Illinois Public Media News
State grants are going to several projects in eastern Illinois that will make the way clearer for bicyclists and pedestrians. They range from nearly $626,000 to add bike lanes and walkway improvements to Urbana's Main Street to more than $1.24 million for a new bike path through Danville's Lincoln Park Historic District.
Another project getting funding is a proposed bike trail on a former railroad bed between Urbana and Kickapoo State Park near Danville. Steve Rugg heads the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation, which is working with the Champaign County Forest Preserve District on the so-called Kickapoo Trail. Rugg said the nearly $900,000 grant would help pay for land acquisition, but he said talks with the current owner of the rail bed have been deadlocked.
"We continue to work with CSX," said Rugg. "To this point we have not reached agreement, and it remains to be seen whether we'll actually get the acquisition completed."
The Illinois State Department of Transportation is giving out more than $6 million for the trails to help promote alternatives to driving. The village of Mahomet is also getting $1.18 million to help develop a pathway along Lake of the Woods Road, and the village of Rantoul will get to work on a bike path with a $782,000 grant.
A tentative agreement has been reached between Champaign's Teamsters union and representatives of the First Student bus company.
The two sides met for about eight hours Friday discussing details of a new three-year contract for 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors in the Danville School District. Those employees have been working without a contract since August 1st, and have never publicly announced plans to strike.
"We're very pleased to have a tentative agreement," said Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the First Student bus company. "We very much value all of our employees - our drivers, monitors, mechanics, across the board - and take pride in the excellent work every day."
Richmond refrained from releasing details about the proposed contract, saying the union must first ratify the agreement. She said she expects union members to vote on the contract sometime within the next week.
Since July, the union had been demanding higher wages and benefits. Officials from Teamsters Local 26 did not return a call for comment.
(Photo courtesy of First Student)
With less than a week until Election Day, it looks like a tight race for Illinois Governor.
Pre-election polls show Republican State Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington has a chance to take the office from incumbent Pat Quinn, a Democrat.
Brady said if he is elected, he will give up a leadership role in his family's real estate development business.
Governor Quinn has tried to nail Brady for using his position as a state senator to help line his own pockets. Published reports detail that Brady voted for legislation affecting land near Champaign that his family's home construction firm had purchased with plans to develop it. The project did not go forward, but the measure would have upped the land's property value. Quinn said Brady's vote was a conflict of interest
"There are no conflicts with my business and state government," he said. "But being Governor of the State of Illinois is a full-time job. I will recuse myself of the management responsibility I've had in the business and focus full time on the state of Illinois."
Still, that is a signal he will not fully leave the business behind. The firm has fallen on hard times in recent years, taking losses to the point Brady owed no federal income taxes.
Quinn has also attacked Brady for not paying taxes while Brady said it shows how Illinois businesses have suffered under Democratic leadership.
Brady's running mate is Jason Plummer, a 27-year-old who used his family's wealth to propel his primary campaign. Plummer has never before held state office.
Quinn is living proof a Lieutenant Governor could be moved into the state's top spot. He became Governor after Rod Blagojevich's removal from office. Critics say Plummer is too inexperienced.
"Jason Plummer has a great deal of experience at a family business, not even a small business, a large business, that he has been involved in," Brady said. "He's a member of the Navy, Reserves, and and he's got a great deal of experience. I think his experience puts him in a great position to help lead as Lieutenant Governor of the state and I'm proud to have him on the ticket."
However, Brady said there's "room to adjust" Illinois' method of letting primary voters elect governor and lieutenant governor nominees separately in the primary. Brady did not pick Plummer to share the ticket. Only after the general election do the winners run as a team. Quinn also ran separately from Blagojevich in two primaries.
Other contenders in the gubernatorial race include the Green Party's Rich Whitney, Libertarian Lex Green and independent Scott Lee Cohen.
Illinois released school-by-school test score data Friday, and it shows 2010 to be a watershed year: More than half of the state's schools are now considered failing under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Schools were supposed to get 77.5 percent of their students to meet standards in reading and math during the 2009-2010 school year, a significant increase from the year prior. That is one reason why more Illinois schools missed the mark than made it.
"The levels have gone up and that's what No Child Left Behind was designed to do, keep ratcheting up the levels each year," said Jesse Ruiz, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education.
Ruiz and other state leaders have said they want to see schools measured on "growth" once No Child Left Behind is reauthorized, which could happen early next year. Growth models look at how much students improve year to year, rather than the percentage of students who meet standards.
Most schools in the state did show improvement. But that often did not matter for schools, which can eventually face sanctions for failing to meet testing targets.
"Our AP exams are the best they've ever been, our ACT exams are the best they've ever been, and yet we didn't make the cut-off point, so it was very disappointing," said Sandra Doebert, superintendent of Lemont High School District 210 in the southwest suburbs. This was the first year Lemont has run afoul of the federal law.
Doebert points to the state's difficult high school test-which includes the ACT college entrance exam-as one reason 90 percent of the state's high schools failed to meet standards. Nearly everyone in the state agrees that Illinois elementary school standards are not rigorous enough, and that causes elementary school students to arrive at high school unprepared.
That's one reason the state board adopted new learning standards in June. New tests are being developed and will debut in the 2014-2015 school year.
