Illinois Public Media News
With contract negotiations and a possible strike on the horizon, Danville school officials are trying to restore teaching positions that were cut in a series of layoffs last spring.
The state currently owes Danville's schools about $3 million in unpaid bills. Legislation President Obama signed in August doles out about $2.5 million to support education. The money could allow District 118 to hire more teachers and issue pay raises, which is one of the demands by union officials.
Superintendent Mark Denman cautioned that while the money may provide some temporary relief to Danville's schools, he said it is not a permanent fix to Illinois' fiscal problems.
"If we hired a number of people back, and then next March the federal month is not coming any further in the next year and state funding isn't better," he said. "Then those jobs will have to be eliminated in all probability at that time."
Denman said the school district needs to submit proposals to the federal government outlining how it would spend the money. He said he hopes to go over possible spending options in a couple of weeks with the school board during its regular meeting.
In the meantime, the school board is scheduled to continue negotiations on Sunday with union members in an attempt to avert a possible strike.
The Champaign County Head Start program kicked off the new school year Thursday with 56 more children.
With the help of $810,000 in federal funding, the program has expanded its early childhood division to serve more infants and toddlers. Enrollment has been added to its existing center in Rantoul, and a new site in Urbana. Kathleen Liffick is the director of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission's Early Childhood Division. Liffick said the expansion only meets about 36 percent of the community's need for Early Head Start services.
"But it is a small step and we're glad to be able to do that," she said. "We will be certainly be looking for additional expansion opportunities should the federal government make those available."
Playground enhancements were also made with a $68,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois grant at sites in Rantoul, Savoy, and Urbana.
The new Urbana center is located at 108 South Webber Street. For questions about enrollment or to complete an enrollment application, call 217-384-1252 to speak with a family advocate.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission)
A negotiating session Sunday is all that will keep Danville teachers and support staff from walking off the job.
Union President Robin Twidwell said a vote to strike got overwhelming support in a membership meeting Wednesday night, almost exactly the same numbers as when the Danville Education Association backed an intent-to-strike vote two weeks ago. A strike is set to start Monday, but Twidwell said there is a chance Sunday's negotiations can avert that.
"We still remain hopeful that we will be able to get this contract settled on Sunday and resume our normal duties on Monday," said Twidwell.
After the votes were cast by union members, the school board held a two-hour closed session meeting to discuss the ripple affect a strike could have on the school district. School board president Bill Dobbles said a strike would essentially shut down schools in the area, bringing a halt to extracurricular activities and most sporting events.
"The only exception is that I think there's some like middle school state tournaments going on," he said. "If a tournament started before the strike, then those teams can continue to play."
Dobbles also said health insurance covered through the district would for now remain intact, but he said depending how long a strike lasts, that could eventually fall into the hands of union members.
The school board will continue discussing its response to a possible strike on Friday afternoon. Dobbles said he remains hopeful that the two sides can reach common ground by Sunday's negotiating session at 2pm with a federal mediator. This will be the fourth meeting in which the two sides have sought mediation.
District 118 Superintendent Mark Denman said progress was made in a 4-hour session Tuesday night, but Twidwell said she would characterize it as 'having dialogue' on some issues.
The union is asking for salary increases, ways to balance the larger class sizes caused by last spring's staff reductions, and improved retirement incentives.
E-mail's been around for quite a while, and a few years ago, writers and friends David Shipley and Will Schwalbe recognized the need for an e-mail guide. They wrote it. Their guide was first published in 2007. Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn spoke to Schwalbe about the latest edition of the book.
September is Hunger Action Month. Coming up later this month is the 4th annual Hunger Symposium, organized by the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and WILL. Also underway this month is the SNAP Hunger Challenge. The challenge is to feed yourself on $4.50 a day. Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn spoke to Cheryl Precious of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, and Illinois Public Media's Kimberlie Kranich, who completed the SNAP Hunger Challenge.
Tuesday night's bargaining session between the Danville School District and its teachers union apparently went well enough for another meeting with a federal mediator to be scheduled for this Sunday afternoon.
In a joint statement, the school district and the union said the four hour bargaining session produced a "frank discussion".
