Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois will unveil incentive programs next week for faculty and staff on the Urbana campus considering resignation or retirement.
The programs have been in the works for several weeks. Deans, directors and department heads on the Urbana campus were given advance notice of the incentive programs Thursday in an email from Associate Provost for Human Resources Elyne Cole.
The programs offer a lump sum cash incentive for voluntary retirements and resignations --- equal to 50 percent of current annual salary, or 75-thousand dollars, whichever is less.
Civil service and academic professional employees working on the Urbana campus for at least four years in a row may apply for incentives covering resignations and retirements. Another incentive program covering retirements only is open to faculty and academic staff who are already eligible for retirement under SURS, the State University Retirement System. A two-month window for applications begins Wednesday.
In her email, Cole stresses that the incentive programs are voluntary, and that no one should be encouraged to participate, or discouraged from doing so. She describes the incentives as one way to address "challenging financial times" at the U of I.
After following hundreds of leads the past two years... Illinois State Police say they still don't have evidence that would make Mark Prasse and Ryan Riddell targets for murder.
But investigators also say they don't believe the shooting deaths of the two friends in Edgar County were a random act. Investigators say through their interviews, Prasse and Riddell were good people with nothing sinister in their past. "One of the first things we looked at was if it was anything job related or friend related or activity related," says ISP Investigations Commander Jill Rizzs. "These two victims, by all accounts, were good guys. The 'why' is the part that we need help on."
Their bodies were found in Prasse's rural Chrisman home two years ago Thursday. Both had been shot multiple times. State Police Master Sergeant Mike Atkinson says a lot of information on the ongoing investigation can't be released, including whether they're seeking one or more suspects. "I don't want people to think that we're looking for one person, and someone might have information thinking, gosh I sure thought it was somebody else, or, that we're looking for multiple folks, and then somebody says, well, they must already know that,' says Atkinson.
Investigators say they're dealing with a short time frame from January 28th, 2008. The few hours included Riddell picking up Prasse from his job in Paris at 4 p.m., stopping by Riddell's Villa Grove home, and stopping for gas in Newman just before 7:30. Edgar County deputies were called when Riddell didn't return home for dinner that night after he was to have dropped Prasse off at his home. Their bodies were found shortly before 11 that evening.
Illinois State Police have established a tip line for this case. It's (217) 278-5004. The FBI phone number for tips is (217) 522-9675. Tips can be anonymous.
Attorneys for Alan Beaman say their federal civil rights suit against McLean County, the Town of Normal, prosecutors and police will hold those public officials accountable for misconduct. The Illinois Supreme court overturned Beaman's murder conviction a year ago in the 1993 death of Jennifer Lockmiller.
Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center says Normal Police Detective Tim Freesemeyer and Assistant States Attorney Jim Souk conspired against Beaman in knowingly not sharing evidence of another suspect and verification of Beaman's alibi....
"They hid that information from Mr. Beaman and his defense lawyers", says Bowman. "That was intentional, it was deliberate, it was knowing"
Jeff Urdangen of Northwestern University Law School says it has always troubled him that as a prosecutor, Souk used the Beaman case to further his career....
"Laminated copies of news clippings, boasting of his success in convicting Alan Beaman, was a part of his most aggressive campaign to gain a judgeship," says Urdangen.
Souk is a circuit judge in McLean County.
Alan Beaman says he wants to make McLean County a more just place. Beaman says he is still processing things and trying to re-create his life, after serving 13 years of a 50 year prison sentence.
"There's a lot from my previous 13 years that don't apply to life now", says Beaman. "And I have to kind of sort through and figure out again who I am. It's a process I enjoy going through. And I'm looking forward to growing as a person."
Beaman, now 37, lives in Rockford. He says he works part time at a theater, about five odd jobs, and does snow removal.
Town of Normal and McLean County officials have declined comment about the federal suit which seeks unspecified damages. Two other pending cases including a petition for clemency and a ruling of wrongful conviction have a damage cap of 200-thousand dollars. The new case has no such limit.
A Springfield family has donated a rare bronze cast of Abraham Lincoln to the University of Illinois-Springfield.
The family of Rick and Dona McGraw donated one of only 15 bronze casts of an original Abraham Lincoln life mask to the University of Illinois Springfield. The original plaster mold was taken of Lincoln's face by sculptor Clark Mills in 1865... just two months before Lincoln's assassination. The mask shows Lincoln's tired eyes and face full of wrinkles from the toll of the Civil War.
The McGraw family got the mask when they bought the McDonald's restaurant in downtown Springfield. It was the only item the family saved from the restaurant when they remodeled the building.
The university plans to display the mask at Brookens Library.
Health care reform has been a dominant issue when candidates for Illinois' US Senate race talk about the country's older Americans... but it's not the only issue. Seniors voting next week in the primary (including Rantoul's Cheryl Melchi, left) are not only questioning the future of issues like Medicare and Social Security but their candidates' ability to address them. AM 580's Jeff Bossert surveyed some East Central Illinois residents for their thoughts.
University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says administrators and faculty should be more aggressive to communicate to the public what's at stake if state funding remains at a standstill. Speaking to the Urbana Campus Academic Senate Monday, Ikenberry said he and all other public university presidents in Illinois will soon be sending a letter to Governor Pat Quinn and legislative leaders.
