Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2010

State Backlog Owed to U of I Expected to Reach $500 Million Soon

A University of Illinois administrator said he hopes state leaders can give the University of Illinois some advance notice on how much money it will be able to use in its operating budget.

Members of a U of I Board of Trustees committee learned Monday that the state will likely owe the university more than $500-million by the end of the calendar year, combining the prior fiscal year with the current one. Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Doug Beckman said fiscal 2012 looks worse, partly because the state will not be able to rely on any federal stimulus funds. Beckman said it would help if the U of I knew sooner how much it could expect.

"We'd love to have more lead time, but we understand it's a very, very difficult political issue," said Beckman. "There's got to be a combination of cuts and revenue, it would appear, to balance this budget. That is a difficult process. There's hard decisions to be made. I think we would trade a 10-percent cut for certainty right now, at least I would."

Beckman stated that the U of I has to operate under the assumption that some state funds will be cut, and he said the university will adjust to a pension reform plan signed by Governor Pat Quinn in April. Beckman said it is a step in the right direction in that it reduces the state's costs. The plan reduces benefits for those hired after January 1st of next year, raises the retirement age to 67, and caps maximum benefits at just under $107-thousand.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2010

Extending Olympian Drive to Lincoln Ave Is the Goal For Now

A Champaign County Board member said he expects the first meeting soon of a board subcommittee assigned with looking at the Olympian Drive extension project.

The panel was put together by Chair Pius Weibel after county board members failed to reach consensus on a project, or different options of that plan. Republican Alan Nudo said he and many of his colleagues were embarrassed by how the board looked after the lengthy discussion at last Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting. The new panel is expected to meet with Urbana and Champaign officials in the next few days.

Meanwhile, Urbana Chief of Staff Mike Monson said the immediate goal will be to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue, and then carrying it out to US 45. Nudo said the new subcommittee has the ability to get the Olympian project approved to Lincoln, which he said he has backed all along. However, Nudo added that further road development should head west instead of east.

"All Republicans were taking a look at it very hard to see if it was really necessary financially, if we could afford it, and what (how much money) the feds were going to put in there," said Nudo. "We stayed together on that, but personally I've always felt that Lincoln is the prudent way to go, and quite frankly, I think the next step is to look at Duncan (Duncan Avenue in West Champaign). Nudo Duncan is really the more opportune area to connect before 45, but that's, again, a whole other issue."

Monson said most funding for extending Lincoln to Olympian is in place, and would cost roughly $20-million, but Nudo said he expects the project to run at least $10-million, when considering amenities like larger medians and bike paths. The project would rely on a mix of state, federal, and local matching funds. Monson said large trucks cannot drive on the northernmost part of Lincoln, which he described a narrow, winding road meant only for cars. He said that will require the Champaign County Board to sign off on this first phase of the plan for Olympian, and to determine what amenities the public wants.

"If you do a side path, that's going to cost extra," said Monson. "Wetlands, landscaping, those things can all add to the cost - or not. Actually the roundabout that we're talking about would save a half-million dollars. Those decisions haven't been made, so an exact cost isn't known."

The subcommittee also includes Republican Greg Knott, and Democrat Ralph Langenheim. A fifth member will be chosen soon. That panel is expected to have a concrete recommendation for the county board to vote on by November.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2010

Danville Teachers and Support Staff Go On Strike

Danville teachers and support staff went on strike Monday morning, after 14 hours of negotiations with a federal mediator failed to produce an agreement.

Danville Education Association President Robin Twidwell says the union was countering the district's proposal of a freeze on salaries with a freeze on salary schedules --- that is, the times and amounts set for automatic salary increases. Twidwell argued that District 118 has the money for salary increases, because it is due for millions in federal funding from a recently passed stimulus bill.

"In light of the fact that the district just got confirmation that they're receiving $2.5 million from the federal government, we thought that offering a salary schedule freeze for two years was more than reasonable," said Twidwell.

But Danville School Superintendent Mark Denman said the grant money is meant to be used to hire new teachers and rehire laid-off ones. He said some of the money could be used for salary raises, but that the money would not last long.

"If we use this one-time money --- a large amount of it --- for salary increases, when the money is gone in one year, how do you sustain that," asked Denman.

Denman said the district had other offers on the table, including a proposal for 2 percent pay raises, coupled with higher employee payments for health insurance.

