Illinois Public Media News
Five months after the closing of Columbia Center, the Champaign School Board has confirmed that a regional program will teach most of its students expelled from school for the foreseeable future.
Unit Four school board members voted unanimously Monday night to pay 43-thousand dollars over the next two years for an expanded READY program. The Regional Office of Education for Champaign and Ford Counties operates READY as an alternative program for middle and high school students with behavioral problems. School Board President Dave Tomlinson says READY will be the first choice in such cases. "(The READY program has) been doing a good job for several years," says Tomlinson. "We've transitioned in that (alternative education) category already to READY for this year, so we're going to continue to do that for the foreseeable future."
READY didn't have the capacity this semester to accept all the students that Unit Four wanted to send to it. A few receive home instruction instead --- a program actually designed for students forced to stay home due to medical conditions.
Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services Michael McFarland says the expansion of READY should make it big enough to accept all Unit Four students needing alternative education. He says a few with special education needs will continue to be sent to the Circle Academy at the Cunningham Children's Home in Urbana, or the Pavilion Foundation School in Champaign
A federal judge has turned down a request from the plaintiffs in the Champaign Unit Four Consent Decree case for more hearings.
Attorneys for plaintiffs in the racial equity case had requested hearings on its motions to extend the Consent Decree past June 30th. They also wanted a comprehensive hearing on whether the Champaign school district had been acting in good faith in all its actions to meet the requirements of the decree. But Judge Joe Billy McDade ruled Monday that the decree does not require such hearings.
Unit Four School Board President Dave Tomlinson says he's pleased with the judge's decision. He says the move will limit hearings in the Consent Decree case to whether the district has met specific requirements in special and alternative education and building new classrooms on the north side of Champaign. He denied charges from the plaintiff's attorney that opposing a comprehensive hearing was an attempt to shut out public comment. "This is a court document and we have to fight this in court," Tomlinson said.
Plaintiffs' attorney Carol Ashley could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
An astronaut from Central Illinois will lead NASA's space shuttle mission this afternoon.
The commander leading a seven-member crew on the shuttle Atlantis to the Hubble Space Telescope is University of Illinois graduate Scott Altman. This mission has been long-delayed, originally scheduled for last October. On-board equipment that transmits data back to Earth broke down, and it's taken months for engineers to prepare replacement equipment that the Atlantis crew will take to the Hubble.
This is one of 8 or 9 final missions for the Space Shuttle program. It's expected to be phased out either next year or early 2011, depending on government funding. Altman, who was on three other shuttle missions, says he'd like to believe the U of I could play a role when the Orion space capsule resumes manned missions around 2015.
"When I came to NASA, I'd hoped I would be one of the first people to visit Mars and go beyond where we've been. Now I realize it's the next generation that's going to do that, and it's the people I talk to at Illinois who are going to make that happen and be a key part of that," Altman said. "I kind of envy them (for) that opportunity."
Altman says he's happy to pass the torch to potential astronauts, but he admits he's envious of them when making return visits to his alma mater. Altman received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U of I in 1990. He's a native of Pekin.
The Champaign County Board is expected to vote this month on a proposal to allow the development of wind turbine farms on agricultural land. Some Champaign city officials say that's fine with them --- if the county inserts a new rule to keeping the wind farms further away from the city.
Champaign and other communities already have a mile and a half around their borders where they can overrule the county on zoning. It's called 'extra-territorial jurisdiction" or ETJ. For wind farms, Champaign city planners and the city Plan Commission recommend asking the county for an additional mile of ETJ. Land Development Manager Lorrie Pearson says they want to make sure the city can grow without bumping up against a wind farm. "Whereas today if a wind farm is located immediately adjacent to the ETJ, in the future it may actually be within the ETJ or perhaps even within our growth area," Pearson said. "So we want to really look at how our city grows and have that be more consistent with our comprehensive plan rather it be regulated by wind farms that are existing within our county."
The Champaign City Council hasn't discussed the matter yet, but the County Board's Environment and Land Use Committee will look at the ETJ request at their meeting tonight, prior to a county board vote next week. Committee Chair Barb Wysocki isn't commenting on the idea. But she says the current proposals for Champaign County wind farms would be built well away from Champaign.
Injuries are being reported in southern Illinois in the wake of thunderstorms that packed 100-mph winds that moved across the area Friday.
Health officials say a truck driver who had to be extricated from an overturned semitrailer was in serious condition at a local hospital.
Rosslynd Rice of Southern Illinois Healthcare says about six other patients with minor injuries were being treated at the Memorial Hospital of Carbondale.
Carbondale Township Fire Captain Mark Black says trees are down and siding from homes is strewn everywhere. He says his firefighters are cutting trees out of the roadway so they can get their trucks out.
The storms forced the cancellation of some commencement ceremonies Friday at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus.
