Illinois Public Media News
The Urbana School Board wants to focus its priorities before moving forward with proposed improvements for King Elementary School.
At a special school board meeting Tuesday night, Board President John Dimit said he had sticker shock when he learned of the projected seven-point-five million dollar price tag for all of the requested improvements. He asked architects and a steering committee studying the issue to set some priorities.
"I'm just asking you to go back and take a look at it and really determine what's important", explained Dimit. "And now I want somebody to think about, 'Oh my God, this is eight million dollars.'"
The proposed improvements are based on district goals for all schools and specific criteria for King Elementary. Some of proposed improvements include air conditioning, a new multi-purpose room, and separate parent and bus drop-off sites.
The Steering Committee will bring back a revised plan at an upcoming meeting. Dimit says they need to move quickly in order to begin work on the King school improvements by this fall.
Charges have been dropped against a Champaign teen whose friend was fatally shot in a scuffle with city police last fall.
16-year old Jeshaun Manning-Carter was charged with resisting a peace officer in connection to that confrontation on October 9th. Kiwane Carrington died after being shot in that incident... after a report of a break-in at a home on West Vine Street. Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz says Manning-Carter has upheld his end of the bargain by staying in school, staying out of trouble, and completing a 6-week county-funded counseling program called Parenting with Love and Limits with his mother. Rietz says dropping charges against the youth was not based on an inability to prove them. She says the goal of this case, as with any other in the juvenile justice system, is to set a youth on the right track.
"If he had not finished the program, if he was not going to school, if he was getting in trouble, I would have gone forward with the trial if that was what we needed to do," says Rietz. "This is not a question of whether or not we had the evidence to support the charges. It's simply the standard operating procedure in juvenile court when we're trying to get kids the help that they need." Rietz says counselors maintain contact with the teen's family, and he'll continue to attend the READY school in Champaign.
Rietz concluded in December that Champaign officer Daniel Norbits fired accidentally, and would not face criminal charges from the incident. He remains on paid administrative leave. The results of a city of Champaign investigation into police policy are expected next week. Two experts outside the city... Retired Urbana Police Chief Eddie Adair and retired McLean County Judge John Freese are conducting that study, but any changes to policy will be up to City Manager Steve Carter.
The head of the city of Champaign's Neighborhood Services department says a familiar face to neighborhood groups in the city will be missed.
Mable Thomas has been the neighborhood coordinator since the city formed its neighborhood services program in 1992. Thomas died early Tuesday morning in St. Louis after an illness of several months.
Kevin Jackson says Thomas was the main liaison between Champaign's many neighborhood groups and city government, and she was the right person for the job.
"She not only had to have the ability to remain calm and posed in potentially volatile situations, but dealing with a variety of stakeholder interests she had to be a strong-willed person and a very objective person to make sure that the right thing happened," Jackson said.
Champaign mayor Jerry Schweighart says Thomas's loss is a loss to city government and the community. Thomas created a small grant program for neighborhood projects and oversaw Champaign's role in the anti-crime program known as National Night Out.
The Urbana City Council gave its unanimous endorsement Monday night to intergovernmental agreements that would launch the design engineering phase of the Olympian Road extension. If finalized next week, Urbana would be one step closer to using 5 million dollars in state funds to pay for the design work.
The vote came after Urbana council members heard from dozens of local residents. Some, including business and government leaders, say the extension would help spur commercial development on Urbana's north side, providing tax revenue and jobs. But a majority of speakers said they feared the road would encourage urban sprawl at the expense of farmland. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the city will consider their concerns during a public engagement process that will accompany the design engineering process.
"We will listen to what everybody has to say and we will redesign the plan as necessary", says Prussing. "But we are concerned that in order to have parks, in order to have schools, in order to have a decent way of life, you do have to have a healthy tax base."
But William Cope, one of the organizers of Olympian Drive opponents says lack of support on the Champaign County Board could stop the project from getting beyond the planning phase.
"You know, the project won't happen, without the county board's involvement and support", says Cope. "And therefore, they're against it at the moment. It's unlikely it will happen, so it could well be $5 million just wasted."
