Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

Mildew Causing Problems with Pumpkin, Cucumber, Squash Crops

University of Illinois scientists say they've found a destructive mildew in the state's pumpkin crop that could affect vegetables such as cucumbers and squash.

Plant pathologist Mohammad Babadoost said Wednesday that downy mildew has been found in pumpkin fields in central Illinois. He said the disease moves fast and can turn leaves brown in 10 days.

Babadoost said the impact on Illinois pumpkins grown for canning will be limited because many have already been harvested. But the disease can move to other vine-grown vegetables and fruits. The University says farmers should quickly spray fungicides.

Illinois has about 25,000 acres of pumpkins and last year produced almost a third of the country's crop.

Categories: Business, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

Stomach Ailments Send Home More than 70 Tuscola Grade School Students

A school in Tuscola will be back in session tomorrow even though nearly one out of every five students stayed home or were sent home with stomach pain or vomiting.

James Voyles is the interim superintendent in Tuscola, where absence levels at North Ward Elementary School were normal earlier this week. But he says today things changed.

"We had an unusually large number of absences to start the day, and during the course of the morning we had kids getting sick, throwing up, abdominal pain, some diarrhea, but but no fever," Voyles said.

Voyles says school is still on for tomorrow, but he asks parents not to send students back if they experience those symptoms. Tuscola's middle school and high school did not see the same illnesses today.

Voyles says just in case it may have been a virus at work, he called in custodians to give North Ward School a thorough disinfecting before tomorrow. He also says Douglas County Health Department officials have taken food samples, but he's not sure if food service had anything to do with the illnesses.

Categories: Education, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

GOP Candidates Endorse Merging Two Financial Offices

The Republican candidates for Illinois Treasurer and Comptroller say they're confident that consolidating the two offices will not only save the state money, but be done in a system with checks and balances.

Former Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka and Pontiac Senator Dan Rutherford say merging the positions will save the state 12-million dollars by trimming jobs, office space, and saving communication time when investing money. Campaigning in Urbana Tuesday, Topinka says it used to be that way, when Illinois simply had a state auditor. A person in the office in the 1950's... Orville Hodge... was convicted and sentenced to prison for embezzlement. Topinka says the two offices were created for oversight, but adds that's what the office of auditor general is for now. "He (William Holland) serves in that function of oversight. Second of all, becase of the high-tech computerization, we have the same numbers."

If they're elected, Topinka and Rutherford say they'll actively campaign for the change before lawmakers next year. If lawmakers approve the change, it would require voter approval in November 2012. If the question passes, the single financial officer would be on the ballot two years later. And during their time in office, "Communication will be key," said Rutherford. "Because of our relationship, we will talk about when she's gonna disperse and when I can make funds available. But the thing is, someday Judy and Dan aren't gonna be there, there will be a different personality, and we want to have this thing fixed for the future."

Illinois' Democratic candidates for Treasurer and Comptroller, Robin Kelly and David Miller, have also gone on record supporting the idea. Kelly contends she first proposed merging the offices, but the GOP candidates say press reports indicate she was only exploring such a plan until recently.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

Illinois Fails to Latch onto Federal Money

Illinois failed to win $400 million in the federal "Race to the Top" competition.

In addition to the District of Columbia, the U.S. Education Department named nine states to win the grant money, including Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. They will receive a portion of the $3.4 billion left in round two of the federal education funding.

The state has paid out $529 million to the Illinois State Board of Education, but still owes an additional $770 million. Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch said he does not know if the Illinois' budget woes hurt its chances at being awarded the grant money.

"We were definitely interested in getting these funds," he said. "We believed that Illinois had moved far enough to be competitive nationally."

This was Illinois' second time as a finalist in the competition. University of Illinois education professor Debra Bragg was part of a committee that helped prepare the state's application for the grant.

"There was a very extensive proposal writing activity that the state engaged in," said Bragg. "It felt that we had put together a very strong and even better proposal than the first one."

Koch said he thinks Illinois fell short in its proposal to use incentives to bring highly-qualified teachers and administrators to low-performing schools. He said he plans to use other federal and state grants to develop new models that prepare educators, evaluate students, and allow districts to share software and resources across the Internet.

(Photo courtesy: House of Sims/Flickr)

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

Quinn Names New Chief of Staff

Gov. Pat Quinn has picked his Department of Human Services head to be his new chief of staff.

Quinn named Michelle Saddler on Tuesday to replace Jerry Stermer, who resigned this weekend amid an ethics probe. Saddler has led the social service agency since October 2009.

Stermer resigned Sunday after a probe of his admission that he had "inadvertently'' used his state e-mail account to send three messages, including campaign-related ones. He said executive inspector general James Wright later determined they were prohibited under state ethics rules.

Stermer said he quit to avoid being a distraction for Quinn, who is in a tough campaign against Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

Illinois Fails In Bid For ‘Race to the Top’ Education Funds

Illinois has struck out in its attempt to get federal school-reform money.

The state was a finalist twice for "Race to the Top'' grants and hoped to get $400 million this time. But the U.S. Education Department named nine states and the District of Columbia as recipients in the final round of stimulus program funding.

