Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 07, 2011

Union Asks Arbitrator to Rule on Cancelled Raises

The state's largest public employees union is asking an arbitrator to decide if Governor Pat Quinn can cancel members' promised pay raises.

About 30,00 AFSCME members may not get their two percent raise this year. Quinn has cancelled some state workers' scheduled pay increases, but not if AFSCME has its way. The group has called on the same arbitrator who mediated the last time Quinn and AFSCME fought, after the governor's 2010 attempt to layoff employees. That agreement ended with Quinn promising no layoffs in exchange for AFSCME members taking voluntary furloughs and deferring their raises.

Now AFSCME wants that arbitrator to decide if by rescinding those raises, Quinn is violating the union's contract. AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said the union could still also take the governor to state or federal court.

"We're reviewing all of our, all of our options," Lindall said. "We've always said that we'll pursue every avenue."

Each side has to have briefs filed by July 16th. The union is also going to picket on Tuesday.

Quinn said it is not a breach of contract because state expenditures are subject to appropriations. The budget legislators crafted and he signed does not have the necessary $75 million to pay for the wage hikes.

AFSCME had supported Quinn, a Democrat, in November's election. Just prior to that endorsement, the union agreed to defer raises while Quinn guaranteed two years without layoffs.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 07, 2011

Coroner Identifies Body as Champaign Man

A man whose body was discovered in north Champaign Wednesday has been identified as 50-year old Nathaniel Carter of Champaign.

Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said an autopsy was performed Thursday morning in Bloomington, but he said authorities still aren't sure how Carter died or how long he had been dead. Results of the autopsy aren't yet availalble.

The decomposing body was discovered by a man Wednesday afternoon in knee-high weeds in the 800 block of North State Street. Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said the body was so decomposed that after Carter was found, officers couldn't even be sure of his race.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 06, 2011

Champaign School District Starts Career Fair for Substitute Teachers

The Champaign Unit 4 School District wants to be more involved in finding substitute teachers.

So, for the first time, it is hosting a career fair over the next week where Unit 4 principals get the chance to do short sit-down interviews with perspective subs.

The career fair comes months after the state shifted more of the responsibility of screening substitute teachers from individual school districts to the Regional Offices of Education.

Jeff Scott, the principal at Carrie Busey Elementary School in Champaign, said he hopes the career fair strengthens Unit 4's pool of teachers.

"We have so many kids that are sitting in front of substitute teachers throughout the course of the year," Scott said. "We feel like it's important to get the best people approved to actually substitute instead of just people that might not be qualified."

School District spokeswoman Lynn Peisker said about 150 substitutes intend to return to the classroom in the fall, and as many as 50 additional subs may be brought on board. While Regional Office of Education #9 ultimately decides which people are qualified to substitute in Champaign County, Peisker said the job fair will help Unit 4 narrow its pool of potential candidates.

"We do have candidates that are not recommended for hire as substitutes in classrooms," Peisker said. "However, we need substitutes as teacher's aides, substitutes in clerical, substitutes in other areas of our building. So, we continue to look at their information and encourage them to apply in those other opportunities."

The career fair will be the only opportunity for people to apply to work as Unit 4 substitute teachers during the 2011-2012 school year. It continues next week at the Mellon Administrative Center in Champaign on Monday, July 11 from 1pm to 4pm and Tuesday, July 12 from 5pm to 7pm.

Categories: Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 06, 2011

Legislation to Expand Illinois Jury Pools Started Up in Champaign

Legislation that was initiated in Champaign County is expected to expand and diversify Illinois' jury pools.

University of Illinois Law Professor Steve Beckett has tracked the makeup of jury pools for the past seven years. He says county officials have made some effort to increase participation in juries by shortening the jury term from two weeks to one week.

Courts have been relying on lists of registered voters and those with their driver's license to make up jury pools. But Beckett says the National Center for State Courts recommended to a Champaign County Committee that unemployment lists be tapped as well.