The $ 5 million is state funding that's been guaranteed for this phase of work on Olympian Drive. Part of it would pay for acquisition of land for the road --- which would need Champaign County Board approval. But county board support for Olympian Drive has been so weak that a vote on the issue has been delayed until next year.
Urbana Council members amended their Olympian Drive resolution to add in design work on North Lincoln Avenue. Those improvements would allow truck traffic between Olympian Drive and I-74. While North Lincoln is considered crucial to Olympian Drive's success, it's not actually part of the 27 million dollar project.
Legislation that would let teachers and other school staff assist students with diabetes won't see any support from school nurses in Danville.
The Care of Students with Diabetes Act has already passed the House, and Senate vote could come this week. A community activist from Chicago says insulin shots, counting carbohydrates, and other care is a simple process nowadays. Suzanne Elder says her diabetic daughter was handling those duties herself by the time she was 8. Elder says caring for a diabetic person has become much easier over the past 20 years. "Most kids don't use syringes anymore," says Elder. "Most kids use pens, most kids use pumps. So they even speak with a nomanclature that outs them as out of date and untrained. And yet, we still are not about undoing nurses or taking them out of school. We just want everybody trained in the basics."
Danville school nurse Judy Pendleton contends teachers, secretaries, and other school staff should not be handling duties like monitoring a child's carbohydrates in addition to their regular jobs. "That person would be responsible for doing a blood sugar," says Pendleton. "That person would be responsible for drawing up and adminstering insulin, and that person would also be taking orders from the parent. Having been through nursing school, sometimes, even at that you have to make snap decisions." The legislation saw overwhelming support in the House. Danville Republican Bill Black says the measure was drafted by House GOP Leader Tom Cross, who also has a diabetic daughter, and carefully researched the bill before proposing it. Black estimates that a few thousand children in Illinois schools attend one without a nurse, forcing the child to attend elsewhere or for the district to call 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency. He says the bill isn't intended to replace nurses - just to give districts another option.
A federal judge in Chicago ruled on Friday that the news media will have to wait to see a key document in ex-governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial. But it may not be for long.
Judge James Zagel says the public SHOULD have access to the so-called "Santiago proffer" prosecutors filed this week. But he's giving the defense until Monday to request redactions.
The proffer is essentially a legal battle plan, where the government lays out its testimony, witnesses - even some new evidence. The government filed the proffer under seal, but news outlets moved to have it opened up.
Sheldon Sorosky, the ex-governor's lawyer, says releasing new evidence on the eve of the June trial date could taint potential jurors.
"It releases the government version of what they feel is their best shot", says Sorosky. "And the public just feels that's the official version of events, or the only version of events."
Still, Judge Zagel says "it's conceivable that very little - if anything - will be redacted." He'll make his final decision on Wednesday.
Faced with a $5.5 million budget cut proposed by Governor Quinn, the University of Illinois Extension says it will close 12 of its regional Extension Centers around the state, and eliminate 46 administrative positions.
The regional centers house Extension Educators, who will now do their work elsewhere. Extension spokesman Gary Beaumont says the goal is to trim expenses, with a minimal impact on the services they provide.
"What we're trying to do is reduce rental costs, and keep more people around", says Beaumont, "especially the people who deliver education programs. So that's why the Centers have been targeted. And our goal is to move our educators to county offices."
Extension Centers in Carbondale, Effingham, Macomb, Mount Vernon and the Chicago suburb of Matteson will close on or about June 30th. Centers in Champaign, Springfield, East Peoria, the Quad Cities, Rockford, Edwardsville and the Chicago suburb of Countryside will close as soon as possible, depending on their leases
Beaumont says the 46 administrative positions being cut will result in fewer than 46 people leaving, because many of those positions have been vacant. In addition, Beaumont says some of the administrators have applied to leave on their own, under the U of I's Voluntary Separation program.
But the closures and job cuts are only the first phase of reductions planned by the U of I Extension. Beaumont says plans are being made to consolidate county offices down to just 30. And he says there will eventually be cuts made in the number of Extension educators and civil service secretarial positions.
