The Public Square

WILL - The Public Square - April 02, 2010

Peggy Patten on how cuts in funding affect local schools

If you pay attention to current news you know that school districts are struggling financially in Illinois. I am a member of the Urbana School Board. We just completed a painful process of cutting $2 million from a very lean District budget, one that was cut pretty much to the bone a few years ago when the District had to shave $3 million from its budget. Despite our efforts to make the "least worst decisions," our budget cuts impacted critical programs, effective personnel, highly valued services and activities. I appreciate the time adults and youth took to express their concerns about the budget cuts. I especially appreciate their recognition of the impossible task before the Urbana School Board.

I want to use today's forum to remind listeners that the only reason school boards are having to reduce or eliminate critical programs and personnel is because education is underfunded in our state. I challenge the views expressed by some in our local media and in Springfield that say we should be spending less on education. The Illinois Constitution says that our state has the "primary responsibility" for financing the system of education. Many interpret "primary" to mean the state is responsible for 51% of the cost of education in Illinois. Our state's contribution to school funding is currently around 30%, the second lowest level among the 50 states. The inadequacy of education funding in Illinois is exacerbated by our overreliance on property taxes to pay for public education which results in the widest education funding gap in the Midwest. According to Illinois Kids Count 2009, local revenue per pupil ranged from a low of $2,900 in a Peoria school district to almost $18,000 per pupil in a Kenilworth school district. School districts at the high end of the funding gap attract better teachers, purchase new textbooks and computers, pay for extensive fine arts and athletic programs….all of the line items that took a hit in Urbana's recent budget cuts.

Sadly, some legislators are more concerned with their reelection in November than doing what's right for their districts today. Unless we want to revisit the painful task of cutting highly effective programs and teachers in our schools again and again, we need to say clearly and often that we need more funding for education in Illinois.

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WILL - The Public Square - March 05, 2010

Nick Quealy-Gainer on the 7th annual Share A Meal fundraiser for Community Shares of Illinois

My name is Nick Quealy-Gainer and I am asking people to join Community Shares of Illinois for our 7th annual Share A Meal, next Tuesday, March 9th at several restaurants around Champaign-Urbana. Proceeds from the event will benefit over 75 non-profit organizations who are members of Community Shares, including 11 charities right here in Champaign County.

People can come out and enjoy a great meal with family and friends and give back to the community at the same time. Now, feeding your own hunger can help feed the hungry, house the homeless, protect civil liberties and much more!

Four restaurants in Champaign-Urbana will donate 20-50% of their sales to Community Shares and its member organizations. Diners at each restaurant will also get a pledge card, and can direct a portion of their bill to any of our 75 charities.

This year, our restaurants include: - Luna in Champaign for lunch - Siam Terrace in Urbana for dinner - Great Impasta in Urbana for lunch & dinner and, - Black Dog Smoke & Ale House in Urbana for lunch & dinner

In past years, we've raised over $15,000 for local charities through Share A Meal, and we hope to beat that goal this year. So I hope people will join us next Tuesday, March 9th for our 7th annual Share A Meal with Community Shares.

Share A Meal is sponsored by Community Shares of Illinois along with Chase Bank, Illinois American Water, Martin, Hood, Friese & Associates and Fasprint.

We appreciate all of our corporate sponsors, but the event will only be a success if we pack these restaurants next Tuesday, so make your reservation today!

For more information about Share A Meal, including a list of our members and participating restaurants, visit our website at www.share-a-meal.org or you can contact us at 352-6533.

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WILL - The Public Square - February 05, 2010

Jan Kruse on Racial Prejudice in the Champaign County Jury System

My name is Jan Kruse and as a resident of Champaign County I wanted to share with listeners some unsettling experiences I recently had while serving as a Champaign County Juror.

I was notified of jury duty for the first week of January 2010. After going through security at the Champaign County Court House we walked up the steps to approach the jury assembly room. In the hallway a man was directing us toward the large room for jury service. Jurors had walked up the steps side by side with those arriving for trials. The person directing us seemed to instinctively know the white folks were prospective jurors and the black men and women were either going to court to face a jury or were the supportive family members accompanying them. It appeared I was one of approximately 125-150 potential jurists. We filled the large jury assembly room and the overflow west wing area as well. I was shocked to note that between both rooms only one black male was present to be considered for jury service. This was very troubling in light of the number of court cases that involve members of the minority community.

Eventually I was chosen for a jury and became one of twelve white people hearing a case brought against a young black man. I was troubled that his case was not going to be before a jury of his peers since not a single minority was serving on the jury. This fact has to affect the outcomes of many trials in Champaign County.

