Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 17, 2010

UI Team Studying Space Usage Cites Technology as Top Concern

A team assigned with looking at the best use of space on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says classrooms need to be better set up with high-tech equipment.

U of I Physics chair Dale Van Harlingen led a team to examine Space Utilization, the last area to be reviewed this year as part of the 'Stewarding Excellence' initiative to trim expenses. Van Harlingen says space is handled well for the most part, and that unit administrators should have the greatest say over how classrooms are used. But he says it's bad for a campus of the U of I's stature to have classrooms that don't equal the facilities of where students learned previously. "The students have come to expect that," said Van Harlingen. "They come from high schools where large investments have been made in technology. And we should be matching that. We should be a model for that. We felt like there should be more space, more attention given to building buildings specifically for teaching - lecture halls, and classroom space instead of only responding to needs of donors."

Van Harlingen says a long-term problem of failing to invest in maintenance is partly to blame when being squeezed for space. Buildings like Lincoln Hall and a portion of the Natural History Building aren't being used now because of structural problems. "I think there's always going to be debate," said Van Harlingen. "I think everyone agreed you should renovate Lincoln Hall. But the question becomes - how far down that list do you go? Because for the same cost of renovating Lincoln Hall, you could build probably several, very good modern teaching facilities."

Van Harlingen also recommends that committees be formed to study space needs in more detail, and get out of all leased space in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 16, 2010

Body in Pond Identified as 19-Year Old Champaign Man

The Champaign County Coroner's office has identified the man whose body was found face down in a retention pond in north Champaign yesterday. He's identified as 19-year old Aaron Williams of Champaign. Coroner Duane Northup says Williams drowned.

The body was discovered by a passerby just before 4 pm in the 300 block of West Marketview Drive. Williams' death remains under investigation by the Coroner's office and Champaign Police.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 16, 2010

Danville Teachers, School District Reach Tentative Agreement

NOTE: This story was updated at 12:30 PM on Thursday, September 16th.

Parents in the Danville school district who called a special hotline Thursday morning were greeted with good news --- class would be back in session.

The resumption of classes ended a three-day strike by teachers and support staff. District 118 superintendent Mark Denman said he was happy to announce that the two sides had reached agreement on a two-year contract, in a seven-hour bargaining session Wednesday night.

"We have come to a good compromise between both sides that will be mutually beneficial for the district," he said.

The Danville School Board is set to consider the agreement Monday night. Members of the Danville Education Association approved the new contract overwhelmingly at a meeting before classes began Thursday morning, according to Sean Burns of the Illinois Education Association.

Burns said he believes that while union members had to give up some of the things they sought, they gained in other areas that go beyond money.

"Oftentimes, these are really about the relationships, and about people feeling like they're being respected," said Burns. "And I think that the DEA members were standing up for something that they believed in, and for their own self-respect and dignity. And I think that has a lot to do with why they overwhelmingly ratified the contract.

Union Vice-President Corey Pullin, who has been with District 118 for 11 years, said this was Danville's first teachers' strike since 1977. He added that this strike was a sign of how serious his membership was about the contract.

"To my knowledge, we hadn't even taken an intent-to-strike vote since '87," said Pullin. "So just doing that, preparing for all this, was a big step for our members."

Neither side is releasing details about the new contract, until the Danville School Board considers it on Monday night. Pullin acknowledged there is agreement that the district will use federal stimulus money to bring back some laid off staff members between now and the next school year, but Denman has cautioned that while the money may provide some temporary relief to Danville's schools, it is not a permanent fix to Illinois' fiscal problems.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2010

Male Body Discovered in North Champaign Pond

A body has been found in a pond north of Interstate 74 in Champaign.

Champaign Police spokeswoman Rene Dunn says a passerby discovered the deceased male face down in the water just before 4 Wednesday afternoon in the 300 block of West Marketview Drive. Emergency workers used a boat to get to the body.

Dunn says the Champaign County Coroner's Office is investigating. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday morning in Bloomington.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2010

Champaign Co Bd Tries Again to Put Auditor Referendum on Ballot

Champaign County Board members voted 15 to 11 in committee Tuesday night to put a referendum making the county auditor an appointed post on the April 2011 ballot. Board members voted the same way they had 13 months ago, when they slated the measure for the November ballot. That vote turned out to be legally premature --- state law says a referendum must be approved to go on the ballot within a year of the election date.

