Illinois Public Media News
The first recommendations for budget cuts and savings are coming out for the University of Illinois' largest campus.
Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said the Stewarding Excellence@Illinois program yielded ideas from 17 areas of campus. On Tuesday, Easter revealed the next steps in three of those areas, including information technology services. He said efforts like streamlining communication services and consolidating server rooms will cost money in the short term but bring several million dollars in long-term savings.
"If you have a server room in a college or even in a department, someone has to tend to it and there have to be environmental controls like heating and air conditioning systems at work," Easter said. "And getting all that consolidated where it's appropriate...should result in some significant savings over time."
Two other reports involve re-integrating graduate college admissions into the registrar's office and having the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics absorb more of the cost of athletic scholarships. Currently the DIA relies on tuition waivers for full and partial scholarships - but starting next year, the University will provide 100-thousand dollars less in waivers each year over five years.
Easter said the U of I already contributes less than most schools to athletics, which are funded mainly through sports revenues and donations, and he said the DIA already shoulders most of the academic cost.
"They are already putting about $6 million in tuition money into the campus, so it's not as though this is something new," Easter said. "They've been making very substantial contributions through their donors and their ticket sales and other things to the cost of educating student athletes."
Easter says individual colleges are also being charged with reviewing and reducing their costs.
Contract negotiations will resume this week between the Danville school district and teachers and support who are currently on strike.
The meeting will be the first between negotiators for District 118 and the Danville Education Association since Sunday's 14-hour session with a mediator that ended with teachers and support staff walking the picket line Monday morning.
The strike canceled classes and nearly all extracurricular activities in Danville schools. One exception was made for the North Ridge Middle School girls' softball team, which was allowed to continue competition at a state Class AA regional tournament in Tolono. The North Ridge team won the title game against Unity Monday night, with a score of 8 to 7. The school board for District 118 allowed the game only because the tournament had started before the strike, and a qualified coach was found who was not among employees on strike.
The school district and the DEA argued their cases through news releases on Monday. Both sides said they were ready to return to the bargaining table, and accused the other side of being unreasonable.
One issue mentioned by both District 118 and the union was how to spend $2.5 million in expected federal stimulus money. The school district says spending some of the money for salary raises would go against its intended use to hire back laid-off teachers along with new ones. The DEA questioned whether the district would use any of the money for bringing back teachers who were laid off at the start of the school year.
The school district and union members will meet Wednesday at 6 PM at the Jackson Administrative Building.
Retiring Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily said his biggest achievements in 26 years with the department did not make headlines.
Bily is retiring September 22nd. The Urbana City Council confirmed Assistant Chief Patrick Connolly to succeed him Monday night. Bily said overseeing a successful department often had to do with simply helping the community.
"The investigators to an outstanding job," said Bily. "The officers who work patrol 24/7, 365 days a year do good things every single day that receive very little notoriety. Those are the types of things I've proudest of, not any single personal accomplishment."
Connolly said his top goal is now filling vacancies, including the now-vacant assistant chief's position and open lieutenant positions.
"But I also recognize the needs of the city," said Connolly. "So there has to be a balance, and the mayor has been incredible with working with us so far, and I'm going to continue with that relationship, but I'm certainly not going to demand anything up front. We're going to work with the city as closely as we always have."
Connolly said becoming a chief has been a career ambition in his 33 years in law enforcement. He has been with Urbana Police since 1988.
A University of Illinois administrator said he hopes state leaders can give the University of Illinois some advance notice on how much money it will be able to use in its operating budget.
Members of a U of I Board of Trustees committee learned Monday that the state will likely owe the university more than $500-million by the end of the calendar year, combining the prior fiscal year with the current one. Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Doug Beckman said fiscal 2012 looks worse, partly because the state will not be able to rely on any federal stimulus funds. Beckman said it would help if the U of I knew sooner how much it could expect.
"We'd love to have more lead time, but we understand it's a very, very difficult political issue," said Beckman. "There's got to be a combination of cuts and revenue, it would appear, to balance this budget. That is a difficult process. There's hard decisions to be made. I think we would trade a 10-percent cut for certainty right now, at least I would."