Superintendent Mark Denman said he thinks some progress was made.
"I would say there was some positive progress made," he said. "Maybe not on any particular issues, but in a spirit of keeping the talks going. So we'll meet again on Sunday afternoon. Hopefully we can reach an agreement at that point."
Meanwhile, the two sides are scheduled to meet separately on Wednesday. Members of the Danville Education Association will meet at 5 PM at Danville High School. Union Vice-President Corey Pullin says his group will take another strike vote at that meeting, which could pave the way for a teachers strike on Monday --- if Sunday's bargaining session does not go well.
Meanwhile, the Danville School Board's agenda for its Wednesday night meeting includes a closed-door session for discussing what measures District 118 will take if the strike takes place.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said many of the nearly $600 million in carbon capture and storage projects announced Tuesday will help make FutureGen a less costly and more efficient operation.
The $575 million in stimulus dollars targets 15 states - including Illinois. About $312 million will go to large-scale testing of coal gasification technologies, and $90 million will examine the way carbon capture will operate in power plants, like the one in Western Illinois that is set to be part of the reconfigured plans for FutureGen.
Chu said the projects announced Tuesday will create jobs, and encompass many of the practices involved in FutureGen. "While the FutureGen project will test the system, we're also investing in the components of the system so that we drive down costs,' said Chu. "Our goal is to start to deploy scale commercially within 10 years."
One of the projects announced Tuesday involves $5 million that will allow the University of Illinois to further evaluate the state's geology. Rob Finley with Illinois' State Geological Survey said the funds will help with continuing research of the Knox dolomite and sandstone formations in the western portion of the Illinois Basin, and could help determine what site will best accommodate FutureGen's carbon emissions facility.
"Basically what we're looking for is to make sure that the site is picked, and can effectively keep the CO2 isolated from the atmosphere," said Finley, director of the Survey's Advanced Energy Technology Initiative. "So that site has to be safe, you have to make sure the CO2 is not going to leak out, that it's not going to affect groundwater in people's properties. So, anytime we have more geologic information about the regional geology, it helps us pick a better and safer site."
Finley said the $5 million project covers a lot of East Central Illinois, and he added that the DOE's specification on locating a storage site 100 miles from Meredosia is likely based on the cost of the pipeline, which can run about $1 million a mile.
Champaign County Board Chair and geologist Pius Weibel said bringing FutureGen to the county is geologically feasible, but he wants to know more about Department of Energy guidelines, which he said are constantly changing. Meanwhile, Assistant Energy Secretary Jim Markowski said that he expects an announcement on a city to host that site by next spring or summer.
Chu would not endorse or dismiss any of the 26 communities that have expressed an interest, saying they are under evaluation.
The democrat running for President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat pledged to increased veterans benefits during a campaign stop in Urbana.
U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias was joined by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Tammy Duckworth.
Gulf War veteran Jason Wheeler of Champaign expressed his frustration to the that he cannot get proper medical care because of federal regulations.
Wheeler was preparing to ship out to Iraq in 2002, but just weeks before he was set to leave the U.S., he jumped out of a helicopter as part of a training exercise, and crash landed on a tarmac. His parachute did not work.
"I have no feeling from both of my knees down. From my hands to my elbows, they feel like they're on fire," he said.
Because Wheeler's injuries occurred on American soil, he said he does not get the same quality of federal care that veterans get when they are injured overseas. He can still get treated through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but since he was wounded on American soil, Wheeler is ineligible for TRICARE assistance, a program through the Department of Defense.
"I got injured, and I could use a lift for my vehicle," he said. "I could use these little things that can help you out, and a gentleman like myself can't get this help. So, we don't want to let that happen to the next guy."
Duckworth said historic progress has been made in the last few years by the democratically-led congress to raise veterans' benefits, but she stated that there just is not enough money to go around to provide the same level of care for all wounded veterans.
"It all goes back to the money," she said. "We've got to dedicate the money and resources to take care of all of our vets."
Wheeler spoke to Duckworth after the forum, and he said her office will look into his medical claims.
