Illinois Public Media News
The devastation caused by the flooding in Pakistan is clear - 20 million people affected. That is more than the combined populations of Illinois and Indiana. Reports put the dead at 1,600. Asma Faiz is a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois. Faiz recently returned from Islamabad, and she spoke to Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn about the importance of raising awareness and support for the country.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Gov. Pat Quinn is sticking by his opposition to building a mosque near ground zero in New York despite criticism from a local immigrant rights group.
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights on Friday called on candidates and elected officials to "stop injecting hate in the debate.''
Quinn said Friday he honors the patriotism of Muslim citizens but believes a group should rethink building a Muslim center and mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Quinn says there should be a "zone of solemnity'' around the site. He says any place of worship that takes away from the solemnity of ground zero should rethink their location.
He called his position "a matter of conscience.
Teachers in the Mahomet Seymour schools will be back in their classrooms on Monday as a two-day strike ends with a tentative contract agreement.
The chief negotiator for the Mahomet Seymour Education Association, Linda Meachum, said school board negotiators offered a compromise Friday afternoon that led to the breakthrough. Meachum said teachers will receive 2.6% pay raise this school year. She said support staff and teacher's aides will get 3.5%.
But the two sides will have to negotiate again next year because the tentative contract is only for one year. Meachum said she believes that's important for both the district and the union.
"At least this way we know what we can live with for one year, and the board can begin to strategically plan for the future," Meachum said shortly after negotiations wrapped up. "We know that some (federal) stimulus money is coming in to the district, and we'll have a better idea of what our fund balance is going to be." Meachum also noted that the state's now-delayed payment schedule to schools might be clearer in a year.
Terry Greene, the president of the Mahomet Seymour school board, says the district had lobbied against a two-year contract but let go of that requirement as union bargainers compromised.
"They agreed to a one-year deal that we thought was responsible and fiscally fair," Greene said. "We want our kids back in school. Usually if you make a deal in which both sides are are a little unhappy it's probably the right deal, and that's just about what happened." But Greene still contends that the deal could have been sealed much earlier in the bargaining process.
Meachum said a ratification vote for the union's 260 members is set for Monday afternoon, after the first day back in class. The school board will cast its vote later that evening.
A US transportation administrator says research being done at the University of Illinois to boost innovations like high-speed rail may be one of the country's best kept secrets.
Peter Appel concluded a visit to campus with a tour of the ATREL facility in Rantoul. The site conducts various tests to prepare areas like Central Illinois for high-speed rail, and looks at different mixes of concrete and soil to see how they'll handle the weight of newer airplanes on runways. The facility testing equipment can even detect sinkholes in the earth's surface. Appel says railway engineering has been disappearing from a lot of institutions, calling the U of I an exception.
"The University of Illinois is advancing railway engineering more than any university in the nation," said Appel, who says the Obama administration's $8-billion investment in high speed rail includes replacing wood railroad ties with concrete. "As you pick the speeds up from 70 miles an hour to 80 miles an hour to 150 miles an hour, you need a lot more precision in the rail operations. Using, for example, concrete ties, helps drive that higher precision and ability for faster speeds. So that's the kind of developments that they're advancing here."
Appel says the U of I recognizes its role in advancing technology in high-speed rail, and that faculty in Urbana have been training professors elsewhere to teach courses in that area.
The electricity went back on at Parkland College in Champaign Friday afternoon, after a more than 12 hour outage to part of the campus that included its computer network. But a college spokesperson says they don't expect to have many computer-based services for students ready until Saturday.
Parkland spokesperson Patty Lane says a short in some underground wiring knocked out electricity for the college's computer network shortly after midnight Thursday night. With power restored, Lane says work is still underway to get the computer system up and running.
"Currently though", says Lane, "we have no student services for the main areas of Financial Aid and Student Life, and Admissions and Records and Advising, as well as Assessment."
It was a bad time for a power failure at Parkland, as students are preparing for classes that begin on Monday. Lane says they hope to have Registration and other student services available Saturday, perhaps with expanded hours. She says updates will be available at the Parkland College website, as well as its Facebook and Twitter pages ---- and at Parkland's main phone number, at 217-351-2200.
Estimates about the total cost of the just concluded trial of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich range wildly from several million to $30 million.
There's now at least confirmation of what the jury cost for nearly two months of trial and 14 days of deliberation. The bill? $67,463.32. The U.S. District Court clerk's office provided that figure Thursday.
Jurors returned a sole guilty verdict _ lying to the FBI. They deadlocked on 23 counts.
The jurors' bill includes costs for food and travel. And it includes pay -- jurors got $40 a day the first month, then $50 after that.
Prosecutors don't calculate costs of individual cases, so the trial's full cost may never be known. But prosecutors plan to retry Blagojevich on undecided counts, so that tab may have to be paid again.
Labor unrest is affecting higher education, including University of Illinois campuses in Urbana and Chicago
Members of one UIUC union rallied Thursday outside a residence hall just as freshmen are moving in for their first semester. Ricky Baldwin is an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1000 employees. He claims that administrative cost increases are taking place while union members have seen their pay stagnate.
