Illinois Public Media News
University of Illinois trustees are conducting their own internal review of the influence of money and political power on student admissions.
At the start of their regular meeting in Chicago this morning, trustees said they plan to report their findings soon and offer improved admissions practices they can adopt. Several trustees have appeared this month before the state commission examining admissions at the school's Urbana campus.
Gov. Pat Quinn created the panel after news reports revealed the school maintains a list of politically connected applicants. Some of those applicants gained admission even though they were less qualified than other students who were turned away. The trustees' comment came in the form of a prepared statement.
Budget fears have prompted the University of Illinois to draft a furlough policy. Starting August 16th, school leaders will have the authority to require faculty and academic professionals to take unpaid time off. Employees were notified of the action by U of I's President and the chancellors of the Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago campuses Wednesday. University spokesman Tom Hardy stresses ... officials are not yet declaring furlough days. He says school leaders adopted the new policy as a contingency plan to control costs should U of I face a budget shortfall. He says there's a great deal of uncertainty about how much funding the university will receive from the state.
"We didn't have this tool to be able to deal with controlling costs in an economic or fiscal crisis. Now we have this ability to deal with anything that arises. And deal with it in a way that we see is very common practice now in public and private sectors," says Hardy. Hardy says officials will begin negotiations to create a permanent furlough policy. But the head of a group representing academic professionals at the U of I Urbana campus says she doesn't think that's a good idea. Jenny Barrett of the Association for Academic Professionals says unpaid furlough days should only be a temporary policy at times when the university faces financial risk. She says otherwise, the budget breaking point that would require furloughs could become vague and prone to misue.
A Champaign County Board vote tomorrow (Thursday) may bring to a partial end to the legal haggling over workmanship at the county nursing home.
The county has been at odds with general contractor Otto Baum and the Farnsworth Group, an architectural firm. But an item added to the county board's agenda today (Wednesday) includes an unspecified settlement with Farnsworth. Board chairman Pius Weibel says if it's approved, the settlement would end the county's legal dispute with Farnsworth, but not with Baum.
"It boils down to the core issues, down to the HVAC system. I can't say much more than that because some of those issues may or may or may not be part of the settlement," Weibel said.
Weibel also wouldn't say if the county is getting money from the proposed settlement or if so, how much. Construction of the new nursing home building was beset by problems, including the faulty heating, air conditioning and ventilation system, and wood used in the construction that was later found to be moldy. The problems delayed the new home's opening by more than a year and cost the county several hundred thousand dollars. The county had settled with a third contractor.
Two state senators from east-central Illinois have built up formidable campaign warchests, though it's not clear what kind of competition they'll face next year.
Democrat Mike Frerichs' campaign fund brought in more than 30 thousand dollars in the first six months of this year, according to required reports filed with the state board of elections. Most of that funding came from political action committees. Republican Dale Righter raised about the same amount from PACs in that time period, along with another 40 thousand from individuals and corporations. Righter also transferred nearly 270 thousand dollars from a checking account, giving his campaign fund a total of nearly 300 thousand dollars, after a 30 thousand dollar contribution to the state GOP senate campaign committee. Frerich's' warchest stands at about 123 thousand. Both are up for re-election in 2010.
Incumbent state representatives have raised much less money - 103rd district Democrat Naomi Jakobsson reports having raised 13-hundred dollars in the first half of the year from two PACs, while Republican Bill Black in the 104th district raised two thousand. Republican Chapin Rose in the 110th District brought in only about 250 dollars.
A University of Illinois trustee expected to face scrutiny today over admissions now may hear questions about how his son-in-law landed a six-figure job with the school.
The Chicago Tribune reports that trustee Niranjan Shah used his position in 2007 to help find his then-future son-in-law a job. Shah says he encouraged the university to hire Maarten de Jeu after he graduated first in his MBA class at Oxford University.
University Chancellor Richard Herman says the school created a $115,000 job for de Jeu in a business-consulting office. He left the university after 10 months. That's six months after he married Shah's daughter. Shah is scheduled to appear this afternoon before the commission examining the admission of politically connected applicants at the university.
Nearly half a million dollars in federal funds will go to local social service agencies, under agreements approved by the Urbana City Council Monday night. Council members quickly approved 13 grant agreements drawing from the city's share of federal Housing and Urban Development money.