It was most troubling to hear fellow jurors use unacceptable racial terms in reference to the defendant. When I expressed that we were an all white jury, some jurors were offended that I had noticed this. The addition of persons of color as full partners in the deliberation process could have had a significant impact in this case. The lack of a minority person's voice is a failure of the judicial system to bring a missing, necessary and much needed perspective.

The *presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt* did not appear to be taken seriously by some during deliberation. Instead, I noted verbal pressure being asserted by some toward the undecided to join the majority and vote guilty. Reasonable doubt was not enough, in the face of *majority rule*.

The presence in that jury room of persons with a more diverse ethnic background may have considered the testimony and the evidence or lack of in this case and seen the defendant from a different perspective. A perspective seldom heard if the jury is of only one ethnic group.

The inability of the county judicial system to assure that each person has a fair trial (beginning with a jury of ones peers) is very disappointing to me. In addition as the trial continued it became obvious that the young man on trial was not being adequately represented. The lawyer did not appear to fully advocate for his client. It was made painfully clear that finances are required to obtain a fully engaged attorney to represent your best interests at trial. The combination of a jury not-of-his peers and the poor representation that is apparently all too common for poor people is a double whammy for the minority members of our community. An individual's race or financial status should not stand in the way of a fair trial in this county.

Until these concerns are fully addressed I contend justice will not be served for all citizens of Champaign County.

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WILL - The Public Square - January 22, 2010

Eric Batsie on National Mentoring Month for Big Brothers and Big Sisters

In recognition of National Mentoring Month, Big Brothers Big Sisters is calling on not only volunteers, but donors as well, to provide support for thousands of children who need mentors. Big Brothers Big Sisters is the nation s largest donor-supported volunteer network of long-term mentors for youth, providing matching, screening and ongoing support for Bigs, Littles, and families. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central

Illinois is one of the network s nearly 400 agencies helping about 255,000 Littles -- primarily children of single, low-income and incarcerated parents succeed in and out of school.

National Mentoring Month is spearheaded by the Harvard Mentoring Project of the Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is a lead partner.

Our priority is our commitment to providing long-term mentoring, resulting in proven positive educational and social outcomes, improving kids' chances to succeed, in both community and school based mentoring matches.

Independent research finds Littles are more likely than their peers to have better school attendance and improvements in behavior -- avoiding violence and illegal activities -- and they are more likely to have stronger relationships at home and elsewhere.

Boys, particularly African American and Hispanic children, disproportionately represent Littles ready to be matched with Bigs. This month, with emphasis on mentoring, the organization is expecting a surge in volunteers. The hope is that donations will come in as well, so that all Bigs and Littles who are ready to be matched can begin a long, successful mentoring match, supported by Big Brothers Big Sisters professionals who are committed to helping vulnerable children beat the odds..

About Big Brothers Big Sisters of Champaign County: Big Brothers Big Sisters has a rich history of matching children in caring relationships with positive adult role models. For over 10 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has fulfilled their mission of enriching, encouraging and empowering children to reach their highest potential through safe, fun, positive mentoring relationships with caring adults. We are currently serving 100 children and have over 100 children waiting for a mentor.

CALL TO ACTION: Consider becoming a mentor! Only a few hours a month will change the life of a child. To learn more call Eric at (217) 355 2227 again (217) 355-2227.

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WILL - The Public Square - December 11, 2009

Durl Kruse of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, on reviewing juvenile cases in Champaign County

Hello, my name is Durl Kruse and I am a member of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice.

Unknown to many in our community is the striking statistical differences in criminal charges that exist between white and black juveniles in Champaign County. It is time to shine a bright light on the subject and begin a much overdue community discussion as to the reasons and implications for these significant differences.

Recently Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice requested from the State Attorney’s office records of all juvenile criminal cases filed between January 2008 and October 2009. A close review of this information revealed some startling facts. But first some background information.

According to 2008 U.S. census data there are approximately 38,500 persons under 18 living in Champaign County. Roughly 78% or 30,000 are white and 11.5% or 4,400 are black. There were a total of 525 juvenile cases filed in Champaign County of which 20% or 106 were white and 73% or 384 were black.

So, what does this tell us? It says that 3.5 of every 1000 white youth while almost 87 of every 1000 black youth faced a criminal charge during this period. Black youth are nearly 25 times more likely than white youth to face a criminal charge in Champaign County.

One must certainly ask why is that? What is happening here? How does this impact our community and especially the black community?

A closer look at the data reveals some other troubling facts.

