Illinois Public Media News
Like many others in Illinois, the Mahomet Seymour School District is looking at painful budget cuts as a way to cope with the state's revenue crisis. And at a special meeting last (Thursday) night, more than 150 came to a special school board meeting to defend the programs they care about.
Out of the $620,276 in proposed cuts, reductions in the number of elementary classes and the elimination of intramural sports and the enrichment program received the most criticism. Lisa Powell told Mahomet Syemour school board members she had moved to Mahomet for its schools, and that cutting the enrichment program would hurt.
"A gifted child's needs are not met in the standard classroom", said Powell. "So you are going to lose children. You are going to have children who are bored. And when children are bored, what do they do? They become a Problem."
The proposed reductions in the number of elementary school classes would lead to larger class sizes in every grade but first grade. Jeff Hamilton was one of several parents who asked the school board find an alternative.
"I have a first grader with Special Education needs", explained Hamilton. "Small class sizes are very important and need to be maintained to give my daughter the best opportunity she has to succeed in school and in her life."
Others suggested that some of the cuts could be avoided by dipping into Mahomet-Seymour's $2,000,000 Education Fund. But School Board President Terry Greene says that could be risky, leading to even more budget cuts down the line.
"It was just six years ago that this school district was $1.6 million in the hole", said Greene after the public comments were completed. "We don't want to go back to the day where we have to lay off people, cut programs, raise fees through the roof. So we're trying to be responsible, trying to be thoughtful."
Greene says the Mahomet-Seymour school board will continue budget discussions next week --- and take a final vote at its March 15th meeting.
A plan to move air traffic control radar services from Willard Airport to the Chicago area in five years isn't sitting well with the airport's manager.
Steve Wanzek says he's finding little justification for an FAA proposal to move those employees from Champaign to Elgin. The radar control workers monitor air traffic just outside of the visual range of the tower. Willard is getting an updated control tower... and Wanzek says plans are to leave those facilities out, since the radar employees can perform the same function elsewhere. Willard's radar facilities also serve air traffic in Danville and Decatur. But Wanzek says communicating with radar control in the suburbs means losing local knowledge of the region in the event of an emergency. "We get a pilot that's lost or whatever who might able to identify some kind of landmark," says Wanzek. "Whether it be an interection, or a sign, or something that the local controller might know something about because he lives here, and drives around here, and maybe he's driven by that sign or knows that intersection better than he would know if he was up in Elgin."
Wanzek also says losing those employees will hurt the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation, in which more than 250 students monitor the activites of both radar controllers and air traffic personnel on the ground. The FAA's change could impact 12 to 14 jobs. Agency spokesman Tony Molinaro says the agency continues to analyze the potential cost savings of those salaries, along with building Willard's new tower without a radar room. He also contends that only a handful of Willard employees handle multiple tasks. "The tower controllers would be sending the planes out from the runways and the radar folks are splitting them up or vice versa," says Molinaro. "People are coming from different directions, the radar folks are putting them in line, and then handing them over to the tower folks. Most of those people would stay where they are, cause we still need all those folks to be in the tower itself."
Willard Airport Air Traffic Controller Carl Jensen says he may consider relocating, but wants an explanation from the FAA regarding potential cost savings. He says it makes no sense to give some Willard employees a cost of living increase to do the same job from the Chicago area. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is also opposed to the plan.
A bill giving Illinois school districts the option of cutting their week a day short to save money could clear a House committee next week.
But Republican Sponsor Bill Black of Danville admits its chances for passing the full House are slim. The legislation was proposed last month at the request of a rural school administrator in Black's district. Jamaica School Superintendent Mark Janesky estimates the district would save $100,000 dollars a year by parking buses and leaving lights off for a day, and holding longer school hours on four days. Black says there's a big difference between the state dollars coming into a district like Jamaica and one in an urban area. "Some of these small rural school districts may be faced with the ultimate decision," says Black. "And that's to close, and tuition out their students to a surronding district, to consolidate, which is always an emotional issue, or to form cooperative high schools, which is a law I passed 3 or 4 years ago."
Black says a couple other rural school districts have contacted him with interest in making the change. If the bill passes, Janesky admits a number of issues would come up in a local public hearing, like child care for some parents. "Some of them who have younger kids at home - they rely on older kids to watch them, or they don't have any older children at home to watch them," says Janesky. "They may not like it at all. It may mean that they have to find another way to child care for an extra day. There's going to negatives and positives to how the community is going to react to it."
Black says some fellow lawmakers fear the bill would set a bad precedent, but he notes many school districts, including Danville, used to hold half-day school days because of financial problems. The State Board of Education is drafting an amendment to the bill to be sure it complies with school code. Representative Shane Cultra of Onarga is a co-sponsor of the measure.
If their budgets are cut by ten percent ... leaders of two state universities in Illinois say they'll have to lay off staff and raise tuition even higher.
Legislators are beginning to craft next year's Illinois budget ... and reductions in higher education spending is a strong possibility. One Senate plan would cut state appropriations to the state's public universities by ten percent.
University of Illinois interim President Stan Ikenberry told state senators Wednesday that amounts to a 74 million dollar blow.
"It would require draconian cuts in our staff", says Ikenberry. "Let me put it this way, this year, already, we have made roughly eight and a half percent of budget cuts plus we've instituted furloughs and layoffs."
Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard says a reduction in state support to higher education will inhibit the state's long-term economic growth.
