Illinois Public Media News
School board members in the Champaign district will have more unenviable work ahead of them as talks begin on a new district budget.
Last year they had to make roughly $2 million in cuts to staff and other expenses to meet a projected budget deficit. For the fiscal year 2012 budget, Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas said Unit 4 will likely have to shed another $2 million in expenses.
Logas said cuts in staff positions may be inevitable, but core curriculum should not be affected. On the other hand, Logas says some specialized courses with low headcounts - mainly in high schools - may not be offered.
"We're not jamming 30 kids into a classroom or anything like that," Logas said. "It's just that some of those classes that we've been able to allow to take place with very small numbers in the past, those are some of the ones we're going to have to take a hard look at and maybe not be able to offer as many of those."
Logas said he hopes that most of the personnel cuts will be resolved through attrition instead of layoffs - but he noted Unit 4 will have to notify potentially laid-off teachers and other staff in March. He said discussions on the 2012 budget begin with Monday night's school board meeting.
An Illinois appellate court on Monday threw former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel off the ballot for Chicago mayor because he didn't live in the city in the year before the election.
The decision cast doubt over Emanuel's candidacy just a month before the election. He had been considered the front-runner and had raised more money than any other candidate.
The court voted 2-1 to overturn a lower-court ruling that would have kept his name on the Feb. 22 ballot.
Emanuel plans to appeal the matter to the Illinois Supreme Court. Early voting was set to begin on Jan. 31.
"I have no doubt that we will in the end prevail at this effort. This is just one turn in the road," Emanuel said, adding that the "people of the city of Chicago deserve the right to make the decision on who they want to be their next mayor."
Those challenging Emanuel's candidacy have argued that the Democrat does not meet the one-year residency requirement because he rented out his Chicago home and moved his family to Washington to work for President Barack Obama for nearly two years.
Emanuel has said he always intended to return to Chicago and was only living in Washington at the request of the president.
Emanuel is one of several candidates vying to replace Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who did not seek a seventh term. Emanuel moved back to Chicago in October after he quit working for Obama to campaign full-time.
Before Monday's ruling, attorney Burt Odelson, who represents two voters objecting to Emanuel's candidacy, had little luck trying to keep Emanuel off the ballot.
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and a Cook County judge have both ruled in favor of Emanuel, a former congressman, saying he didn't abandon his Chicago residency when he went to work at the White House.
Odelson had said he planned to take the challenge to the state Supreme Court, if necessary.
"Have I stood down at all? No, I've been confident all along because that's the law. That's the way you read the law," Odelson told reporters Monday.
The three main other candidates running - former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, former schools President Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle - have been critical of Emanuel during the race, calling him an outsider who doesn't know Chicago.
Emanuel appeared to have gotten a big boost last week when his campaign announced he raised more than $10 million and was endorsed by former President Bill Clinton during an event in Chicago.
A Chicago Tribune/WGN poll also released last week showed Emanuel with the support of 44 percent of those surveyed. The same poll found 21 percent of registered voters questioned prefer Braun, while 16 percent favor Chico and 7 percent support del Valle.
Del Valle said the appeal court's decision bodes well for the other candidates and voters who may have thought the race was a foregone conclusion because the amount of money Emanuel has raised.
"Now voters see there's an opportunity to look at the field and give candidates either a second look or in some cases a first look. People are going to pay more attention to the other candidates," del Valle said.
In its ruling the court said while Emanuel met the requirements to vote in Chicago, he did not meet the requirements to run for mayor because he didn't actually reside in the city for a year before Feb. 22.
"A candidate must meet not only the Election Code's voter residency standard, but also must have actually resided within the municipality for one year prior to the election, a qualification that the candidate unquestionably does not satisfy," according to the ruling.
The residency questions have dogged Emanuel ever since he announced his candidacy last fall. Emanuel tried to move back into his house when he returned to Chicago but the family renting it wanted $100,000 to break the lease and move out early. The tenant, businessman Rob Halpin, later filed paperwork to run for mayor against Emanuel, only to withdraw from the race a short time later.
More than two dozen people testified on the residency issue at a Chicago Board of Elections hearing in December. The three-day hearing got progressively stranger as attorneys gave way to Chicago residents who filed objections to his candidacy, including one man who asked Emanuel if he caused the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas.
Emanuel's lawyer said he is hopeful the state Supreme Court will take up the case, especially since the appeals court decision was not unanimous.
"I think the fact that there's a dispute within the appellate court certainly makes the case more enticing to the Supreme Court, but I don't speak for them," lawyer Mike Kasper said.
Champaign officials are considering a series of cuts that would affect the city's emergency service departments.
