Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign School Board continued Monday night talking about how to relieve overcrowding at Central High School.
Unlike past discussions, which have centered around building a new high school, this meeting focused on other options to reduce congestion at Central.
Among the proposals discussed, the board looked at having three high schools, fixing up the district's two existing schools, or merging Central and Centennial High Schools into one building that houses up to 3,000 students.
Champaign resident Mark Briggs has a son who is a junior at Centennial High School. He said merging Central and Centennial would open up more academic and extracurricular opportunities for students, like his son.
"He should have the same opportunities that everybody at Central has," Briggs said. "Everybody at Central should have the same opportunities that the students at Centennial have. They're two great schools. Bring them together, and it's going to be a fantastic school."
But Laurie Andrews, a parent of a 2nd grader at Westview Elementary, does not buy the merger idea. She taught at a large high school in Chicago for several years, and she said she found it difficult to regularly interact with many students and fellow teachers. Andrews said she worries having a single high school in the Champaign School District would make it difficult for teachers to connect with their students.
"I am totally against one high school," Andrews said. "I think it's very easy for students to slip through the cracks. It's hard for teachers to get to know students. It's hard for students to get to know each other. "
The school board voiced opposition to that plan, citing its roughly $160 million dollar price tag, the increased likeliness of gang activity, and the possibility some students would have trouble adjusting in a larger school.
"Some students just won't fair well at all in that type of environment because they need smaller one-on-one contact," school board member Jamar Brown said. "I don't know in this community if we can accomplish that in a large school."
Central High School Principal Joe Williams said he would like to stick with the status quo of two high schools, but added that Central should be in a new building. Williams said he is not sure the school district would want to staff a larger school to ensure "students don't fall through the cracks."
He also noted that moving to a larger school would likely force Champaign out of the Big 12 conference to compete against schools in the Chicagoland area.
"So, instead of traveling to Danville, Decatur, and Bloomington, Mattoon, and those areas," Williams explained. "We would actually be traveling north of Kankakee, even north of I-80."
Williams encouraged the school board to study student performance at other schools with varying enrollment sizes.
School board member Greg Novak agrees that having two high schools in Unit 4 has served the community well. He said building a third high school may not be the best idea because it could divert attention away from fixing up Central High School, which he acknowledged has some major problems.
"It doesn't matter how good wireless internet gets, it's still not going to go through the walls at Central very well," Novak said. "We're talking about trying to run a school for the 21st century in a school that was built in the mid-1920s."
If a new school is built, voters would have to approve a tax referendum of at least $50 million to begin construction.
Ideas for the Unit 4 restructuring plan can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org
Sunday's devastating tornado in Joplin Missouri underscores the sudden nature of storms and the challenge that emergency management officials face in sending out warnings.
Only 17 minutes separated the first tornado sirens in the city from the onslaught of the tornado. Champaign County Emergency Management Agency director Bill Keller says the National Weather Service tries to give as much advance warning as possible, and it's up to agencies like his to decide exactly when to set off the sirens.
"A lot of it depends on the past history of the storm," Keller said. "Every once in a while, one just fires up unexpectedly so to speak, like the Joplin (tornado). 17 minutes sounds like a lot of time, but if you don't have a plan on what you're going to do and where you're going to take shelter, that's not very much time."
Keller says sirens go off when a tornado has been visually detected, or if there's other evidence a tornado may be hidden by darkness or heavy rain.
Keller says every household should designate a place to go in the event of a tornado warning, and people in stores and other public buildings need to follow staff instructions when the warning sounds. He assumes that some Joplin tornado victims decided to leave stores and try to beat their storm home in their vehicles, which he says was not a good idea.
It's likely to be a few more days before Democrats propose new boundaries for Illinois' U.S. House districts. But Republicans already know they're not going to like it.
Two things are for sure: (1) Census numbers mean that Illinois is losing a congressional seat; and (2) the new map will favor Democrats, who control redistricting.
"They could push me East. They could push me West. They could change the district altogether. They could leave it as is," said U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a freshman Republican from Chicago's Northwest suburbs. "We don't know and because nobody on the Republican side has any seat at this table, we're left to the mercy of the one party in Illinois that's running things."
Walsh freely acknowledges that if Republicans were in control, they'd draw a map that favors their candidates.
Meantime, Raja Krishnamoorthi isn't waiting for the new boundaries. The former Democratic candidate for Illinois comptroller is publicly "exploring" a run for Walsh's 8th district.
In an interview Sunday, Krishnamoorthi said that based on early reports it's "pretty clear that...Democrats are going to be more competitive in this district and other places as well."
On Tuesday in Springfield, the House and Senate panels tasked with redistricting are scheduled to hold a joint hearing on proposed maps for state legislative districts. This will be the third hearing since those boundaries were released late last week.
A separate public hearing is planned for following the release of the proposed U.S. House map, according to Rikeesha Phelon, a spokesperson for state Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
"I don't anticipate that it will be early in the week," Phelon wrote in an email.
Top Democrats want the maps approved before the General Assembly is set to adjourn on May 31st. After that, the proposal would need Republican votes in order to pass.