"Arguably, you would you miss someone who was not registered to vote, doesn't have a driver's license, but could be receiving unemployment benefits," he said. "And so that's the idea, I think, is that the broader the pool, the greater we enhance the chances of diversity in our juries."

Jennifer Putman with Champaign County's Citizens Advisory Committee on Jury Service says the Secretary of State's office often has dated contact information.

"The courts spend a lot of money mailing out jury qualification questionnaires and summonses to addresses where the respondent has moved," she said. "And because the Illinois Department of Employment Security has up-to-date information, we're expecting more accurate results when we mail to that group of individuals."

The bill was signed by Governor Pat Quinn last week. House Democrat and sponsor Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana says it makes sense to include another block of people with solid contact information. Putman's committee plans to analyze jury pool numbers by this time next year, to ensure the legislation is working. The panel is also working to increase the daily 10-dollar stipend that jurors receive, but Putman says that's a pipe dream right now, given Illinois' financial state.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 06, 2011

Illinois Drops Writing from Standardized Exam

Illinois will assess only reading and arithmetic now that high school juniors will no longer be tested on their writing skills during standardized exams every spring, according to a published report.

Cutting the writing exams will save about $2.4 million amid the state's budgetary shortfalls. Writing tests for elementary and middle school students were dropped last year.

"We're trying to minimize the damage" of the cuts, Schools Superintendent Christopher Koch told the Chicago Tribune for a story published Wednesday. "Writing is one of the most expensive things to assess."

Federal law doesn't require or fund writing tests. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, public schools are evaluated based on their reading and math test results.

Illinois isn't alone in struggling with how to offer an effective education for less money. Oregon and Missouri also recently made money-saving cuts to their writing exams.

Illinois education officials expect to restore the writing assessments in 2014 when a new state testing plan will require students to periodically take online tests, Koch said.

And the end of the writing section on state standardized exams for now doesn't mean students won't be tested on their writing at all. Many Advanced Placement exams given in May require writing, and the SAT college entrance exam has a writing requirement.

While some teachers and advocates lamented that the changes may take attention away from writing instruction, others said it may open some doors.

Without having to focus on the tests, "I think it offers some freedom," said teacher Heather Schwartz of Pfc. Omar Torres Charter School in Chicago.

Categories: Education
Tags: education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 06, 2011

Veteran Duckworth to File to Run for Congress

Iraq War veteran and former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth says she's running for Congress.

The Democrat announced Wednesday that she'll file paperwork to run in the newly drawn 8th Congressional District in Chicago's western suburbs. The district has no incumbent.

Spokesman Pete Giangreco says the 37-year-old will file the paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday or Thursday.

Duckworth lost both her legs in a rocket-propelled grenade attack while serving in Iraq. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006 in another district. Parts of that old district are included in the new 8th District and are areas Giangreco says she won last time.

Another Democrat, Raja Krishnamoorthi, also has formed an exploratory committee.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

Categories: Government, Politics
Tags: government

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 06, 2011

Hogan: UI Budget Will Allow for Average 3% Salary Hikes

Most University of Illinois employees should soon get their first standard raises in three years.

U of I president Michael Hogan emailed faculty and staff Tuesday, saying the current budget allows for a 3% increase in the salary pool. Most employees had gone without raises since 2008 - and many effectively lost pay through furloughs last year.

In March, Hogan told a Senate committee that employee pay was a top concern:

"We have not had a general salary program since August of 2008, and of course we had furlough days last year," Hogan said. "And so addressing this problem and retaining our very best faculty has got to be one of my top priorities in the coming year."

Giving raises could help to alleviate the number of faculty leaving the U of I system for other, better-paying jobs.

University spokesman Jan Dennis said state lawmakers were more sympathetic to higher education this year, approving only a one-percent overall reduction in this year's budget.

"We also have implemented cost containment measures on our own that have saved more than $14 million in the first year," Dennis said. "That combination, along with fundraising and other initiatives on campus, enabled us to come up with the pot of money to provide raises for employees this year."