The proposal would not lead to any job cuts to the city's firefighting services, but it would mean closing one firefighting company at Fire Station Four on West John Street, on days when overtime is needed to keep the station running. According to Champaign Firefighters Local 1260 President Chris Zaremba, that would have a dramatic effect on the response time on the city's west side, and could hurt other areas if those firefighters are tied up.
Zaremba said he hopes the public provides feedback on the proposed cuts at the city council study session Tuesday night, and in the days ahead.
"Tuesday night being a study session as opposed to a council meeting, your ability to speak publicly is a lot less," Zaremba said. "What we really want to see and what we're really hoping to see in the near future is not our members come out, but educated citizens come out and express concerns about it."
The recommended budget cuts would lead to the elimination of one person at the police station who staffs the front desk during over night hours from 7 pm to 7 am. City Manager Steve Carter said as a result of the cuts, those inquiring about a towed vehicle or similar service would have to wait until morning. However, he noted that they should be calling METCAD 9-1-1 in the event of a crime or accident.
City Manager Steve Carter suggests that is what mutual aid is for, citing the fire that destroyed the Metropolitan Building in October 2008.
"We have several departments from the surrounding area helping us, and we respond likewise when they don't have adequate staffing," Carter said. "No community can afford by themselves to staff at a level that can address any conceivable emergency situation."
The City Building's information desk would also be closed. The city manager's staff would help route phone calls while the general telephone number would be eliminated.
In total, fifteen city positions would be cut if the $3.5 million reduction plan is approved by the Champaign City Council in March. These cuts would be among the most visible aspects of a spending reduction plan that seeks to eliminate a $2 million gap in the current city budget.
The council votes on the changes in March, but Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman said there is no set date when the fire department would make the change, suggesting sales tax receipts could improve later in the year. But Champaign City Finance Director Richard Schnuer said that is unlikely based on the predictions of economists.
"One major revenue source has turned from dropping to now increasing slightly, but our costs are increasing in many ways in which we have limited control," he said.
City staff is also recommending a voluntary separation program. Through it, Carter said it is still possible the city could achieve the savings it is seeking without layoffs.
Champaign's Art Theater is bringing real life to the screen for the next week. Stories for its first Documentary Festival in the next week include the study of a popular comedienne, the well-profiled downfall of a former New York Governor, and a look at failings in the American education system. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Theater manager Sanford Hess, who says showing the films is a simple matter of downloading them, in the same way the Art has been offering opera and ballet performances.
Due to this week's snowfall, Champaign City officials have once again activated their sidewalk snow removal ordinance, as of Friday, Jan. 21 at 11:30 AM.
The ordinance can go in effect whenever the city receives two inches or more of sidewalk snow accumulation.
Property owners in Champaign's Downtown and Campustown areas have 48 hours to clear their sidewalks of snow and ice --- in this case until Sunday, Jan. 23 at 11:30 AM. If sidewalks are not cleared by that time, they could be cleared by the city at the owner's expense.
Details about the ordinance and maps of the Downtown and Campustown areas can be found on the City of Champaign website.
Illinois officials say residents can take refuge at more than 120 warming centers, as bitter cold settles over the state.
The Illinois Department of Human Services says the other centers are located at IDHS offices throughout the state and will be open during regular business hours.
The warming center locations include: 801 N. Walnut St. and 1307 N. Mattis Ave. in Champaign; 707 E. Wood St. in Decatur; 220 S. Bowman Ave. in Danville; 207 E. Ficklin in Tuscola; 11773 Illinois Highway 1 in Paris; 806 E. Walnut St. in Watseka; 501 W. Washington in Bloomington; 119 W. State St. in Charleston
Warming centers will also open at the seven Illinois Tollway Oases in the Chicago area.
IDHS Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler says the centers are a safe place to stay for people who need a warm place to go or who cannot afford to turn up the heat during the day.
A list of participating centers is available at www.keepwarm.illinois.gov.
Governor Pat Quinn says "zero politics" was involved in his decision to appoint Ricardo Estrada to the U of I board, instead of re-appointing another Hispanic Democrat who he had named to the board in 2009.
Carlos Tortolero told the Chicago Tribune that he believes Quinn's decision not to reappoint him to the board was "political". He says he asked for an explanation for the governor's decision, but never got one. Quinn says he likes Tortolero, who heads the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. But the governor says he didn't want to keep reappointing the same people as U of I Board. Quinn says Estrada is an excellent choice for trustee.
"He has worked in the settlement house movement in our city, state of Illinois and done a great job," said Quinn. "And he also served on our Admissions Review committee that we put together to straighten things out. And I thought he did such a good job that he would be a good man for this position."
Besides serving on the panel Quinn set up to investigate the U of I admissions scandal, Estrada is a former executive director of Erie Neighborhood House, a Chicago social service agency serving primarily Latino families. Estrada says serving on the panel following the U of I's admissions scandal helped a great deal in preparing him.