The Department of Energy plans three public hearings next month in Illinois on the FutureGen coal-energy project as it gathers information about the potential environmental impact.
A hearing is planned for June 9 in Jacksonville. That's near the Morgan County site where the project will retool a power plant to use new technology that captures the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from coal and then store it underground.
Hearings also are planned for June 7 in Taylorville and June 8 in Tuscola in eastern Illinois. Those are alternate FutureGen locations.
A group of coal companies and other firms known as the FutureGen Alliance earlier this year picked the Morgan County town of Meredosia for the project. An earlier version of FutureGen planned for eastern Illinois was scrapped.
Searching for lost children and seniors may be a little easier under a plan state legislators sent to Governor Pat Quinn.
It's a small wristband and fastens just like a watch, but instead of telling the time, a small microchip inside acts like a GPS system. They are worn by people prone to wandering off like autistic children or someone with Alzheimer's.
Lawmakers voted to allow the device to patch in directly to 911, an exemption not many other private alarm companies enjoy. The wristband itself could call police when a person goes missing. Carol Stream Republican Senator John Millner said a single cop can find the missing person, rather having to activate a whole search squad.
"With this device here, its simply one call, one activation and we would be able to find that person swiftly, saving money, saving time," Millner said.
But Rockford Republican Dave Syverson voted against it. Only one business in the state, Murphysboro-based Care Trak, currently makes the devices.
"For one company we're setting up that they can go to 911 direct, but for burglaries, and for seniors, they still run through the private sector," Syverson said.
Syverson said if the state gives this company an exemption, other alarm systems will want the same perk.
GE Capital plans to nearly double the number of its employees in Chicago to more than 2,000, in part because of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's economic plans for the city, the company announced Monday.
Officials with the financial services arm of General Electric joined Emanuel at a news conference, saying that 500 of those new jobs - skilled commercial, technical and regulatory positions - would be added within the next year. The other 500 jobs would come in the next few years.
The company also is looking for a new office in Chicago to accommodate the growing work force.
During his mayoral campaign, Emanuel touted his relationships with business and government leaders from his time as an Illinois congressman and when he was President Barack Obama's chief of staff. Monday's news conference served as a reminder of his national stature as well as a pep rally for Chicago.
Emanuel, who is trying to attract more businesses to the nation's third largest city to help overcome its budget shortfall, downplayed the effect his relationship with GE CEO Jeff Immelt may have had on the company's decision. However, the mayor mentioned that because he had Immelt's phone number and email address, he was able to set up a meeting in March.
"Having a personal relationship obviously didn't hurt," Emauel said. "It pushed it a little, tilted it a little."
But, he added: "If this didn't make economic sense to GE and their bottom line they wouldn't have done it. ... You're not going to do this as a favor."
Chicago's projected budget deficit for next year has been estimated at between $500 million and $700 million.
One GE executive said that Emanuel's "economic platform" helped prompt the company to bring more jobs to the city, saying Chicago was the right place to expand.
"There is a wealth of financial services and banking talent available to us in the city of Chicago at a very good value," said Daniel Henson, President and CEO of GE Capital, Americas.
The Connecticut-based GE currently has 4,000 employees across Illinois, according to a news release.
Some of Indiana's taxpayer-supported universities are planning tuition increases for the coming school year that exceed caps suggested by a state panel.
Indiana's higher education commission asked Indiana's seven public universities this month to raise their tuition for in-state students by no more than 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.
Although the universities aren't required to follow the panel's tuition recommendations, commissioner Teresa Lubbers warns that higher increases threaten to "price people out of their opportunity for a middle-class life in Indiana.''
Since Lubbers' request, Indiana University has proposed tuition and fee increase for in-state students totaling be 5.5 percent in 2011-12 and 5.4 percent the following school year.
Ball State University has proposed raising tuition and fees by 3.9 percent next year and by an additional 4.9 percent in 2012-13.
State legislators continue to give state employees a venue to air their grievances about the potential loss of their health care plan.
Members of the Senate Insurance Committee met Monday, and heard from about a dozen university workers and state employees whose HMO is Urbana-based Health Alliance.
Officials with the Department of Health Care and Family Services decided in May to end Illinois' 30-year relationship with Health Alliance, saying it would award HMO contracts for the next fiscal year to Blue Cross Blue Shield, with Open Access Plan contracts to PersonalCare and HealthLink.
The state estimates the new contracts would save taxpayers over $100 million a year, and over one billion dollars over the next ten years.
"This decision to drop Health Alliance is about more than bureaucratic procedure, state contracts, or budget numbers," State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said. "It's about potentially disrupted care, loss of long-standing patient-doctor relationships, and lack of access to quality health care at an affordable cost for tens of thousands of people in downstate Illinois."
State Senator John Jones (R-Mount Vernon) made an ultimatum to Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos. Jones said he may hold off on voting for certain pieces of legislation until the Health Alliance controversy is solved.
"There's a lot of major legislation that needs to be passed in the next few days, including a budget. It's time that all of us said, 'Hey governor, and Director Hamos, if you want that done, you better take care of this first," he said.