John Schneider runs Urbana's Grants Management program. He says the 495-thousand dollars in grants reflects increases in some areas and decreases in others. But Schneider says they money never keeps up with the need.
"It seems like, as in every year, it's really never enough to fund all the agencies that need funding," says Schneider. "There'll always be an ever-increasing demand, because there's an ever-increasing number of people requiring social services."
The programs to be funded by the grants include transitional housing for the homeless, financial aid for people with AIDS and HIV, a shelter for runaway and homeless youth and construction of affordable but super-energy efficient home prototypes.
Monday night's approval of agreements for the federal grants is part of an annual process that begins each winter. Schneider says Urbana is the lead agency for housing grants that also cover Champaign and unincorporated Champaign County. But he says the other social service grants focus on Urbana --- Schneider says the Champaign City Council and Rantoul Village Board make their own decisions on grants aimed directly at their communities.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he's impressed with the soldiers he met while on a surprise weekend trip to Kuwait and Iraq.
Quinn made the trip along with four other American governors. He says the Department of Defense invited him on the Middle East trip. He says he met with members of the Illinois National Guard and Illinois members of the Marines.
Quinn says at one point the dignitaries had a town hall-style meeting with soldiers, who asked about military equipment, education and the state of the American economy. The governor says soldiers want to know what the economy will be like when they get home.
Aides for Quinn say for security reasons they could not release where the governor was traveling next or when he would return to Illinois.
Quinn said he previously visited Iraq in 2004.
The Champaign County Nursing Home Board voted Thursday night to send the county board a 16-point-2 million dollar budget plan for fiscal year 2010. It's a budget they think they can keep in the black --- if they're careful.
Nursing home management consultant Mike Scavotto says a lot depends on keeping the number of nursing home residents high. That's been difficult in the past few months, as the nursing home census has frequently dipped into the 180s --- officials would like to see it above 200. Scavotto blames the decline in nursing home population on the poor economy. If the nursing home census DOES stay down in 2010, he says they'll have to manage nursing home expenses accordingly.
"You don't continue to buy things when you don't need as many of them," says Scavotto. "You don't continue to have as many people in your staff when you can flex. And that's the system here. So they've been pretty good at flexing. So we'll have to see how that's going in the census downturn."
Scavotto says the Champaign County Nursing Home will face another financial burden next year. For the first time, it will start paying back the county for money it was loaned for operations and additional construction costs. That will add another 200-thousand dollars to the nursing home budget. The nursing home built up the debt during a time when its operations were deeply in the red. But Scavotto says the Champaign County Nursing Home has stayed in the black so far in 2009 for expenses that don't include depreciation costs.
Illinois officials have agreed to borrow billions of dollars as part of a new state budget.
The Illinois House and Senate approved the $3.5 billion borrowing plan Wednesday night. Gov. Pat Quinn quickly signed it into law.
The money will go to government pension systems. That frees up the state's annual pension contributions to be used for other expenses.
Critics call it irresponsible to pay for government expenses with borrowed money. They say it just digs a deeper financial hole for the state.
But supporters say Illinois needs a budget to keep providing government services. They say a tax increase or drastic cuts won't pass, so this is the only realistic option.
The bill is SB1292.
Action Tuesday by the U-S Energy Department gives a green light to action at the FutureGen site near Mattoon. So says Angela Griffin, president of the economic development group Coles Together.
The Energy Department issues a formal Record of Decision which formally approves FutureGen's goals, objectives and potential environmental impacts. Griffin says before, the FutureGen Alliance could only work on the experimental clean coal project in general terms. Now, she says they can focus directly on conditions at the Mattoon site.
"They can do some very site-specific engineering and design work, which will then lead to some very specific cost estimates which are needed to get at the final cost of the plant.," Griffith said. "This allows them to do some work here, it allows them do some further subsurface characterization of the site, to verify what we already believe is the case, to spend some money at our site in a way that they weren't able to do before today."
The FutureGen project aims to build an experimental coal gasification plant that cuts down on carbon emissions by burying them underground. The project depends on both federal funding and money from the energy industry. The Bush Administration had pulled away from the project, citing rising cost estimates. But FutureGen found new support under the Obama administration.
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