Dennis said the U of I will also honor union contracts that call for changes in their negotiated pay-raise schedules based on university-wide wage programs.

He said the average hike should be about 3%, but individual units will be able to adjust the raises based on merit.

Read Michael Hogan's E-Mail About the Raises:

Dear Colleagues,

We've faced many challenges in recent years and I deeply appreciate how hard you've all been working throughout these difficult times. I've stated all year that one of my top priorities has been to avoid furlough days and strive to find enough cost savings to restore merit-based compensation programs.

I'm pleased to announce that our cost-savings measures and careful planning on all our campuses has helped us in this regard. We've been able to identify funding to enable the first campus salary program for our faculty and academic professionals in nearly three years. This program authorizes the chancellors on each campus to use 3.0% of the salary pool for merit-based compensation adjustments. The same program will be implemented for the University Administration. This modest allocation is well-deserved for our hardworking employees who have faced salary freezes for consecutive years, as well as effective compensation losses in FY 2010 as a result of furlough days.

Many of our collective bargaining units have contractual language that provides for pay adjustments based on the campus wage program, if the campus wage program is greater than previously negotiated pay adjustments for the same period. I will, of course, honor those agreements. For any negotiated groups that do not have such considerations in their contracts, the University will be willing to explore similar arrangements for this time period.

I couldn't be more proud of our great University, which is made possible by our outstanding faculty and staff, who have worked hard to continue to make this university the best it can be. We still have challenges ahead, but I know that by working together, continuing to streamline our administration and cut costs, we will continue to become stronger than ever.

Once more, I thank you for your commitment to the University and your ongoing support for our efforts to streamline operations and save costs, while also improving our programs.

Sincerely,

Mike

Michael J. Hogan President University of Illinois


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 05, 2011

Provena Health and Chicago-Based Hospital System Agree on Merger

The organization overseeing Provena's hospitals in Urbana and Danville has agreed to a merger to create the state's largest Catholic hospital system.

Exploratory talks with Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care have gone on since February. The union with Mokena-based Provena Health still requires the approval of the state, which could happen this fall. Provena spokeswoman Lisa Lagger said as the merger was explored, areas provided by one hospital system seemed to better serve in where the other wasn't as strong, including behavioral health and home care agencies.

"So you can see a very comprehensive array of services and offerings. and it's all very complimentary in its nature in that we don't compete with other Resurrection hospitals, for example in our markets," Lagger said. "And it's from a complimentary geographical base."

Outside of Urbana and Danville, Provena primarily serves Illinois' so-called collar counties, which includes cities like Joliet and Aurora, while Resurrection primarily operates in Chicago. Resurrection spokesman Brian Crawford said one focus of building a patient- family center care environment is to better care for someone long after their hospital stay.

"We really the ability here to build, I think, what could be a very unique system that treats people in the hospital when they need to be in the hospital, but then also does follow-up care through our non-acute facilities," he said. "It keeps track of patients to make sure they don't end up back in the hospital, which is also very costly to the patient themselves."

Crawford said there should also be cost savings incurred by closing down information systems and a corporate office for one of the hospital systems. The combined system would provide more than 100 sites, including 12 hospitals, 28 long-term care and senior residential centers, and more than 50 clinics.

Lagger said the Illinois Health Facilities Services Review Board could approve the merger by October.

Categories: Economics, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 05, 2011

Urbana Resident’s Humanitarian Trip to Gaza Strip Put on Hold

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

An Urbana resident's humanitarian trip to the Gaza Strip has been put at a standstill.

Robert Naiman works for the advocacy group, Just Foreign Policy. He is traveling with about 50 other Americans to protest an Israeli-imposed naval blockade on Gaza.

But on Friday, Greek authorities intercepted the U.S. ship, and arrested its captain for setting sail without permission and allegedly endangering the other passengers.

Speaking in Athens on Tuesday morning, Naiman said the Greek government released the ship's captain, John Klusmire, earlier in the day. Klusmire had attempted to leave a port Friday near Piraeus, Greece, in defiance of a Greek ban on the flotilla of boats leaving port. He appeared in court Tuesday handcuffed and under police escort.