University spokesman Rod Sievers says power is out, hundreds of trees are down and many dorm windows are broken. But there were no injuries on .
Sievers says if power returns, commencement ceremonies scheduled for Saturday will go on as planned.
It's finals week at SIU-Carbondale, and many students have left campus because they were finished with tests.
More than 33,000 Ameren customers are without power, mostly around Carbondale, Marion and Herrin.
Sales tax money from new retail development has helped the city of Urbana avoid any cuts to services or staff in a proposed $48 million budget.
Revenues from the new Meijer store are part of the reason city leaders expect income to exceed expenses for the current fiscal year by $750,000.
But because of the economic downturn, city comptroller Ron Eldridge expects them to break even in the year ahead, meaning the city will hold the line on expenses. But Eldridge admits the city could be face problems within another fiscal year if the economy doesn't bounce back. "It makes no sense to add on a bunch of expenditures if you really, truly think you maybe you've going have to be cutting those expenditures the following year," says Eldridge. "Now nobody really knows, and so it certainly it is cautioned, but I think that's the reasons we try to do those long-term projections - to give people an idea of where we're heading in the future." At the end of the next fiscal year, Urbana will have to negotiate new contracts with its police, fire, and AFSCME unions. And Eldridge says pensions continue to be a problem, as the city can expect to pay 6-million dollars or more in fiscal 2009-10.
The assessed value of property is expected to increase by nearly 6%, largely due to new construction. Mayor Laurel Prussing says Urbana is getting another boost through federal stimulus money. More than a million dollars will cover highway projects on Windsor Road and Goodwin Avenue, freeing up local funds for other repairs.
The city council will hold two study sessions on the proposed budget this month, and will vote to approve the budget at a June 1st public hearing.
House Speaker Mike Madigan wants to get rid of thousands of people hired by Illinois' two disgraced former governors. He proposes firing state agency directors, board members and other employees hired by George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.
The Speaker says Governor Pat Quinn has not done enough to remove holdovers from the Ryan and Blagojevich administrations. Madigan's legislation would force them out.
He says the action would be "clearly the type of fumigation of the Ryan and Blagojevich appointments that I think the people of the state of Illinois are demanding so we can move away from the scandals of the past."
Madigan says the measure applies to three thousand people ... including 90 boards and commissions, such as university boards of trustees.
Governor Quinn says it's a good idea. "I think it's one that we need to use to reassess everything in state government and if we see anything that we think is improper then we can act accordingly.," the Governor said.
If it becomes law, the employees and appointees would keep their jobs for 60 days. Anyone not rehired would then be out of work.
NASA is preparing for a phase-out of its space shuttle program. The shuttle will be replaced by the Orion space capsule. But there will be a 4 to 5 year gap in between the last shuttle launch and the first voyage of the Orion. AM 580's Jeff Bossert talked with the commander of the most recent shuttle mission, University of Illinois graduate Lee Archambault, for his thoughts on the future of the US space program:
A proposal to annex land along Curtis Road to for road improvements passed the Champaign Plan Commission Wednesday. It goes to the city council on May 19th. City officials want the annexation, because Champaign Township is refusing to let the road project continue.
A crew is already at work on Curtis Road, which is being improved for the increase in traffic that's expected from the new Curtis Road interchange at I-57. But there's no work being done along a three-quarter mile stretch of road controlled by Champaign Township. The township is holding up the work, until the city of Champaign agrees to concessions in a long-running dispute over tax revenue from past city annexations. In response, the city of Champaign and neighboring Savoy are talking to landowners about annexing property along that stretch of road, which would move jurisdiction over to them. Savoy's negotiations have been going slowly. But Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight says the city has an annexation agreement with the owners of property at the northwest corner of Curtis and Mattis. He says that should allow work on the project to continue without a hitch.
"If necessary", Knight says, "the contractor could move to Mattis Avenue as a next step, while Savoy completes their effort to get control."
The Savoy Village Board last night put off discussion on annexation of another property along Curtis Road until next week. But village manager Dick Helten says he expects they'll eventually reach an agreement with the owners. He disputed a News-Gazette report that suggested the negotiations were not going well.
The University of Illinois and the union for graduate student workers on its Urbana campus have agreed to call in a federal mediator to help them reach a contract agreement.
The decision came Tuesday in the second bargaining session between the U of I and the Graduate Employees Organization. Administration spokeswoman Robin Kaler says they hope to eventually reach an agreement that the U of I can afford.
"We're looking to achieve a fair and equitable contract within the budgetary constraints that we face," Kaler said.
Meanwhile, G-E-O spokeswoman Peter Campbell accuses the administration of failing to reply to the contract proposal they offered at last month's bargaining meeting. Instead, he says the U of I negotiators only wanted discuss what he calls extraneous issues.
The current contract for graduate employees runs out August 15th. Campbell says they hope to keep the advances made by that contract and improve wages and benefits, especially health care.
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