Despite the delay, supporters like Republican Greg Knott of District Four say it's clear that an elected county auditor is not needed.

"Very seldom does the current auditor ever come and really recommend changes or point out things other than the very obvious that the county or departments within the county could use the advice on," says Knott, referring to Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri. "His staff does all the work. So at this point, it's a surplus position, in my opinion."

Fabri, a Democrat, disagrees. He says the auditor's office needs to be led by someone elected by the people, who can act as an independent monitor of county finances. He says referendum supporters are trying to weaken the office because of their opposition to him. But Knott says problems with the office go back several decades in Champaign County.

Fabri also questions referendum supporters for wanting to place the question on the April ballot, after losing their chance on the November ballot. The November election is a general election, expected to attract more voters than the local elections in April. Fabri says the referendum supporters hope to benefit from the lower spring election turnout.

"I think they're trying to game the system. And they think that in the municipal election, when Urbana, for example, has no municipal election at all, and probably won't have many contested school board elections, I think they believe they'll get a better voter turnout for their side of the argument."

But the Democratic co-sponsor of the referendum, Steve Beckett, says the political maneuvering was actually done earlier --- when Champaign County Democratic Chairman Al Klein spotted the state election rule that disqualified an earlier county board vote to bring the referendum to voters in November. Beckett says Klein waited until it was too late to fix anything before bringing up the matter.

"If he had alerted the board prior to the time that he did, we could have corrected the technical problems with the prior draft, and had it on the ballot for this November,", says Beckett.

The District Nine county board member says he also has concerns about holding the auditor referendum in April, but doesn't want to delay it until 2012, when candidates for auditor will be on the ballot, too.

The Champaign County Board will take a final vote on whether to put the auditor referendum on the April 2011 ballot, at their general meeting September 23rd.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2010

Danville YMCA, Boys & Girls Club Helping Out While Strike Continues

The Danville teacher's strike has prompted a couple of community organizations to help working parents.

The executive director of the Danville Family YMCA, John Alexander, said the facility's Days Off program has been extended and operating as if it were a holiday or other day that kids have off from school. He said staff from the YMCA's Before and After School programs have helped out, with child care available from 7 am to 6 pm. The center allowed 22 kids to stay there on Tuesday. With the strike lasting at least through Wednesday, Alexander said he expects that total to go up, but he said some parents still are not sure what to do.

"We're getting calls from parents - they're trying to look at their options," said Alexander. "Especially if they have maybe a relative that's willing to watch the kids a couple of days, they may bring their children in on those other days when a relative or friend may not be able to take care of them. So they're trying to judge just exactly how to take care and handle this situation."

Alexander said the Y's before and after school staff will be available as long as the District 118 strike goes on.

"Their hours are longer because of the fact that we're open from 7 to 6, but we're also not conducting those school responsibilities and what we call our Y-Kids program at each of those for schools," said Alexander. "So, it's a little bit of a trade off in that case. Longer hours, but we do have a rotation of staff to try and pick up the slack."

The YMCA charges $21 a day for the Days Off program. The Boys and Girls Club of Danville is also providing child care in the wake of the District 118 strike. The next negotiations for the teacher's union with the school board and a federal mediator are set for 6 pm Wednesday.

Categories: Community, Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2010

Champaign Police Look to Curb City’s Crime Rates

A series of attacks in Champaign has left the city's police department looking at ways to beef up crime prevention.

The Champaign Police Department reports that overall violence has dropped by less than a percent, but aggravated batteries are up by 10.1 percent, robberies 73.9 percent, and armed robberies have risen by 27.3 percent.

Many of these attacks in recent weeks have taken place on or near 4th and Green Street in Campustown. Chief of Police R.T. Finney would not say with certainty whether each attack is connected.

"You know many times a person is hit from behind, so identification is very difficult," explained Finney.

Finney said that arrests have been made, noting that the city is taking the attacks "very seriously" with increased officers on duty who are working overtime.

Champaign police officials are exploring ways to cut down on crime rates. Champaign Police Lieutenant Joe Gallo said in the next few weeks, his department will introduce a couple of new data mapping and analysis programs designed to help beef up security. Gallo explained that one program disseminates information for police officers to help them narrow down their search for a suspect.

