Illinois Public Media News
Champaign's school board is scheduled to vote next week on the design of a new grade school in Savoy.
A Unit 4 board member who is an architect said the key to the new Carrie Busey Elementary building will be flexibility in educational space. Christine Chalifoux said older school facilities have a hard time helping some students, since many kids develop at a different pace while they are still in the same classroom.
The Savoy grade school will feature collaboration spaces that teachers can adjust based on different teaching styles. Chalifoux said Unit 4 is taking the right approach with this building.
"We try to teach the way the kids learn," Chalifoux said. "We need flexibility in spaces. We need places we can have break-outs so we can have large groups. We can have special projects and things like that, and that's really been important in all three of these new schools: BTW (Booker T. Washington), Garden Hills, and the new Carrie Busey."
Champaign School Board member Greg Novak said the collaborative space concept is already in place at Stratton and Barkstall elementary schools.
Savoy Village Trustee Joan Dykstra said the configuration of classroom space and open areas will pay dividends for the school district and neighborhood, but she said the school will get its share of use in evening and weekend hours as well.
"There's agreements too that the building will be able to be used for multiple events," Dykstra said.
Dykstra explained that the plans for the new grade school have also been well thought out for special education needs, adding that she appreciates the traffic pattern for buses and parents to pick up and drop off students.
The preliminary design of the Savoy school also allows the library to serve as the anchor, with classrooms grouped around it. A second story will be built to allow for additional outdoor play space. The new Carrie Busey school is scheduled to open in 2012.
The city of Decatur will lose about 80 jobs at one of its biggest employers, but a city official said it is better than losing the entire facility.
Reports of Tate and Lyle looking for a new headquarters site near Chicago stirred worries that the firm with deep roots in Decatur was going to relocate its U.S. headquarters, but on Tuesday the British-based food ingredients processor announced plans to build a "Commercial and Food Innovation Center" in Hoffman Estates. The new operation will house the majority of research and development now being done in Decatur. About 160 positions will be based in the new Center, but the firm said only about 80 will be relocated from Decatur.
"We're excited about this investment that we're making, and it's really helping to transform the company into the world leading specialty food and ingredients business," said company spokesman Chris Olsen.
The company, which makes products such as high fructose corn syrup, will keep its American headquarters and leadership team in place - and for that, Decatur city manager Ryan McCrady credited the persuasive powers of area leaders.
"At the end of the day we don't exactly know why they make their decisions," McCrady said. "Obviously Decatur is a much lower-cost alternative as far as operating when you compare it to Chicago. Low water and sewer rates and our inexpensive housing for their employees we feel are all a factor."
Tate and Lyle will get a $15 million package of incentives from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for the new Chicago-area facility, but McCrady said the state has to walk a fine line between helping one location and helping the entire state retain jobs.
With about 500 jobs remaining in Decatur, Olson said the company will continue to be a significant part of the community.
A leading University of Illinois faculty member said it is good to see the Urbana campus initiating a process by which the contracts of faculty will be looked at before being renewed.
The review process concerns adjunct faculty member Kenneth Howell, who was told at the end of the academic year he would no longer teach courses on Catholicism. A student complained about an e-mail Howell sent to all his students regarding homosexual acts. Howell was later re-instated to the position after the Alliance Defense Fund threatened to sue the university.
The U of I's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure completed the review of Howell, which was released Monday by the online journal, 'Inside Higher Ed'. Urbana Faculty Senate Executive Committee Chair Joyce Tolliver said this report is important for all academics. "That is, I think the primary and most important recommendation of this report," Tolliver said. "That we get something in writing that would be a campus-level procedure to avoid this sort of ad-hoc decision making that we've had to make from department to department in the absence of any procedure to follow."
Tolliver has already met with Interim Chancellor Robert Easter to talk about setting up such a process for reviewing academic contracts. She would not give specifics of the panel's review of Howell. The Alliance Defense Fund threatened to sue the U of I when Howell was dismissed. An ADF attorney, Jordan Lorence, said the U of I Committee's report was correct in that all faculty, including adjunct professors, should be afforded academic freedoms to express opinions and given their due process rights.
"This faculty committee says 'look, we have to have some procedures in place to make sure that no one is just dismissed," Lorence said. "Not because they're a bad teacher, but because some people don't agree with what he's asserting in the classroom, and that would be a step forward for everybody."
It is not known how 'Inside Higher Ed' obtained the report. U of I Law Professor Matthew Finkin, who chairs the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, declined to comment, saying these are 'personal issues.' U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler issued a statement, stating 'the university appreciates the work of the committee, and agrees "with their assessment that teaching about religion versus advocating a religious belief or doctrine is a complex issue.