"No trial date has been set and we expect the charges to be dropped," one of his lawyers, Manolis Stephanakis, said after the hearing. "We presented a very strong case and we don't need to call any more witnesses to testify."

The captain himself appeared relieved after his deposition, and was cheered on by 30 fellow activists chanting "We love John."

"This is a much better outcome than I anticipated," Klusmire said.

Up to 400 international activists had been due to sail last week to Gaza aboard 10 ships leaving from Greece to protest the naval blockade.

Greece has banned all boats participating in the Gaza flotilla from leaving port, citing security concerns after a similar flotilla last year was raided by Israeli forces, leaving nine activists on a Turkish boat dead. The Greek foreign ministry has offered to deliver the humanitarian aid the activists want to take to Gaza.

Despite Klusmire's release, Naiman said the humanitarian trip has faced another setback with Greek government officials seizing Klusmire's Gaza-bound ship.

"Whether we can go to Gaza I think is now a question of our boat," Naiman said. "Our boat is essentially under arrest by the Greek authorities. It's tied at a military dock in Piraeus. I don't think as of now the Greek authorities will allow it to leave."

Naiman added that even if his hopes to make it to Gaza are dashed, he said he is grateful for being able to "communicate a message of solidarity to the people of Gaza, and to speak to international public opinion about the blockade and the denial of freedom."

The Israeli government has maintained the naval blockade since 2007 to weaken the militant group Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory.

(AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 05, 2011

Quinn: Ready for Court Battle Over Canceled Raises

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday he was prepared to go to court against the unions to defend his decision to cancel pay raises for nearly 30,000 state workers and he repeatedly blamed lawmakers for leaving him no choice by not setting aside the money.

"It's very clear that the money wasn't available for the raises and therefore there's really nothing I could do to clear it up," Quinn said after a Chicago press conference where he touted a $10 million program to give teens and young people internships and jobs in state parks, park districts and nature centers.

Quinn made the surprise announcement Friday that workers wouldn't be getting the 2 percent increase they were expecting that day. The state's largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said it had no idea Quinn was considering such action.

The raises will save the state about $75 million as it continues to cope with a budget crisis. The state still faces a shortfall of at least $6 billion and possibly more than $9 billion despite cutting costs and raising the state income tax.

Quinn brushed off suggestions that his action came as a surprise. "Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the budget would know this," he said.

Quinn's budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said the governor began thinking about cancelling the raises after lawmakers approved the budget on May 30. He did not tell workers they were losing the money until July 1.

Quinn insisted he's following the law because he can't spend money the General Assembly doesn't appropriate but AFSCME has condemned Quinn's actions.

"The General Assembly neither did nor can compel the government to violate a legally binding collective bargaining agreement," said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 31.

Lindall said the union was considering its legal options and believes it has a "very strong case in a court of law."

Quinn wasn't concerned about what could potentially be a long and costly legal battle. "If they decide to sue that's their right and we'll be happy to meet them in court," he said.

While Quinn said repeatedly that lawmakers did not set aside money in the budget to pay the raises, that's not entirely accurate.

It's true that lawmakers cut spending for salaries despite the scheduled raises. The Corrections Department, for instance, saw personnel money drop by 7 percent. But budgets don't distinguish between regular salaries and raises; they simply give the governor a certain amount of money for employees. The governor decides how to spend the money.

So, potentially, Quinn could have cut some jobs and used the limited money available to pay the full raises to remaining employees. Or he could have paid everyone the higher salaries and come back to lawmakers in October and requested more money. He also had the option of vetoing the budget and telling legislators they failed to include enough money for personnel.

House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman said it's up to Quinn's administration and state agencies to decide how to spend the money lawmakers appropriate.

"We don't get involved in that level of detail," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said Quinn's decision to end the raises will be added "to the list of items in the current year's budget that need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months."

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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