Once juvenile cases enter the criminal justice system, almost 37% of all white cases and about 50% of all black cases result in a felony or a misdemeanor conviction. That’s a discrepancy of close to 13%. If the courts are fair and impartial, one would think the percentages would be similar, but they are not. Is this a reflection of a racial bias in our criminal justice system?

Take another example.

Of 22 charges of resisting arrest or obstructing justice, zero were white while twenty were black. What is one to derive from this fact? Could law enforcement intentionally be charging black juveniles more aggressively than white juveniles?

There is much more to discuss than time permits. But clearly this should be a topic of concern to all in our community, especially leaders of our schools, local government officials, the media, churches, law enforcement agencies, and the criminal justice system itself.

Asking the difficult questions is one way to begin the process. We must confront and address these facts if we are to help all our youth become productive successful members of our community.

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WILL - The Public Square - December 04, 2009

Dale Sinder of Urbana on Standards for NPR and PBS Underwriter Content

My name is Dale Sinder from Urbana. I am a long time friend of WILL. I recently received a letter from WILL reminding me that it is time to renew my membership. This caused me to sigh a bit and to think long and hard.

I have recently become distressed by some of the "Commercials" I see on WILL TV. I know PBS does not call them "Commercials" but rather "underwriter acknowledgements". But let's face it, some now look like and sound like Commercials.

The one that finally went too far for me is from Exxon/Mobil. In it, a "Senior Geoscientist" tells me that they are concerned about "pollutants" in SOME natural gas - pollutants like CO2, infamous CO2, and they are doing something about that. I'm sure CO2 does pollute natural gas. Raw natural gas is processed before we use it. Unprocessed natural gas contains many pollutants worse than CO2, hydrogen sulfide for example. What the Senior Geoscientist fails to mention is that burning the natural gas is going to produce enormously more CO2 than may be contained in it as a pollutant. This commercial strikes me at best as misleading and at worst as propaganda. What distresses me is that PBS permits itself to be used in this way. I believe they know better.

So, I struggle with the idea of discontinuing my support of WILL and PBS for this reason. But that would only make PBS more dependent on the likes of Exxon/Mobil. So, do I increase my support? No, because I cannot outbid Exxon/Mobil. I and all who are now listening cannot collectively outbid Exxon/Mobil. What is to be done?

Please call PBS and WILL and urge them to put more rigorous standards in place for underwriter content.

Thank-you.

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WILL - The Public Square - November 27, 2009

Gary Storm on a recent trip to the West Bank in Israel

Hello. My name is Gary Storm. I am a resident of Urbana who has just returned from a 10-day trip to Palestine (the West Bank) and Israel where I had a chance to observe first-hand the state of relations between these two Middle Eastern populations. The trip was arranged for 17 of us by John Setterlund, a retired campus minister from Urbana who recently spent two years volunteering at a Lutheran complex located in Beit Jolla, a small community adjacent to Bethlehem and Jerusalem in Palestine. The complex includes a church, a boys boarding home serving a 50-50 mix of Christian and Muslim children, and a guest house serving a variety of international visitors. Both Beit Jolla and Bethlehem are separated from nearby Jerusalem by a 40-foot high concrete wall that includes checkpoints operated by armed guards with automatic rifles. Similar check points have been established throughout the West Bank to limit the movement of Palestinians in the region.

Our visit gave us a chance to meet many Palestinian citizens in a person, face-to face, and to communicate with them openly about their situations. Among the individuals we met were management and staff of the guest house and boys home; parents of the children involved; the Arab Pasteur of the church and his wife from Germany who runs its music program; the owner of a small coffee shop; faculty, staff and students from two nearby universities; and numerous people on the street. We were warmly received by all and encouraged to share our experiences in Palestine once we returned home.

These experiences confirmed the many horror stories about the treatment of Palestinians most of us had heard about before arriving: Israeli arrest and incarceration of Palestinian students and others with no need for justification, Israeli confiscation of Palestinian homes and other property, the establishment of Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank, blocked access to farms and businesses owned by Palestinians, long delays at checkpoints that interfered with or prevented everything from employment to medical appointments to tourism.

John Setterlund and many of us involved in the trip are speaking at a public forum at the Champaign Library next Tuesday night, December 1. We have entitled the event, Bethlehem Today. As the holiday season begins, please take a little time out to come hear what we have to say and to ask questions. We hope the evening will raise awareness in ways that can lead to greater peace in the region.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 30, 2009

Conrad Wetzel on When a Parent is in Prison

My name is Conrad Wetzel, and I live in Champaign. My comment is about the effects on children because of having a parent in prison. In her new book, All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated, Nell Bernstein asks us to 'See' the children of incarcerated Americans. One in ten American children has a parent who is under penal supervision incarcerated, on probation, or on parole. One in eight African-American children has a parent behind bars today. One-half of all boys who have a parent in jail or prison will also wind up incarcerated.

