Illinois Public Media News
A bill giving Illinois school districts the option of cutting their week a day short to save money could clear a House committee next week.
But Republican Sponsor Bill Black of Danville admits its chances for passing the full House are slim. The legislation was proposed last month at the request of a rural school administrator in Black's district. Jamaica School Superintendent Mark Janesky estimates the district would save $100,000 dollars a year by parking buses and leaving lights off for a day, and holding longer school hours on four days. Black says there's a big difference between the state dollars coming into a district like Jamaica and one in an urban area. "Some of these small rural school districts may be faced with the ultimate decision," says Black. "And that's to close, and tuition out their students to a surronding district, to consolidate, which is always an emotional issue, or to form cooperative high schools, which is a law I passed 3 or 4 years ago."
Black says a couple other rural school districts have contacted him with interest in making the change. If the bill passes, Janesky admits a number of issues would come up in a local public hearing, like child care for some parents. "Some of them who have younger kids at home - they rely on older kids to watch them, or they don't have any older children at home to watch them," says Janesky. "They may not like it at all. It may mean that they have to find another way to child care for an extra day. There's going to negatives and positives to how the community is going to react to it."
Black says some fellow lawmakers fear the bill would set a bad precedent, but he notes many school districts, including Danville, used to hold half-day school days because of financial problems. The State Board of Education is drafting an amendment to the bill to be sure it complies with school code. Representative Shane Cultra of Onarga is a co-sponsor of the measure.
If their budgets are cut by ten percent ... leaders of two state universities in Illinois say they'll have to lay off staff and raise tuition even higher.
Legislators are beginning to craft next year's Illinois budget ... and reductions in higher education spending is a strong possibility. One Senate plan would cut state appropriations to the state's public universities by ten percent.
University of Illinois interim President Stan Ikenberry told state senators Wednesday that amounts to a 74 million dollar blow.
"It would require draconian cuts in our staff", says Ikenberry. "Let me put it this way, this year, already, we have made roughly eight and a half percent of budget cuts plus we've instituted furloughs and layoffs."
Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard says a reduction in state support to higher education will inhibit the state's long-term economic growth.
"Continuing on the same old path of budget cuts and tuition increases will without questions further reduce accessibility and affordability to low and moderate income families", says Poshard.
Poshard says SIU has had a hard time this year because the state is so behind on making its payments to the school.
He says a borrowing plan approved Wednesday by the Illinois Senate would help SIU.
It would allow Illinois' nine public universities to take out short-term loans that would have to be paid back within a year.
Poshard says SIU has received only 23 percent of the money it's owed from the state. Ikenberry says the U of I has received 18 percent of its appropriation.
The head of a local agency overseeing a federally funded project to curb underage drinking among Champaign-Urbana college students is asking the Champaign City Council to reconsider its decision to refuse its share of the funding.
The City Council rejected the money on a five to four vote two weeks ago. CEO Sheila Ferguson of the Mental Health Center of Champaign County wasn't at that meeting. And on Tuesday night, she apologized to council members for not doing the best job of explaining the program, which also involves U of I, Urbana and Illinois state police forces, along with Parkland College.
The program would have given Champaign Police about $11,000 a year for three years to enforce underage drinking laws. In voting "no" two weeks ago, council members said they would be conducting those enforcement measures anyway. And Councilman Tom Bruno criticized the program for not including education along with enforcement efforts. But Ferguson says education is indeed included, in programs run by the Mental Health Center.
"There's things like advertising, pamphlets, brochures, opportunities for public speaking at fraternities, on campus, during Quad Day, things like that, where we'd be focusing on providing education and advocacy efforts tot those groups specifically", says Ferguson.
Ferguson says Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart wrote a letter of support for the program in 2008. But in voting to reject the funding two weeks ago, he expressed concerns about federal money being spent at a time of high deficits. The total size of the multi-agency grant is around $120,000 a year for three years. At Tuesday night's council meeting, Schweighart told Ferguson to call his office to discuss ways to bring the grant money back before the Champaign City Council for discussion.
The Illinois Department of Insurance is the only agency that stands in front of the merger of Carle Foundation Hospital and Cale Clinic Association.
The deal would have the not-for-profit Carle Foundation purchase the for-profit clinic for $250 million. The clinic's Health Alliance Medical Plans would be the only business to remain for-profit.
Yesterday without opposition, the state Health Facilities and Services Review Board approved a certificate of need clearing the way for the purchase. Carle says the merger will make the organization a stronger health care provider and give the clinic's doctors a stable place of employment. Federal regulators have not raised any questions about the deal - if the state insurance department approves, Carle says the merger could be completed in April.
The city of Champaign is looking for someone to serve as interim city councilman for District Five, the city council seat left vacant by Dave Johnson's resignation. Council members approved a process for appointing Johnson's replace at Tuesday night's meeting.
One interested applicant was present at the meeting. Gordy Hulten is Director of Sales and Marketing for the Devonshire Group, and a Republican precinct committeeman. But many followers of Champaign County politics know Hulten best as the man behind the local political blog, Illinipundit.
"I have, because of illinipundit.com, probably paid as close attention to Champaign city government as anybody in the community over the past 5 or 6 years," Hulten said. "I've grown to love city government, I've grown to love the people who are involved, the culture of cooperation and problem solving that exists on the staff and on the council, and I'd really like to be a part of that."
Hulten says he hasn't decided whether he'll continue producing Illinipundit if appointed to the Champaign City Council, saying he may no longer have the time. But he says if appointed, he'll run for the council seat in the 2011 mid-term election.
The process approved by the Champaign City Council last night gives applications until March 22 to apply for the position. The council will interview the candidates at a special study session, and vote on their selection on April 20.
