Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Former Ill. Gov. Edgar Weighs in on State Finances

Illinois lawmakers this week sent Gov. Pat Quinn a plan to pay the state's regional school superintendents and their assistants through local property taxes. Those employees have been working without pay since July after Quinn slashed state support for the office. But former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, who is a Republican, said that was a vote lawmakers shouldn't have had to make.

"It was a tough vote, but they had to do something to take care of that problem until they resolved the issue," Edgar said. "But the way (Gov. Quinn) tried to resolve it, I think was a huge governmental mistake."

Edgar said Quinn should have talked to the legislature before cutting off funding for the state's regional school superintendents

Edgar served two terms as governor from 1991 to 1999. During his second term, Edgar tried to raise income taxes and lower property taxes to support education programs, but he wasn't able to get enough support from the General Assembly. Edgar said he is not sure that measure would get the needed support now given the state's financial problems.

"If you get the state back where we're paying our bills on time and we got some money in the bank, then maybe you can take a look at a tax reform," he said. "I think until we deal with the immediate problem, we don't have the luxury to deal with tax reform."

Edgar said before lawmakers consider any tax reforms, they should first take care of the state's debt problems through additional cuts.

He also expressed support for a gambling expansion bill that would allow racetracks in the state to operate slot machines, and establish five new casinos in areas, such as Chicago and Danville. The Senate is expected to vote on that measure later this month.

Edgar spoke Friday on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Airtran Airways to End Service in Central Illinois

Nineteen Airtran Airways workers will lose their jobs in Bloomington-Normal, and travelers will have to book flights on other airlines when the carrier pulls out of the Central Illinois Regional Airport next June.

According to a release from Airtran, continued high fuel prices and the changing economic climate require the end of air service to Central Illinois. Airtran carried 39-percent of Bloomington Normal passengers last year. Airtran also cut service to three other cities and earlier this year dropped four other cities including the Quad Cities in Illinois.

Bloomington-Normal's largest carrier remains Delta. The loss of service includes three daily non-stop flights. Municipal leaders had expressed concern earlier this year about the possibility of service loss when Airtran did not renew special spring break flights to Fort Myers.

Airport Director Carl Olson had been meeting with Southwest executives for more than six months trying to make the case

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Condoleezza Rice & Occupy Demonstrators Fail to Meet Up in B-N

(Reported by Willis Kern from WGLT in Normal)

((UPDATE: This article has been updated to include later events))

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to come to Bloomington-Normal Friday evening to speak at a private fundraiser for Congressman Aaron Schock. And organizers took pains to keep the fundraiser private from the local version of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

About 30 demonstrators from "Occupy BloNo" gathered in front of 2110 Longwood Lane on Bloomington's far east side, hoping to confront Dr. Rice.

Apparently at the last moment, locations were changed on the venue of the fundraiser. The demonstrators were at the Longwood Lane address for about 20 minutes. They marched, and expressed their concern about the money that is going into politics. They then quietly marched away.

Occupy member Amelia Hill of Normal says the twist didn't take her by surprise.

"It was somewhat expected," Hill said. "But it also goes to show that they aren't interested in seeing people expressing their views and interfering with their event."

Event organizers were selling tickets to the funder for as much as $2,500. The protesters oppose huge campaign donations and the political influence they say goes with the big ticket gifts.

The protesters also say they wanted to voice their opposition to alleged war crimes they say Rice committed during her reign as secretary of state.

UPDATE: Occupy Bloomington-Normal organizer Dan Thetford said in a news release that the protesters had received a tip that the Aaron Schock fundraiser had been moved to Lancaster's restaurant in Bloominton. The protesters went to that site, and while Congressman Schock and Dr. Rice had already left, other participants in the fundraiser were still present. "We entered Lancaster's as a group", writes Thetford, "refused to leave and, in unison, we all shouted the entirety of the Declaration of the Occupation of Bloomington-Normal, adopted from the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City." After police ordered them to leave Lancaster's, Thetford says they continued to demonstrate outside. He says members of Occupy Bloominton-Normal considered their work that night a "great success".

