Illinois Public Media News
West Nile Virus is back in Champaign County this summer after a very light season for mosquitoes last year.
That shortage of mosquitoes meant no reports of the virus in mosquito pools, animals or humans in 2008. Sanitarian Michael Flanagan of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health district says a trap in the city of Champaign yielded a positive test result in recent days. However, he says it's no reason to panic.
"Starting now, since that we've found this virus in Champaign County, it's time to become more aware of your clothing and mosquito protection for people," Flanagan said.
West Nile disease has led to deaths in Illinois and other Midwest states in previous years. But health officials say many cases are mild, sometimes leading to no overt symptoms. Flanagan says the best protection against the disease is keeping away from mosquitoes - wearing light-colored clothing, using repellent and dumping any standing water on your property.
UPDATED: Tuesday, July 07, 2009
The Chancellor of the University of Illinois's flagship campus in Champaign-Urbana admitted his role Monday in getting politically connected applicants accepted to the school.
Testifying in Chicago before the Illinois Admissions Review Commission, Chancellor Richard Herman said the university should abolish its practice of admitting students based on clout.
Herman said he typically got 40 recommendations a year-most of them from trustees. He admits he was often the one with the final say over whether politically connected students were admitted. In one instance, Herman a trustee passed along a request to admit a student from then Governor Rod Blagojevich.
"Did I follow that directive?", said Herman. "Yes. That was a rough 24-hour period for me personally, and I am apologetic about it."
Herman said he wanted to "compensate" the law school for taking the trustee's "dicey" student. So he asked the trustee to find five jobs for graduating law school students. But Herman denies any quid pro quo.
The chancellor said he believed at the time that admitting the students would help the U of I, by showing they were being responsive.
Commissioner Maribeth Vander Weele wanted to know who the university was being responsive to. "By donors? By legislators? By the governor's office?", she asked.
"I suppose the answer to that would be yes", Herman replied.
But Commission Chairman Abner Mikva said the "responsiveness" might look very different to an Illinois resident whose own child was denied admission to the U of I, while the child of someone with an inferior record but superior clout was let in.
"Wouldn't you be very upset?", asked Mikva, asking Herman to put himself in that resident's shoes.
"I think that is really the reason for this hearing, sir, and I would be," said Herman.
"Especially since you know your tax money was paying at least 18 percent of that university's bills", continued Mikva.
"Agreed, sir," replied Herman.
Herman testified in Chicago, before the commission, which was set up by Governor Pat Quinn to investigate the role political influence played in student admissions to the University of Illinois.
After his testimony, a reporter asked Herman if he felt his job was on the line, "I feel I can continue to go forward," said the chancellor. "I feel I, others perhaps, but I made some mistakes --- from which I've learned."
Herman says he now supports an end to the U of I's so-called "Category I" list of politically connected students --- a list which the university has already put on suspension. He also promises to enact reforms such as requiring all requests on applicants' behalf to be made in writing.
The Admissions Review Commission is due to issue its report next month.
Authorities have identified the victim of Monday's fatal shooting on Danville's east side.
Vermilion County Coroner Peggy Johnson says 45-year old Bennie W. Moten was shot multiple times... and died a short time later at Provena Good Samaritans Medical Center. A second victim... a 37-year old male whose name is being withheld... was treated and released.
Danville Police Deputy Director Doug Miller says his department received a call at 9-30 Monday morning of two shootings at the same location on South Cleveland Street. He says the second victim was able to walk to a nearby car wash and contact authorities.
"We're still trying to piece together exactly what happened," Miller said late Monday afternoon, "but it appears there were several suspects involved in the incident, and numerous shots were fired at the victims."
Miller says any witnesses to the incident or those who know more about what occurred should contact Danville Police's Criminal Investigation Division at 217-431-2245.
School officials in Champaign County have identified 355 homeless children attending local public schools --- mostly in the Champaign and Urbana districts. A government grant pays for their textbook fees and other charges. Now a private grant will provide money for emergency situations.
Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation Executive Director Gail Rost says resolving emergency problems are key to keeping homeless kids in school --- and that's the first step to a good education. "So if there's a child whose family has slept in the rest stop and doesn't have a coat, we can buy that coat", explains Rost.
The United Way of Champaign County is providing 6-thousand dollars a year for two years to pay for the emergency needs of homeless schoolchildren. But Rost fears that may not be enough. She says the money they sought was meant to pay for the needs of about 200 school children, and their number has grown about 75-percent since the application was made. Rost says that with 355 homeless schoolchildren in Champaign County, the United Way grant amounts to "less than 20 dollars a kid" per year.
The Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation teamed up with the Regional Office of Education of Champaign and Ford Counties to apply for the grant. School social workers who identify emergency needs can draw on the grant funds through the R-O-E.
Three of the six elementary schools in the Urbana School District failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress, under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Leal, Yankee Ridge and Thomas Paine Schools achieved the standard overall, but not for the subgroup of Economically Disadvantaged Students. To make the grade this year, 70 percent of students in each school and each subgroup had to meet or exceed state exam standards.
District 116 Assistant Superintendent Don Owen says the schools came close --- and better test scores from less than 20 students would have brought the three schools up to the federal standard.
"We're going to take a very active role with the three elementary schools that did not make AYP, to make sure that their School Improvement Plans are really focused on closing achievement gaps," says Owen.
Leal, Yankee Ridge and Thomas Paine Schools do not face any sanctions, because this is the first year they've fallen short of federal standards.
Wiley, Prairie and Martin Luther King Schools in Urbana all made Adequate Yearly Progress, as did Urbana Middle School. District 116 officials are still waiting for the results from exams at Urbana High School.
More than 31-hundred swine or H1N1 flu cases have been reported in Illinois, including 13 deaths. And for the first time, a swine flu case has appeared in Champaign County.
Julie Pryde of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District says the person is between the ages of 5 and 24, and is believed to have become ill over the weekend. She says the person's doctor was very astute, and recognized the symptoms as possibly being swine flu.The person is currentlyrecovering at home.
Pryde says it was only a matter of time before a swine or H1N1 flu case was confirmed in Champaign County. Other central Illinois counties where swine flue cases have been confirmed are Coles, Piatt and Sangamon.
Pryde says the best defense against spreading the swine flu is for people to stay home if they feel sick, and be especially careful if they are pregnant, immune-compromised, or suffer from diabetes or asthma. She says people with these conditions who experience flu symptoms should call their doctor or healthcare provider immediately, because of the increased health risk.
In addition to the more than 3100 cases in Illinois, another 267 cases if swine/H1N1 flu have been confirmed in Indiana. However, no deaths have been reported in that state.
Pryde says there are no other suspected swine flu cases in Champaign County at this time. But she calls on residents to take precautions --- including staying home if they have flu-like symptoms ... and calling their doctor quickly if they have those symptoms on top of factors such as pregnancy, diabetes and asthma.
State regulators closed six Illinois banks owned by one holding company on Thursday. Banks in Danville, Clinton and four other Illinois cities have been handed over to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which is arranging to have them reopen Monday under new owners.
The First National Bank of Danville became the 50th FDIC-insured bank to fail this year, and the 11th in Illinois, when it was placed in receivership yesterday by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The bank will reopen Monday as part of First Financial Bank of Terre Haute.
Regulators also closed the John Warner Bank in Clinton --- it reopens Monday as part of the State Bank of Lincoln.
Other banks scheduled to reopen under new owners are the First State Bank of Winchester, Founders Bank in Worth, Rock River Bank in Oregon and the Elizabeth State Bank.
All six banks were part of the Founders Group, based in Worth, a Chicago suburb. An FDIC news release says the banks failed because they lost too much money to bad loans, including investments in collateralized debt obligations.
Two of the Founders Group's banks, in Gilman and Peotone, are NOT affected.
