Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 11, 2009

Global Campus Gets Another Vote of Confidence from UI Trustees, President

Even amid skepticism from some faculty members, the president of the University of Illinois says its Global Campus will pay for itself in two years and be an important part of the educational system. The online degree program was launched two years ago but attracted only about a dozen students at first. But president Joe White says enrollment has reached 400 students and is expected to pass 700 next year.

"We're on a plan for Global Campus to be at a financial break-even by 2011 with about 1500 students, and we're going to get there," White said.

White says the U of I is still committed to maintaining the health of its three existing brick and mortar campuses. But he says the university also has to extend its reach to people who may not have the time or money for a traditional degree. Today trustees were to approve an academic policy council to let faculty help oversee Global Campus.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 11, 2009

Chanute Air Museum Lays Groundwork for New Museum

The heads of the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul want to build a new facility, possibly breaking ground in about three years. Initial plans include hiring of an architectural engineer to complete a study on a building of roughly 700,000 square feet. The current facility is 100,000, with most of that space occupied by a hangar full of planes. The project got a boost last night with the Senate passage of an appropriations bill now awaiting the President's signature. It includes more than $118,000 for the museum, funds that Senator John McCain referred to in his list of top 10 'pork' projects on his Twitter web site recently. Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson supported the funding. Museum Executive Director Hal Loebach says facilities at the old Air Force Base's Grissom Hall are 'literally falling down', with glass panes coming out of windows and leaking in a number of rooms. "Here in this building, the size of the room dictates the size of the exhibit,' says Loebach. "And so we've got several areas that we could really expand and update. We're at a point now that we are taking some exhibits down and putting them in storage because the rooms leak so badly that we can't keep anything in them." Loebach says other matching grant funds are available for a new facility, along with some state tourism funds, and private and public foundations. The museum will reveal further details of the building plan at a membership meeting on April 4th.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 11, 2009

Energy Department Math Error Could Give FutureGen New Life

Sen. Dick Durbin says an apparent $500 million math error by the Energy Department proves that its shelving of an experimental coal-fired power plant planned for Illinois was flawed.

Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker says congressional auditors have found that the department made the goof when it withdrew its support last year from the project known as FutureGen.

The error led the department to mistakenly say FutureGen had nearly doubled in cost.

FutureGen's developers, including a consortium of big energy and utility companies, had picked Mattoon in east-central Illinois as FutureGen's would-be site.

Shoemaker says revelation of the math error proves Durbin's suspicions that the Energy Department's logic and math both were wrong.

FutureGen would burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 11, 2009

Champaign’s 1st African-American Police Officer to Receive Honorary Street Name

Champaign's first African-American police officer is being remembered, 20 years after his death. The Champaign City Council gave its preliminary approval last night for an honorary street designation for Allen Rivers Senior. Honorary street signs for Rivers will be installed along three blocks of Park Street on the east end of Champaign. It's the street Rivers lived on for many years.

Rivers joined the Champaign Police Department in 1935, retiring as a sergeant in 1960. His daughter-in-law Eunice Rivers says being the first black member of the force wasn't easy. But she says Al Rivers, Senior earned the respect of his peers.

"For years he worked downtown here on the downtown beat", Rivers told council members. "Directing traffic and writing tickets, that's what he did for years. And then he worked his way up to sergeant. He was just well liked by everybody. All the police officers liked him."

One of those officers was a young Jerry Schweighart, who once lived down the street from Rivers. Mayor Schweighart says he remembers Rivers as a good honorable man.

Councilwoman Gina Jackson sponsored the honorary street designation for Rivers. She says he's one of many notable African-Americans in Champaign worthy of some sort of memorial.

City Council members will take a final vote on the honorary street for Allen at an upcoming meeting.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 10, 2009

Decatur Man charged with Murder in Baby’s Death

A 38-year-old Decatur man is charged with murder in the death of his infant son.

Jeffrey Sollman has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of 7-month-old Caden Sollman. Caden died in a Peoria hospital on Thursday.

The boy's mother found him unresponsive at the family's home the day before. Police say Jeffrey Sollman told her he hurt the boy while taking care of him. An autopsy found Caden died of head injuries.

Sollman is being represented by a public defender, who hasn't returned a call seeking comment.

Sollman is jailed on $2 million bond.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 10, 2009

IN Governor Says Property Tax Caps Belong in Constitution

Gov. Mitch Daniels told a couple hundred people packed into the Statehouse Rotunda for a rally that lawmakers should support amending property tax limits into the Indiana Constitution.

The Republican governor told the cheering crowd that property tax caps belong in the constitution so that judges or lawmakers can't overrule or repeal the limits currently in state law.

The GOP-controlled Senate approved a measure that would put the question of constitutional property tax caps before voters. But the Democratic-led House has been cool to passing the proposal this year.

If the measure clears both chambers either this year or next, voters would decide the issue in the November 2010 election.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 10, 2009

Gov. Quinn: Smaller Pension Benefits to New Hires?

Gov. Pat Quinn says Illinois should offer new state employees fewer pension benefits to save money.

Quinn told reporters in Springfield on Tuesday that he's looking at a two-tiered pension system to maintain current employees' benefits but offer a less-sweet deal to new workers.

The Democrat must present a budget plan on March 18 that closes an estimated $9 billion deficit.

The state's pension obligations to cover workers in retirement cost billions of dollars each year. Quinn says the change would have to be negotiated with employees' unions.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 10, 2009

Health Care Providers Lean on IL for Medicaid Funding

Illinois' cash flow problems are causing headaches for local health care providers. The state is waiting months to pay local agencies. Diana Knaebe is with Heritage Behavioral Health Center in Macon County. She says her facility last received a state check in December. Before that time, it was early fall. Knaebe says the delays force her to juggle expenses.

"You start to wonder if you can make payroll, "Knaebe said. "You start looking at vendor checks and wonder which ones can you pay, which ones can you pay a smaller portion than you did in the past and all those kinds of things."

Knaebe says she might need to borrow money -- and pay interest -- just to cover her costs. Illinois' Comptroller says part of the dilemma is that Illinois fails to fully fund Medicaid, leading to a budget shortfall each year. He supports legislation that would require a more accurate financial plan.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 10, 2009

Employee Unions Say U of I Administrators Are Moving Too Fast

Employee unions on the University of Illinois campus say administrators should have better picture of the state and federal budget picture before talking about layoffs and furloughs. AFSCME Local 698 President Jim McGuire said in a noon hour press conference that the University is cutting staff at every opportunity, despite an increase in funding in the last fiscal year, while he believes there's new hope to avoid cuts through Governor Pat Quinn along with federal economic stimulus funds. Groups like the Graduate Employees Organization and Visiting Academic Professionals also say they're also frustrated administrators won't meet with them before making budget contingency plans.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 10, 2009

Public Universities Hope for More State Money

Illinois public colleges and universities are hopeful the state will come through with money for construction needs. It's been nine years since Illinois last adopted a statewide building program. Judy Erwin, the director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, says the schools have had to shift money toward the upkeep of facilities.

"Dollars that should be going to student services, to increase faculty salaries, needs based financial aid possibly, go to repair the boiler or repair the ceiling," Erwin says.

Students are feeling the effects as all public universities have begun charging fees to offset maintenance costs. As for other needs, Erwin says the Board will ask the Governor and legislators for a five and a half percent increase in funding. That amounts to about 110-million dollars above what was budgeted this school year. She says even if that request is approved, public colleges and universities will still be well short of what the state was providing eight years ago.

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