(Photo by Willis Kern/IPR)

Categories: Politics
Tags: politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Salvation Army Launches Bell-Ringing Campaign In Champaign County

Salvation Army units start up their Christmas fundraising campaigns every fall. In Champaign county, the campaign began on Veterans Day.

Bell-ringers, both paid and volunteer will attempt to raise $430,000 by manning the Salvation Army's red kettles at street corners or outside stores.

Salvation Army Envoy Michael Fuqua said the demand for their services increased dramatically with the economic downturn that began three years ago. He said the need has remained steady since then. Champaign County Salvation Army services include providing holiday meals and running a men's shelter in Champaign. But Fuqua said they also help families who may need emergency help with a rent payment or utility bill.

"If you think of whatever somebody's emergency need might be, they oftentimes come to the Salvation Army for assistance," Fuqua said. "You'd be surprised how often we're able to figure something out for them to help them financially, or maybe talk to whoever is after them for those problems."

Fuqua said all of the money raised in the Champaign County bell-ringing campaign goes to Salvation Army charitable work in Champaign County. The bell-ringing season will run until Jan. 1.

Categories: Community, Religion

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Emerald Ash Borer Quarantine Expanded in Illinois

Illinois' list of areas placed on quarantine for the emerald ash borer now reaches from the state's northern border down to its south-central section.

The state Department of Agriculture has expanded the quarantine with an additional 16 counties, plus new areas in two other counties. The quarantine for the tree-killing insect now affects counties in all parts of the state except western and deep southern Illinois. The emerald ash borer feeds on the inner bark of ash trees, and has devastated the trees where the insect is unchecked.

University of Illinois entomologist Phil Nixon says the quarantine tries to check the spread of the insect, by preventing the transport of wood that could carry it to new areas.

"With the quarantines, the state police have the option of stopping vehicles that are transporting wood or plant material, determine where the point of origin is and (take) options in that direction. Similarly, various campgrounds can monitor firewood and actually have some ability to refuse entrance of people who are bringing in firewood from quarantined areas."

Nixon says insecticides are available to prevent the emerald ash borer from getting established, for both commercial and home use.

"We recommend that people consider doing preventive treatment of their trees if an infestation has found within 15 miles of their locale", says NIxon.

The emerald ash borer was accidentally introduced to North America in the 1990s, and first spotted in Illinois three years ago. Nixon says woodpeckers eat the insects, and some local species of parasitic wasps have started preying on it as well --- but those have not been enough to check its spread.

New counties added to the emerald ash borer quarantine list are DeWitt, Marion, Stark, Effingham, Clark, Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Fayette, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt and Shelby counties. Portions of Bureau and Marshall counties not previously included in the quarantine also were added. Counties already under quarantine are Boone, Champaign, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Ford, Grundy, Iroquois, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, Lee, Livingston, McHenry, McLean, Ogle, Putnam, Vermilion, Will, Winnebago and Woodford.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Cellini Attorneys to Seek Mistrial

Defense attorneys for a millionaire convicted of trying to shake down a Hollywood producer say they will file a mistrial motion next week based on new allegations that one juror didn't disclose two felony convictions.

William Cellini's attorney, Dan Webb, told The Associated Press on Friday that he'll ask a federal judge on Monday to toss both convictions and try his client again.

Citing court records, the Chicago Tribune reports a woman with the same name, age and address as the juror pleaded guilty to crack-cocaine possession in 2000 and aggravated driving under the influence without a driver's license in 2008. But the newspaper says she didn't disclose those facts during jury selection.

Webb says the felony convictions made the woman legally unqualified to serve on the jury.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Ill. Lawmakers Adjourn Without Action on Gambling

Illinois lawmakers have gone home without making another attempt at passing gaming expansion.