As Bernstein noted, "These children have committed no crime, but the price they are forced to pay is steep. They forfeit, too, much of what matters to them: their homes, their safety, their public status and private self-image, their primary source of comfort and affection. Their lives are profoundly affected . . . "

An exhibit, "When a Parent is in Prison" explores the situation of children who have a parent in prison through their portraits and words. The twelve young people, who are portrayed in the exhibit by large photographs and stories, are among the 2,400,000 American children who have a mother or father in prison. The photographs of the children were done by world-renowned photographer and author, Howard Zehr, Professor of Restorative Justice at Eastern Mennonite University. The exhibit is a joint documentary project of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and the Mennonite Central Committee.

Restorative justice fosters supervised dialog between offenders and their victims, resulting in offenders taking responsibility, offering apology, and making reparation for their offences. Restorative processes which foster dialog between the offender and the victim show the highest rates of victim satisfaction, true accountability by the offender, and reduced recidivism

This exhibit, "When a Parent Is in Prison," will be shown at the UC Independent Media Center, 202 South Broadway in Urbana. It will be on display from November 1 - 21, 2009. There will be an exhibit opening on Sunday, November 1, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The exhibit, which is sponsored by the Mennonite Church in Urbana, is free and open to the Public. You may Call 217-352-8603 for more information.

Please join us at the Independent Media Center for the exhibit opening on November 1 and on display from November 1 - 21, 2009.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 16, 2009

Leslie Cooperband, owner of Prairie Fruits Farm, on the harm that would be done by a proposed extens

Many residents of Champaign Urbana likely have heard about the renewed plans for extending Olympian Drive eastward from where it ends east of Market Street to connect with Highway 45 in Urbana. The road is just the beginning of a larger long-range plan to rezone the region for light industry.

If implemented, many irreplaceable community benefits will be lost. We threaten potential for near-community local foods production which has proven benefits for the local economy, public health, and quality of life. We threaten several designated post Civil War Centennial farms that will be cut in two, increasing the risk that farm families who have farmed this land for as much as seven generations will have to stop farming. We lose the tranquil beauty of a green place minutes from town for bike touring and passive public enjoyment. We pave over the black prairie soils considered the best in the world. We bisect the Saline Branch wildlife corridor, which deer, coyotes, mink, weasels, ducks, muskrat, and an amazing array of other native animals use as an uninterrupted pathway north of Urbana. Finally, we lose the opportunity to gain a unique reputation for sustainability and thoughtful consideration of quality of life for current inhabitants and for the entire Champaign county community. With all the recent discussions about how to make our cities and county more sustainable, this outmoded type of build it and they will come development runs completely counter to local government sustainability goals.

If you agree that we need to find alternatives to constructing Olympian Drive, please sign our electronic petition at www.ipetitions.com/petition/stopolympiandrive

Please contact the mayors and city council members of the cities of Urbana and Champaign as well as elected state and federal officials to let them know you want sustainable alternatives.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 02, 2009

Carol Corning on the Books to Prisoners book sale, Oct. 2-4, 2009

Hi, I'm Carol Corning and I'd like to tell you about Books to Prisoners, and our book sale, approaching quickly, October 2-4, in the Independent Media Center, behind the Urbana Post Office.

When I first began as a volunteer last winter, I was impressed by the scale of this project, which is a tribute to the work that can be accomplished by a group of dedicated local volunteers. Students, retired people, and others who, like me also work full-time---anyone with a few hours to give--- gather to open letters from Illinois inmates, and find books to match their requests. We track book orders on donated computers, package, and ship the books. As of today, we have sent 38,082 books in 9,904 packages to 5,960 inmates! We also operate libraries at the Champaign County Jails.

People are often surprised to learn that dictionaries are the books most often requested. We purchase many of these, with donations or funds from the sale. Due to budget constraints in prisons throughout Illinois, educational programs and libraries have been seriously hindered. Maximum security prisons do not allow used books to be sent to prisoners from family or friends, and our organization is sometimes the sole source of reading material for prisoners. We think you will agree with us that education through reading is a crucial tool for prisoners returning to our communities from prison or jail.

The Pages for Pennies book sale, where you can get any hardback for $1 and paperbacks for 50cents, provides us with crucial funds needed to cover shipping costs and purchase dictionaries. Please stop by the Downtown Urbana Post Office, 202 S. Broadway, on Friday October 2, from 4-8pm, Saturday, 8am-5pm and Sunday, 10am-2pm. Were online at booksTWOprisoners.org. Thank you.

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