Test scores released Friday show that Chicago schools posted the highest-and lowest-test scores in the state. At the high school level, city kids who test into Chicago's elite selective enrollment high schools again beat out posh districts like New Trier and Deerfield.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
Numbers released Friday show nearly 500 schools are at least 90 percent poor and 90 percent minority, but only one of them has also gotten 90 percent of its students to meet standards on state tests. Illinois Public Radio's Linda Lutton reports from the state's only "90-90-90" school.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
Heavy turnout has made an early voting site on the University of Illinois campus a success, according to the Champaign County Clerk.
Mark Shelden said when the Gregory Place location closed Thursday, 857 people had cast their ballot. Meanwhile, 2,981 had cast their ballots at Urbana's Brookens Center, meaning with absentee totals thus far, a total of 5,386 had already voted. But at the campus polling site, Shelden said only about 10-percent of the voters were U of I students. He said voters from all over the county came to the site over the 18-day early voting period, including faculty and people living in rural areas.
The campus polling site was mandated by a new state law, but Shelden suggested an alternative, if legislators are willing to fund it.
"You could do two or three days in Mahomet, two or three days in St. Joseph, a couple days in the western campus area and a couple of days in the eastern campus area," he said. "I mean, there are ways to do it that can be fair for everybody and at the same time, not overly tax all our resources."
Shelden selected Gregory Place over the Illini Union, saying the heavy political activity there made it inappropriate site for early voting. Democrats on the Champaign County Board and the U of I Student Senate opposed the decision, saying the Union would be free to use and easier to find.
David Pileski, who chairs the Student Senate's Committee on Governmental Affairs, said a more open dialogue with Shelden may have produced a compromise.
"There's Foellinger Hall, which houses a lot of space that students could vote early in, as well as other buildings that could be utilized on this campus had we dealt with it in advance prior to a couple of months," Pileski said.
This was the first election to include a state-mandated campus polling site. Nolan Drea, the Vice President of the Student Senate, suggested legislators write a stronger bill that specifies that all campus early voting take place at a university-owned location, like a campus union.
Shelden said voters have not complained about the Gregory street location, or paying the parking meters there. Champaign County's total of early votes for the 2006 election was less than 4,000. Shelden says with the additional absentee votes and ballots from voters in nursing homes, Champaign County will likely have cast more than 6,000 ballots before polls even open on Tuesday.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
The job market in Illinois is showing a sign of improvement.
The unemployment rate for September in the Champaign-Urbana area fell from 9.4% in August to 8.3% in September - that's .4 less than at this time a year ago.
The state Department of Employment Security says every other metropolitan area in the state also saw a lower jobless rate in September compared to September of 2009 - the first time a statewide decrease has taken place since early 2007.
About 800 more people in the Champaign area were working in September over August according to the monthly figures. Danville's unemployment rate fell in the last month to 10.8% - Decatur's jobless rate dropped to 10.9%. Bloomington-Normal continues to have the lowest unemployment rate in Illinois at 7.2%.
Talks will resume Friday morning between Teamsters Local 226 and representatives of the First Student bus company, which runs transportation services in the Danville School District.
The two sides have been mulling over a new three-year contract for the district's 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors who respond to 56 routes. The union wants those employees to get higher wages and benefits.
After more than four months of contract negations, Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the bus company, said she had hoped to reach a resolution by now.
"We do believe that the compensation and benefits package that we've offered to the union representatives is a fair market value, especially given the current economic conditions," Richmond said.
Richmond would not release details of the proposed contract.
Union members have not formally announced plans to walk off the job and strike, even though its members have been without a contract since August 1.
A representative from the Teamsters Union could not be reached for comment.
A voter guide put out by a local health care advocacy group shows rough adherence to political party lines when it comes to health care issues and Illinois candidates.
Of the candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate, only Congressional candidate David Gill (D-Bloomington) responded to the survey from the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, but state Senate candidate Al Reynolds (R-Danville) and State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Champaign) took part.
The group's director, Claudia Lennhoff, said even though this year's health care overhaul is a national undertaking, state lawmakers' views on health care play a big role.
"So much of the implementation of national health reform actually happens at the state level and requires state legislatures to pass laws in order to enact some of the health reform changes," said Lennhoff.
While Jakobsson supports implementing the health care bill, Reynolds opposes it. However, Reynolds and Jakobsson agree that the state should enact controls on rising health insurance premiums.
East Central Illinois Republicans say Governor Pat Quinn is lying when saying that the early release of prisoners has been 'stopped cold.'
Mahomet State Representative Chapin Rose said the governor's latest campaign ads are misleading. He cites the Department of Corrections data that indicates more than 2,000 prisoners, including violent offenders, that have been set free since July.
"The day his ads began to run, that very day they released (someone convicted of) aggravated unlawful use of a weapon," Rose said. "There's a murderer in here. Aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Battery of a pregnant person. Numerous firearms offenses. All let out since (Quinn) told the people he stopped the program."
In July, a bill sponsored by Senator and gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) went into effect requiring the Department of Corrections to require public notification of the prisoners granted Meritorious Good Time Release.
Early this year, Governor Quinn did away with a program called MGT Push, but also suspended all other early release programs. Sharyn Elman, a spokeswoman for Illinois' Department of Corrections, called the accusations "completely false and political posturing."
"The Governor terminated MGT Push as of December of 2009 and no prisoners have been released under MGT Push," Elman said. "MGT was suspended in January of 2010, and no awards have been granted since that time."
Rose noted while the programs are technically over, the state has not revoked the good-time credit of prisoners who earned it, and that is why some prisoners are still being set free. He said Governor Quinn is relying on semantics and not awarding any new credit to prisoners in order to claim the programs have been suspended or shut down.
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