"It alerts us that we've had three calls to service at this location in a given time period," said Gallo. "The intelligence portion is going to come up when we start looking at that address and go, 'Ok, this person was recently paroled at this address, and he has a history of violence. Maybe we better look at what he's doing over there.'"

The other program lets the public identify recent criminal activity in their neighborhood on an interactive map, similar to Google Maps. This program lets people sign up for alerts whenever there's a crime near their home.

"I think it's going to be a really valuable tool for our community," he said.

People are encouraged to report crime-related cases to the Champaign Police Department by calling 217-351-4545. Callers can remain anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers at 217-373-TIPS.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2010

First of Stewarding Excellence “Next Steps” at UI Released

The first recommendations for budget cuts and savings are coming out for the University of Illinois' largest campus.

Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said the Stewarding Excellence@Illinois program yielded ideas from 17 areas of campus. On Tuesday, Easter revealed the next steps in three of those areas, including information technology services. He said efforts like streamlining communication services and consolidating server rooms will cost money in the short term but bring several million dollars in long-term savings.

"If you have a server room in a college or even in a department, someone has to tend to it and there have to be environmental controls like heating and air conditioning systems at work," Easter said. "And getting all that consolidated where it's appropriate...should result in some significant savings over time."

Two other reports involve re-integrating graduate college admissions into the registrar's office and having the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics absorb more of the cost of athletic scholarships. Currently the DIA relies on tuition waivers for full and partial scholarships - but starting next year, the University will provide 100-thousand dollars less in waivers each year over five years.

Easter said the U of I already contributes less than most schools to athletics, which are funded mainly through sports revenues and donations, and he said the DIA already shoulders most of the academic cost.

"They are already putting about $6 million in tuition money into the campus, so it's not as though this is something new," Easter said. "They've been making very substantial contributions through their donors and their ticket sales and other things to the cost of educating student athletes."

Easter says individual colleges are also being charged with reviewing and reducing their costs.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2010

Next Danville Teachers Bargaining Session Set for Wednesday

Contract negotiations will resume this week between the Danville school district and teachers and support who are currently on strike.

The meeting will be the first between negotiators for District 118 and the Danville Education Association since Sunday's 14-hour session with a mediator that ended with teachers and support staff walking the picket line Monday morning.

The strike canceled classes and nearly all extracurricular activities in Danville schools. One exception was made for the North Ridge Middle School girls' softball team, which was allowed to continue competition at a state Class AA regional tournament in Tolono. The North Ridge team won the title game against Unity Monday night, with a score of 8 to 7. The school board for District 118 allowed the game only because the tournament had started before the strike, and a qualified coach was found who was not among employees on strike.

The school district and the DEA argued their cases through news releases on Monday. Both sides said they were ready to return to the bargaining table, and accused the other side of being unreasonable.

One issue mentioned by both District 118 and the union was how to spend $2.5 million in expected federal stimulus money. The school district says spending some of the money for salary raises would go against its intended use to hire back laid-off teachers along with new ones. The DEA questioned whether the district would use any of the money for bringing back teachers who were laid off at the start of the school year.

The school district and union members will meet Wednesday at 6 PM at the Jackson Administrative Building.

Categories: Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2010

Urbana Appoints New Police Chief

Retiring Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily said his biggest achievements in 26 years with the department did not make headlines.

Bily is retiring September 22nd. The Urbana City Council confirmed Assistant Chief Patrick Connolly to succeed him Monday night. Bily said overseeing a successful department often had to do with simply helping the community.

"The investigators to an outstanding job," said Bily. "The officers who work patrol 24/7, 365 days a year do good things every single day that receive very little notoriety. Those are the types of things I've proudest of, not any single personal accomplishment."

Connolly said his top goal is now filling vacancies, including the now-vacant assistant chief's position and open lieutenant positions.

"But I also recognize the needs of the city," said Connolly. "So there has to be a balance, and the mayor has been incredible with working with us so far, and I'm going to continue with that relationship, but I'm certainly not going to demand anything up front. We're going to work with the city as closely as we always have."

Connolly said becoming a chief has been a career ambition in his 33 years in law enforcement. He has been with Urbana Police since 1988.


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