The measure failed to come up for a vote in the Senate Thursday afternoon, but Senate President John Cullerton said he prefers to deal with the issue when legislators are expected back Nov. 29.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan claims opposition from Gov. Pat Quinn and the head of the Illinois Gaming Board likely hurt the bill's level of support.

The measure would allow racetracks to operate slot machines, and establish five new casinos in areas, including Chicago and Danville.

Catlin House Republican Chad Hays voted in favor of it, saying it would be an economic boon for the state.

"This would be a measure that would bring hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to Danville," Hays said. "To me it's really not about gaming. It's about economic development and jobs."

Champaign Democratic Sen. Mike Frerichs said he believes this bill will have better success late this month.

"I think there are many house members who weren't present when the bill was called for a vote," Frerichs said. "I think if they call it again sometime in the future they can pass something. Sponsors of the bill incorporated many of the suggestions the governor had made, and made many improvements to the bill. It should be a better bill, and easier to pass."

Frerichs said he will vote for the bill should it reach the Senate.

Six months ago, a major gambling expansion passed the House but not with enough votes to survive a potential veto by Governor Quinn. Quinn has a number of concerns, particularly allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Urbana School Board Launches Redistricting Process

The Urbana school board is launching the process of redrawing its subdistrict boundaries --- in preparation for the next school board election in 2013.

District 116 is one of just a few Illinois school districts that elects board members from subdistricts, instead of at large. It's been that way since voters passed a referendum in 1998. Subdistrict borders must be adjusted after each new census to reflect changes in population. Urbana School Board President John Dimit (representing Subdistrict 7) said their goal is to keep the new boundaries as close to the old ones as the new census data will permit, "to prevent disruption as much as we can, from people who kind of have an idea of what sub-district they're a part of."

Dimit said the board desire not to minimize voter confusion during the redistricting process results in relatively stable subdistricts.

The subdistrict system was chosen with the goal of promoting geographic and racial diversity on the Urbana school board. Dimit said maintaining that diversity is one of their goals in redistricting. Towards that end, the board seeks at least one "minority-majority" subdistrict during redistricting --- where one minority group dominates. Dimit said that was possible during the last redistricting a decade ago, and it won't be possible this time, due to District 116's demographics. But he said that Subdistrict 2 on the school district's west side achieves roughly the same result, because the influence of its 32 percent African-American population is boosted by a white population made up largely of University of Illinois students who rarely vote.

"We've bent over back backwards to make sure that there is the ability to ensure --- to practically guarantee --- that we will have at least one black representative on the seven-member school board," Dimit said.

School Board Vice President Benita Rollins-Gay, who is African-American, represents Subdistrict 2.

Dimit said he's not actually a supporter of the subdistrict system, arguing it's not needed to achieve diversity on the Urbana School Board. He said the all-white school board that existed at the time of the 1998 referendum was an anomaly. Dimit also said the subdistrict system has made it difficult to field candidates for school board elections, because of the requirement that they come from seven different geographic areas within District 116.

The Urbana school board voted Wednesday night to contract with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, and use its experts to help draw up a new subdistrict map. Next up is a special meeting Nov. 21 at the Regional Planning Commission offices at the Brookens Center in Urbana, where school board members will meet with the experts to brainstorm on the new boundaries.

At a Dec. 6 meeting, school board members will review three subdistrict map proposals from the RPC experts, and choose a potential finalist. Community forums will be scheduled to present the map proposals to District 116 residents, and the school board will take a final vote on Dec. 15.

Categories: Education, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Ill. Senate Vote Sends Regional Supt’s Pay Plan to Governor

Illinois lawmakers are sending Gov. Pat Quinn a plan to pay the state's regional school superintendents who have been working without compensation since July.

The Senate approved a plan Thursday 38-16 to use local property taxes to fund about $12 million to pay schools chiefs and their assistants in 44 regional education offices. Quinn supports the legislation.

The elected superintendents provide services such as certifying teachers and bus drivers, inspecting schools and offering alternative education programs for truant and troubled youths.

