Illinois Public Media News
What could be one of the final court hearings on the Champaign school district's consent decree is uncovering some doubt over a proposed settlement.
A federal judge invited written public comment on the proposal that would end seven years of court supervision over racial equity issues in Unit 4. On Tuesday, some of those commenters testified in person.
Before those people spoke, Champaign superintendent Arthur Culver answered a concern from Judge Joe Billy McDade that the public skepticism may stem from what happens in individual school - in other words, some staff may revert back to old habits or not share the same concern for equity.
I think it's clear that we're serous about this work," said Culver. "If our staff members aren't coming to work with the same vision and mission that we have set for this district, then there are consequences."
Part of the settlement includes a new committee to oversee future equity issues, such as alternative education or student assignment. Ardice James, with the National Council of African American Men worries that the Education Equity Excellence committee may not have any teeth.
"Who would this committee report to?" asked James. "I feel that this committee should report to the board and more or less be advisory. I also believe that any recommendation that this committee proposes, that the Board of Education should consider that recommendation very strongly."
But Carol Ashley, an attorney for the plaintiffs whose suit led to the consent decree, says that committee will be guided by a third party. It's not known when Judge McDade will decide to accept or deny the settlement.
The hearing was a rare event for a federal court in central Illinois. After initially ruling that television crews could videotape the courtroom hearing -- a rarity in the federal court system -- Judge Mc Dade responded to complaints from radio newspaper reporters and opened recording to all media. McDade told reporters before the hearing that he had made a mistake in believing he was approving one station's request to broadcast the entire hearing live, and he opened the hearing up to all recording devices out of fairness.
Champaign and Urbana are vying for federal grant money to build a network of broadband computer service in underserved areas. But that could entice the cities to look into broadening the service even further.
Urbana city council members have held holding a study session on the subject. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the grant - if the cities win it - could be an opportunity to offer internet, TV and phone service at a competitive rate to nearly all residents.
"What I'd like to see, instead of having something that's going to be taking money from the cities over the future, I'd like to see it set up as a utility so that the cities can provide service to the public, and get revenue so we wouldn't have to rely so much on taxes," Prussing said.
The so-called big broadband project is already working to extend coverage to key community facilities like libraries, along with parts of the cities that may not be covered by private fiber-optic projects. Prussing says the council still needs to decide whether to pursue the federal grant, how much it would want to spend and how to develop a business plan for broadband service.
After a year of training police and army forces in Afghanistan, members of an Army National Guard unit based in Urbana are back home.
About 80 members of the Urbana Headquarters unit of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team were welcomed home at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall last night. A brief ceremony featured an even briefer speech from Governor Pat Quinn. "We are proud of you Guard members. You're the best of the best, the pride of our nation, the pride of our sate," Quinn said. "May the will of the people be the law of the land, and thank you very much."
But the real highpoint came after the soldiers were dismissed, so they could rejoin their families. Sergeant Paul Ogwal of Champaign received flowers from his family, and a hug from his 5 year old son, Faraji. For the past year, Faraji's contact with his dad has been through phone calls and email, and during leave midpoint through the deployment. Ogwal says that sort of separation can be hard for a young child to understand.
"When I came back on leave I bought a globe," Ogwal said. "And I put his name on Illinois, and I had an arrow pointing to Afghanistan to help him picture where I was."
Another 20 members of the 33rd Infantry's Urbana unit rejoined their families in a ceremony earlier in the day in suburban Rockford. A Champaign unit of the 33rd returned home to Champaign last Friday.
Because of the admissions scandal, the president and Urbana campus chancellor at the University of Illinois should go ---- once "new leadership" is in place. That's the main advice to the Board of Trustees, offered in a non-binding resolution passed by the Academic Senate at the Urbana campus in a special meeting Monday.
The vote was 98 to 55, after Senators heard from president Joseph White and Chancellor Richard Herman, the two administrators named in the resolution.
White says he had no direct role in the admissions scandal, and had often fought to protect the university against political pressures from the Blagojevich administration. "The notion that I would submit to pressure or apply pressure for admissions or anything else in order to please the high and mighty is dead wrong", he told the Senate.
Herman admitted making mistakes in the admissions process, but asked for a second chance. "Give me the opportunity", he asked the Senate, "to convince you, the Board of Trustees and the public, that my body of work is worthy enough to consider that I be given the opportunity to continue in our cause. Every day, our future accomplishments will be my atonement."
But the resolution says that in addition to admissions reform, the Board of Trustees must hold White and Herman accountable to save the U of I's reputation. Political Science Professor Paul Diehl does not serve on the Academic Senate, but argued for the resolution at the special meeting. Diehl cited instances of intervention in the admissions process in support of a relative, direct orders to admit individuals over faculty judgment, and a 300-thousand dollar "payoff" to the law school as compensation for taking under qualified students --- all as reasons why White and Herman should depart.. "There's certain types of transgressions", said Diehl, "that are just so egregious that they don't merely tip the scale, but they make it come crashing down."
The resolution welcomes invitations from some new trustees for greater Board consultation with the Academic Senate. That's all that survived from a substitute motion that would have called for a review of White and Herman's performance, but would stop short of calling for their removal.
