Illinois Public Media News
Community colleges will split more than $2 million in federal stimulus dollars for energy efficient projects and job training for students.
The Illinois Green Economy Network is a consortium of nearly 50 community colleges with members that include Parkland College, Lake Land Community College in Mattoon, and Danville Area Community College.
Warren Ribley heads Illinois' Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Ribley explained that the funds will also help dislocated workers, and allow them earn associate degrees as trained wind turbine technicians and similar jobs.
"We're far beyond seeing energy efficiency and renewable energy be sort of 'buzz words' and a fad," Ribley said. "It's here to stay. It has to be part of our domestic energy policy."
Danville Area Community College will get more than $400,000 to start up a wind energy technician program. Jeremiah Dye, an instructor in that program, has over 70 students right now, but expects that to grow. Dye said the funds will bring wind turbine components to campus.
"Right now, we have to travel to get to a wind turbine that we can actually have access to to do training and things like that," Dye said. "And you kind of wait for one to go down, and then they call and say 'hey, if you want to go along on this maintenance repair, you can. And so it really limits what I can do hands on. But with this grant, we're able to require some different real-world training situations."
Meanwhile, Parkland College is getting $375,000 to train analysts to inspect buildings for modern energy building codes, and Lake Land is getting a series of grants totaling more than $800,000 - projects there include the construction of two wind turbines and initiating a thermal efficiency program.
Ribley was at Parkland College in Champaign on Friday to announce the grants.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
A sixth year of courtwatching in Champaign County has shed new light on predominantly white and female juries.
The statistics released Thursday by the County's League of Woman Voters and University of Illinois College of Law show that a woman is 1.5 times more likely to serve on a jury than a man.
The analysis of courtroom proceedings also showed the odds of seating a white juror are nearly four times greater than having an African-American or other minority on the jury. U of I Law Professor Steve Beckett said he hopes new questionnaires and public service announcements will improve those results, but he said their efforts can only go so far.
"We have to make the decision that the courts don't belong to the judges, and the administrators, and the attorneys, and the state's attorney - they belong to the people," Beckett said. "So long as the people are satisfied by not coming to jury duty then you're not going to have diversity in your court system. When the community decides that it's going to live up to its civic responsibility and come to court, then you will have diversity."
Beckett admitted one problem is the $10 a day per diem given to jurors. He said many who are self-employed cannot afford to sit on a jury. Beckett, who is a Democratic County Board member, also pointed out that the county cannot afford to pay any more right now.
Joan Miller chairs the League of Women Voters Justice Committee. She said the imbalance of women-to-men serving on juries is a national problem, but said Champaign County may be one of the few areas trying to do something about it. Her group has prepared new public service announcements aimed primarily at young people, with hopes they will demystify the experience of serving on a jury.
"Think about what it's like for a young person who's never had experience with the courts," Miller said. "Or maybe he has to walk into the courthouse and into a courtroom and we're hoping some of these will make it less stressful to respond to jury summons."
The County Board operates an advisory committee on jury selection, seeking ways to boost minority participation. Beckett pointed out that the new juror questionnaire is being prepared by a judge, the circuit clerk, state's attorney and public defender's office. He said the old survey asked if they any family members had been convicted of a crime, which he suspected may have deterred some people from serving on juries.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Remarks on race made by state Senate candidate Al Reynolds (R-Danville) have prompted leaders of two county Republican organizations to call for him to withdraw from the race. Reynolds is running for the 52nd District seat, which makes up parts of Champaign and Vermilion Counties.
In response to a question about increasing minority enrollment at the University of Illinois, Reynolds said black men "find it more lucrative to be able to do drugs" or commit other crimes than get an education.
Champaign County Republican Chairman Jason Barickman says the comments are a "gross stereotype" that are a "stark contrast" to Republican values.
Reynolds has complained in the past about tepid GOP support. While Reynolds won the GOP primary in the 52nd Illinois Senate District, Barickman conceded he is never been a party favorite in Champaign County.
"Reynolds independently ran as a write-in candidate," Barickman said. "He implied that he has not been supported by the Champaign County Republican Party, and I think now people see why that is. We've long had some concerns about his candidacy. But last night's comments are just the final straw. "
Vermilion County Republican Chairman Craig Golden released a statement saying that both he and the Vermilion County Republican Executive Committee were calling on Reynolds to either suspend his campaign or withdraw from the race.
"(Reynolds') remarks were a gross generalization and dealt with racial issues which have no place in a political campaign in 2010, or any other year," according to Golden.
According to the News-Gazette, Reynolds said at a candidates' forum Wednesday night in Champaign that African-American men seem less motivated than African-American women to hold jobs. The Danville Republican said more incentives should be provided to encourage African-American men to seek an education. Reynolds could not be reached for comment.
