Illinois Public Media News
The Urbana School District has hired Assistant Superintendent Don Owen to serve as its next superintendent, replacing Preston Williams.
On Tuesday night, the District 116 school board quickly accepted Williams' notice to retire next year, and voted unanimously for Owen to take over 18 months from now.
Owen has been with the Urbana School District since 1989, and has served as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction since 2007. He previously worked as a site coordinator at Wiley Elementary's After School Child Care program, taught history at Urbana Middle School, and coordinated grant-based programs in the school district.
In his new contract, Owen will earn $170,000 annually for four years, starting in July 2013.
He explained that the school board approached him about the job a few weeks ago, when Williams announced his plans to retire. Owen said District 116 was looking for consistency in its strategic plan, and someone who knew the community well. He said he has worked closely with Williams, and calls the next year and a half a continuation of that process. Still, Owen acknowledged that there are other obstacles in front of him.
"The current state funding is one of our biggest challenges," he said. "I think the external pressures on public schools are huge, and we've come a long way in the last five years under Dr. Williams' leadership, and even before that under Dr. (Gene) Amberg's. We'll continue to face those challenges, and look for new and innovative solutions."
Williams says Owen made sense, given his long history with the district, and his ability to take on challenges.
"And that's really what a search is about," he said. "You try to find the best fit for the district - for the relationship with the board of education. And I think with Don having been here for a number of years, the board has had an opportunity to see him under some very stressful situations. They've also seen the type of work he's capable of doing, and he's his own man."
Williams says he'll be ready to take on a new challenge in his life in about 17 months, but needs that time to figure out what that challenge will be.
(Photo courtesy of District 116 schools)
There will be no retrial for a longtime Illinois powerbroker in what was seen as the last trial to grow out of an investigation of prison-bound ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
A federal judge Tuesday on denied a request from attorneys for a new trial for businessman William Cellini.
The ruling comes after jurors convicted the Springfield Republican in November of conspiring to shake down the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby'' for a contribution to Blagojevich's campaign.
In asking Judge James Zagel to do the trial over, defense attorneys had cited revelations that one juror lied about her criminal record during jury selection and thereby denied Cellini a fair trial.
But prosecutors argued there was no proof the woman harbored bias towards Cellini or performed her juror duties poorly.
House Republicans levied more fines Tuesday against Democrats who resumed their boycott over divisive right-to-work legislation.
Most of the House's 40 Democrats skipped an afternoon session of the House on Tuesday. The move comes one day after Democrats lost an effort to put the right-to-work measure on the ballot.
Democrats have stayed off the House floor to prevent a 67-member quorum needed to conduct business. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma says he hasn't heard from Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer since Monday evening.
Bosma said if he can get a handful more Democrats to split from the caucus then he can achieve the quorum needed to conduct business. Although he said he is not lobbying Democrats to return to the floor and is "still counting on people to wake up.''
Five Democrats split with the caucus early in the 2012 session, showing up to the floor routinely for sessions. They say they oppose the right-to-work bill, but don't agree with the stall tactics.
The Republicans want to make Indiana the 23rd state to bar unions from collecting mandatory representation fees.
The measure passed the Senate Monday. But Democrats walked off the House floor Monday after losing a series of bruising party-line votes in an effort to change the measure.
Urbana High School's principal will leave her job this summer to become the Champaign School District's assistant superintendent of achievement and pupil services.
Laura Taylor has worked at Urbana High for the last decade as an assistant principal and then principal, and before that taught at Columbia Center, which was Unit 4's alternative high school. She said the decision to leave her current job wasn't an easy one to make.
"I really love what we've done there, and I've worked with an incredible group of people," Taylor said. "While I'm so looking forward to working with (Champaign School District Dr. Judy Wiegand), and her term, it's just a hard decision. But I am glad that I've made it."
Taylor said while at Urbana High, she has worked hard to improve opportunities for all students, and she wants to continue those efforts in Champaign.
"I think I can bring some of that, how we've been able to open doors to our low-income and minority students and make sure that we raise the bar, but while raising the bar of expectations, we include everybody in that," Taylor said.
Taylor said she is also interested in looking at progress made under the now-expired federal Consent Decree, which was put into place in Champaign to help solve racial disparities with educational equity.
Wiegand said she is looking forward to working with Taylor, praising her work to close the graduation gap in Urbana.
"Laura I know is very, very committed to issues around equity and excellence and social justice, and that's why I want her here as well, to help us continue our work," Wiegand said.