Illinois House education leader Roger Eddy says the state's bid was hurt by its long history of local school control and concerns about its ability to continue the programs after federal money dried up. But the Hutsonville Republican says the State Board of Education worked hard to revise its application after Illinois missed out on the first round of federal money in March.

The top education leader in Illinois is diappointed the state got shut out on those funds. But state schools Superintendent Christopher Koch says the reform agenda will proceed. Reforms paid for with the federal money must be continued with state funds. Koch says he doesn't know if Illinois' budget problems played a role in the state's loss. He says there is already some federal money for changes and Illinois can gain from successes in the states that did get money.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

Auditor Referendum Removed from Champaign County Ballot

A referendum to make the Champaign County auditor an appointed, rather than elected, position will not be on the November ballot this year.

Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says it was his duty as the county Election Authority to remove the referendum from the ballot, because the Champaign County Board voted to put it on the ballot more than a year in advance of the election.

"I've never had to do it before --- hope it never happens again", says Shelden. "But this ballot question won't be on the November ballot, because it was passed by the County Board, more than a year prior to the election. And the state statute is very clear that they cannot do that."

Shelden acted, following a complaint filed last week by County Democratic Chair Al Klein, who also said the question was flawed because it didn't list a date for the auditor to switch from elected to appointed, if voters approved the measure. Shelden said it might have been possible to work around that problem, but not the county board's failure to wait for the one-year pre-election window.

The referendum's co-sponsor on the County Board, Democrat Steve Beckett, says he plans to bring it up again for inclusion on the April 2011 ballot. Beckett says he accepts responsibility for the error. Meanwhile, Republican County Board member Greg Knott accuses Klein and Democratic County Auditor Tony Fabri of sitting on knowledge of the problem until it was too late for the County Board to fix it.

"It's clear they were playing games", says Knott. "It was a way to not have the focus on Mr. Fabri and his performance and the need for that office in this election cycle."

The auditor's referendum had targeted Fabri, with Republicans and some Democrats on the County Board accusing him of poor attendance at his office, following a News-Gazette report. Fabri says an elected auditor is vital for good county government, and says his critics should run their own candidate for auditor, if they're unhappy with him. Fabri says he had heard rumors that there were statutory problems with the way the referendum was put on the ballot, but wasn't focused on the matter, and thought the County Board would take care of any problems.

Klein says he learned of the statutory problems with the referendum a few weeks before he wrote to the County Clerk about it, but waited in order to check the matter out with legal experts. He also says waiting until after the deadline for submitting items for the ballot is the usual time to post a challenge.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

New Contract Now in Place in Mahomet Seymour

The Mahomet Seymour school board has made official a tentative contract that's gotten unanimous approval from employees. The board cast a 7-0 vote last night to ratify the deal -- the co-president of the Mahomet Seymour Education Association said that earlier in the day, all of its voting members voted in favor. The vote follows a two day strike that disrupted the first days of school last week. The contract only runs for one year, as opposed to the two-year deal that the school board had initially insisted on - it includes a 2.6 percent pay raise for teachers, while teacher's aides and support staff will get 3.5 percent. Both sides will now have to open negotiations again next summer.

Categories: Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 23, 2010

Champaign County Auditor Referendum May Not Qualify for Ballot

Republicans unhappy with Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri led a County Board vote last summer to put a referendum on the November ballot to make the county auditor's post appointed, instead of elected. Now, the chair of the Champaign County Democratic Party says the referendum should be disqualified.

The charges from Al Klein focus on two provisions of state law. Klein says the Champaign County Board failed to specify a date for when the referendum would become effective, leaving a blank spot in the referendum language. And he says the county board acted more than a year before the November 2010 election --- too early, according to state statute.

If he hadn't found the legal problems, Klein says he'd be campaigning against the referendum. Klein and current auditor Tony Fabri are both Democrats, but Klein argues it's just a bad idea for the auditor to be hired by county officials.

"What good is it to have an auditor, if the auditor is employed by the people he's auditing?", asks Klein. "Think of Arthur Andersen and Enron. There's one of the best firms in the country, with the highest white-hat reputation. And look what to them, because they could not afford to say no to the people who were paying their tab."

Klein wrote Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden about the matter last week --- Shelden is in charge of elections in the county. The letter was written long after the deadline for the county board to do anything to revise the referendum to address Klein's charges. Klein says he chose the normal period for challenging ballot items.

Shelden plans to comment on the issue on Tuesday, but had written County Board Chair Pius Weibel about the question of the effective start date last December.

For his part, Weibel says it was implicit in county board discussion of the referendum last August that it would take effect --- if passed --- at the end of Fabri's term in 2012. But he says he didn't know about a state law requiring that referenda must be approved for the ballot less than 12 months before an election.

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz declined to comment on the matter Monday.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 23, 2010

New Center in Rantoul Serves as a Resource for Migrants

A new daycare and clinic recently opened for the season in Rantoul. It caters mostly to children of migrant workers, but it's open to anyone whose immediate family works in agriculture. The Multicultural Community Center is the largest of its kind in Illinois. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, the staff tries to make the transition of migrating easier for the children of migrant workers.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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Categories: Biography, Community

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