News

Preliminary results from new statewide tests based on the Common Core educational standards show that the vast majority of Illinois high school students fell short of grade-level expectations. Only three in 10 of the high schoolers who took the online version of the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam in the spring met or exceeded expectations in English language arts and literacy. Less than one in five high schoolers met or exceeded expectations on the exam's math portion.

The stone house with the wrap-around porch and large turret is a fixture off Old Route 66 in Lexington. Locals know it as "The Castle." It's the home of longtime residents Chuck Wright (pictured) and his wife, Mary. The Wrights have spent 30 years restoring the residence. Now they are working to turn their property into a carnival-like venue for special events, complete with a restored carousel. In another of our occasional series on Unknown Illinois, GLT's Judy Valente takes you to the play land the Wrights are trying to create in the heart of Lexington.

Faculty members at the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana aren't happy with a policy instituting background checks that starts early next month. The Senate of the Urbana-Champaign Campus, a group of about 200 faculty members, will vote next week on a resolution that would delay that start date. The resolution says the policy doesn't meet American Association of University Professors standards and isn't mentioned in all job postings. The board of trustees approved the policy last week.

Jared Pohl, Flicker

In what may be the only case of its kind in the country, the Catholic diocese of Peoria returned a Bloomington priest to ministry who served time on felony drug charges. Neither the diocese nor the priest formally publicly disclosed his background to the people who attend the two parishes he serves. The handling of the case raises familiar questions about transparency in the Catholic Church and about balancing an individual's right to privacy with a congregation's right to know.

A resolution asking the Public Building Commission to proceed with McLean County jail renovation and expansion served as a skirmishing point for the mental health service debate. Board member Chuck Erickson voted for measure, but expressed reservations, saying mental illness is not a legitimate reason to expand the jail, protecting the public is.

Erickson, who is also the chair of the County Republican Party, says he fears some are trying to hijack the initiative into more than it really ought to be.

The proposed new budget for McLean County government is 4% higher than last year. County Administrator Bill Wasson says the increase of 3.7 million dollars will go to several areas including the jail renovation and expansion, the Towanda Barnes road widening effort, new phones for the ETSB, and courtroom audio system replacement.

The budget includes a 1.5% pay increase. Four jobs will be cut including one sheriff's deputy, and staff in the state's attorneys and child protection service offices because of state grant cuts.

State Worker Health Payments Halted

Sep 15, 2015

Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration has stopped paying health care claims for at least 146,000 state workers because of the budget mess. The Department of Central Management Services has halted funding for claims covered by the state's self-insurance plans. But payments will continue to private companies operating managed-care plans for another 158,000 workers.  

It's unprecedented for the state to stop paying claims. It's unclear whether health care providers will demand upfront, out-of-pocket payments.  

Damage Mounts To Child Services

Sep 15, 2015

A leading child advocacy group says even if state lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner end the budget impasse, the damage is already done to numerous services, like afterschool programs and efforts to prevent infant deaths. Voices for Illinois Children has released a report outlining more than 60 programs and services being affected. Advocates say it represents at least $3.5 billion.  

The Democratic-controlled Legislature and the first-term Republican governor remain deadlocked on a spending plan for the July 1 fiscal year.  

City of Bloomington

A key piece of funding that could go a long way to help solve the City of Bloomington structural deficit and help fund other initiatives is being discussed by Bloomington Aldermen. Mayor Tari Renner joined WGLT's Mike McCurdy during Sound Ideas.

Pumpkin Crop "Disappointing"

Sep 15, 2015
Libby's

A large canned pumpkin manufacturer says yields in Illinois appear to be less than anticipated this year. Roz O'Hearn is corporate and brand affairs director for Libby's, which grows most of its pumpkins in central Illinois. O'Hearn says the yield could be off by as much as a third, and the company is disappointed. O'Hearn says weather could further reduce yields. The harvest is underway now through October or early November. However, O'Hearn says the company thinks it will have enough pumpkin to meet fall holiday demand. Libby's has run a processing plant in Morton since 1929.

