Illinois Public Media News
Representatives of the Champaign Unit Four School District and the plaintiffs in its consent decree meet this morning in Peoria to discuss a possible settlement.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says such meetings are common prior to a court hearing. He says it gives both parties a chance to reach an amicable agreement out of court. However, Tomlinson says if any proposals about the Consent Decree come about, they won't come from the school district.
"The plaintiff's wouldn't be making any offers to settle so the district's not making any offers to settle. We're certainly willing to hear those offers if there are some made," Tomlinson said.
Neither Tomlinson or Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley would comment on whether attorneys for the plaintiffs will make any proposals at the settlement conference. But Tomlinson has called two special school board meetings --- for Tuesday and Wednesday nights --- to discuss the Consent Decree behind closed doors. The federal court hearing on the Consent Decree is scheduled for next week.
The Consent Decree on racial equity was due to expire this summer, but attorneys for the Plaintiffs want to extend it in three areas --- special education, alternative education and new classrooms on Champaign's north side. They say Unit Four has not made sufficient or fast enough progress in those areas. The school district says they've made progress and that any efforts that fell short were still made in good faith.
The governor's panel investigating politically-tainted admissions at the University of Illinois convened at the school's Urbana campus yesterday --- and heard from 30 years worth of leadership. University President Joseph White vowed to end the use of a so-called 'clout list' of politically connected applicants --- and set up a strict code of conduct for the admissions process. Meanwhile, the two men who served as president blamed the scandal on a politicized board of trustees --- and said at least some of the trustees should be removed. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports on the day-long testimony before the Illinois Admissions Review Commission:
Members of the Admissions Review Commission have at least one more hearing before they write their recommendations to Governor Pat Quinn.
Retired Judge Abner Mikva heads the commission. He says any report will have to be a consensus of the seven com missioners. He stops short of saying the report could recommend the firing of trustees or administrators.
"Our mission is to do something about the admissions process,and I think one of our jobs in writing the report is not to stray...that we have no power beyond that was given to us by the executive order, Mikva said after the hearing. "I think that we ought to make sure that we're not trying to solve all the problems Illinois has. And I have quite a list!" Mikva joked.
Mikva says he was concerned by the presidents' comments that recent trustees considered the University as just another state agency, instead of an independent institution. He hopes U of I officials make policy changes that make people comfortable that admissions are based on merits.
The commission's next hearing is Wednesday - they're scheduled to hear from state senator Chris Lauzen of Aurora, but member Z Scott hopes other lawmakers agree to speak.
The Safe Haven Tent Community will leave the back yard of the St. Jude Catholic Worker House by the end of July. But Safe Haven and its supporters hope to convince Champaign city officials that semi-permanent housing is better than no housing at all --- and that they should be allowed to stay somewhere in the city. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
University of Illinois President Joseph White says it's no surprise that the university developed a 'Category I' list politically connected applicants for whom inquiries had been made by trustees and politicians.
But he told the Governor's Admissions Review Commission Monday in Urbana that he'd only recently heard of the list, and intends to kill it. White says flagged applications have been around a long time, but he was surprised that applicants he assumed had been rejected ended up being admitted.
White says the University should now take a leadership position on admissions --- one that bars top administrators from interfering in the admissions process. He says that policy would apply tio anyone above the level of dean, and include the Development and Government Relations offices.
"I think that in a year," says White, "we will know whether conventional wisdom is right, and we've really hurt ourselves in terms of donations and how legislators feel about it, et cetera."
During two hours of testimony... White did not make specific recommendations about the U of I Board of Trustees, some of whom had made inquiries on behalf of applicants.
But in testimony earlier in the day, U of I presidents James Stukel and Stanley Ikenberry both told the commission that the Governor should remove either some or nearly all members of the Board of Trustees. Stukel suggested that Board Chairman Naranjan Shah, trustee Robert Vickery, and former chairman Lawrence Eppley all be removed. Ikenberry suggested that all trustees be removed by Governor Pat Quinn with the exception of Ed McMillan, who was recently appointed by the governor. Quinn would then have the authority to interview and re-appoint trustees at his discretion.
Unemployment has risen in all 12 Illinois metropolitan areas.
Figures released by the state Thursday show the highest jobless rate in June was 14 percent, in the Rockford metro area. That's up from 13.4 percent in May and more than 5 percentage points higher than last June.
Local jobless figures were released one week after the Illinois Department of Employment Security announced the statewide unemployment rate hit a 26-year high 10.3 percent.
