Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 27, 2011

Champaign County Board Members Discuss Compensation Issue

Champaign County Board members haven't had a raise in more than 20 years.

And based on a straw poll conducted Tuesday night, a majority of them don't want to change the method they're paid, earning a specific per diem per meeting plus mileage, rather than an annual salary. But the amount of that per diem has yet to be set. It's currently $45, an amount some call woefully short. Urbana Democrat Tom Betz said it's kept some people from serving.

"It costs them more in the evening to pay the babysitter than they're getting in the per diem," he said. "It has really happened. I know one very good board member we lost because of that. No entity goes 25 years without any salary increase. It's really kind of ludicrous."

Champaign Democrat Michael Richards agrees, saying his party has trouble recruiting candidates with the current level of compensation, but Mahomet Republican John Jay said a raise can't be justified after the sacrifices county employees have made.

"So I'm hoping that we don't raise it at this time..," he said. "..In due respect to our employees, and to the taxpayers of this county, until we get our county back into some kind of reasonable fiscal shape."

Urbana Republican Steve Moser said money was never an incentive for him to serve on the county board, saying it's no different from serving on a school board.

County Administrator Deb Busey suggests the board set compensation rates every 10 years, and prior to a change in county board structure. It's expected to have 22 members instead of the current 27 after the 2012 elections. Voters recommended the change in an advisory referendum last fall.

The rates for board members don't have to be set until about six months before a new county board is sworn in, but county board chair Pius Wiebel said he'd hope to do it much sooner.

In another straw poll, the County Board also rejected a suggestion that the title of county board chair become an elected member of the county rather than one chosen by county board members.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

Daniels’ Timeline for White House Campaign Ticking

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, nearing an announcement on whether to run for president, is spending the final week of his state's legislative session pushing for the final pieces of a record that would be ready-made for a Republican campaign: a balanced budget, tax refunds and a school voucher program.

This week's unexpected decision by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Daniels friend, to forgo a presidential candidacy seemingly makes it more likely the Midwestern governor will seek the GOP nomination. Party insiders close to the two men say Barbour and Daniels, whose early careers intersected as aides to President Ronald Reagan, had indicated privately they would not both seek the 2012 nomination.

But Daniels, 62, is not rushing to join the field.

The governor, who typically keeps his own counsel, is staying mum about his plans. Even his closest advisers here say they still aren't sure what he will do.

He's kept open the possibility of a run for months, if only to make sure his top issue - enormous deficits and the national debt - was a serious part of the debate. And he is keeping his pledge to tend to business in Indiana before making an announcement or taking even the most preliminary steps toward a national run.

"He has said he's focused on the legislative session and he would make a decision when that's over," Jane Jankowski, the governor's spokeswoman, said Tuesday. The Legislature is slated to adjourn by the end of this week.

Daniels is the first to acknowledge he's done little to lay the groundwork for a campaign, and his lack of planning has been striking to some who would support him if he ran.

"I don't know if he's got the fire in the belly, drive and desire to run for president of the United States. I haven't seen it," Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told The Associated Press. "At this point, I don't think it's likely that he'll run."

Branstad, Republican governor of the first state to hold a leadoff nominating contest, got that impression last week when Daniels called to discuss education policy but made no mention of a presidential campaign.

No "absolute fire in the belly" was the reason Barbour gave for bowing out of the race.

Barbour's announcement surprised many Republicans who had expected the former Republican National Committee chairman to mount a serious campaign based on fiscal issues and the economy. His decision could open the door for Daniels, a hero to the anti-deficit wing of the party, a former pharmaceutical executive, and a George W. Bush budget director. He can check many of the same boxes that many Republicans are seeking: private sector background, executive experience running a state or federal department, balanced state budget.

He would enter a race that lacks a clear front runner. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is trying to position himself as the fiscal conservative in the race despite overseeing a health care overhaul in Massachusetts that is strikingly similar to the President Barack Obama's massive health overhaul that many Republicans loathe. Others, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, are struggling to gain attention.

As a candidate, Daniels could trumpet his success in balancing the state budget, weakening teachers' unions and setting in motion a substantial education agenda - all this year.

"He's going to have some victories at the Statehouse," said Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker. "He's got the majorities."

Republicans hold 60 seats of the 100-member state House and 33 of the Senate's 50 seats.

"For anyone who underestimates Mitch, they do so at their own risk," Parker said.

Daniels, a political strategist who served in the Reagan White House, called many of the shots in his two gubernatorial races. The last made a huge impression in the GOP: He was the rare Republican governor who won re-election in a state that Obama carried in 2008.