Kotowski Leaves State Senate

Sep 15, 2015

State Senator Dan Kotowski says he's stepping down from the Illinois Senate next month to become president of a nonprofit group that benefits at-risk children and families. Kotowski says his last day representing the 28th District in Chicago's suburbs will be October 5. The Park Ridge Democrat has held the seat for nine years. Kotowski will be president and CEO of ChildServ, which has offices in Chicago, Elgin, Naperville and Waukegan and also does work in Chicago's southern suburbs. The nonprofit provides family support groups and youth group homes, among other services.

Federal prosecutors say Aaron Schock has "deceptively refused" to hand over all of the documents they've subpoenaed as part of an investigation into the former congressman. Assistant US Attorney Timothy Bass wrote documents not yet turned over include emails between Schock and congressional staffers, his campaign treasurer, his friends and sister. The Peoria Republican has turned over about 10,000 financial records. He is to make another nearly 3,000 records available by Thursday for a judge to decide if they will be given to prosecutors.

Charlie Schlenker / WGLT

In a month and a half, the new Illinois Wesleyan University President will take office. Eric Jensen is the current Provost at Hamline University in Saint Paul Minnesota. Just after the announcement of the presidency happened at IWU, Charlie Schlenker talked with Jensen about his vision of higher education, hopes for IWU in Bloomington and why he wanted the job.

There's an effort to broaden a program designed to help take the sting out of court cases involving custody and divorce. WGLT's Willis Kern has more with two officials who oversee a team of specially-trained mediators.  

The 11th judicial circuit includes Ford, Livingston, Logan and Woodford counties in addition to McLean. The family court mediation program is in its second year.

WGLT

The next president of Illinois Wesleyan University will be Eric Jensen. Jensen is currently the the Provost of Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Hamline has nearly 5,000 students in its liberal arts, business, and education programs. It also has a law school. Jensen has also taught economics and overseen a policy program at William and Mary, the nation's second oldest University.

Bloomington Council Highlights Priorities At Weekend Retreat

Sep 14, 2015
WGLT's Michael Hill

Bloomington council members are beginning to narrow down their priorities for the next fiscal year. Aldermen met with Mayor Tari Renner and city staff during a retreat over the weekend to discuss the city's goals for the future. Renner said the group is committed to working together on those goals.

"We really are beginning to know, and work, like each other and move forward and that's only good news for our great community."

Human Service agencies in Central Illinois are calling on the state leaders to put aside their differences and put a budget in place. IPR's Tanya Koonce reports.

15 nonprofit groups united in Peoria to say the vulnerable people they serve are at risk, and so are their employees. Matt George is the CEO of the Children’s Home. Speaking for the group he says they need a budget, and they need it now.

“People are in pain!”

George says the group is speaking for people those whose voices are not being heard.

A federal judge has given lawyers for former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert more time to file pre-trial motions in his hush-money case. Attorneys for the Illinois Republican and federal prosecutors filed a joint motion Thursday asking for a two-week extension of Monday's filing deadline.

The two sides say they've been discussing issues Hastert's lawyers may raise. They say the extension may give them time to address those issues so the motions won't be necessary. U. S. District Court Judge Thomas Durkin granted the motion Friday without comment.

Schock Appears

Sep 11, 2015

Former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock has made a rare public appearance since resigning from his congressional seat earlier this year amid an intensifying spending scandal.  
 

Crain's Chicago Business reports the Republican attended a Navy Seal Foundation fundraiser Wednesday at a Chicago hotel with other high-profile guests. His appearance came on the eve of a special election to replace him, won by Republican State Senator Darin LaHood.  

Illinois Wesleyan University is getting set to name its next President. The school in Bloomington has announced a news conference Monday to unveil the selection to replace Richard Wilson. The search has been ongoing since Wilson announced in December of last year that he would retire when a successor was named.

