Illinois Public Media News
Organizers of the UC2B Big Broadband project are hurrying to get their applications for state and federal funding in on time --- now that those applications have won the backing of both the Champaign and Urbana city councils. The state grant application is due Wednesday, August 6th, and the federal grant application must be submitted by August 14th.
The state and federal funds are aimed at providing affordable Internet service in low-income and underserved areas of town. But backers say the UC2B project will serve the whole community --- and attract businesses that want access to its high-capacity network.
That's an important point for Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart. He asked UC2B organizer Mike Smeltzer whether the project would add value to the community in the eyes of prospective businesses. Smeltzer said one place that would receive added value would be the University of Illinois Research Park. He says the Research Park already has a high-capacity fiber-optic connection --- but that businesses want a second one as a precaution.
"There are companies moving to the Research Park that talk to (developer) Peter Fox, and they say, 'hey, do you guys have redundant fiber?'", explains Smeltzer. "And he has to say, 'no we don't. We have a single path of fiber'. This (UC2B) would give redundant fiber for the Research Park."
Champaign Council members voted 9-0 to endorse the UC2B grant applications Tuesday night. They're committing up to 920-thousand dollars in matching funds for UC2B. The Urbana City Council voted Monday to commit up to 567-thousand dollars. Both councils also voted to form a consortium with the University of Illinois to oversee the project. UC2B organizers says they'll know by fall if the project has won federal funding.
City of Champaign voters will be asked to weigh in on a proposal to sell off township buildings --- at a special town meeting set for Thursday, August 20th. Champaign City Council members set the date during the township portion of their meeting Tuesday night.
City of Champaign Township Supervisor Pam Borowski wants to sell the townships' two office buildings at the corner of Green and Randolph to buyers interested in re-developing the block. But state law on townships requires an OK from the voters for that to happen --- not voters at the polls, but voters attending a town meeting. Borowski says the event will be similar to the annual town meetings held in Illinois townships every spring.
"Only registered voters will be able to stand up and vote, yea or nay, on whether or not they will allow the township trustees to accept bids and go ahead and sell the township properties," says Borowski. "It's pretty much their call what we
Borowski says approval at the August 20th meeting would only allow the sale, not mandate it. She says it won't go forward until they've identified a new location for township offices. That would involve buying or leasing property ---and perhaps sharing a facility with Champaign city offices. Borowski says she wants township offices to stay in the downtown area, where it will be handy for public aid clients without cars.
The Urbana Champaign Big Broadband project took another step toward becoming a reality Monday night by winning the Urbana City Council's approval. The council passed two resolutions supporting the plan to launch a community-wide fast and affordable fiber-optic network --- starting with service to low-income and underserved parts of town.
On Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council will vote on the same resolutions that the Urbana Council approved the previous night -- support for the grant application and participation in a consortium with the University of Illinois to oversee the project.
Supporters of the project, known as UC2B, plan to submit an application for a federal economic stimulus grant that - if awarded - would provide 80 percent of the funding. UC2B plans to apply for a smaller state grant this week. Together, Urbana, Champaign and the University of Illinois would match the grants with about 2.4 million dollars of their own money.
UC2B organizer Mike Smeltzer says that because the project is spread over three years, the cities and the U of I don't have to pay the money out all at once.
"The federal government's not going to give us all the money at once," Smeltzer explains. "It's only going to give us money as we make progress, and as we show our match. So as long as we show up with a third of our matching funds, they'll give us a third of the money. And a year later when we need more money, we'll show up with a third, and they'll give us another match."
The supporters envision UC2B branching out to cover the whole community in the future. But the initial buildout would be just in the low-income underserved areas. A community survey has revealed that the territory that could qualify for the grant is smaller than expected --- covering just about 45-hundred people in Champaign and Urbana.
U of I Library Science professor Abdul Alkalimat (al-KAL-ee-mat) says he doesn't think the smaller size will hurt UC2B's chances of winning government funding.
Because it makes it a smaller project, and therefore, from the state level, they could include us at a lesser cost, therefore others might have an opportunity. So in this sense, we think it won't hurt us, it will help us."
The state grant application must be submitted by Wednesday. The federal grant application is due on August 14th.
A spokesman for the University of Illinois says the school respects the decision of the chairman of its Board of Trustees to resign. Thomas Hardy said today that the school appreciates the service of Niranjan Shah, who resigned in a letter today to Gov. Pat Quinn amid an investigation into the use of political clout to get underqualified students into the school. Quinn says he's accepted Shah's resignation and a search for a replacement will begin immediately.
Shah says he decided to quit after members of a state commission investigating university admissions practices said they think the trustees should step down. In his letter, Shah said 'I am not in public service for self-aggrandizement and therefore have no interest in a protracted process regarding my role. My interest is solely in the vitality of the University of Illinois.' Shah is the second trustee to resign. Former chairman Lawrence Eppley quit last week.
Shah says his resignation is effective in 90 days or sooner if his successor is in place.
The Consent Decree --- which for eight years dictated how the Champaign school district should address racial disparities in education --- is being lifted. The school board and attorneys for the plaintiffs reached an agreement yesterday (Wednesday) that's meant to lift the financial burdens of the consent decree, while keeping its accomplishments in place.
The Unit Four School Board ratified the settlement agreement on a 6 to nothing vote last night. And that gave Board President Dave Tomlinson the chance to say something he had been waiting to say for a long time.