Since taking office in 2005, Daniels has logged victories central to fiscal conservatives' goals: He scrapped the requirement that state employees belong to unions, privatized the state's toll road, turned budget deficits into surpluses and expanded health care to more than 130,000 residents with tax hikes on cigarettes.

As he enters the last two years of his term, he's working to expand his national profile.

Daniels plans to address the conservative American Enterprise Institute next week to talk about his education agenda. If lawmakers don't weaken his plan in the final days, it will include the nation's broadest school voucher program allowing middle- and low-income families to use taxpayer funds to send students to private schools.

His wife, Cheri, is to headline an Indiana GOP fundraiser later in May, a notable shift for a spouse more likely to show up at county fairs unannounced than to take the podium in front of thousands of political activists.

And Daniels is to release a policy book this fall called "Keeping the Republic: Limited Government, Unlimited Citizens."

In Iowa, some of the state's most prominent and potent operatives are eagerly awaiting Daniels' decision now that Barbour isn't in the race emphasizing solving the federal government's fiscal problems.

"I think there's an opening to take up that message," Branstad said.

Des Moines Republican Doug Gross, long involved in party politics in the state, has spoken highly of Daniels, too, and says there's a place in the field for a budget hawk.

Even so, Daniels' suggestion that social issues take a backseat to economic and fiscal concerns would cause him headaches in Iowa. Branstad said evangelical conservatives - who account for roughly half of Iowa Republicans - would hold Daniels to account even though he has a record as a loyal social conservative.

Still, with Barbour out of the race, Daniels could benefit from donors and operatives who no longer have a candidate to back.

His advisers privately acknowledge that he hasn't done the legwork other Republicans weighing bids have done, and that could put him at a disadvantage.

Most GOP presidential prospects have reached out to Iowans - and other voters in early primary states - over the past year to gauge interest. But Daniels has avoided it and declined several invitations to speak in the states.

He also spent his political capital last year working to bolster the GOP ranks in his state Legislature, rather than aiding Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina Republicans, as some 2012 prospects did with their political action committees.

This week as the Barbour decision roiled political circles, Daniels' advisers emphasized that the governor wanted to keep focused on the Statehouse before looking seriously at his own future. They said he worried that even a momentary break could spell havoc for his agenda as governor - and, perhaps, his platform should he run for president.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

Search to Begin for Culver’s Replacement

Arthur Culver has resigned as the Champaign Unit 4 superintendent, and now the focus for the school district is finding his replacement.

Culver's last day will be June 30, 2011. He has served as Unit 4 superintendent for nearly a decade, and publically announced his intention to resign during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

"I really do think that I've run my race, and it's just time to pass that baton," Culver said, who took long pauses to regain his composure. "It's not right to continue to collect a paycheck knowing that I don't have that same passion and fire in the belly that I used to."

Culver said he first started thinking about moving on from the Champaign School District last summer. Just until this week, he was on the shortlist for the top job in the DeKalb County school system in Georgia, but withdrew his name as a finalist.

"When I look at the recent events surrounding that search, I just felt it was in my best interest to remove myself and withdraw," Culver said. "I'm sure at some point they will discover a great superintendent that will lead them through their troubled waters."

Culver wouldn't give specifics about other professional opportunities he is interested in pursuing, but didn't rule out staying in Champaign County.

Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson touted Culver's achievements during his tenure, including a successful end to the district's Consent Decree, bringing up achievement levels for students of all races, three years of having a budget surplus, and a high school graduation rate that went from just below 90-percent to nearly 96-percent.

Tomlinson said the search process for the next superintendent will begin as early as Thursday, April 28, and that an interim superintendent will be named by July 1st. Tomlinson said while there are currently six people within the school district who are qualified for the job, a national search will take place to find the next superintendent.

"We have no one in mind at this point," Tomlinson said. "That will be a process of an unknown length."

Culver said he will be part of the transition process. He added that he hopes the next superintendent makes cutting down on disciplinary problems among students a priority.

There will be a series of public forums in the coming months to gather community input about the search. Anyone interested in being part of the search team should send an e-mail with their interests and qualifications to U4BOE@ChampaignSchools.org.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

Report: Breastfeeding in Illinois Hinges Partly on Race, Income

Almost half of African-American mothers in Illinois never breastfeed their newborns, according to a report by state and university researchers and a nonprofit group called HealthConnect One.

Among new black mothers in 2008, about 45 percent did not start breastfeeding their infants, according to the report, "Illinois Breastfeeding Blueprint: A Plan for Change." That figure compares to 21 percent for whites, 14 percent for Latinas and three percent for Asian-Americans.

The report also shows income disparities. The rate of low-income white mothers in the state who never started breastfeeding babies born in 2008 was 36 percent.

