Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign School Board approved layoff notices for 80 teachers and other certified employees and 22 support staff Monday night. It's an annual practice that school officials say they dislike intensely, but are required to do.
Unit Four officials say most of the employees receiving Reduction-In-Force --- or RIF notices --- will be rehired for next year. But until they find out, they're in professional limbo. The high number of RIF notices results from the requirement to inform school employees of layoffs 60 days in advance ---- before their job status for next year has been finalized.
Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson cast the lone vote against the RIF notices.
"I voted no, because I hate RIF's, frankly, and this is part of the job I don't want to do", Tomlinson said.
But Tomlinson says he doesn't see a realistic alternative to the RIF notices. RIFed employees likely to be rehired are those who work parttime, are paid with grant money, were hired at the last minute, or have to comply with new certification rules.
The number of RIF notices sent out by Unit Four is roughly the same as last year, with just a handful of them representing jobs that have been definitely eliminated. Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd says that number could go up for next year, when school officials may have to cut additional jobs to deal with a projected decline in property tax revenue.
In Urbana, the District 116 school board sent out RIF notices to 52 teachers last week, and will vote on about five more next week.
CORRECTION: WILL broadcast reports on this story had incorrectly described the 80 certified employees receiving RIF notices as being all teachers, and put the number of support staff getting RIF notices at 23.
Authorities say bodies matching the descriptions of two small boys missing from a central Illinois town and their father have been found.
An Amber Alert was canceled for 9-year-old Duncan Connolly and his 7-year-old brother Jack, who both lived in LeRoy in McLean County. Authorities have said they went missing March 8 after their father allegedly failed to return them to their mother after a custody visit.
Authorities say the children's' bodies were found Sunday inside a car in remote Putnam County.
The car was registered to Michael Connolly, who authorities described as a fugitive in a child abduction case. The body of a man matching his description was found about 60 feet from the car on Sunday.
Police didn't release further details pending an afternoon news conference. Autopsies have been scheduled.
The Illinois House and Senate have approved bills raising the speed limit for trucks on rural interstate highways to 65 miles per hour.
Neither bill affects the speed limit for trucks in Cook County. The House version also exempts the five counties that surround Chicago. Once the two chambers apporve identical bills, the measure will be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature.
The speed limit for cars on interstate highways is 65, but for semis the speed limit is 55. Traffic safety experts believe having two different limits increases the chances of accidents on the roads.
However, Democratic Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park isn't convinced. When Missouri went to a uniform speed, Harmon said, fatalities jumped by more than 70.
Gov. Pat Quinn is defending his pick to lead the Illinois State Police, saying Jonathon Monken is the right man to lead the agency in the wake of a scathing audit about the agency's performance.
Monken has taken over the agency, but has yet to be confirmed by the state Senate. Some key lawmakers say he lacks the necessary experience.
The 29-year-old Monken is a decorated military veteran and Quinn says that experience makes him qualified for the post.
Quinn is defending Monken's nomination for the post amid Thursday's release of an audit that found there was a huge backlog in testing crime evidence.
Quinn called Monken a strong leader and he dismisses suggestions that Monken isn't qualified for the post.
Urbana's city clerk has reversed course and will hold a lottery this coming Wednesday to determine which party is first on the ballot in next month's municipal election.
Republican mayoral candidate Rex Bradfield and Green candidate Durl Kruse filed suit Thursday to demand the ballot lottery, which they say is required by state law. Clark had used the order in which candidates filed petitions to set the ballot, which put her own party, the Democrats, first in line.
In a statement issued late yesterday (Friday), Clark said had been reluctant to hold a ballot lottery so soon before the election, out of concern "for those people who have already voted during the early voting process because I did not want those voters disenfranchised". But Clark said Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden has now stated in writing that a new ballot would not endanger early votes already cast. She's scheduled the ballot lottery for Wednesday morning at 10, at the Urbana City Council chamber.
Green Party mayoral candidate Durl Kruse says he's glad that Clark has decided to hold a ballot lottery, but says he's baffled by the delay. He says Shelden had given assurances early on that early voting ballots would still be counted if a ballot lottery required new ballots.
Republican mayoral candidate Rex Bradfield says he's "thrilled" that Clark is holding the ballot lottery in accordance with state law. But he called it "sad" that the decision was not made until after he and Kruse filed their lawsuit.
Bradfield and Kruse says the ballot lottery is important, because the order in which candidates are listed can have an impact on vote totals.