Senate Executive Committee Chair Joyce Tolliver says they proposed that motion after new trustees including Board Chairman Chris Kennedy showed an interest in greater faculty input, during a meeting last Friday with Academic Senate representatives.Tolliver says the level of faculty input proposed would be "unprecedented". But she says she understands the Senate's preference for the original resolution. "It was the consensus of the Senate that it was necessary to make a strong statement", she explained.
In a late turn of events, University of Illinois Academic Senate members will not be asked if President Joseph White and Chancellor Richard Herman should step down.
Instead, executive committee members have replaced the proposed resolution with a new one. It leaves the decision on White and Herman up to the new Board of Trustees. The resolution still says the recent admissions crisis damaged the U of I's reputation and says simple reforms to admissions policies won't undo that damage.
But in an email to other Senate members issued late Sunday night, executive committee chair Joyce Tolliver says talks between Senate leaders and new Trustees chair Chris Kennedy on Friday led to the change - in the email, Tolliver says there's promise of a more richly collaborative relationship with the new board.
The resolution will be up for discussion at the full Senate's meeting Monday afternoon at the Levis Faculty Center.
Authorities say they hope to make more headway this week in an investigation into the death of a former chief fundraiser for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch said police on Monday plan to pursue more interviews and hospital admittance records in the possible suicide of 51-year-old Christopher Kelly. Welch also says they'll subpoena phone records and get a search warrant for a storage locker Kelly might have rented.
On Sunday, medical examiners completed an autopsy and detectives looked into whether drugs found in Kelly's vehicle may have factored into his death. Kelly died Saturday, just days before he was to report to prison to begin a three-year prison sentence on tax fraud charges. He was a native of Champaign.
Six people with diverse backgrounds came together for the first time at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus Thursday, and left their meeting as members of the school's Board of Trustees. The goal for them and their fellow members... reforming admissions and deciding if the current University leadership can guide that process. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports:
For the second time, a team of University of Illinois students is getting ready to take their solar-powered house to Washington D-C, where it will compete in the U-S Energy Department's biennial Solar Decathlon.
An open house on Thursday night served as a housewarming party. Graduate student in architecture Cam Greenlee played "Scotland the Brave" on the bagpipes, as the outdoor LED lights were turned on at the small house that's been dubbed the Gable Home.
With just 560 square feet of living space, the three-room house is small --- cozy, according to one student. Greenlee says the Solar Decathlon rules call for homes of no more than 800 square feet --- and some of that space went for things like the one-foot thick insulation to help insure energy efficiency.
"And so a lot of our design had to do with how do we use the little space that we have very efficiently", explained Greenlee. "And so, even though it's 560 square feet, I think two people could comfortably live in the house."
The south side of the Gable Home's roof is covered entirely in solar panels, the source -- both directly and indirectly --- for all of the home's power. While solar homes in past competitions used batteries at night, new rules at the Solar Decathlon allow the use of electricity from the conventional power grid. However, the house must send at least as much electricity back into the grid as it takes out. U of I Architecture Professor and Project Manager Mark Taylor says the Gable Home does that, and then some.
"If you actually go around to the east side", says Taylor, "you can see our little (electric) meter that you have on a typical house. And it's actually spinning backwards."
The U of I Solar Decathlon Team worked with area firms to build the Gable Home. Springfield-based Lamboo Incorporated developed the treated bamboo used in the home's frame. Goodfield-based Homeway Homes handled the modular construction, leaving it up to the students to design the home's interior and energy system.
Graduate student in architecture Philip Dimick helped design the Gable Home's compact bedroom. Because of the home's small size, Dimick says they used cabinets with sliding doors and wardobes to maximize space. "The challenge of the bedroom was that in order to get all the space we wanted in the main room (a combination kitchen, dining room and living room), we needed to not have a bedroom closet. And so that required the design of the cabinets."
When the U of I first entered the Solar Decathlon in 2007, their entry came in 9th place overall, out of 19 teams. This year, the U of I's Gable Home will be among 20 entries from the U-S, Canada and Europe.
The Gable Home will be transported to Washington D-C, to be set up with 19 other Solar Decathlon entries on the National Mall, October 9th through the 18th. For now, it's on display on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. It's open to the public Saturday and Sunday, September 12th and 13th, from 10 AM until 6 PM.
University of Illinois trustees have elected Chicago businessman Christopher Kennedy to be their new chairman.
Kennedy is one of six new members of the university's governing board appointed the past few weeks by Gov. Pat Quinn. Quinn made the appointments following a series of trustee resignations over the university's admissions scandal.
Kennedy was selected over Edward McMillan, a southern Illinois businessman. McMillan was among those who resigned from the board but was reappointed by Quinn.
Kennedy is a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and he runs Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago. Earlier this month, he announced that he'd considered but decided against running for Illinois governor and for the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
There were no additional arrests or weapons found after Rantoul Township High School was on a 'soft lockdown' for a second straight day yesterday. Superintendent Janet Koroscik says there will still be a police presence at the school today, but won't require that teachers or administrators accompany students that leave the classroom. There have been at least eight arrests following two fights off school grounds on Friday, and the discovery of knives on three students when searches were conducted Tuesday. Koroscik says school administrators and Rantoul police will meet soon to determine a long-term solution.
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