"With this agreement, all court and attorney oversight for the decree has ended," Tomlinson announced to reporters following the school board meeting. "Unit Four has satisfied all of the requirements of the decree, and all motions to extend the decree will be dropped,"
Attorneys for the plaintiffs had filed motions seeking the extension of the Consent Decree on three issues --- north side classrooms, special education and alternative education. But plaintiffs' attorney Carol Ashley says the extension is no longer needed, because the settlement agreement commits Unit Four to several measures meant to follow-up on those issues --- from an equity policy committee to review the district's progress, to passage of board resolutions confirming plans for the additional classrooms.
Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley has worked on the case since the first civil rights complaints were filed 13 years ago. The Consent Decree agreed to in 2002 kept those complaints from going to trial, and Ashley says that was the best solution for all concerned.
"These are difficult issues to deal with, states Ashley. "But the collaborative process used int his case I think was beneficial to African American students, and to the community at large, and to the school district."
The settlement agreement means that a federal court hearing on the Consent Decree set for August 3rd in Peoria will not need to be held.
University of Illinois Trustee David Dorris says he's ready to step down from the board, as Lawrence Eppley did yesterday (Tues) amid the school's admission scandal. But Dorris says his resignation and more need to be accompanied by a concrete plan from Governor Pat Quinn for filling the vacant board seats. The Bloomington attorney says wants to hear from the Governor about keeping a quorum on the board so it can make university decisions. And Dorris says the publicity garnered by the admission of politically-connected applicants has been too connected to the trustees, which he says was responsible for a small portion of the so-called 'Category I' list. Dorris suggests that U of I President Joseph White resign over the admissions scandal, and that the university implement a defined admissions policy.
"We need an ombudsman that's effective that can give the public answers where we can refer them to when we get inquiries,' says Dorris. "We'll say look, here's who you call, you'll get an answer. That was not in place during the time that I was a Trustee. When we would get inquiries or questions about admssions, I was told the procedure we use was that inquiries you get, refer them to (Chancellor) Richard Herman."
Dorris defends Chancellor Herman, who says the volume of inquiries he received was unfair. He also suggests the U of I implement a code of conduct for Trustees, and a way to discipline those who interfere with an administrator's ability to do their job. As for selecting future trustees, Dorris suggests the university put together an independent organization to examine records of candidates, and name them to the board. He's not in favor of plan that would allow the U of I's Alumni Association to select six trustees, saying they would wield too much power.
The Champaign School Board is holding a special meeting tonight, July 29th, to vote on a settlement of the Consent Decree for racial equity. The meeting is scheduled for 7 PM at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 South New Street in Champaign.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says representatives of both Unit Four and plaintiffs in the case reached an agreement at a settlement conference Tuesday to end the Consent Decree immediately. Details are to be released at a news conference at 8 PM, pending school board approval of the agreement.
The Unit Four school board agreed to the Consent Decree in 2001, to avoid a civil rights lawsuit on charges that African-American students were not receiving the same quality of education as white students. Besides changes in how classes are taught, and students assigned to schools, the Consent Decree has cost Unit Four millions of dollars in legal and consulting fees. School District officials were anxious to have the decree expire as scheduled this summer. But attorneys for the plaintiffs had been pushing for a partial extension.
A federal judge says he'll largely turn down media requests for access to sealed documents in former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's political corruption case.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel said Wednesday he tentatively plans to unseal a smattering of what news organizations want to be made public - including snippets of a motion filed by lawyers for Blagojevich co-defendant William Cellini.
The Cellini document had been sought by the Chicago Tribune, CNN and WLS-TV.
CNN and WLS also sought access to FBI wiretaps of Blagojevich's phone conversations in the days before his arrest.
Blagojevich is accused of scheming to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and of illegally squeezing business executives for campaign money. He has denied wrongdoing.
For nearly two years, about 70 University of Illinois faculty and administrators have been evaluating the university's academic quality - now it's time for the public to have their say.
Every ten years the U of I and other colleges go through an accreditation process, along with nearly every other grade, middle and high school in the state. That U of I faculty and staff committee reports its findings to the Higher Learning Commission North Central Association, which makes the final decision on accreditation. But before that decision, anyone who wants to can submit their comments on the university's operations.
Vice provost Richard Wheeler says accreditation ensures students and the community that the U of I is meeting its mission. "They (the accreditation committee) actually have free range to look at anything that's going on here, and we are a research university, so our report is among other things devoted to making it clear that we have a very strong research environment here," Wheeler said. "But their concerns are more likely to be focused on undergraduate education."
Wheeler says the North Central Association has accredited the U of I since 1913, though ten years ago it hesitated over concerns about how the university was handling the Chief Illiniwek controversy.
People can submit their comments in writing to Public Comment on University of Illinois, The Higher Learning Commission, 30 N. LaSalle St., Suite 2400, Chicago IL 60602.
The Champaign School Board holds a special meeting tonight (July 29th) at 7 PM,followed by a news conference. Both will be held at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 South New Street in Champaign.
The previously scheduled board meeting is to discuss the Consent Decree. School Board President Dave Tomlinson won't say what the news conference is about. But representatives of Unit Four and plaintiffs in the Consent Decree on racial equity matters met Tuesday in Peoria. The settlement conference was held to see if the two sides could reach an out of court settlement of their differences, prior to a court hearing set for next week.
Champaign School officials want to end the Consent Decree this summer. Attorneys for the plaintiffs have argued it should be extended in three specific areas.
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