Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois' monthly gauge of economic performance has hit its lowest point since it was established 14 years ago.
But the author of the Flash Index says the current recession still hasn't reached the depths of the early 1980's economic slowdown. Economist Fred Giertz also says there are promising signs that the recession may be approaching an end, perhaps by the end of the year. Even so, Giertz says statistics before then are bound to get slightly worse.
"Some of the things that go into the Index don't turn around very rapidly," says Giertz, "in particular, employment, which has a lot to do with the individual income tax collections. So this is not a surprise. I think the only surprise would be that it went down a little bit more than might be expected."
The U of I Flash Index measures Illinois tax proceeds to evaluate the state of the economy. With any number above 100 suggesting economic growth, the June rate checked in at only 92. That's more than two points lower than May.
A new one-cent sales tax to fund school facilities will take effect in Champaign County next year. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to ratify the tax which voters approved in April.
County Board members did not have to enact the full one cent sales tax approved by voters. And county board member Stan James suggested a lower amount. In light of the bad economy, the Rantoul Township Republican said school districts should settle for a quarter-cent sales tax instead. "They can always come back and ask for more if the need is there", said James. "But now's the wrong time to send a message to people that are out there hurting that we're going to raise their taxes."
But the County Board voted down that suggestion. Urbana Democrat Tom Betz, who says he opposes sales taxes in general, argued the county board should heed the will of the voters --- even though the referendum won with a lower voter turnout than the first unsuccessful referendum in November. "Those votes need to count," said Betz of the April referendum result. "And the ballot proposition said 'at one percent'. It didn't say 'at a quarter percent', it said 'one percent'. It was promoted as one percent."
School officials attending the county board meeting say they'll use part of the sales tax money to pay off existing construction debt and lower property taxes. Urbana School Board President John Dimit says he expects all school boards in the county to spend the sales tax money quote "exactly how we promised the voters".
A writer following trends in higher education says the Chicago Tribune reports of a 'clout list' of University of Illinois students admitted via political connections will no doubt yield inquiries at other institutions. But senior reporter Eric Hoover with the Washington-based Chronicle of Higher Education says the issue isn't too far removed from what happens elsewhere. AM 580's Jeff Bossert spoke with Hoover:
An outdoor art installation about Native American history on the University of Illinois Urbana campus vandlized again over the weekend. The director of the U of I's Native American House says it's the 7th attack on the art work.
The latest attack on the exhibit occurred late Friday night to the series of signs created by Native American Artist Edgar Heap of Birds. One sign was bent, and two signs --- directly in front of the campus' Native American House were stolen.
The installation is titled "Beyond the Chief", in reference to Chief Illiniwek, the longtime university symbol which was officially retired a couple of years ago amidst great controversy. The signs in the installation list various Native American tribes as playing "host" to the Fighting Illini --- except that the Fighting Illini name is printed backwards. Native American House director Robert Warrior says the signs pay tribute to tribes that once lived in Illinois, but were forced to leave by the federal government.
Warrior adds that if the attacks on the art installation are because of the Chief Illiniwek controversy, then it's an embarrassment for the university community. "I understand there are people in this community who continue to be upset that the university retired its former mascot," says Warrior. "And it's certainly their right to be upset. I fail to see how it is their right to engage in criminal actions against an art exhibit that seeks to be part of an education enterprise on an educational campus."
Warrior says the two signs that were stolen paid tribute to the Ho-Chunk and Peoria tribes. The Peoria tribe --- once in Illinois but now located in Oklahoma --- is the modern remnant of the Illini Confederation, which the name Chief Illiniwek refers to.
The repeated attacks on the "Beyond the Chief" installation began in March. U of I Police say they have surveillance video of the latest act of vandalism, which will be posted on their website. the video shows a college-age white male, wearing dark-colored shorts and a T-shirt. Sgt. Tony Brown says anyone with information about the attacks should call U of I Police at 217-333-1216 or contact Champaign County Crimestoppers at 217-373-TIPS or online at http://www.champaigncountycrimestoppers.com/ .
Updated: June 16, 2009
The first part of what will become a solar house will be delivered to the University of Illinois' Urbana campus today.
Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Patrick Chapman says students have so far designed the 'shell' of the Gable Home. That was put together by a builder in Goodfield, and is now coming to campus for students in engineering and architecture to finish details like painting, cabinets, heating and air conditioning, as well as special equipment like the solar array. Chapman says the house was designed specifically for Central Illinois. "This particular house has what's called super insulated walls, very specially designed windows, and so forth," says Chapman. "So you get free heating in the winter and free cooling in the summer, in effect. And according to my calculations, it only would take $75 worth of electricity to heat and cool the house for the entire year."