His Democratic opponent, incumbent Senator Mike Frerichs (R-Champaign), would not comment on whether Reynolds should drop out of the race.
"I was shocked," Frerichs said. "Not that people hold these positions and believe these stereotypes, but that somebody would actually verbalize them in a public forum."
Reynolds is a co-founder of the East Central Illinois Tea Party; he resigned from that group in October, 2009. Another Tea Party organization, the Champaign Tea Party, released a statement Thursday distancing itself from Reynolds, saying it "condemns any negative racial opinion, speech, or attitude."
Barickman said if Reynolds chooses to bow out of the race, then the Republican Party will take steps to find a replacement candidate.
Meanwhile, Reynolds released a statement saying he has no intention of ending his campaign. However, Reynolds apologized for his remarks.
"I realize that my words generalized a small segment of my neighbors and I regret the inferences that it created," Reynolds said. "That was certainly not my intent."
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden said dropping out of the race is not a possibility since the September certification deadline for candidates to withdraw from political races has already passed.
"Dropping out of races and putting other people in would be chaos," Sheldon said. "Everyone has a fair timeline as to whether or not they want to be a candidate."
Vermilion County Clerk Lynn Foster said the same election rules apply in Vermilion County. More than 4,265 voters have cast ballots in Danville and Vermilion and Champaign Counties.
Frerichs and Reynolds are scheduled to take part in a town hall forum at 7pm on Thursday, October 21 in the Community Room on the second floor of the Old National Bank, 2 W. Main St. in Danville.
It was announced this week that a Decatur food processing firm is moving some of its jobs out of Decatur.
During a debate at Millikin University Wednesday night, Illinois House candidates Democrat Bob Flider and his challenger Republican Adam Brown sparred over the severity of the decision.
Tate and Lyle reported this week that a new commercial and food innovation center will be established in Hoffman Estates, bringing 160 jobs to that area.
A spokesman says 80 Decatur employees will be offered the opportunity to move. Brown slammed the move considering Decatur has among the state's highest unemployment rates.
"It's truly unreal and well beyond me that the state of Illinois is subsidizing a $15 million dollar project not to bring a company to Illinois but to move it somewhere else in Illinois at the expense of downstate voters," Brown said.
Flider said he met with representatives of the company and says other options were to move the jobs out-of-state to Nashville or Indianapolis.
"I think it's shameful to politicize community leaders working to keep jobs and a company in Illinois," Flider said. "I think it shows the immaturity of Adam Brown."
The state parties have been dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the heated campaign for the 101st House District Race.
For politicians in a supposedly "blue" state, quite a few Illinois Democrats are looking vulnerable right now. Republicans could pick up a number of statewide offices, and also a few congressional ones. In fact, as Illinois Public Radio's Sam Hudzik reports, some Illinois voters will play a large role in deciding which party controls the U.S. House and the coveted speaker's gavel.
(Photo of Congressman Bill Foster (D-14) by Sam Hudzik/IPR)
Champaign's school board is scheduled to vote next week on the design of a new grade school in Savoy.
A Unit 4 board member who is an architect said the key to the new Carrie Busey Elementary building will be flexibility in educational space. Christine Chalifoux said older school facilities have a hard time helping some students, since many kids develop at a different pace while they are still in the same classroom.
The Savoy grade school will feature collaboration spaces that teachers can adjust based on different teaching styles. Chalifoux said Unit 4 is taking the right approach with this building.
"We try to teach the way the kids learn," Chalifoux said. "We need flexibility in spaces. We need places we can have break-outs so we can have large groups. We can have special projects and things like that, and that's really been important in all three of these new schools: BTW (Booker T. Washington), Garden Hills, and the new Carrie Busey."
Champaign School Board member Greg Novak said the collaborative space concept is already in place at Stratton and Barkstall elementary schools.
Savoy Village Trustee Joan Dykstra said the configuration of classroom space and open areas will pay dividends for the school district and neighborhood, but she said the school will get its share of use in evening and weekend hours as well.
"There's agreements too that the building will be able to be used for multiple events," Dykstra said.
Dykstra explained that the plans for the new grade school have also been well thought out for special education needs, adding that she appreciates the traffic pattern for buses and parents to pick up and drop off students.
The preliminary design of the Savoy school also allows the library to serve as the anchor, with classrooms grouped around it. A second story will be built to allow for additional outdoor play space. The new Carrie Busey school is scheduled to open in 2012.
The city of Decatur will lose about 80 jobs at one of its biggest employers, but a city official said it is better than losing the entire facility.