Quinn said in July there wasn't money in the budget to pay them and canceled their pay. Cheryl Reifsteck, the Regional Superintendent of Schools for Vermilion County, said she is relieved lawmakers came up with a plan to keep those positions funded.

"It will allow us to focus on the important things that we need to be focusing on and that's the education of our students and helping our schools function," Reifsteck said.

The measure would also form a committee to study the superintendents' duties and how best to deliver the services. Jane Quinlan, who is the superintendent for Champaign and Ford Counties, said she hopes that helps lawmakers better understand the role of the superintendents.

"Well, I'm hoping that we'll be able to clarify for legislators the role of the regional offices, and that it will be more stable so that we don't have to deal with these issues on an annual basis," Quinlan said.

The elected superintendents provide services such as certifying teachers and bus drivers, inspecting schools and offering alternative education programs for truant and troubled youths.

Lawmakers voting 'yes' for the measure included Sens. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) and Shane Cultra (R-Onarga), while 'no' votes came from Sens. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) and Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign).

"I hesitantly supported the measure. It was a compromise solution to another one of Governor Quinn's manufactured crises," Cultra said in a statement. "It is the best short-term solution that we were given an option to vote on. This legislation sets a dangerous precedent to remove funding from local governments who are already struggling because of a massive backlog in payments."

Frerichs said the regional superintendents need to be paid, but felt the personal property replacement tax was the wrong funding mechanism.

"I think taking it out of the general revenue fund, as the state has done in the past, was the better way to fund them," said the Senator, who says he's very hopeful that funding route can resume in a year.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Faculty Strike Over at Southern Illinois University Carbondale

The Faculty Association Strike at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is over.

SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng said the Faculty Association notified the board negotiation team Wednesday evening that they would return to work. Striking faculty members will be back in their classrooms Thursday.

Cheng said there are still some details to be worked out before a tentative agreement can be formally reached. Cheng said once the tentative agreement is prepared it will require ratification by the SIU Board of Trustees and the Faculty Association.

Cheng said she and other leaders are glad things will soon be back to normal.

"And that those who picked up the extra work while the others were out will, I think, happily relinquish that extra load," Cheng said. "So we've got some work to do to get back to normal, but clearly, I'm confident that both groups will come together and work in the best interest of the students, and also help achieve all the ambitious goals we have for this great institution."

Faculty Association spokesman Dave Johnson said it was not an easy process but the Faculty Association has achieved a great deal.

"This offer marks real progress on many of the main issues we've been interested in all along," Johnson said. "Progress made possible not only by the faculty on strike, but through the support shown us by the campus community and above all by our students. We're glad that the strike is over. We're eager to return to the classrooms and work together with our students, our fellow faculty members as well as the administration to make SIUC the best university it can be."

In a written statement the faculty association said the new proposal represents a marked improvement over where the union stood a few days ago before the strike began. It also said the proposal improves shared governance, preserves the tenure system at SIUC, and strengthens transparency and accountability in ways that will help ensure that academic values remain paramount, while allowing the administration adequate flexibility to deal with any future financial crisis. Johnson said the Faculty Association is confident that they will end up with a tentative agreement that the FA members can support.

Cheng nor Johnson would comment on the specifics of the administration's offer that was presented to the Faculty Association early Wednesday evening. Unofficial postings on the Faculty Association's blog site indicate that the administration made some additional concessions related to the impact of a declared financial exigency on faculty contracts. The posting also indicates the faculty association conceded to the administration's request that striking faculty not be paid for the days they were on strike as well as accepting administration terms related to furlough days.

The Faculty Association walkout ended just a few hours shy of it's beginning a week ago. The three other Illinois Education Association affiliated unions on campus reached tentative agreements a week ago and did not go on strike. Prior to the strike last Thursday all four IEA unions had been working without a new agreement since June 2010.

Categories: Education
Tags: education

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