"I learned a lot about the university, its practices, and policies," he said. "And the great things they were doing, and the issues they had at the time. I've come to this board with my eyes wide open, and hope to contribute."
Estrada says he hopes to be a great steward with university resources and the public trust. Estrada was seated at Thursday's U of I Board meeting in Chicago, along with another new trustee, attorney Patricia Brown Holmes, who says one of her goes is keeping tuition costs down.
"Increasing tuition to a point where it's unaffordable is just unacceptable," she said. "I don't think that that's going to be one of our goals, and I think we will do whatever we can to keep it affordable."
Quinn also re-appointed another of his 2009 appointees, former Springfield mayor Karen Hasara. The six-year appointments must be confirmed by the Illinois Senate. Trustees re-elected Merchandise Mart boss Chris Kennedy as their chairman.
The city of Champaign is getting ready to release another round of budget cuts - and some city employees may be given the option to leave their jobs.
City manager Steve Carter will tell city council members next week about a proposal for a voluntary separation incentive. If the council approves, some union and non-union employees would be able to get two weeks' salary for each year of service up to 26 weeks if they agree to leave, with a minimum of $10,000.
Carter said he expects about 20 employees would accept the incentive, which will be offered first to people whose jobs are already under threat of being cut.
"Any position, whether through past budget decisions or the ones we're going to be discussing next Tuesday, those will be our top priority (for separation offers)," Carter said. "We have the ability to lay people off, but our preference would be not to. We have really good employees, and if we can find a way to make this more mutual, the better for the organization and for the people."
Carter said police officers and firefighters would not be offered voluntary separation because their positions would likely have to be re-filled. He said the city administration will say what other budget cuts they think should be made in the middle of the current year's budget. The last five year forecast suggested the city needed to cut $1.2 million in recurring costs from this year's spending plan.
University of Illinois trustees have adopted a policy designed to limit tuition increases even as they raise the cost of housing at the school's three campuses.
The tuition policy approved Thursday links tuition increases to inflation and other factors.
Students are guaranteed by state law to pay the tuition rate they paid in their freshman year throughout their undergraduate years. But the rate increases for most incoming classes.
This year, tuition increased 9.5 percent and led to complaints from some students and parents. The cost of tuition and housing for a typical undergraduate year at the Urbana-Champaign campus is more than $20,000.
Governor Pat Quinn said he likes 'the basic framework and concept' for the next year's tuition that was outlined Thursday by University of Illinois Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr.
"I think that has a lot of merit to try and keep tuition pretty much even with inflation and adjusted dollars," Quinn said. "I think carrying that out is a good mission."
Quinn said the state is also putting about $404 million into grants for MAP, or the Monetary Awards program., but he said the demand is at least 50-percent higher that. Quinn added that one of his goals for the next four years is to secure more scholarship money for students who attend Illinois' public universities and community colleges.
Trustees on Thursday also raised the cost of a double dorm room in Urbana-Champaign 4 percent to $9,452 a year. Costs in Springfield and Chicago increased less sharply.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
President Barack Obama is shifting senior White House staffers to his hometown of Chicago and opening a campaign headquarters there as he steps up preparations for the formal launch of his re-election bid this spring.
The moves open a new chapter in Obama's presidency; he will juggle dual roles of candidate and president for the remainder of his first term.
As aides ramped up preparations for 2012, outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president will soon file papers with the Federal Election Commission to formally declare his candidacy. Officials say fundraising and grass-roots organizing is to begin in March or April.
"We've made progress on getting the economy back in order and I think the president wants to continue to do that," Gibbs said.
Thus, Obama is starting to execute a campaign plan that's been in the works for months. Under it:
Obama's deputy chief of staff Jim Messina will leave the White House to serve as campaign manager. Aides say he's looking for office space in downtown Chicago, and reaching out to potential campaign donors and consultants.
White House social secretary Juliana Smoot and Democratic National Committee executive director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon will serve as deputy campaign managers. Both are veterans of the 2008 campaign, with Smoot having served as finance director and Dillon focusing on battleground states.
As the campaign approaches, the White House plans to close its political affairs office and move its functions to the DNC. White House political director Patrick Gaspard will join the DNC as executive director.
Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will continue to serve as the committee's chairman. He announced the changes at a DNC staff meeting Thursday.
Gibbs said dismantling the White House political wing was "a matter of duplication and efficiency that makes a lot of sense."
However, Gibbs said he doesn't expect the president to be hitting the campaign trail anytime soon.
"Just because the president sets up the machinery of ultimately running for re-election does not mean that you're going to see the president doing a ton of political reelection events," he said.
The developments are a part of broader White House changes as Obama prepares for his re-election race.
David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager in 2008, recently joined the White House; senior adviser David Axelrod plans to join the campaign in Chicago and Gibbs is to serve as a consultant.
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