"The money that the University is spending on all kinds of things at the top shows us that the university does have money," said Baldwin "It just doesn't want to spend it on the basic operations -- the students, the workers, the instruction at the university."
The SEIU and the U of I are in contract talks... but members say they are not close to striking in Urbana. That cannot be said in Chicago, where about 3000 SEIU employees are threatening a Monday walkout.
At another hall complex Thursday, U of I president Michael Hogan and chancellor Robert Easter met incoming students. During the visit, Hogan said the university faces the prospect of more budget cuts and state payment delays, making salary increases even harder to achieve.
"We've just taken another 46 million dollar reduction in our budget, so that's the subject of ongoing negotiations, and I certainly hope we can reach a settlement," Hogan said. He says it's unlikely the school will see any of its current-year funding from Springfield until next January at the earliest. He says he's been assured that all of the U of I's fiscal-2010 funds will be in their hands in the next few months.
A former Urbana high school coach convicted of a sex crime is back in the US, and will start serving a prison sentence.
But the attorney for Yuri Ermakov Thursday filed a post-conviction petition with hopes his client will get a new trial. The 28-year old Ermakov fled to his native Russia while a Champaign County jury deliberated his fate in 2007.
The former University Laboratory High School track coach was found guilty of criminal sexual assault for incidents involving a female student, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was also convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for providing alcohol to two 16-year old girls. After a brief court hearing Thursday morning, Ermakov was remanded to Illinois' Department of Corrections.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz says Ermakov was up against Friday's deadline for filing the post-conviction petition. She says Judge Jeff Ford has a three-month window to act on it.
"The judge could say that all of the allegations in his petitions are frivolous - petition dismissed, and that's the end of the case." said Rietz. "The judge could say that some of the allegations deserve further inquiry, and then we have time to respond. Or judge could say the entire petition deserves further inquiry. We do not believe any of those allegations have any merit, and are absolutely confident that the judge is going to find all of them, if not the vast majority of them, frivilous."
Rietz notes that a federal warrant was out for Erkmaov that preventing him from travelling outside of Russia, which may have been part of his motivation for returning home to serve his sentence.
Judge Ford denied a request from Chicago Attorney Steve Richards that his client remain in Champaign County's custody in order to stay in closer contact with him. Ford says such a move would prove too costly. The FBI had been negotiating for Ermakov's return from Russia the past several months. Rietz says he's also seeking clemency from Governor Pat Quinn as part of a large backlog of cases before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.
The mayor of Rantoul hopes that plans to reopen a shuttered pork processing plant on the west side of town come to fruition.
Mayor Neal Williams says the reopening of the 6-year-old Meadowbrook Farms plant on the west end of Rantoul would be a welcome boost. The plant had employed more than 600 people at its height. Williams says when it closed early last year, Rantoul lost the positive ripple effect that work force had sent through the local economy.
"When the plant closed, obviously all those people were no longer here", says Williams. "And it created something of a void. There was no employment for 600 people, and those 600 people weren't buying goods and products in Rantoul."
Trim-Rite Food Corporation, which runs a pork facility in Carpentersville, has made an offer for the Rantoul plant to Stearns Bank, which took it over when Meadowbrook Farms went bankrupt. Construction Manager Kurt Irelan says their plans for Rantoul include both pork processing and hog slaughtering operations. He says the Meadowbrook Farms plant is the best site they've considered, after dropping plans for sites in Rockford and Freeport, and the old Cavel horse slaughtering plant in DeKalb.
Mahomet-Seymour teachers are going on strike, cancelling all classes and school activities until further notice.
An 11th hour meeting between the union and school district failed Wednesday night - the fourth meeting with a federal mediator. Union Co-President Joan Jordan said administrators left without responding to their latest contract proposal. She said the Mahomet Seymour Education Association's 1-year plan is essentially the first year of a 2-year proposal proposed by the district one night earlier. It includes a 3-point-1 percent average increase in the teacher salary schedule. Jordan said the district refuses to budge from a 2-year contract.
"And because they keep crying poor and saying they just don't have the money... and they have the money, but we're going to decimate all their funds, which isn't true either." said Jordan. "We gave them what they wanted, we just don't want more than one year. Because if things are so uncertain, then we need to bargain again starting in December when we know better what's coming from the state. "
Jordan said administrators plan on meeting with the union again at 6:30 Thursday evening.
Mahomet-Seymour School Board President Terry Greene said the union is putting the district's financial health at risk by asking for unreasonable raises and benefits. He said it is hard to deal with a moving target, adding that the union changed its proposal late Tuesday after it appeared a tentative deal was in place, and he said one contract proposal would mean $700,000 in deficit spending in one year.
"This board of education won't support that, and I don't think our community will support that," said Greene. "So just because we have a fund balance and cash reserve that we've worked years to build up to protect ourselves for difficult times - which we're in, doesn't mean it belongs to the MSEA. Just because we have it doesn't mean it's theirs. It belongs to the taxpayers."
The school board has scheduled a special meeting for Friday to allow the continuation of sports and other activities during a work stoppage. Mahomet-Seymour's first home football game is scheduled for a week from Friday. Administrators say this is the first teacher strike at Mahomet-Seymour schools.
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