For now, classes and nearly all extracurricular activities are canceled in Danville School District 118. The exceptions are practice sessions --- but no games --- for Danville High School's football, boys' soccer and girls' tennis teams, using volunteer coaches. And the girls' softball team from North Ridge Middle School can continue its competition in a state tournament.

No new contract talks are scheduled at this time, but Denman said they are trying schedule another bargaining session with the federal mediator. Meanwhile, the Danville School Board has scheduled a special meeting this evening to discuss the strike in closed session. Additional meetings have been scheduled for every night this week, if needed.

Categories: Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 10, 2010

Curtis Road Now Open from I-57 to US Route 45

The Curtis Road - I-57 Interchange opened more than two years ago, and now motorists can use it to travel to and from Champaign-Urbana.

Louis Braghini has been the project engineer for the city of Champaign, which acted as the lead agent this phase of the Curtis Road improvements. He said a former two-lane oil-and-chip pavement is now a four-lane highway, with concrete cross-sections, street lights, traffic signals at the Prospect and Mattis Avenue intersections, plus landscaping.

Savoy Village Administrator Dick Helten said the route will bring new traffic to businesses in his town, both the existing ones along Route 45, and the ones he expects to locate along the new improved Curtis Road.

"I think the numbers will jump up dramatically over the next few weeks," said Helten. "And those businesses, future businesses, are going to see an incredible opportunity for their businesses to thrive."

Development right around the Curtis Road interchange will be in the city of Champaign. The first development is to be anchored by a new Christie Clinic. Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight said the Research Park and sporting events at the University of Illinois campus will also benefit.

The next phase of Curtis Road improvements is set to continue east, past Route 45, including a viaduct at the Canadian National tracks. The village of Savoy will take the lead for that project, but Helten said that project does not yet have funding or a scheduled start date.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 10, 2010

Administrator Says Decisions on UI Budget Reviews Coming Soon

A University of Illinois administrator says leaders are close to reaching conclusions on some budget reviews on different Urbana campus units.

The 17 areas reviewed by the 'Stewarding Excellence' project teams have ranged from the Institute of Aviation, to campus utilities, to the Office of Vice Chancellor for Research. Teams started looking at them in February to find ways to cut costs. Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said some departments will require further review, extending well into the fall. However, he said even for those in which his office is ready to make some changes, only some can be done at the top, while others require faculty involvement.

"We would make a recommendation if we wanted to make a particular change, a recommendation to the Faculty Senate, and appropriate committees," said Easter. "They would then have to work through that, so there may be an expectation that we'll just announce a final decision. In some cases what we'll announce is a recommendation."

Easter said many of the recommended changes will have to be forwarded to the U of I's Board of Trustees. He said other areas could be up for review.

"The steering committee that has been more or less directing this over the last several months, and they've continued their activity through the summer, have identified about 10 other areas where they think it would be useful for us to do some reviews," said Easter. "And we've not made a decision to pursue those, but that's something else we're looking at at the moment."

Easter said those areas aren't being identified.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 09, 2010

UI Freshman Enrollment Slightly Down

A University of Illinois administrator says freshman class numbers show Illinois' economy has not driven students away.

Freshman enrollment is down only slightly, just over 6,930 students compared to 6,990 in the fall of 2009. However, Urbana campus Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said the U of I should better prove than it can recruit students from all walks of life.

"Obviously we're interested in students who come from a diversity of backgrounds within our state," said Easter. "The different economic levels, different cultural backgrounds, we want to have a diverse campus that's reflective of the population of the state."

Easter said he is disappointed the number of African American freshmen is down from a year ago. That number decreased by more than 17-percent, but the number of Latinos went up by 11 percent.

Easter also said the U of I's 885 new transfer students shows there is an increased emphasis on working with community colleges to help students who cannot afford a four year education at a public university.

He noted it is also a good class academically, with an average ACT score of over 28. There are 31,252 undergraduate students enrolled at the Urbana campus this fall, up from 31,209 a year ago, an increase of less than 1 tenth of 1 percent. Fall enrollment is up by more than five percent at both the Chicago and Springfield campuses.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 09, 2010

Urbana Police Chief To Retire

Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily will retire later this month, after more than 25 years with the department.