The U-S Commerce Department has awarded $22.5 million for Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband project. Now, the Champaign and Urbana city councils and the university of Illinois have 30 days to decide if they'll commit matching funds to the project --- a combined total of $1.3 million.
Champaign City Councilman Will Kyles says he's looking forward to a March 16 council meeting with the consultant the two cities hired to review the Big Broadband proposal. Kyles says he wants to ask Doug Dawson about his concerns with the long-term financial viability of the Big Broadband plan.
"I think it's more the sustainability piece that we're concerned about, as in his report he's projected that we would eventually start losing money. And he also talked about how technology is always changing. So I'd definitely want to talk to him," said Kyles
The federal stimulus money announced Tuesday would fund two major components of the Big Broadband project --- the installation of underground fiber-optic rings making up the backbone of service, and fiber-to-the-home installation of the service in areas considered underserved by broadband providers.
Two other components did not win federal funding. They're both aimed at expanding computer access for underserved populations. Big Broadband proponent Mike Smeltzer says efforts are already underway to re-enter those components in the 2nd round of federal funding.
The bid has been awarded, and the long-awaited transformation of one of the University of Illinois' most-used buildings should be underway by the end of the month.
On Tuesday the state awarded the largest bid for the $66 million project to a Peoria contractor. That clears the way for work to begin on Lincoln Hall, which has been empty for more than a year because of deteriorating conditions.
Joe Vitosky is with the U of I's Office of Capital Programs and Real Estate Services. He says when Lincoln Hall is finished in the summer of 2012, it will be a completely upgraded facility.
"Classrooms on the first and second floors, with offices on the third and fourth floors," Vitosky said, listing the changes. "The closed backstage area of the theatre will be converted to a new classroom. We'll have office space on all four floors, we'll replace the floor, ceiling and wall finishes, abate asbestos materials, and we'll be purchasing movable equipment."
But Vitosky says the theater and lecture hall which hosted thousands of U of I students over its 100-year history will still be there.
The U of I unsuccessfully tried to get the classroom facility updated for more than a decade until state lawmakers funded it last year as part of a capital construction program. Vitosky says despite remaining questions over how the state will fund the capital bill, the money is in hand.
Authorities say Champaign-Urbana landlord Gabriel Omo-Osagie shot his wife before turning the weapon on himself. The 51 year old Urbana Township man died Saturday in what Champaign County Sheriff's investigators say was a result of a domestic dispute.
The sheriff's office says that Omo-Osagie and his wife Stephanie Bond argued, after which Omo-Osagie took out a firearm and shot Bond several times before shooting himself. According to a sheriff's news release, an autopsy conducted Monday morning determined that Omo-Osagie's bullet wounds were consistent with a self-inflicted injury.
Omo-Osagie was a native of Nigeria who owned several apartment buildings in Champaign-Urbana under the name Gabe's Place. Court records show that he had been charged with domestic battery last November, and ordered to have no contact with his wife. But the order was modified to allow contact, and to let Omo-Osagie visit their home on Highcross Road, but not stay overnight.
The father of speed skater and Champaign native Katherine Reutter says the amount of effort put into Winter Olympic events should be viewed as a victory in itself.
Jay Reutter says getting past the intensity level in Vancouver served as a wakeup call for a daughter whose highest competition prior to last month was in the 2009 Speed Skating World Cup. Before Reutter earned silver and bronze medals, she competed in the women's 1,500 meter finals, finishing fourth. Jay Reutter says getting anywhere near the top in that event is a struggle, with a lot of bumping and pushing along the way. "I was happy with the way she fought," says Reutter. "I was happy with the way she handled herself in the races. She never gave up. She fought as hard as she could, and that's all I could have ever asked of her. But it was probably significantly more intense than she was prepared for. And some of that she had to try to play down just to try to keep control and be able to perform well."
Reutter later won the bronze medal in the ladies' speed skating 3,000 meter relay, and the silver medal Friday night in the ladies' 1,000 meter race. Jay Reutter coached her daughter through much of her youth, but says he can't take sole credit. He says former Olympic figure skater Erin Gleason did some additional coaching, while Champaign Centennial High School football coach Mike McDonell helped out on Katherine's approach to sports. She graduated from Centennial High in 2006. Jay Reutter says his daughter probably won't be satisfied until she's recognized as the world's top speed skater, and already plans to start training for the 2014 Winter Games in Russia.
After winning the silver medal, Reutter told her parents she'd donate the monetary value of both her medals, about $25,000, to her parents to remodel their basement. But Jay Reutter says they won't hold her to that pledge.
The Prairie Meadows subdivision in Savoy is among the areas that could be annexed into the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District later this year.
Managing Director Bill Volk says the CU-MTD Board has directed his staff to prepare annexation and legal notices for five areas. Public hearings will be held before the board takes a vote on annexation.
Prairie Meadows is the first major residential area of Savoy to be considered for CU-MTD annexation since the village and the transit district signed an agreement two years ago. Volk says that agreement protects some parts of Savoy from MTD annexation --- but not new residential areas.
"There are sections in Savoy that we cannot annex for 23 years, but other areas of Savoy, as they become annexable we are allowed per the agreement to annex that territory," Volk said.
The Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana is also on the CU-MTD annexation list. Non-residential areas up for annexation include the Clearview commercial development site in northwest Champaign, some industrial tracts near the Apollo Industrial Park in north Champaign, and Willard Airport.
Volk says the CU-MTD Board will not vote on annexing the territories until after the next fiscal year begins July 1. If annexation is approved, property owners would not pay taxes to the MTD until the summer of 2012.
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