Beckman stated that the U of I has to operate under the assumption that some state funds will be cut, and he said the university will adjust to a pension reform plan signed by Governor Pat Quinn in April. Beckman said it is a step in the right direction in that it reduces the state's costs. The plan reduces benefits for those hired after January 1st of next year, raises the retirement age to 67, and caps maximum benefits at just under $107-thousand.
A Champaign County Board member said he expects the first meeting soon of a board subcommittee assigned with looking at the Olympian Drive extension project.
The panel was put together by Chair Pius Weibel after county board members failed to reach consensus on a project, or different options of that plan. Republican Alan Nudo said he and many of his colleagues were embarrassed by how the board looked after the lengthy discussion at last Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting. The new panel is expected to meet with Urbana and Champaign officials in the next few days.
Meanwhile, Urbana Chief of Staff Mike Monson said the immediate goal will be to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue, and then carrying it out to US 45. Nudo said the new subcommittee has the ability to get the Olympian project approved to Lincoln, which he said he has backed all along. However, Nudo added that further road development should head west instead of east.
"All Republicans were taking a look at it very hard to see if it was really necessary financially, if we could afford it, and what (how much money) the feds were going to put in there," said Nudo. "We stayed together on that, but personally I've always felt that Lincoln is the prudent way to go, and quite frankly, I think the next step is to look at Duncan (Duncan Avenue in West Champaign). Nudo Duncan is really the more opportune area to connect before 45, but that's, again, a whole other issue."
Monson said most funding for extending Lincoln to Olympian is in place, and would cost roughly $20-million, but Nudo said he expects the project to run at least $10-million, when considering amenities like larger medians and bike paths. The project would rely on a mix of state, federal, and local matching funds. Monson said large trucks cannot drive on the northernmost part of Lincoln, which he described a narrow, winding road meant only for cars. He said that will require the Champaign County Board to sign off on this first phase of the plan for Olympian, and to determine what amenities the public wants.
"If you do a side path, that's going to cost extra," said Monson. "Wetlands, landscaping, those things can all add to the cost - or not. Actually the roundabout that we're talking about would save a half-million dollars. Those decisions haven't been made, so an exact cost isn't known."
The subcommittee also includes Republican Greg Knott, and Democrat Ralph Langenheim. A fifth member will be chosen soon. That panel is expected to have a concrete recommendation for the county board to vote on by November.
Danville teachers and support staff went on strike Monday morning, after 14 hours of negotiations with a federal mediator failed to produce an agreement.
Danville Education Association President Robin Twidwell says the union was countering the district's proposal of a freeze on salaries with a freeze on salary schedules --- that is, the times and amounts set for automatic salary increases. Twidwell argued that District 118 has the money for salary increases, because it is due for millions in federal funding from a recently passed stimulus bill.
"In light of the fact that the district just got confirmation that they're receiving $2.5 million from the federal government, we thought that offering a salary schedule freeze for two years was more than reasonable," said Twidwell.
But Danville School Superintendent Mark Denman said the grant money is meant to be used to hire new teachers and rehire laid-off ones. He said some of the money could be used for salary raises, but that the money would not last long.
"If we use this one-time money --- a large amount of it --- for salary increases, when the money is gone in one year, how do you sustain that," asked Denman.
Denman said the district had other offers on the table, including a proposal for 2 percent pay raises, coupled with higher employee payments for health insurance.
For now, classes and nearly all extracurricular activities are canceled in Danville School District 118. The exceptions are practice sessions --- but no games --- for Danville High School's football, boys' soccer and girls' tennis teams, using volunteer coaches. And the girls' softball team from North Ridge Middle School can continue its competition in a state tournament.
No new contract talks are scheduled at this time, but Denman said they are trying schedule another bargaining session with the federal mediator. Meanwhile, the Danville School Board has scheduled a special meeting this evening to discuss the strike in closed session. Additional meetings have been scheduled for every night this week, if needed.
The Curtis Road - I-57 Interchange opened more than two years ago, and now motorists can use it to travel to and from Champaign-Urbana.