Bily plans to step down September 22nd. Mayor Laurel Prussing will recommend Assistant Chief Patrick Connolly as his Bily's replacement at a special city council meeting on Monday. Bily was named chief in 2006, succeeding Eddie Adair. He was named assistant chief in 2004, and has been with the department since 1984.

Mayor Prussing was not available for comment this week. Her chief of staff, Mike Monson said the city's crime rate has dropped 33 percent under Bily. Monson said Urbana's Citizen Police Review Board was started under Chief Bily to hear concerns about police action.

"Those were kind of controversial when it was implemented, but it's working very well - the department's accepted it," said Monson. "Mike's a top-notch administrator as well, and was a team player when we had to leave some positions vacant this past fiscal year to keep our budget in good standing."

Monson said Bily has been also good working with the public, representing the department well in neighborhood association meetings.

Monday night's special meeting is at 7pm in the Urbana council chambers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 09, 2010

Danville School District Tryng to Bring Teachers Back

With contract negotiations and a possible strike on the horizon, Danville school officials are trying to restore teaching positions that were cut in a series of layoffs last spring.

The state currently owes Danville's schools about $3 million in unpaid bills. Legislation President Obama signed in August doles out about $2.5 million to support education. The money could allow District 118 to hire more teachers and issue pay raises, which is one of the demands by union officials.

Superintendent Mark Denman cautioned that while the money may provide some temporary relief to Danville's schools, he said it is not a permanent fix to Illinois' fiscal problems.

"If we hired a number of people back, and then next March the federal month is not coming any further in the next year and state funding isn't better," he said. "Then those jobs will have to be eliminated in all probability at that time."

Denman said the school district needs to submit proposals to the federal government outlining how it would spend the money. He said he hopes to go over possible spending options in a couple of weeks with the school board during its regular meeting.

In the meantime, the school board is scheduled to continue negotiations on Sunday with union members in an attempt to avert a possible strike.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 09, 2010

Champaign County Boosts Head Start Enrollment

The Champaign County Head Start program kicked off the new school year Thursday with 56 more children.

With the help of $810,000 in federal funding, the program has expanded its early childhood division to serve more infants and toddlers. Enrollment has been added to its existing center in Rantoul, and a new site in Urbana. Kathleen Liffick is the director of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission's Early Childhood Division. Liffick said the expansion only meets about 36 percent of the community's need for Early Head Start services.

"But it is a small step and we're glad to be able to do that," she said. "We will be certainly be looking for additional expansion opportunities should the federal government make those available."

Playground enhancements were also made with a $68,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois grant at sites in Rantoul, Savoy, and Urbana.

The new Urbana center is located at 108 South Webber Street. For questions about enrollment or to complete an enrollment application, call 217-384-1252 to speak with a family advocate.

(Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission)

Categories: Community, Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 08, 2010

Danville Teachers Overwhelmingly Support Strike

A negotiating session Sunday is all that will keep Danville teachers and support staff from walking off the job.

Union President Robin Twidwell said a vote to strike got overwhelming support in a membership meeting Wednesday night, almost exactly the same numbers as when the Danville Education Association backed an intent-to-strike vote two weeks ago. A strike is set to start Monday, but Twidwell said there is a chance Sunday's negotiations can avert that.

"We still remain hopeful that we will be able to get this contract settled on Sunday and resume our normal duties on Monday," said Twidwell.

After the votes were cast by union members, the school board held a two-hour closed session meeting to discuss the ripple affect a strike could have on the school district. School board president Bill Dobbles said a strike would essentially shut down schools in the area, bringing a halt to extracurricular activities and most sporting events.

"The only exception is that I think there's some like middle school state tournaments going on," he said. "If a tournament started before the strike, then those teams can continue to play."

Dobbles also said health insurance covered through the district would for now remain intact, but he said depending how long a strike lasts, that could eventually fall into the hands of union members.

The school board will continue discussing its response to a possible strike on Friday afternoon. Dobbles said he remains hopeful that the two sides can reach common ground by Sunday's negotiating session at 2pm with a federal mediator. This will be the fourth meeting in which the two sides have sought mediation.

District 118 Superintendent Mark Denman said progress was made in a 4-hour session Tuesday night, but Twidwell said she would characterize it as 'having dialogue' on some issues.

The union is asking for salary increases, ways to balance the larger class sizes caused by last spring's staff reductions, and improved retirement incentives.

Categories: Education, Politics

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