The FDIC says depositors will not lose any money due to the closures, and can still access their money over the weekend by ATM or debit card, or by writing checks. The federal agency has set up toll-free numbers to call for more information about the bank closures. The number for the First National Bank of Danville is 1-800-591-2817. The number for the John Warner Bank is 1-800-837-0215. The phone numbers will be operational on Friday and Saturday from 9 AM to 6 PM, Sunday from 12 PM to 6 PM, and thereafter from 8 AM to 8 PM (all times CDT). More information is also available on the FDIC website, at www.fdic.gov.
The six Illinois banks --- plus one in Texas --- that were placed in receivership bring to 52 the number of FDIC-insured banks that have been closed this year.
For some union members, it's worth getting arrested in order to bring attention to Illinois' budget. Capitol police Tuesday detained eight home health care and child care providers. They had been protesting what they see as the Illinois House's lack of action on an income tax hike. The eight blocked the main entry to the Illinois House chambers. Police escorted them away after the workers refused to leave.
All are members of the S-E-I-U health care union. Union president Keith Kelleher explained they demonstrated to put pressure on the legislature to increase taxes.
"We do not appreciate the political games that are being played here", said Kelleher. "And they need to pass a fair tax increase. Just like many people got arrested to even get the right to have a union, many people got arrested during the civil rights movement to win civil rights for Americans, we are saying we need our economic rights."
Kelleher says without a tax increase, human service cuts will be devastating. He says otherwise the state's subsidy to help pay for the care of 150 thousand kids from moderate income families will be cut. He also says the state will stop paying for in-home aides that care for about 30 thousand elderly and disabled individuals.
A spokesman for the secretary of state says the eight protesters were released without charges after a brief detention. He says police had no choice but to remove them because it's a fire hazard to block entryways and exits.
Two Central Illinois lawmakers dispute the funding mechanism behind one budget proposal that failed in the waning hours of the legislative session in Springfield Tuesday night.
On Monday... the House overwhelmingly passed a proposal to use 2-point-2 billion dollars in pension bonds to pay for human service programs. But the measure failed to make it out of the Senate on Tuesday night. Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs voted against components of the bill. He says the proposal was fiscally irresponsible.
"I think the state needs to stop using our pension system as a piggy-bank to get us out of our problems," says Frerichs. "We need to tackle the real issues facing the state and stop borrowing on the backs of future Illinoisans to solve our problems."
Mahomet Republican House member Chapin Rose says what was perceived as only a temporary funding plan would have fully funded the pension system by making a payment through a short-term loan at a lower interest rate than normal. He says that would have freed up the dollars for mental health, drug treatment, and related areas.
And Rose questions the actions of Governor Pat Quinn, and says the governor changed his tune in about an hour.
"At 4 PM yesterday (Tuesday, June 30th), he asked us to pass it," says Rose. "At 5 o'clock, he was apparently making phone calls to Democrats, asking to vote against his own plan, to blow a 2-million dollar hole in this budget. So basically, at 5 o'clock, he said, 'Y'know what? Let it crash, let it burn, let everybody close their doors.' That's ridiculous!"
The measure was killed on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
Senator Frerichs also contends the Governor has made inconsistent comments when it came to considering pensions as a way to balance the budget. He says Quinn has also wavered between proposals for temporary and permanent tax hikes.
Both lawmakers say they're ready to return to Springfield to continue budget talks. Legislative leaders have called for a special session on July 14th.
The University of Illinois' monthly gauge of economic performance has hit its lowest point since it was established 14 years ago.
But the author of the Flash Index says the current recession still hasn't reached the depths of the early 1980's economic slowdown. Economist Fred Giertz also says there are promising signs that the recession may be approaching an end, perhaps by the end of the year. Even so, Giertz says statistics before then are bound to get slightly worse.
"Some of the things that go into the Index don't turn around very rapidly," says Giertz, "in particular, employment, which has a lot to do with the individual income tax collections. So this is not a surprise. I think the only surprise would be that it went down a little bit more than might be expected."
The U of I Flash Index measures Illinois tax proceeds to evaluate the state of the economy. With any number above 100 suggesting economic growth, the June rate checked in at only 92. That's more than two points lower than May.
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