During the forum, Duckworth also touted the efforts of democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias in pushing for Illinois veterans to have access to affordable mortgages, and helping start a scholarship program for children of soldiers killed in action. Giannoulias would not give a deadline of when he hopes American troops should begin to pull out of Afghanistan, but he said the attention in Washington should be on fixing the nation's economy, improving infrastructure projects, and bolstering education programs.
The state treasurer is in a tight race against Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), who released a statement ahead of the forum in which he outlined his support of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
Kirk helped write the resolution authorizing the 2003 invasion into Iraq. After speaking with veterans, Giannoulias blasted Kirk for misleading the public leading up to the war. He noted Kirk's false statements that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Giannoulias said Kirk showed a lack of judgment for supporting a war that cost thousands of American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.
The Kirk campaign pointed out members of congress in both parties made that claim.
A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed Kirk and Giannoulias neck-and-neck with 34 percent of support among voters, followed by the Green Party's LeAlan Jones with six percent, Libertarian Mike Labno with 3 percent, and 22 percent of voters stating that they are undecided.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Two lanes of Mattis Avenue remain closed near the Champaign Post Office, as an Illinois-American Water Company crew works to repair a water main that broke late Monday night.
Illinois-American Water Champaign District Manager Barry Suits says the broken pipe was one of the main pipes leading out of the company's Mattis Avenue water treatment plant. The break occurred around midnight Monday night, causing sinkholes to form on the easternmost northbound lane.
The water main break forced the closure of Mattis Avenue near the post office, south of Bloomington Road. The road was reopened to traffic Tuesday, but northbound traffic is being routed through the center lane, while repairs continue.
Tom Schuh of the Champaign Public Works Department says he expects another lane of Mattis to reopen to traffic Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday. But he says it may be several days before the easternmost lane is clear for driving.
Longtime Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced Tuesday that he will not seek another term after more than two decades in office.
"Simply put, it's time," said Daley at a City Hall press conference. "It's time for me, it's time for Chicago, to move on."
The 68-year-old Democrat presided over Chicago for 21 years, like his father did before him. He said the decision was a personal one, and added that he and his family can now begin a "new phase of our lives."
Daley, who took office in 1989, made the announcement surrounded by family, including his wife, Maggie, who's been battling cancer since 2002, but the Mayor would not comment on whether his wife's illness played a role in his decision.
"In the coming days I know there will be some reflecting on my time as mayor, many of you will search to find what's behind my decision," Daley said. "It's simple: I've always believed that every person, especially public officials, must understand when it's time to move on. For me that time is now."
Chicago politicos have speculated for months as to Daley's political future, and his announcement Tuesday is sure to set off a scramble to fill the executive power vacuum at City Hall. The February 2011 municipal race will be the first since 1947 when a sitting mayor will not run for re-election.
President Barack Obama said Daley "leaves a legacy of progress'' that future generations will appreciate. Obama said in a statement that there's no mayor in America who has loved a city more or served a community "with a greater passion'' than Daley. Obama also noted that Daley helped build Chicago's "image as a world class city.''
The announcement leaves an open door for a host of candidates, including Democratic Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. Danny Davis, and Luis Gutierrez, and Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti, among several others.
White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is also a possible candidate. The 50-year-old Emanuel is a one-time Daley adviser and a Chicago native. He was an Illinois congressman until he resigned to take his current White House post.
Emanuel said in an April television interview that he would like to run for mayor of Chicago someday, but later scaled back those comments. In a statement issued by his office shortly after Daley's announcement, Emanuel did not rule out a mayoral run.
"While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for re-election, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago," Emanuel said in the e-mailed statement.
White House senior adviser David Axelrod deflected questions on Tuesday about whether Emanuel would leave the White House to run for Chicago's mayor. He said Emanuel is focused on his current job with the Obama administration.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he called Daley after the announcement.
"Chicago's a great city, and that doesn't happen by accident," said Durbin. "Great people, great history, but good leadership, and I think he's written a terrific record in the city of Chicago."
Durbin would not comment on who he would support as a mayoral candidate.
Mayor Daley left immediately after his announcement and did not take further questions.
(Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)
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