Reports of Tate and Lyle looking for a new headquarters site near Chicago stirred worries that the firm with deep roots in Decatur was going to relocate its U.S. headquarters, but on Tuesday the British-based food ingredients processor announced plans to build a "Commercial and Food Innovation Center" in Hoffman Estates. The new operation will house the majority of research and development now being done in Decatur. About 160 positions will be based in the new Center, but the firm said only about 80 will be relocated from Decatur.
"We're excited about this investment that we're making, and it's really helping to transform the company into the world leading specialty food and ingredients business," said company spokesman Chris Olsen.
The company, which makes products such as high fructose corn syrup, will keep its American headquarters and leadership team in place - and for that, Decatur city manager Ryan McCrady credited the persuasive powers of area leaders.
"At the end of the day we don't exactly know why they make their decisions," McCrady said. "Obviously Decatur is a much lower-cost alternative as far as operating when you compare it to Chicago. Low water and sewer rates and our inexpensive housing for their employees we feel are all a factor."
Tate and Lyle will get a $15 million package of incentives from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for the new Chicago-area facility, but McCrady said the state has to walk a fine line between helping one location and helping the entire state retain jobs.
With about 500 jobs remaining in Decatur, Olson said the company will continue to be a significant part of the community.
Champaign department heads are developing a contingency plan, in case $2-million in cuts are needed.
Those reductions are in addition to the $9-million in reductions the city has already made the last few years. Several pages of suggested cuts will be discussed late next month by the city council. Assistant City Manager Dorothy David said cuts could include customer service jobs in the city building and police department's front desk, and reduced service hours in public works. She said it is getting to the point where snow removal could be impacted, and the city may need to make adjustments in routes and how quickly snow is removed. David said Champaign's resources to run city government are at 2006 levels.
"Even though we are seeing very slow revenue growth, our revenues are not growing as fast as our costs," said David. "When your costs grow faster than the amount of money that you're bringing in, you have to make adjustments. So the economy has really impacted us in that way."
David said if the state takes further action to reduce revenues that it shares with the city, like income tax, that would mean additional cuts. The city council will discuss these proposals in a study session November 23rd, and could develop a plan to implement them in January.
It is likely that the upcoming election will be overseen by the sitting Piatt County Clerk. A challenge to Piatt County Clerk Pat Rhoades has been thrown out of a county court.
Attorney Dan Clifton argued that Rhoades moved out of the county and thus should not be able to serve the last two months of her term. Rhoades is retiring at the end of the year, and her successor will be determined in the next election. Attorney Dan Clifton had charged that Rhoades and her family had permanently moved to Champaign County - Rhoades had said the move was temporary while they built a new home.
Judge John Shonkwiler dismissed Clifton's complaint.
Deanna Mool, who represented Rhoades, argued that Clifton did not allow a state's attorney or the attorney general to file or deny the challenge first.
"In order to get a declaratory judgment, you have to have some right that's going to be irrevocably harmed," Mool said. "This is just not that kind of controversy."
Clifton said he will not be able to file a new complaint until after Election Day, and he said he is not sure if he will try to challenge Rhodes in the last month of her term.
If no other challenges are filed, Rhoades will oversee the November 2nd election in Piatt County. Clifton stressed that the judge dismissed the case on a legal technicality and did not rule on whether Rhoades is eligible to serve.
Preliminary talks have started about building a new Central High School in Champaign.
About 50 residents attended Unit 4's first meeting to look at seven potential sites for replacing the more than 70-year old school. The district will use more than $3-million in facilities sales tax money to buy land for the school by next spring or fall, and a tax referendum for school construction will not go before voters until 2012 or 2013. If it passes on the district's first attempt, the new school would be built about two years later.
David Frye has a son in 7th grade, and said he hopes the work is done by time he graduates.
"That's six years from now. and I guess I've got my doubts at this point that he's going to benefit from this at all," Frye said. "I know there's always this question of, 'what's in it for me?' But what's in it for me is the chance to see my son and my son's friends get to graduate from a nice, modern high school. I'd love to see that."
Frye said his older son was involved in music and sports at Central, forcing him to walk to other school campuses for practice or games.
Unit 4 wants the new school to accommodate 1,500 or more students, with those practice areas on site, and nearby park space. Unit 4 School Board President Dave Tomlinson said he estimates a tax referendum would require $50 to $80 million. He said the seven sites are being studied not only with population growth in mind, but the transportation available for getting to them.
Nancy Hoetker is a Central High parent.
"There's a lot of us who currently drive a fair amount to get our children where they need to be here at Central," Hoetker said. "And we're going to be able to do that wherever we are, but there's another population that relies on the public transportation or proximity, and how are they going to be served by these locations."
Of the seven potential sites for the new school, four are near the north end of Prospect Avenue, including one along Olympian Drive. Two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign. Unit 4's web site will soon contain a place for sending in comments on those locations.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
(Graphic Courtesy of Champaign Unit 4 Schools)
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