Officials from from the University of Illinois, Health Alliance, and Humana testified before the committee. However, there were no representatives present from from the Governor's Office or the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
Humana Illinois also had its contract dropped.
One of the biggest gripes has been the dearth of facts leading up to the state's decision.
"It's shocking the lack of transparency and information when you're talking about a topic like health insurance and the magnitude of the cost," Humana Illinois Dave Reynolds said.
But health department officials say they are just following the law.
"We've had to be very conservative in what we can tell the public, legislators and even the press so as to not violate the strict ethical rules in the process," Healthcare and Family Services spokeswoman Stacey Solano said.
Solano said as soon as there is a ruling by a state ethics commission on Health Alliance and Humana's objections, the administration will be able to explain its decision. She said that should put to rest employees' fears and anxiety, which she said are "being fed by misinformation."
The Committee of Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) is set to meet Wednesday, May 25 to discuss the matter.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently ruled it is not within lawmakers' power to approve or deny the contracts in question.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said early Sunday that he won't run for president because of family considerations, narrowing the field in the race for the GOP nomination.
"In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one," the Republican said, disclosing his decision in an e-mail to supporters. "The interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all. If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry."
The e-mail, sent by the governor through Eric Holcomb, the Indiana Republican Party chairman and one of Daniels' closest advisers, was confirmed by other others close to the governor on the condition of anonymity to avoid publicly pre-empting his announcement.
A two-term Midwestern governor, Daniels had been considering a bid for months and was pressured by many in the establishment wing of the party hungering for a conservative with a strong fiscal record to run. He expressed interest in getting in the race partly because it would give him a national platform to ensure the country's fiscal health would remain part of the 2012 debate.
But he always said his family - his wife and four daughters - was a sticking point.
"The counsel and encouragement I received from important citizens like you caused me to think very deeply about becoming a national candidate," Daniels said in the middle-of-the-night message.
"If you feel that this was a non-courageous or unpatriotic decision, I understand and will not attempt to persuade you otherwise," he added. "I only hope that you will accept my sincerity in the judgment I reached."
He becomes the latest Republican to opt against a run as the GOP searches for a Republican to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012.
The Indiana governor's close friend, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, surprised much of the GOP when he pulled the plug on a candidacy in April; he privately had encouraged Daniels to run instead. A week ago, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the 2008 Iowa caucus winner, bowed out, followed quickly by celebrity real estate developer Donald Trump.
They followed others who decided to sit this one out as well, even as polls show Republican primary voters wanting more options in a race that includes former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a handful of others.
In the wake of the decisions by Barbour and Huckabee to skip the race, the clamoring among establishment Republicans for Daniels to run - including from the Bush family circle - had become ear-shattering.
Daniels, himself, had sounded more optimistic about a run in the past week than he had in months, though he never had sounded particularly enthused. And his advisers had been quietly reaching out to Republicans in Iowa and other early nominating states for private conversations.
But, as he talked about a candidacy, he always pointed back to his family as the primary issue that would hold him back.
And as he weighed a bid, the spotlight shown on his unusual marital history as well as his record as governor.
His wife, Cheri, filed for divorce in 1993 and moved to California to remarry, leaving him to raise their four daughters in Indiana. She later divorced, and she and Daniels reconciled and remarried in 1997.
Mrs. Daniels had never taken much of a public role in her husband's political career.
So it raised eyebrows when she was chosen as the keynote speaker at a major Indiana fundraiser earlier in May.
Both husband and wife were said to be pleased with the reception they got, and advisers privately suggested that the outcome could encourage Daniels to run for president. Even so, Republicans in Washington and Indiana with ties to Daniels put the odds at 50/50.
A former budget director under George W. Bush, Daniels used his time considering a run to also shine a spotlight on rising budget deficits and national debt - even though his former boss grew the scope of government and federal spending during his tenure.
Daniels, a one-time senior executive at Eli Lilly & Co., caused a stir among cultural conservatives by saying the next president facing economic crisis "would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues."
He is looked with admiration in GOP circles for being the rare Republican who won office in a Democratic year - 2008 - in a state that Obama had won. And, since being re-elected, he has leveraged Republican majorities in the state Legislature to push through a conservative agenda.
Daniels made his intentions clear in a characteristically understated e-mail.
It ended: "Many thanks for your help and input during this period of reflection. Please stay in touch if you see ways in which an obscure Midwestern governor might make a constructive contribution to the rebuilding of our economy and our Republic.
Officials at U.S. District Court in Chicago say the corruption retrial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich won't restart until Wednesday.
Clerk of Court Michael Dobbins released a brief statement Friday afternoon saying there'd be no trial proceedings either Monday or Tuesday.
Since testimony got under way at the start of this month, jurors have heard evidence Monday through Thursday with Fridays off.
Judge James Zagel has said he'll meet attorneys Monday to begin discussing instructions that'll eventually be given to jurors when they withdraw to deliberate.
That meeting is still expected to take place. Dobbins' statement didn't say why there'd be no testimony early in the week.
The prosecution rested this week. And the defense is expected to start calling witnesses when the retrial resumes Wednesday morning.
Page 494 of 715 pages ‹ First < 492 493 494 495 496 > Last ›