"Continuing on the same old path of budget cuts and tuition increases will without questions further reduce accessibility and affordability to low and moderate income families", says Poshard.
Poshard says SIU has had a hard time this year because the state is so behind on making its payments to the school.
He says a borrowing plan approved Wednesday by the Illinois Senate would help SIU.
It would allow Illinois' nine public universities to take out short-term loans that would have to be paid back within a year.
Poshard says SIU has received only 23 percent of the money it's owed from the state. Ikenberry says the U of I has received 18 percent of its appropriation.
According to a proposed retirement agreement, the departing chancellor of the University of Illinois' campus in Springfield will retain his $273,500 salary for 14 months after he leaves the post this fall.
The agreement released Wednesday will be voted on by the university's board of trustees at its meeting next week. It comes as UI officials say they are under severe financial constraints.
Sixty-five-year-old Richard Ringeisen has been the UIS chancellor since 2001 and is expected to step down Oct. 31. He would then serve as special assistant to the president and consultant for long-range planning through Dec. 31, 2011, before retiring completely.
UI interim president Stanley Ikenberry defended the retirement package, saying Ringeisen's compensation is at about the expected level for a major academic officer at the university.
The University of Illinois says a junior there has won a $30,000 prize for developing an affordable prosthetic arm for people in developing countries.
The winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize for innovation is Jonathan Naber, a major in materials science and engineering.
Naber has been working with the Illini Prosthetics Team to create an arm that is functional, durable and easily made. He plans to travel to Guatemala this summer to field-test the prototype at a prosthetics clinic in the Central American nation.
The prize is funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program and is administered by the UI's Technology Entrepreneur Center.
The head of a local agency overseeing a federally funded project to curb underage drinking among Champaign-Urbana college students is asking the Champaign City Council to reconsider its decision to refuse its share of the funding.
The City Council rejected the money on a five to four vote two weeks ago. CEO Sheila Ferguson of the Mental Health Center of Champaign County wasn't at that meeting. And on Tuesday night, she apologized to council members for not doing the best job of explaining the program, which also involves U of I, Urbana and Illinois state police forces, along with Parkland College.
The program would have given Champaign Police about $11,000 a year for three years to enforce underage drinking laws. In voting "no" two weeks ago, council members said they would be conducting those enforcement measures anyway. And Councilman Tom Bruno criticized the program for not including education along with enforcement efforts. But Ferguson says education is indeed included, in programs run by the Mental Health Center.
"There's things like advertising, pamphlets, brochures, opportunities for public speaking at fraternities, on campus, during Quad Day, things like that, where we'd be focusing on providing education and advocacy efforts tot those groups specifically", says Ferguson.
Ferguson says Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart wrote a letter of support for the program in 2008. But in voting to reject the funding two weeks ago, he expressed concerns about federal money being spent at a time of high deficits. The total size of the multi-agency grant is around $120,000 a year for three years. At Tuesday night's council meeting, Schweighart told Ferguson to call his office to discuss ways to bring the grant money back before the Champaign City Council for discussion.
160 acres of farm property for growing fruit in Southeast Urbana is being sold by the University of Illinois Foundation, the university's fundraising arm.
The successful bidder for the Pomology Farm, or Pell Farm, is not being disclosed, but the property was listed for sale at $3.2 million. U of I Foundation spokesman Don Kojich says it still had debt on the site adjacent to Meadowbrook Park , that was in excess of $7 million in Fiscal 2009. "The pomology operation had moved from the university so the foundation didn't need the land anymore,' says Kojich. "We're looking to find a way to relieve ourselves of the debt of the property and prepared it for sale."
Kojich says he expects the Foundation to close on the sale within the next couple of months. In 2006, the U of I and its Foundation conducted a land swap, giving up the Pell Farm in exchange for tracts of land used for the South Farms, as well as property near Willard Airport.
The Illinois Department of Insurance is the only agency that stands in front of the merger of Carle Foundation Hospital and Cale Clinic Association.
The deal would have the not-for-profit Carle Foundation purchase the for-profit clinic for $250 million. The clinic's Health Alliance Medical Plans would be the only business to remain for-profit.
Yesterday without opposition, the state Health Facilities and Services Review Board approved a certificate of need clearing the way for the purchase. Carle says the merger will make the organization a stronger health care provider and give the clinic's doctors a stable place of employment. Federal regulators have not raised any questions about the deal - if the state insurance department approves, Carle says the merger could be completed in April.
The city of Champaign is looking for someone to serve as interim city councilman for District Five, the city council seat left vacant by Dave Johnson's resignation. Council members approved a process for appointing Johnson's replace at Tuesday night's meeting.
One interested applicant was present at the meeting. Gordy Hulten is Director of Sales and Marketing for the Devonshire Group, and a Republican precinct committeeman. But many followers of Champaign County politics know Hulten best as the man behind the local political blog, Illinipundit.
"I have, because of illinipundit.com, probably paid as close attention to Champaign city government as anybody in the community over the past 5 or 6 years," Hulten said. "I've grown to love city government, I've grown to love the people who are involved, the culture of cooperation and problem solving that exists on the staff and on the council, and I'd really like to be a part of that."
Hulten says he hasn't decided whether he'll continue producing Illinipundit if appointed to the Champaign City Council, saying he may no longer have the time. But he says if appointed, he'll run for the council seat in the 2011 mid-term election.
The process approved by the Champaign City Council last night gives applications until March 22 to apply for the position. The council will interview the candidates at a special study session, and vote on their selection on April 20.
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