Besides Rockford, other metro areas with unemployment rates above 10 percent in June were Chicago-Naperville-Joliet at 11.3 percent, Danville at 10.9 percent, Decatur at 11.3 percent and the Kankakee-Bradley at 11.1 percent.
Here's a look at rates for June and May:<
Metro area June Rate MayRate
Bloomington-Normal: 6.7 6.0
Champaign-Urbana: 7.8 6.7
Chicago-Naperville-Joliet: 11.3 10.7
Danville: 10.9 10.1
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island 7.6 6.9
Decatur: 11.3 10.0
Kankakee-Bradley: 11.1 10.6
Lake-Kenosha: 9.2 8.7
Peoria: 9.6 8.9
Rockford: 14.0 13.4
Springfield: 6.9 6.3
St. Louis (Ill. area): 9.0 8.2
Source: Illinois Department of Employment Security
An architectural and engineering firm will pay Champaign County over a million dollars to settle a lawsuit over problems that delayed the opening of the county nursing home. The Champaign County Board approved the settlement Thursday night.
In exchange for the county dropping its lawsuit, the Farnsworth Group will pay $1,225,000 --- including $800,000 to cover the cost of adding booster fans to an underpowered heating-ventilation and air conditioning system at the new nursing home building. The settlement also covers the operating costs for the booster fans, and expenses created by the 1-year delay in opening the nursing home. The Farnsworth Group does not admit any mistakes, and several items it's paying for are listed as "alleged" in the settlement. But the payment satisfies County Board Finance Committee Chairman Brendan McGinty.
"We made back what we considered to be owed to us," says McGinty. "It replenishes our General Corporate Fund at this point, which is dangerously low, as it has been all year. And we get to move on from this particular matter."
The next matter is Champaign County's complaint against general contractor Otto Baum Company, over the use of lumber in the nursing home's construction that was later found to be moldy, requiring expensive cleaning. That case is scheduled to go into binding arbitration next month.
University of Illinois trustees are conducting their own internal review of the influence of money and political power on student admissions.
At the start of their regular meeting in Chicago this morning, trustees said they plan to report their findings soon and offer improved admissions practices they can adopt. Several trustees have appeared this month before the state commission examining admissions at the school's Urbana campus.
Gov. Pat Quinn created the panel after news reports revealed the school maintains a list of politically connected applicants. Some of those applicants gained admission even though they were less qualified than other students who were turned away. The trustees' comment came in the form of a prepared statement.
Budget fears have prompted the University of Illinois to draft a furlough policy. Starting August 16th, school leaders will have the authority to require faculty and academic professionals to take unpaid time off. Employees were notified of the action by U of I's President and the chancellors of the Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago campuses Wednesday. University spokesman Tom Hardy stresses ... officials are not yet declaring furlough days. He says school leaders adopted the new policy as a contingency plan to control costs should U of I face a budget shortfall. He says there's a great deal of uncertainty about how much funding the university will receive from the state.
"We didn't have this tool to be able to deal with controlling costs in an economic or fiscal crisis. Now we have this ability to deal with anything that arises. And deal with it in a way that we see is very common practice now in public and private sectors," says Hardy. Hardy says officials will begin negotiations to create a permanent furlough policy. But the head of a group representing academic professionals at the U of I Urbana campus says she doesn't think that's a good idea. Jenny Barrett of the Association for Academic Professionals says unpaid furlough days should only be a temporary policy at times when the university faces financial risk. She says otherwise, the budget breaking point that would require furloughs could become vague and prone to misue.
A Champaign County Board vote tomorrow (Thursday) may bring to a partial end to the legal haggling over workmanship at the county nursing home.
The county has been at odds with general contractor Otto Baum and the Farnsworth Group, an architectural firm. But an item added to the county board's agenda today (Wednesday) includes an unspecified settlement with Farnsworth. Board chairman Pius Weibel says if it's approved, the settlement would end the county's legal dispute with Farnsworth, but not with Baum.
"It boils down to the core issues, down to the HVAC system. I can't say much more than that because some of those issues may or may or may not be part of the settlement," Weibel said.
Weibel also wouldn't say if the county is getting money from the proposed settlement or if so, how much. Construction of the new nursing home building was beset by problems, including the faulty heating, air conditioning and ventilation system, and wood used in the construction that was later found to be moldy. The problems delayed the new home's opening by more than a year and cost the county several hundred thousand dollars. The county had settled with a third contractor.
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