Wisconsin Republican Governor and Presidential Candidate Scott Walker stopped in Eureka to unveiled his "on day one" campaign platform at President Ronald Reagan's alma mater. IPR's Cass Herrington reports.

Walker spoke from the stage where the 40th president gave his first political speech as a college freshman. Walker likened himself to Reagan who he calls a fighter for small government and American values.

Staff / WGLT

People in Uptown Normal will be spending part of their time looking up on Saturday. Way up. WGLT's Mike McCurdy has more on the weekend celebration observing the Town’s 150th birthday and the Town’s circus history. McCurdy talks with someone with a storied history in the circus.

The Normal 1-5-0 celebration continues with stories and dramatic presentations this weekend. GLT continues its coverage of the Sesquicentennial here on Sound Ideas. Voices from the Past is presented by the Illinois Voices Theater, which also does the Cemetery Walk for the McLean County Museum of History every year. The show happens three times on Sunday at the Normal Theater. Charlie Schlenker talks with John Kirk and Judy Brown about dramatic moments from the history of Normal including a sketch about the Dillon Stables.

ISU Alum Gets Lead Role In New Play

Sep 10, 2015

A new play is being developed about the talented and tormented performer Oscar Levant and the lead role is already filled by Emmy Award-winner, and ISU alum, Sean Hayes. Producers including Beth Williams and Barbara Whitman say a stage biography is in the works about Levant, a pianist who was known for his roles in films such as "An American in Paris" and "The Band Wagon." Levant, who died in 1972, wrote dozens of musical compositions, and did stints as a television talk show host and radio game show panelist, where he earned popularity with his broad knowledge and biting, cynical wit.

As the budget stalemate continues, Republican State Representative Bill Mitchell of Forsyth says the state needs a budget, and that means the Governor and legislators have to compromise. Mitchell isn't pointing the finger at any one party for the impasse:

NIU Enrollment Down, Retention Up

Sep 10, 2015

The number of students enrolled at Northern Illinois University has dipped slightly, but retention rates are improving. The university reported an enrollment of 20,130 students, a decrease of about 2.3 percent from last year. NIU President Doug Baker says: "We are not where we want to be, but there are encouraging signs of progress." The one-year retention rate for last year's freshmen increased 1 percentage point, to 72 percent. Baker says the university also has been recruiting higher-achieving students.

District 87

Population loss, economic activity, property values are all elements of the Bloomington Normal community that will change with the looming closure of the Mitsubishi Auto Plant. GLT's Charlie Schlenker talks with District 87 School Superintendent Barry Reilly about how he is assessing those variables.

Hear Bloomington Schools Superintendent Barry Reilly talk about the implementation of the high speed wi-fi initiative for low income children in District 87.

Astronomers are still nearly giddy with the revelations coming from the ten year mission to Pluto. Linda French of IWU is one of them. She knows most of the team on the New Horizons mission. French tells GLT's Charlie Schlenker she has been blown away by the latest discoveries. Linda French speaks at the McLean County Museum of History tomorrow at noon.

Comptroller Leslie Munger says Illinois' unpaid bills backlog could potentially jump past $8 billion by next year without a state budget. Munger reiterated the consequences of having no spending plan to legislators and Gov. Bruce Rauner. Both sides remain at impasse for the July 1 fiscal year. Most of the state's money is being spent through court orders, which Munger says continues at unsustainable rates. There's also less revenue with a rolled back temporary income tax increase. Munger says the backlog is $5.5 billion and could outpace $8.5 billion by December's end.

More Legionnaire's Cases In Quincy

Sep 9, 2015

Ten people in western Illinois now have died from Legionnaires' disease after a state veterans home in Quincy reported two new fatalities among its residents. An outbreak first identified in late August has sickened 53 residents at the home. State and local public health officials have not disclosed how the 10th victim contracted the disease, a severe form of pneumonia. The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs says it plans to treat the home's water systems with a chemical disinfectant. An agency spokesman could not immediately answer why that step had not been taken sooner.

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