Louis Braghini has been the project engineer for the city of Champaign, which acted as the lead agent this phase of the Curtis Road improvements. He said a former two-lane oil-and-chip pavement is now a four-lane highway, with concrete cross-sections, street lights, traffic signals at the Prospect and Mattis Avenue intersections, plus landscaping.
Savoy Village Administrator Dick Helten said the route will bring new traffic to businesses in his town, both the existing ones along Route 45, and the ones he expects to locate along the new improved Curtis Road.
"I think the numbers will jump up dramatically over the next few weeks," said Helten. "And those businesses, future businesses, are going to see an incredible opportunity for their businesses to thrive."
Development right around the Curtis Road interchange will be in the city of Champaign. The first development is to be anchored by a new Christie Clinic. Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight said the Research Park and sporting events at the University of Illinois campus will also benefit.
The next phase of Curtis Road improvements is set to continue east, past Route 45, including a viaduct at the Canadian National tracks. The village of Savoy will take the lead for that project, but Helten said that project does not yet have funding or a scheduled start date.
A University of Illinois administrator says leaders are close to reaching conclusions on some budget reviews on different Urbana campus units.
The 17 areas reviewed by the 'Stewarding Excellence' project teams have ranged from the Institute of Aviation, to campus utilities, to the Office of Vice Chancellor for Research. Teams started looking at them in February to find ways to cut costs. Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said some departments will require further review, extending well into the fall. However, he said even for those in which his office is ready to make some changes, only some can be done at the top, while others require faculty involvement.
"We would make a recommendation if we wanted to make a particular change, a recommendation to the Faculty Senate, and appropriate committees," said Easter. "They would then have to work through that, so there may be an expectation that we'll just announce a final decision. In some cases what we'll announce is a recommendation."
Easter said many of the recommended changes will have to be forwarded to the U of I's Board of Trustees. He said other areas could be up for review.
"The steering committee that has been more or less directing this over the last several months, and they've continued their activity through the summer, have identified about 10 other areas where they think it would be useful for us to do some reviews," said Easter. "And we've not made a decision to pursue those, but that's something else we're looking at at the moment."
Easter said those areas aren't being identified.
A University of Illinois administrator says freshman class numbers show Illinois' economy has not driven students away.
Freshman enrollment is down only slightly, just over 6,930 students compared to 6,990 in the fall of 2009. However, Urbana campus Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said the U of I should better prove than it can recruit students from all walks of life.
"Obviously we're interested in students who come from a diversity of backgrounds within our state," said Easter. "The different economic levels, different cultural backgrounds, we want to have a diverse campus that's reflective of the population of the state."
Easter said he is disappointed the number of African American freshmen is down from a year ago. That number decreased by more than 17-percent, but the number of Latinos went up by 11 percent.
Easter also said the U of I's 885 new transfer students shows there is an increased emphasis on working with community colleges to help students who cannot afford a four year education at a public university.
He noted it is also a good class academically, with an average ACT score of over 28. There are 31,252 undergraduate students enrolled at the Urbana campus this fall, up from 31,209 a year ago, an increase of less than 1 tenth of 1 percent. Fall enrollment is up by more than five percent at both the Chicago and Springfield campuses.
Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily will retire later this month, after more than 25 years with the department.
Bily plans to step down September 22nd. Mayor Laurel Prussing will recommend Assistant Chief Patrick Connolly as his Bily's replacement at a special city council meeting on Monday. Bily was named chief in 2006, succeeding Eddie Adair. He was named assistant chief in 2004, and has been with the department since 1984.
Mayor Prussing was not available for comment this week. Her chief of staff, Mike Monson said the city's crime rate has dropped 33 percent under Bily. Monson said Urbana's Citizen Police Review Board was started under Chief Bily to hear concerns about police action.
"Those were kind of controversial when it was implemented, but it's working very well - the department's accepted it," said Monson. "Mike's a top-notch administrator as well, and was a team player when we had to leave some positions vacant this past fiscal year to keep our budget in good standing."
Monson said Bily has been also good working with the public, representing the department well in neighborhood association meetings.
Monday night's special meeting is at 7pm in the Urbana council chambers.
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