The re-opening of Prairie Center Health System's detox unit in Champaign is paying immediate dividends for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Most of the facility's 10 beds have remained filled since it reopened last week. State funds were restored to the unit last month; the facility had been closed since August. But spokeswoman Betty Seidel says the uncertainty over getting that money for another year has prompted a series of community forums on the Detox unit's long-term viability. Seidel says health care professionals and law enforcement from Champaign, Vermilion and Ford Counties are seeking out additional resources, and they don't necessarily include money.
"Nursing, medicine, training, or something of that sort," says Seidel. "We haven't really exausted all the possibilties of help that we feel would keep the doors open and we feel strong that we can go a year. But beyond the year, we know that need to have some more resources," Seidel says the first in the series of forums last week served largely as a tutorial on what services are provided at the Detox facility. Attendees included county sheriff's departments, those from hospital emergency rooms, and mental health professionals that are often responsible for bringing patients into the detox unit. Prairie Center does have one fundraiser scheduled. All the funds from its annual golf outing this June will go towards that facility.
The co-founder of the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum in Arcola says it was a sad decision but a necessary one - the museum will close this summer and most exhibits moved to a museum in New York.
Joni Gruelle Wannamaker is the granddaughter of Johnny Gruelle, who was raised in Arcola and created the scruffy red-haired dolls in 1915. Wannamaker says she and her husband Tom left their jobs in Atlanta ten years ago to build the museum, but she says advancing age, declining attendance - and a drop in overall tourism in the Douglas County area -- forced the decision to close.
"We have done a lot of advertising over the years, advertising for Arcola and the surrounding area," Wannamaker said. "But perhaps there was a change at the Chamber of Commerce...I just don't know."
Wannamaker says she and Tom were impressed with the museum where the Raggedy Ann and Andy exhibits will be headed, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester New York - the dolls are already in that museum's National Toy Hall of Fame. But Wannamaker says she and her husband are staying in Arcola.
Economic development was a key plank in Laurel Prussing's platform when she first ran for mayor of Urbana. Prussing narrowly defeated Tod Sattherthwaite with the argument that the incumbent hadn't done enough to attract business to the city. Now Prussing faces three challengers who each say they could do a better job, in spite of a recession. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
The Republican and Green Party candidates for Urbana Mayor are suing the current mayor and city clerk, over the failure to hold a lottery to determine which party shows up first on the April 7th ballot.
Right now, Democrats, including incumbent Mayor Laurel Prussing, will be listed at the top of the ballot in Urbana in the April election. But Green Party candidate Durl Kruse and Republican Rex Bradfield say state election law requires a lottery to determine the order in which candidates are listed by party. Urbana officials admit no lottery was held for this election. And the attorney for Kruse and Bradfield, Bob Auler, says Urbana City Clerk Phyllis Clark failed to hold ballot lotteries in at least two previous elections. Auler says Democrats have been listed at the top of the ballot in the four previous elections held in Urbana under Clark, who is herself a Democrat. "We think that's just kind of funny", says Auler.
Kruse and Bradfield cite studies that show that the candidate listed at the top of the ballot typically gets more votes than if they were listed further down. They say that's why the state requires a lottery to determine ballot positions.
The motion filed in Champaign County Circuit Court on Thursday seeks a temporary restraining order requiring Urbana officials to hold a ballot lottery. The chairs of the Republican and Green Parties in Champaign County have added their names to the complaint. Kruse says Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden has told them that the county would pick up the expense of reprinting ballots and resetting election equipment, if the results of the lottery required it.
Calls to Urbana city officials Thursday have not yet been returned.
Parking in downtown Champaign would be free starting at seven PM --- that's part of a proposal from city staff that the Champaign City Council will look at during their study session next Tuesday.
City officials increased downtown parking rates and hours a year ago. That included charging for parking until 9 PM. But Deputy City Manager Steve Rost says they're now recommending that the hours be cut back. He says private parking options exist downtown in the evening that don't exist during the day. At the same time, Rost says patrons of restaurants and bars aren't interested in coming back out just to feed more coins in parking meters. Also, Rose says it was hard to explain to the public that the two-hour daytime parking limit doesn't apply at night.
Rost says the city is not recommending a rollback of downtown Champaign parking rates. While stressing that the final decision is up to the city council, Rose says the policy of charging 75 cents an hour in the heart of downtown with lower rates on the periphery is working. But city officials will propose new signage to explain parking policy --- including signs that encourage the use of the new downtown parking deck and surface parking lots for long-term parking. Rost says they also want to install pay-stations along some rows of parking meters --- allowing motorists to pay by debit or credit card.
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