The passive house was also designed with the region in mind - reclaiming wood from dilapidated barns. It will be moving again this fall. The students will be taking the Gable Home to the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC in October. There, the house will be judged in 10 different areas of competition, including energy balance, comfort, lighting, and architecture. The U of I will be competing against 19 other schools. But the resting place for the Gable Home for the next few months will be south of the ACES library on South Goodwin Avenue in Urbana.
A teachers' union is taking issue with its district's policy requiring them to do medical procedures they say school nurses should provide.
The Mahomet-Seymour Education Association has been pressuring the school board to sit down and negotiate a protocol for those procedures - some students, especially those with special needs, sometimes require catheterizations, shots and other needs. But 5th grade teacher Linda Meachum says school nurses aren't dispatched to do those tasks, and it's been up to teachers.
"We should hire additional medically licensed personnel to take care of all students' medical needs," Meachum said. "No other staff member, as a condition of their job, should be required to perform medical procedures."
Mahomet Seymour superintendent Keith Oates has been unavailable for comment - he has said in the past that teachers have always been asked to change catheters, and the policy is not new. The union is demanding that medical procedures be negotiated, and they may file an unfair labor practice claim if the district doesn't bargain. Mahomet-Seymour's current teachers' contract expires next year.
Retired federal judge Abner Mikva says he wants to bring some transparency to the admissions process at the University of Illinois, and ensure that students are admitted on merit and not "political clout". Mikva has been named by Governor Pat Quinn to chair a seven member commission to investigate U of I admission practices and issue a report in 60 days. The commission was formed after news reports revealed that some less-qualified students had been admitted because of political connections. Mikva talked with AM 580's Jim Meadows about the new commission and its goals.
There are new signs that the University of Illinois' Lincoln Hall is going to get its long-awaited renovation soon.
Last fall the university decided to transfer all courses to other lecture halls. Now the process of moving offices out of the aging Lincoln Hall has begun, first with the political science department.
Matthew Tomaszewski is an assistant dean with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, whose offices are also being moved out. He says now is the best time to vacate Lincoln Hall in case Governor Pat Quinn signs the capital bill on his desk - the bill that includes the bulk of the 57 million dollar project.
"This is our opportunity to vacate the building, said Tomaszewski. "If we don't vacate now and the money comes through, we're stuck because we can't move in the fall -- the students are back on campus, visiting offices; the faculty are engaged."
Tomaszewski says even though the capital bill hasn't been signed yet, the U of I will start removing asbestos from Lincoln Hall over the summer - it had committed to do so before the three-year renovation begins.
University of Illinois President Joseph White says he's receptive to an outside look at the U of I's admissions procedures.
But university spokesman Tom Hardy says until Governor Pat Quinn steps into the discussion over a list of prospective students who may have gotten improper admission assistance from political leaders, a task force announced last week will handle the task.
"If the Governor announces something that could work with that or separately or would supersede that, we'll certainly abide by whatever the governor's prerogative is," Hardy said.
Hardy says that task force would include people from outside the University, but critics say it wouldn't be a completely independent investigation. Monday night, President White told a Chicago TV interviewer that an investigation into the so-called "Category I" admission list should be as independent as possible.
U of I Police say they'll be increasing patrols on the east side of the Urbana campus, where an armed robbery took place late Saturday night.
The robbery took place Saturday at approximately 11:30 PM on Pennsylvania Avenue near the corner of Dorner. The suspect, who appeared to have a gun in his hand, demanded cash from his victim. After getting the money, the suspect fled on foot. The victim was not hurt.
Police are looking for a white male in his early 20s, 6-foot to 6-foot-4 in height, athletically built and clean-shaven. He was wearing a dark grey athletic sweat suit with the hood pulled over his head. Anyone with information about the case should contact U of I or Urbana Police, or Champaign County Crimestoppers.
In a news release, University Police Chief Barbara O'Connor outlined tips for preventing crimes, including keeping doors and windows locked ... using well-lit and busy sidewalks where possible ... and carrying a cell phone, whistle or personal alarm to alert people if you need help.
UPDATE: This story has been corrected --- it erroneously stated that the robbery took place during the day, instead of at night.
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