"Hospitals should be doing more to encourage breastfeeding," said University of Illinois at Chicago epidemiologist Deborah Rosenberg, who analyzed data for the report.

Looking at all new Illinois mothers, the report says the number who did start breastfeeding was almost 78 percent by 2008 - up about eight percent from 2000. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set a national goal of almost 82 percent by 2020.

Starting breastfeeding does not mean keeping at it. Twelve weeks after giving birth, just 47 percent of Illinois mothers were breastfeeding, according to the report. Of those, almost half were not breastfeeding exclusively.

"Many women go back to work then," Rosenberg said. "It means that employers need to be supportive of breastfeeding."

Rosenberg said resources for lactation consultants and peer counselors are also falling short.

HealthConnect One, based in Chicago, published the report Monday in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Human Services and the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.

Next month the group and its partners plan to begin formulating a five-year action plan for hospitals, government agencies, employers, insurers and community groups.

Federal health officials say breastfeeding helps babies avoid obesity, infections and chronic diseases. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

Cairo, Other IL River Communities Bracing for Severe Flooding

The far southern Illinois city of Cairo is giving residents the option of voluntarily leaving as the Ohio River continues to rise.

Police dispatcher Cheryl James says, as of Tuesday morning, eight families have notified police that they're clearing out. Alexander County Emergency Management Coordinator Marty Nicholson says Cairo's levee and flood wall are holding their own against a river that's expected to reach a record 61 feet on May 3. Nicholson says the concrete flood wall at Cairo can hold back water levels up to 64 feet. On Tuesday, the river already had topped 56 feet.

The Mississippi River is also the center of attention for emergency officials. Already, St. Clair, Madison, Bond, Clinton, Monroe, Randolph and Washington counties in Illinois are under a flash flood watch.

Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello and Republican Rep John Shimkus met Monday with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois Emergency Management Agency officials.

Afterward, the lawmakers said they encouraged the corps and IEMA to work closely with local officials in coordinating plans to deal with flooding.

According to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., a storm system that blew through northeast Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas on Monday will likely move into Illinois on Tuesday. It is expected to cause substantial flooding in a corridor that runs from Illinois to Arkansas.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

White House Chief of Staff To Be U of I’s Commencement Speaker

New White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley is the speaker for the University of Illinois' 140th commencement ceremonies next month.

The longtime executive with JP Morgan Chase & Co. also served as president of SBC Communications from 2001 to 2004.

He was a campaign manager for Al Gore's presidential run in 2000, and was Secretary of Commerce from 1997 to 2000, overseeing a department of more than 40,000 people. He was Special Counsel to President Clinton in 1993, focusing on international trade issues. Daley served as a lawyer early in his career, and has served on the boards of several corporate, academic, medical, charitable, and civic organizations.

The Chicago native is brother to the city's outgoing mayor, Richard M. Daley. He is married to Bernadette Keller. William Daley will deliver his commencement speech at the 10:30 and 2 p.m. ceremonies at Assembly Hall on May 15th.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 25, 2011

Champaign Schools Tight-Lipped on Personnel Agreement

Champaign school officials are expected to release more information Tuesday afternoon on a personnel agreement reached with an unnamed employee.

It's not known whether Monday night's seven-to-nothing vote involves Superintendent Arthur Culver, who's now the lone finalist for a superintendent's job in Georgia. The action was taken Monday night following a 40-minute closed session in a special meeting to discuss personnel.

Unit 4 school board president Dave Tomlinson declined comment on Culver's status, as well as what's happening with the superintendent's search at the DeKalb County School District in suburban Atlanta.

"It's inappropriate for us to comment on anything about what's going on in Georgia," said Tomlinson. "We don't know - I don't know anything about what's going on in Georgia, so it's inappropriate for that."

Unit 4's press conference is set for Tuesday at 3-30 p.m. at the Mellon Administrative Center. Meanwhile, the DeKalb County School board is holding its own closed-door meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the next steps in its superintendent search. Culver became the remaining finalist for superintendent after Lillie Cox, a superintendent from Hickory, North Carolina, withdrew her name from consideration over the weekend. Exposure of details in those negotiations reportedly played a part in her withdrawal.

But a spokesman for the district says it's unclear what direction the board will take, despite Culver being the lone finalist. Jeff Dickerson speculates the board could hire Culver, choose to look at prior candidates, or start its superintendent's search over from scratch.

DeKalb County's School Board President, Tom Bowen, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution there's a chance Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson could be asked to apply for the permanent position. But Dickerson says she hasn't asked to be considered, nor has she been approached about the job at this point.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 25, 2011

Champaign School Superintendent Remaining Finalist for Georgia Job

Champaign Unit 4 Superintendent Arthur Culver is now the lone finalist under consideration to lead a school district in suburban Atlanta.