He says it will contain two messages. The first is to urge all involved to quickly find a solution towards fixing Illinois' fundamental financial problems. Ikenberry says the second is that public institutions like the U of I have a reliable schedule of state payments. "It is possible for us to imagine drifiting on now for several months with no material change in the rate of reimbursement from the state," says Ikenberry. "That just begins to create a nightmare of a situation that I don't think we can tolerate without a much more aggressive public position to alert the public of what the dangers really are." The Academic Senate passed a resolution yesterday urging its members to address these problems before state officials and the public. It was written in response to the U of I furlough policy impacting 11,000 employees. Some are considering taking common furlough days as a means for educating their students on Illinois' financial crisis through campus rallies or even trips to Springfield to address the legislature.
A proposal to cut $2.2 million from next year's Champaign School District budget would eliminate jobs and reduce programs. But Unit Four officials say the cuts are necessary to keep the district's finances healthy.
The proposed spending reductions include the elimination of some teachers and teachers' aide positions, cuts in athletics, and the end of summertime Drivers Ed. The reductions would only cover part of a Unit Four budget deficit that has grown over the past three years to $3.9 million. But Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas told the Unit 4 School Board Monday night that there's just not much more they can cut.
"If there's anyone sitting there thinking tonight that there ought to be three or four million dollars of fat (in the budget), and it ought to be easy to present the Board of Education with that kind of a list, you're deceiving yourself", said Logas.
Logas says the rest of the funding gap would be covered by working cash bonds, a reduction in the district's fund balance, and a new fee for extra-curricular activities.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says he was particularly concerned by a proposal to save $300,000 at the high school level by cutting six full-time positions.
"We all are concerned that we set our high schools up for success", says Tomlinson. "So, generally speaking, we're going to look at every cut in detail, and make sure we're doing it appropriately and with the least possible interruptions in the classroom."
Unit 4 School board members will review the cuts over the next six weeks before taking a final vote in March. They voiced misgivings about some of the proposals last night, but did not question the need to cut spending.
Several school districts in Champaign County now have a chance to save more money when issuing bonds for school construction projects. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
The chance came last week when the Champaign County Board formally designated the county as a "Recovery Zone", ---- an area experiencing economic distress under terms set by the federal Recovery Act. That clears the way for eligible school districts to issue some of their school construction bonds as Recovery Zone bonds --- with the federal government picking up 45 percent of the interest charge.
Cameron Moore of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission says he's gotten "strong Indications" from the Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul City school districts that they would probably use the Recovery Zone bonds, as they prepare to issue bonds for construction projects in the next couple of months.
Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd of the Champaign Unit Four school district says they plan to use about about $1,300,000 in Recovery Zone Bonds as part of their bond issue next month. She calls the opportunity an exciting one, "because it certainly lessens the amount of money that the taxpayers pay for interest, gives us the lowest interest rate available to governmental entitites right now, and gives us more money to good things for our students in the schools." Shepperd says the rest of Unit Four's bond issue will be issued as Build America bonds. She says they are also subsidized under the federal Recovery Act, but at 35%.
The RPC's Moore says the Fisher and Rantoul Township districts could also use the special bonds. But the bonds can only be issued during 2010. The federal government is making $2,349,000 in Recovery Zone bonds available in Champaign County.
With still no clear picture on funds coming from the state, University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry suggests it will be at least June before officials know what tuition rates will be for next academic year. But Ikenberry told U of I Trustees in Chicago Thursday that it's hard to imagine even a best-case scenario where officials aren't looking at a high single-digit increase of around 9-percent - or about 3 to 3-point-5 percent hikes in each year over a four-year period:
"That would be a best-case scenario. We may not be dealing with a best-case environment," says Ikenberry. "So we may be faced to look at a number that will be considerably in excess of that. But it's premature, I think to walk into those waters now. But we will start that journey in March." The U of I is still owed more than 400-million dollars by the state. While tuition won't be known for a while, trustees yesterday raised the price of student housing by 4-point-6 percent on the Urbana campus. It will cost just over 9-thousand dollars starting this summer. Trustees also voted to increase undergraduate fees in Urbana by 2.8 percent to 28-hundred 42 dollars. The annual fees pay for student health services, career counseling facilities repair and other services.
Meanwhile, the co-chair of a budget task force assisting the U of I is recommending 10-percent cuts in three areas, including information technology. U of I foundation executive Craig Bazzani told U of I Trustees that information technology alone has five chief information officers. He's challenging them to find ways to streamline operations among the U of I's three campuses, and trim about 30-million dollars over the next year or two. Bazzani says information technology can't afford the 'army' of people it has, but he says the cuts will impact both people and equipment. "And so we've grown fairly significantly for good reason undoubtedly and we want to embrace the idea that more automation is good," says Bazzani. "The curves will continue to go up. There isn't any way that we're going to be able to shut off the faucet on the use of IT. We want to encourage it, but we have to have a better delivery mechanism in the future than what we have today."
The other areas Bazzani is targeting for 10% cuts are strategic procurement and energy task force recommendations. He says budget cutting moves like furlough days and hiring freezes are merely temporary ways of saving at the U of I.
Bazzazi expects to have his report before Interim President Ikenberry by May.
Police in Urbana say a thief who made off with hundreds of old X-rays from Carle Clinic probably wanted them for the value of their silver content.
Urbana Police Sgt. Dan Morgan says that on Jan. 13, a man who is believed to have done the same thing at other hospitals in Illinois showed up at the clinic's storage facility and picked up 1,300 packets of X-rays intended for recycling.
Carle Clinic spokeswoman Jennifer Hendricks says X-rays were from 2005 and earlier, and she does not believe the information included with them would be sufficient for identity theft.
Morgan says that if the thief is successful at recycling the X-rays for their silver content, he'd probably get a few hundred dollars --- enough to make the crime a felony.
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