A central Illinois high school has agreed to phase out its cardinal logo after Illinois State University complained that it looked too much like ISU's Reggie Redbird mascot.
ISU's Director of Licensing Jerry Abner said the university has an obligation to protect its intellectual property, saying the Sangamon County school district needs to start scrubbing its website and printed materials of the logo right away.
Pleasant Plains Superintendent Maureen Talbert said that the school district will stop using the logo.
"They have a redbird mascot and apparently our redbird on our equipment and shirts and things is very similar," Talbert said. "They're very kind in understanding we'll work with them to make sure future products or things we sell won't have the same redbird image."
Talbert added that the district did not intentionally copy the image, and at least one parent, Laura Salvacion, in the Pleasant Plains district said the university is being too heavy handed.
"We're a little school," Salvacion said. "We send a lot of kids up there to college. You would think they'd just get a clue."
According to a letter sent to the school, ISU will allow current uses of the mascot image to continue on equipment and clothing until they are due for replacement.
The Danville City Council plans to vote on a proposal Tuesday night to raise the salaries of the city's mayor and treasurer.
The council's public works committee last week shot down a measure to boost the mayor's salary from $73,000 to $77,000 and the treasurer's salary from $43,500 to $48,000. These pay increase would be coupled with wage freezes over a four year period. Instead, the committee voted to support a four-year wage freeze with no pay hike. The measure is now headed to the full council.
According to Illinois law, the salaries of elected officials must be set before an election takes place. Alderman Rickie Williams Jr., Ward 1, is running for mayor. He said pay raises to the city's top administrators cannot be justified as the city deals with crippling budget problems and double-digit unemployment.
"If we were to authorize these salary increases, it makes it difficult for us to then go and tell workers that they won't receive salary increases if we provide them to the administration," Williams said.
Alderman William Gilbert, Ward 7, said he understands why members of the council would be apprehensive about giving more money to city officials given the current economic situation, but Gilbert said he would support one.
"I think there's areas in our budget that still need to be trimmed," Gilbert said. "A $4,000 increase over the matter of four years, I don't really see that as breaking our budget."
Gilbert said the city should align itself in a position where it can attract qualified leaders by offering competitive salaries.
The city council will also consider paying alderman based on the number of council meetings they attend, rather than a flat monthly $225 stipend.
Champaign department heads are developing a contingency plan, in case $2-million in cuts are needed.
Those reductions are in addition to the $9-million in reductions the city has already made the last few years. Several pages of suggested cuts will be discussed late next month by the city council. Assistant City Manager Dorothy David said cuts could include customer service jobs in the city building and police department's front desk, and reduced service hours in public works. She said it is getting to the point where snow removal could be impacted, and the city may need to make adjustments in routes and how quickly snow is removed. David said Champaign's resources to run city government are at 2006 levels.
"Even though we are seeing very slow revenue growth, our revenues are not growing as fast as our costs," said David. "When your costs grow faster than the amount of money that you're bringing in, you have to make adjustments. So the economy has really impacted us in that way."
David said if the state takes further action to reduce revenues that it shares with the city, like income tax, that would mean additional cuts. The city council will discuss these proposals in a study session November 23rd, and could develop a plan to implement them in January.
It is likely that the upcoming election will be overseen by the sitting Piatt County Clerk. A challenge to Piatt County Clerk Pat Rhoades has been thrown out of a county court.
Attorney Dan Clifton argued that Rhoades moved out of the county and thus should not be able to serve the last two months of her term. Rhoades is retiring at the end of the year, and her successor will be determined in the next election. Attorney Dan Clifton had charged that Rhoades and her family had permanently moved to Champaign County - Rhoades had said the move was temporary while they built a new home.
Judge John Shonkwiler dismissed Clifton's complaint.
Deanna Mool, who represented Rhoades, argued that Clifton did not allow a state's attorney or the attorney general to file or deny the challenge first.
"In order to get a declaratory judgment, you have to have some right that's going to be irrevocably harmed," Mool said. "This is just not that kind of controversy."
Clifton said he will not be able to file a new complaint until after Election Day, and he said he is not sure if he will try to challenge Rhodes in the last month of her term.
If no other challenges are filed, Rhoades will oversee the November 2nd election in Piatt County. Clifton stressed that the judge dismissed the case on a legal technicality and did not rule on whether Rhoades is eligible to serve.
University of Illinois students are going ahead with plans to hold a performance during Homecoming celebrating the school's former mascot, Chief Illiniwek.
Honor the Chief Society founder Roger Huddleston had said Thursday that the event featuring the retired U of I symbol would be postponed after the University gave supporters a cease-and-desist order over the use of the "Chief Illiniwek" name and the "ILLINI" trademark on pins, posters, and other merchandise.
