Illinois Public Media News
Negotiators for the University of Illinois and the union for Urbana campus graduate student workers have met three times this week. Now, the Graduate Employees Organization, or GEO, is holding a strike authorization vote.
The vote began at a membership meeting Wednesday night, and continues through Friday. GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says even if their members vote to authorize a strike, they'd like to avoid a walkout. He says the potential for a strike is having an effect on its own.
"It seems apparent that the pressure being exerted by moving up toward a strike and increasing the possibility of a strike, that that is having a positive effect on negotiations", says Campbell. "So I would say they're going better, but there's still a very long way to go."
Campbell says the U of I administration made a new comprehensive contract offer at yesterday's federally mediated bargaining session --- but he says GEO members overwhelmingly rejected it at last night's meeting. The union is seeking better wages, health care and child care, while the administration has cited tight finances.
Campbell says results of the strike authorization vote should be ready by Monday, or perhaps over the weekend. If the strike authorization is approved, a GEO strike committee would decide whether to call a strike. Campbell says a strike would NOT interfere with contract talks.
The Champaign school Consent Decree is now history. A federal judge in Peoria Wednesday accepted a settlement agreement between the Unit Four school district and the plaintiffs in the racial equity case, and formally terminated the decree --- ending seven years of court supervision.
In his Opinion and Order, Judge Joe Billy McDade wrote that the Unit Four school district and the plaintiffs had worked to produce "seven years of transformative progress toward a race-neutral educational environment that is most likely to continue after the Consent Decree ends". Unit Four spokeswoman Beth Shepperd says they look forward to more progress toward racial equity.
Yes, the Consent Decree is over", says Shepperd. "But we have learned so much and gained so many tools to make student successful, that we feel that we are at the beginning of just incredibly great things for our schools."
The attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, Carol Ashley, says while they wish more progress had been made already, the Champaign school district has come a long way in its understanding of the needs of African-American students.
"The settlement and the lawsuit came because the (school) board had turned a deaf ear for many years about minority complaints", says Ashley. "So, when you look at the state of affairs, you can say, at least there's progress in the administration's understanding of issues."
Ashley says there have been concrete accomplishments as well. She says Unit Four now has more African-American administrators and teachers than it did when the Consent Decree began. She says its methods of assigning students to schools is more fair and equitable. And she cites plans to expand and rebuild two schools in predominantly black neighborhoods as part of the gains made under the Consent Decree.
With the Consent Decree now lifted, the Unit Four district stands to save somewhere around 2 million dollars as year in legal and consulting fees it had paid to support the court supervision.
And as part of its settlement agreement with the plaintiffs, the Unit Four school district is creating an Education Equity Excellence Committee --- to advise the district on racial equity issues now that the Consent Decree has been lifted. Unit Four's Beth Shepperd says they received 27 applications from community members to serve on the panel, and Superintendent Arthur Culver will make his recommendations from that list later this month.
The recent announcement of a proposed merger between Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic has generated a lot of response.
But little of that was negative in a 2-hour state hearing in Urbana Wednesday morning. Support for the plan came from not only Carle administrators and physicians, but those who partner with the Clinic and hospital, like the United Way and Francis Nelson Health Center.
The $250 million merger would create a single not-for-profit organization with the intent of expanding charity care and more efficient operation. Claudia Lenhoff, the executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, says the change in ownership could be one of the best things for the community. "Having Carle Clinic become a non-profit provider that abides by Carle Hospital's financial assistance policies as proposed in the application to the state will result in tremendous access for thousands of community members who are currently locked out of health care." said Lenhoff. Lenhoff's group is requesting some changes with the merger, including acceptance of all forms of health insurance, and for Carle to keep supporting its taxing districts that would lose revenue under the non-profit structure.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says she can't endorse the merger unless the new organization can shift those funds onto other taxing bodies. "They account for almost 10% of our total assessed valuation," said Prussing. "The loss of Carle's payment of its fair share of the cost of fire, police, and public works would be devastating, and would place an unfair burden on all other Urbana taxpayers." Prussing says an agreement is being discussed with Carle officials in which payments would be made to the city in lieu of property taxes for clinic properties, and to let the courts decide whether hospital-owned properties would be taxable. Illinois' Health Facilities and Services Review Board will rule on the merger in March.