Taylor will start her new job with Champaign Schools on July 1st.
Her departure from Urbana High School comes a few days after Preston Williams announced his plans to retire as the superintendent of the Urbana School District.
The Illinois Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will begin allowing cameras in the state's trial courtrooms, but how soon people get local court TV depends on where they live.
Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride said the decision is a step toward bringing more transparency to Illinois courts. He made cameras in the courtroom a priority of his three-year term as Illinois' top judge. But he acknowledged that there could be resistance from lawyers and judges, which he said is fine for now.
"This experiment has got to be done on a voluntary basis," Kilbride said. "If people are going to object, the trial judge will probably say no. It's got to be a consensual kind of thing."
Illinois has allowed cameras to be present during Supreme Court and Appellate Court hearings since 1983. At the time of that decision, the court continued the ban during trials because of fair trial concerns.present. The state has been just one of 14 states that don't allow cameras during criminal trials.
Under the change, the state's 23 circuit courts have to opt-in the the system. At least two downstate chief judges -- those whose circuits are based around Champaign County and Madison County -- say they will have to discuss the matter with their colleagues.
Chief Judge John Shonkweiler with the 6th Circuit, which includes Champaign, Dewitt, and Douglas Counties, says he'll wait to comment until after a chief judges meeting on February 17th.
In the Fifth Judicial Circuit, which includes Vermilion, Coles, and Edgar Counties, Chief Judge Millard Everhart says he's looking at the policy to see if it's appropriate for the circuit, and will be consulting with the rest of it before deciding whether to become part of the project.
Robert Loeb, a criminal defense attorney in Chicago and an instructor at DePaul's law school, said balance cameras in the courtroom are a good thing. However, he worries that selective use of trial clips in newscasts could be a problem for the accused.
"Let's assume that I've got an innocent client. And let's assume that he gets found not guilty," Loeb said. "The infamy that comes from the coverage of a criminal trial is not going to help that person's life."
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans said he's an enthusiastic supporter of the plan. He presides over the largest court system in the state, and he said he will apply to participate in the pilot project. He said when people see the courts in action, it helps the cause of justice.
"They will have more confidence about coming to court and have more confidence about the kind of proceedings that really do lead to justice in this community," Evans said.
Evans said he will form a committee to deal with concerns cameras and audio recordings could interfere with impartiality.
Kilbride added that the experimental phase of this effort will help determine if media access and fair trials can co-exist. Broadcasters have long advocated for the use of cameras and tape recorders during criminal trials, pointing to the public's right to know.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
A federal judge is set to rule late Tuesday afternoon on whether convicted power broker William Cellini will get a new trial. Cellini's case was supposed to be the last trial directly related to the decade-long investigation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Late last year Cellini was convicted of corruption. But Cellini's lawyers requested a new trial on the grounds one juror lied about her criminal record during the jury selection process. The Chicago juror, Candy Chiles, didn't disclose past convictions for drug possession and a DUI.
Cellini's lawyers say that created a built-in bias.
But prosecutors say even if she lied intentionally, there's no proof she had any bias against Cellini or did a poor job as a juror.
Judge James Zagel is asking for evidence that the juror's behavior directly affected the outcome of the trial.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
The two candidates now remaining in next fall's race for the 52nd District Senate race have different approaches on how to solve Illinois' fiscal problems.
But neither Republican John Bambenek nor incumbent Democrat Mike Frerichs want to focus on why Alan Nudo dropped his bid for the GOP nomination.
Nudo announced his withdrawal from the race, and resignation from the Champaign County Board, after a political blogger accused him of supporting Frerichs in the past, by co-signing checks to a previous campaign.
Frerichs says he's been asked whether Nudo signed checks, but the Senator says he's not interested in fighting that fight.
"Democrats have taken action to begin to right the ship of state here in Illinois," Frerichs said. "What I think we need to focus on though is fairness in our tax system, and some progressivity in our tax system. I think there is some disagreement, but I'm looking forward to a debate season where we'll outline those differences and the voters will have a choice next fall."
Nudo says he signed the campaign donation checks as part of his job handling day to day accounting for a development firm, and accused Frerichs and Bambenek of collusion in making the charge. But he later said his accusation was a "mistake".
In a statement released Sunday, Bambenek says he wants to unify the Republican Party. He called Nudo 'a respected member of the community whose leadership will be missed on the county board.' But Bambenek also hoped to earn the support of some Nudo supporters.