But it's still not clear what direction the DeKalb County School Board will go. Culver became the remaining finalist for superintendent after Lillie Cox, a superintendent from Hickory, North Carolina, withdrew her name from consideration over the weekend. Exposure of details in those negotiations reportedly played a part in her withdrawal.

But School District Spokesman Jeff Dickerson says there is still any number of possibilities at this point.

"The board could look at the one remaining candidate, it could expand the pool with others who were considered who maybe came in the number 4 or number 5 spot, so that they can expand the pool. or it's possible that they could start all over," he said. "But again, all of that is speculation. I have no idea what the board is likely to do at this juncture."

DeKalb County School Board President Tom Bowen told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution there's a chance Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson could be asked to apply for the permanent position. But Dickerson says she hasn't asked to be considered, nor has she been approached about it at this point.

A third finalist, Decatur School Superintendent Gloria Davis, withdrew her name from consideration earlier this month. The DeKalb County School Board met in executive session Monday morning, and plans to hold another meeting Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, the Champaign Unit 4 School Board has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Monday. It's a rescheduled meeting from last week, with unspecified personnel matters on the agenda.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 25, 2011

Teacher Merit Pay Bill Heads to Gov. Daniels’ Desk

A bill linking teacher pay with student performance has won final legislative approval and now heads to Gov. Mitch Daniels for his signature.

The Senate voted 36-13 for the merit pay bill, which is part of Daniels' expansive education agenda. Under the bill, teachers would be evaluated annually. Only those in the top two of four categories would be eligible for certain pay raises. Local districts would create their own evaluations, but would have to include objective measures of student achievement, such as test scores.

Districts wouldn't be able to place a student for two years in a row with teachers rated in the lowest category without notifying parents.

Supporters say it's right to reward the best teachers, while opponents say teachers aren't in the profession for the money.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 25, 2011

Search on for Unbiased Jurors in Blagojevich Case

The judge and attorneys in Rod Blagojevich's corruption retrial on Monday were set to resume the daunting task of selecting jurors who can put aside what they've heard about the high-profile case and give the former Illinois governor a fair trial.

Judge James Zagel was expected to individually question up to 40 more people out of a pool of more than 100 potential jurors to assess their suitability. Each filled out a 38-page jury questionnaire as the retrial started last week.

The impeached governor's first trial ended last year with jurors deadlocked on all but one count of lying to the FBI. At the retrial, the 54-year-old still faces 20 charges, including accusations he sought to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.

The first day of individual questioning of would-be jurors on Thursday revealed most either held unfavorable views of politicians in general or of Blagojevich in particular. All had heard at least something about last year's trial.

Zagel spoke to 22 potential jurors Thursday and, by day's end, dismissed 11 on various grounds, including that weeks of jury duty would hit their families hard financially.

But he refused defense requests to send home several people who seemed biased against Blagojevich, including a retired auto shop owner who wrote that, "Based on news accounts, my personal bias is - he is guilty." Zagel said he accepted the man's assurances in court that he could set aside his preconceptions and focus solely on the evidence.

Those kept in the jury pool won't necessarily end up in the jury box because both sides retain the right to dismiss some jurors without providing the judge a reason. The defense can do so 13 times while the prosecution has nine peremptory challenges.

Jury selection is an inexact science. Blagojevich lawyers may in some cases prefer jurors with a dim view of politicians if it means they're more likely to accept a long-held defense argument: that the twice-elected governor was merely engaged in wheeling and dealing that - while sometimes unseemly - is legal and par for the course in politics.

Blagojevich himself has seemed closely involved scrutinizing potential panelists, scribbling notes on a yellow pad as would-be jurors answered questions. His wife, Patti, also has taken detailed notes sitting on a nearby spectators' bench.

Those still in the jury pool include a former state prosecutor, a substitute teacher who said she didn't like her job and a recently retired maintenance man who told the court how he once saved up $1,500 to pay to drive a Formula One racecar 177 mph.

Another person Zagel refused to dismiss was a man convicted of assault and battery who had to attend an anger-management course as part of his sentence. The man, holding a microphone as he answered the judge's questions, hesitated when Zagel asked if those courses had helped.

"You didn't stand up and throw the mic at me, so it helped a little," Zagel said, smiling.

Zagel has said he wants to have 12 jurors and several alternates impaneled by Wednesday, meaning opening arguments could start that day or Thursday. The retrial is not expected to last as long as the first 2 1/2-month trial, in part because prosecutors have streamlined their case by dropping complex racketeering charges.

(Photo by Robert Wildeboer/IPR)


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