voted last month to call for Herman and university President B. Joseph White to step down. White will leave his post in December.
The community college system in Illinois has recorded its biggest enrollment increase in years, and Danville Area Community College leads the statistics.
DACC's headcount jumped by almost 32 percent this fall compared to the same time last year, to nearly 36-hundred students. More than 21 hundred of them are taking the equivalent of a full-time class load, which is a nearly 28 percent increase.
President Alice Marie Jacobs says the school is handling the student boom, in terms of both space and teachers.
"We do utilize a number of part-time faculty, many who have years of experience teaching at Danville Area Community College, so that's one way we're able to add sections," Jacons said. "We also have faculty who have been very cooperative and were willing to add extra sections to their loads."
Most community college administrators cite the sluggish economy as a factor in their strong enrollments, with many people going back to school for more job training. But Jacobs says DACC is also getting more recent high school graduates, including honor students.
Graduate student workers at the University of Illinois Urbana campus are not about to strike. But a vote that members of their union took Thursday night lays the groundwork for a walkout. Peter Campbell of the Graduate Employees Organization says the vote was unanimous to approve an intent to strike notice. He says the notice "gives our union the legal ability to prepare for a work action, if our membership decides that a work action would be necessary at some point in the future."
The GEO and the administration have been meeting since April over a new contract for about 25-hundred teaching and graduate assistants on the Urbana campus. The old contract ran out about seven weeks ago. And Campbell says the university has failed to respond to financial changes made in the union's latest proposal. He says the responding offer from the administration at a bargaining session Thursday failed to address the union proposals, and only offered "semantic" changes that were "virtually identical" to their previous positions.
The next bargaining session is set for October 23rd, and Campbell says he hopes a federal mediator will be able to attend. In the meantime, he says the GEO will try to increase pressure on the administration through rallies and demonstrations. Union members will hold office hours at the Illini Union on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week --- the "work-in" and "grade'in" is meant to draw attention to the amount of work graduate employees do for the university.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says they won't comment on ongoing labor negotiations with the GEO. But she says they always negotiate within the university's financial constraints.
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