"At this point in the general election race, what will be a very high-profile race, I would need all the help that I can get," he said. "I do hope to earn the support of those who have supported Alan, and those around him."
In his statement, Bambenek referred to his fall opponent as Democrat 'tax-hike' Frerichs, saying the best way to fix those problems is not through raising taxes, but to cut waste, fraud and abuse. Nudo didn't return a call seeking comment Monday.
UPDATE: Bambenek issued a statement Tuesday, concluding that Nudo played no role in the donation to Frerichs' campaign, and is neither an owner nor a decision-maker for Triple-R Development.
"I regret that this information was disseminated by my campaign and/or supporters before all the facts behind the issue were fully vetted," Bambenek said. "I wish Mr. Nudo the best in his future endeavors and am grateful for his leadership in the Republican Party and community at large.
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan is speaking publicly for the first time since the resignation of his former chief of staff, Lisa Troyer.
An investigation connected Troyer as the source of a pair of anonymous emails sent to a faculty advisory group, urging them not to investigate who leaked a report critical of parts of Hogan's enrollment management plan.
Hogan is defending how he handled the situation. Echoing the conclusion of the investigation linking Troyer to the messages, Hogan said he didn't do anything wrong.
"That doesn't mean I'm not responsible," he said. "I'm responsible for everything sooner or later. It's a problem - serious problem - and we have them on a regular basis. They end up on my desk, and it's my responsibility to deal with it."
When asked if he plans to find a new chief of staff to replace Lisa Troyer, Hogan said, "I think eventually I'll have to have someone playing that kind of role."
Hogan met Monday with members of the Senate Executive Committee on the Urbana campus, which is preparing to release a letter assessing the case of the anonymous e-mails. Committee Vice-Chair Joyce Tolliver said she is concerned about the culture of "opposition and intimidation" in Hogan's office that she believes may have led Troyer to think that it was alright to send the messages.
"What we've seen is sending representatives of his office to take notes on just those aspects of our senate discussions that have to do with issues that are close to him, and then reporting back to him about which senators are saying things that may be problematic," Tolliver said.
Hogan said he wants to start meeting with the Senate Executive Committee more frequently to improve communication with faculty. But U of I Professor Nicholas Burbules, who is a member of the Senate Executive Committee, said having the president attend more meetings isn't the solution.
"The president seems to approach every meeting with a very strong idea in mind of what he wants to do; often he is telling us what he wants to do," Burbules said. "He'll listen to what we say, but the outcome is almost always the same that he's going to do, and that doesn't feel like a real dialogue."
Burbules points to concerns that have been raised over President Hogan's enrolment management plan, which includes re-branding the university's three campuses as one entity. U of I faculty have criticized it, saying a centralized enrollment process could weaken each campus' ability to match resources to student needs.
Speaking after his meeting with the Senate Executive Committee, Hogan admitted that the re-branding effort has not been properly understood, and for now, won't be considered.
"There's so much concern about what that meant, we're just going to take it off the table as we move forward," he said. "We'll refer that probably to the council of provost to wrestle with that and report back in due course.
A neurosurgeon says Sen. Mark Kirk's prospects for a full physical recovery from a stroke that's affected his left side "are not great."
But Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Dr. Richard Fessler said the Illinois Republican's chances for a full mental recovery are good. Fessler says Kirk's job is "cerebral'' and he believes the functions required to do it "are going to be fine.''
The 52-year-old Kirk underwent surgery yesterday to alleviate pressure on his brain after doctors discovered he had a tear in his carotid artery and had suffered the stroke.
Fessler said the stroke affected Kirk's ability to move his left arm, possibly his left leg and could cause paralysis of his face. But doctors say Kirk appears to recognize those around him and is responding to commands.
Dozens of northwestern Indiana union members have taken their protest over pending right-to-work legislation in the General Assembly to the Indianapolis home of Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma.
Meanwhile, at the capitol, the Indiana House voted down a motion to kill the bill on a 59-39 vote.
Buses carried members of the Munster-based Local 41 of the Laborers' International Union to Bosma's house on the far northeast side of Indianapolis. Business Manager Kevin Roach says House Republicans want to hurt unions at the dinner table, so his local decided to take the dispute to Bosma's.
The proposed law would prevent unions from collecting mandatory representation fees from workers. The demonstration has remained peaceful, but state troopers were on the scene.
Bosma's spokeswoman referred to the demonstration as "bullying'' and says it won't influence the speaker. Democrats ended a boycott over the bill Monday and returned to the House floor prior to the vote Monday afternoon.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
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