The third annual Champaign County Moonwalk begins next Friday, April 16th. The event is meant to inspire county residents to walk a combined total of 238,700 miles -- the distance from Earth to the moon - in 8 weeks.
Jamie Kleiss , of the U of I Extension, organizes the Moonwalk and brought the event to Champaign County, after it was launched in Peoria. (Another Moonwalk is held annually in the Quad Cities). Kleiss, who says she had just enjoyed a walk during her lunch hour, says there are many benefits from simple regular walking:
"Better sleep, better mood, your digestion is better, the benefits are endless", says Kleiss. "It helps regulate blood sugar. So even for anybody who doesn't have any chronic diseases, it still can be great. And it's a lot of fun --- and it's nice to get outside."
Kleiss says regular walking can also lead to weight loss, but that depends on the person's fitness and current activity levels. Anyone interested in weight loss through walking should speak to their physician first.
So far, Kleiss says, 93 teams and 50 individuals have signed up for the Champaign County Moonwalk, for a total of 839 participants. She's hoping to double that number by next Friday, which would be in line with last year's participation.
There will be a Moonwalk launch party on April 15th at the Parkland College Planetarium.
Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says he's lowered his own projections for how much tuition new students will go up at the University of Illinois next year. . Ikenberry says he's backed away from worst-case projections of 20% tuition increases, and is now projecting increases of 9 or 9.5%. He says that's because of success in reducing university spending, and because Governor Pat Quinn's proposed budget wouldn't chop the U of I's appropriation as severely as he feared. However, Ikenberry still expects the university to lose somewhere around $45 million in state funding, which he says would be a 6% reduction.
"The range of possibilities is pretty large out there", says Ikenberry. "But right now, at least in the short term, we think we can see the outlines of next year's budget. It's going to continue to be difficult, but we think manageable within the framework of a 9.5% increase."
U of I trustees are scheduled to vote on a tuition recommendation until their May 20th meeting in Chicago. But Ikenberry says he wanted to get his projections out now, to help students and parents.
"This is a tough time for students and parents", says Ikenberry. "So we're trying to make the decision as early as we can, so they have a basis to plan, but also to hold that number as low as we responsibly can make it."
Ikenberry says a 9.5% tuition increase can still be affordable when considering that it stays the same for students during their undergraduate enrollment. Over that period, he says the increase amounts to about 3.5% percent a year.
The increased tuition would come to about $10,337 a year at the Urbana campus, plus room and board. At the Chicago campus tuition would be about $9,092, and $8,068 in Springfield.
-- additional reporting from the Associated Press
A rural mass transit system serving Vermilion County hopes to be providing its service to some rural Champaign county cities by the fall.
The Champaign County Board's committee of the whole approved the plan from CRIS Rural Transit this week. The buses in Vermilion County have run based on appointment for 25 years, and are open to anyone on weekdays. CRIS Rural Transit is a branch of the CRIS Healthy Aging Center. CEO Amy Marchand says she came before the Champaign County Board based on responses to surveys and her appearances at village meetings. She says many have come to rely on their buses each day.
"Some people use it to go to dialysis treatment two or three times a week," says Marchand. "Some people use it to take classes at a college. Some people use it to just have regular doctor's appointments. There's a group from a senior high rise that go to Wal-Mart once a week to buy their groceries." The CRIS buses are partially funded through federal funds. Marchand also says a small percentage of local sales tax goes to downstate funding for mass transit, but it's currently distributed elsewhere since Champaign County doesn't provide the service.
County Board member Steve Moser opposes the plan, contending that more taxes, including property tax, would be needed to pay for the service. He also says CRIS buses would duplicate what's provided by the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. But the agency's Darlene Kloeppel says it may let CRIS replace its Rural Rider program, which serves solely senior citizens, if it can help most of its clients. Kloeppel says there are other bus providers in rural Champaign County, but no one will be forced to end their service. "If people don't want to continue to provide service, or if they're able to do it more efficiently in another way, they certainly can do that as well. That's why this is a good thing, because it gives people options."
If the County Board approves the plan April 22nd, CRIS would apply for the service in July, and Illinois' Department of Transportation would have to approve the plan. The initial towns served would be Rantoul, Thomasboro, and Ludlow.
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