An accreditation team is coming to Champaign Thursday to review policies and procedures at the city's police department. But the police department's critics are questioning the accreditation program --- and the timing of its visit.
Champaign Police Chief R-T Finney serves on the board of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, which sponsors the Illinois Law Enforcement Accreditation Program or ILEAP. The year-old program is billed as a lower-cost alternative to a more rigorous national accreditation program, known as CALEA, for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies..
The Reverend Evelyn Underwood of the Champaign-Urbana Ministerial Alliance questioned the city's use of a less rigorous program from a group tied to Finney, just weeks after the death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington during a police confrontation. She told the city council Tuesday night that ILEAP has accredited only one police department so far, in Kankakee.
"Apparently, police departments are not lining up to get in on this opportunity", said Underwood. "So perhaps Champaign is doing the Illinois Law Enforcement Accreditation Program a favor more than the other way around."
City Manager Steve Carter says the Champaign Police Department sees ILEAP accreditation as a stepping stone for eventual accreditation by CALEA. He says the timing of the accreditation team's visit is unfortunate, but that the visit was scheduled before Carrington's death.
The ILEAP accreditation team will take public comment by phone during its visit to Champaign --- Thursday, November 5th from 4 to 6 PM. The number to call is 217-403-7015. Comment can also be emailed to Accreditation team member Pat Solar of the Genoa Police Department, at email@example.com. ILEAP's accreditation standards are available online at www.ilchiefs.org. A city news release says comments must address the Champaign Police Department's ability to comply with ILEAP standards.
Army Major David Audo is being remembered as a well-liked person who never changed his outlook on life.
Hundreds lined the streets of St. Joseph to honor the memory of the 35-year old native of the village who died in Baghdad a week ago. His body arrived at Willard Airport Tuesday afternoon, then a procession of police and fire personnel accompanied Audo's body from the airport to a St. Joseph funeral home.
Amy McElroy was a classmate of Audo's from Kindergarten through his graduation from St. Joseph-Ogden High School in 1992. She says he made the world a better place. "Even when he got deployed this time, he was joking about his spa treatments in Iraq, about the exfoliation and the sauna," McElroy said. "He was that kind of guy, he was always in good spirits, always wanting to make everybody else feel better. We would say 'thank you for being over there,' and he would say 'this is what I want to do with my life.'"
In high school, Audo was an honors student, and was active in track as well as drama. St. Joseph-Odgen English teacher Larry Williams knew Audo both as a student and neighbor, and he says he was full of life, even as a young child.
Funeral services for Major David Audo will be at 1 Thursday at Living Word Fellowship Church in St. Joseph, with burial in Danville National Cemetery. Visitation is from 4-30 to 8 Wednesday at the Freese Funeral Home in St. Joseph.
The outgoing and incoming leaders at the University of Illinois are asking units to set aside six percent of their current budgets.
President Joseph White and his interim successor, Stanley Ikenberry, say the university is dealing with serious cash flow problems because the state isn't keeping up with billings. The state is giving the U of I 719 million dollars this fiscal year, but White and Ikenberry say the U of I has seen little of that so far.
So chief financial officer Walter Knorr says campuses will have to hold back about 45 million dollars in this year's proposed spending, or about 45 million dollars. Knorr says the university has gotten used to holdbacks and recissions, such as last year when ten percent was set aside.
"In 2009 all we ended up with was a 2 1/2% recission. It ended up only being a slow cash payment cycle from the state," Knorr said.
Knorr says the university believes it can hold off any employee furloughs through the end of the calendar year and will try to avoid them next year as well. But the presidents' letter to campus officials still asks that hiring be limited to critical needs.
Protecting gay, lesbian and transgender students at school was the topic of a forum that drew over 300 people to Parkland College in Champaign last night.
A panel of teachers, school administrators, counselors and students discussed the impact of anti-gay bullying, and efforts --- both successful and unsuccessful --- to deal with it.