However, by Friday U of I student Ivan Dozier, who is known as the "current chief," said that although the Students for Chief Illiniwek society could not afford both a legal fight and the dance, the organization decided late Thursday to ago ahead with the dance.
Huddleston said his group will not be obliged to back the students in case of any legal action, but he said he appreciates their enthusiasm for the Chief, which the U of I discontinued as an official symbol three years ago. Opponents called the Chief racially divisive.
Huddleston said not only can his group not afford the legal fight, and he said moving forward with the performance would jeopardize Students for Chief Illiniwek as a registered group on campus. He said he wants both groups associated with Chief Illiniwek to meet with U of I President Michael Hogan.
"I love my university," he said. "We're not trying to hurt them in any way, and I certainly don't want to hurt the students here. Hopefully we can come to an amicable understanding somewhere down the road here, and we can go on with our lives."
The Honor the Chief Society has held the event the past two years, renting out the Assembly Hall.
(Photo courtesy of the Chief Illiniwek Facebook page)
Preliminary talks have started about building a new Central High School in Champaign.
About 50 residents attended Unit 4's first meeting to look at seven potential sites for replacing the more than 70-year old school. The district will use more than $3-million in facilities sales tax money to buy land for the school by next spring or fall, and a tax referendum for school construction will not go before voters until 2012 or 2013. If it passes on the district's first attempt, the new school would be built about two years later.
David Frye has a son in 7th grade, and said he hopes the work is done by time he graduates.
"That's six years from now. and I guess I've got my doubts at this point that he's going to benefit from this at all," Frye said. "I know there's always this question of, 'what's in it for me?' But what's in it for me is the chance to see my son and my son's friends get to graduate from a nice, modern high school. I'd love to see that."
Frye said his older son was involved in music and sports at Central, forcing him to walk to other school campuses for practice or games.
Unit 4 wants the new school to accommodate 1,500 or more students, with those practice areas on site, and nearby park space. Unit 4 School Board President Dave Tomlinson said he estimates a tax referendum would require $50 to $80 million. He said the seven sites are being studied not only with population growth in mind, but the transportation available for getting to them.
Nancy Hoetker is a Central High parent.
"There's a lot of us who currently drive a fair amount to get our children where they need to be here at Central," Hoetker said. "And we're going to be able to do that wherever we are, but there's another population that relies on the public transportation or proximity, and how are they going to be served by these locations."
Of the seven potential sites for the new school, four are near the north end of Prospect Avenue, including one along Olympian Drive. Two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign. Unit 4's web site will soon contain a place for sending in comments on those locations.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
(Graphic Courtesy of Champaign Unit 4 Schools)
U.S. House Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) said he would discourage communities in his district from further involvement in the FutureGen project.
Johnson railed against the Department of Energy after it re-worked the coal-burning power plant project, ditching plans for a new plant in Matoon and instead calling to retrofit an existing one in Meredosia.
The change infuriated Johnson, who said Coles County leaders spent millions of dollars to bring the original FutureGen to Mattoon. The Energy Department said it changed course because technology that would have been used at a new power plant in Mattoon was already being used elsewhere. Mattoon withdrew from the project when it learned it would no longer host the FutureGen power plant.
Now, the FutureGen Alliance is looking for a community to host an underground storage site for the plant's carbon dioxide emissions. Johnson said the initial winner of the project -- Mattoon - was cheated out of FutureGen because of the change, and he said communities bidding for the storage site should not get too excited.
"They want to pursue it, I'll help them," Johnson said. "But they ought to be advised that the history of this project has been an absolute disaster from the Bush administration to the Obama administration."
He added that he does not think FutureGen 2.0 will become a reality, saying if it does happen "most communities wouldn't want it."
On Tuesday, the Republican asked a House panel to look into why the new plans for the project did not include a coal-fired power plant in Mattoon, suggesting pay-to-play politics was behind the decision. He argued that an Energy Department official assigned to clean-coal projects is the former head of a firm that was chosen to work on the reconfigured FutureGen.
A spokesman for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said politics appears to be behind Congressman Johnson's call for a review of changes to the FutureGen coal-fired power plant. Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said he wants to know why the Congressman would raise these questions three weeks before an election.
"It certainly raises the question whether he's doing this to get his name in the paper or on the radio, " Shoemaker said. "I don't think this is a serious attempt to get questions answered."
Shoemaker said Johnson has asked questions about the FutureGen project before. Yet, when given the opportunity to meet with the Department of Energy, Shoemaker claimed Johnson refused to meet with the agency's officials.
Johnson shot back, questioning Durbin's own intentions.
"Senator Durbin is the very individual who pulled the plug together with the Department of Energy on a community who had their collective lifeblood in this issue," he said.
FutureGen plans to announce the site of the storage space in early 2011.
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