Panelist and teacher Stacy Gross helped found the Gay-Straight Alliance student group at Champaign's Centennial High School. She says the group struggled to win official school recognition --- and that its first promotional flyers were quickly torn down by opponents.
"Ultimately though, GSA just wove itself into the fabric of our school", said Gross. "And it became a normally accepted club. Now our flyers stay up way too long and we have to really make an effort to take them down."
Gross says she was inspired to act after mentoring a student who faced anti-gay harassment at Centennial. She says she still often hears anti-gay remarks from students, and notices teachers allowing them to go unanswered.
"Kendall J", one of the students on the panel, says he's openly gay at his high school, and also the senior class president. Still, he says he and his boyfriend were physically attacked by other students when they attended prom together. Other students came to their defense. To this day, Kendall says "I still endure ridiculous judgments and hateful glances by those who don't approve of my 'chosen lifestyle'. And I still hear how 'that's gay' and that comment is 'no homo' or how that guy in the tight shirt is a faggot. All these are reasons to make school safer for everyone". (None of the students on the panel gave their full names or identified their schools).
Illinois Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch opened the discussion by calling on the audience of educators, students and parents to check up on what their schools do to keep students safe, whatever their sexual identity.
"Make a point to check whether your anti-bullying policies include protection for youth on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity", said Koch. Make a point to ensure that all faculty and staff are aware of the policies, and are trained on how to enforce them".
Last night's forum was sponsored by the East Central Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, part of a statewide Safe Schools Alliance which has held similar forums in Peoria and Bloomington-Normal.
The union representing workers at the Champaign County Nursing Home says the county board needs to take account for the behavior of management at the facility.
Nurses and other home staff represented by AFSCME Local 900 have submitted a petition with the signatures of nearly 100 employees. They allege areas like nursing, dietary, and housekeeping are often short-staffed and reprimanded for not finishing work on time. The union also says managers have failed to honor a 2-year contract that the County and union agreed to in July to cut down on the number of agency nurses.
Tara McAuley, a staff representative with AFSCME, said,"Something needs to be done, and if nothing else maybe the voters need to understand that the county board which has overseen this nursing home has sat on its hands and not done enough to improve this situation. And if that's what it takes, to appeal to the voters and get a new county board, then that's what we're going to do."
AFSCME members are also calling for the removal of Nursing Home Administrator Andrew Buffenbarger. The union says grievances against nursing home management are being filed almost daily, many over nurses and other staff who have lost their jobs. AFSCME says many nurses and Certified Nurse Assistants have quit out of fear of being fired.
Champaign County Board member and Nursing Home Board member Alan Nudo says he can't comment until he studies the charges further.
Researchers at the University of Illinois are part of an international group of scientists that's decoded the DNA of the domestic pig.
Their research may one day prove useful in finding new treatments for both pigs and people, and perhaps aid in efforts for a new swine flu vaccine for pigs.
Larry Schook is the U of I biomedical science professor who led the project. He says the pig is the ideal animal to look at lifestyle and health issues in the United States. That's because pigs and humans are similar in size and makeup, and swine are often used in human research.
Researchers announced the results of their work today at a meeting in the United Kingdom. Schook says they'll spend the meeting discussing ways to use the new information.
A substance abuse treatment facility in Urbana is about to take clients for the first time in four years.
A federal grant will enable Prairie Center Health Systems to open the doors to its renovated Day Treatment Program, which had been closed in 2005 through cuts in state funds. CEO Bruce Suardini says the $476,000 will provide a year of therapy and related services to 100 clients. He says the money is not only for helping addicts recover but to help them rebuild lives and relationships:
"It affects the whole family. It affects the whole psyche of a person," Suardini said. "So part of the things we try to do is wrap around the other services because it might be finding a job for a person that really starts the catalyst of changing the alcohol abuse or the drug abuse. We look at education, getting people some credentials. We look at employment. We might be looking at housing."
Prairie Center Clinical director Mary Evans says without day treatment, clients for what services the facility could provide wound up on its waiting lists, in the court system, or hospitals.
The Day Treatment Program will open next month when staff has completed its training. Prairie Center will treat its clients five days a week and provide transportation.
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