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October 24, 2014, 9:43 am
970 WMAY News

Benedictine Drops Traditional Undergrad Programs, Shifts Focus To Adult Learners; 75 Staffers To Lose Jobs

Benedictine University in Springfield is dramatically changing its mission… dropping undergraduate programs for students right out of high school and shifting its focus entirely to adult learners. 


As a result, the school plans to lay off 75 full-time employees when the change is implemented in May of next year. 


A statement from Benedictine says it’s becoming increasingly expensive to offer degree programs to so-called “traditional” students… those who are between 18 and 22 and entering college right out of high school.  Current undergrads will be allowed to transfer to a different Benedictine campus, in Lisle, Illinois or Mesa, Arizona.


Jobless Rate Plunges In Springfield

Unemployment took a nosedive in Springfield last month, hitting its lowest level since 2007. 


September’s 5.7% rate marked a substantial drop both from August… when it was 6.5%... and September of 2013, when it stood at 7.5%. 


State employment security officials say Springfield has 2100 more jobs overall now than it did one year ago.


Quinn Says He Will Work With Court-Appointed IDOT Monitor

Governor Pat Quinn says he will comply with a court order that appoints a monitor to oversee hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation. 


Quinn insists he has already made reforms at IDOT after an investigation found that dozens of people improperly obtained jobs through political connections instead of merit.


Quinn says the state’s executive inspector general has already investigated the matter… and says the court-appointed monitor should work with the EIG as it reviews IDOT hiring.

Governor's Race Neck-And-Neck; Rauner Pumps Millions More Into Campaign

The race for Illinois governor appears to be going right down to the wire. 


Two new polls show Republican Bruce Rauner with a slight lead… but in each case, the advantage is within the poll’s margin of error.  A review of all recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics finds an average margin of less than one-percentage point separates Rauner from incumbent Governor Pat Quinn.


Meanwhile, Rauner gave another $3 million of his own money to his campaign Thursday, raising his personal total investment to $23 million from the time he entered the race last year.


Ruling Could Mean Long Wait For Election Results

It could be a long night of waiting for results on Election Night in Illinois. 


Attorney General Lisa Madigan has issued an opinion stating that no votes should be counted before the polls close at 7pm on November 4th.  Election officials in Cook County have historically prepared early and absentee ballots ahead of time so that they can be quickly added in to the totals… and say if they’re not allowed to do that, final reporting of vote totals could be substantially delayed. 


Meanwhile, Illinois Republicans have filed suit, alleging the Democratic county clerk in Rock Island County is improperly opening mail-in votes… and not allowing poll watchers to keep tabs on that process.


Manar School Funding Bill Stalled Until Spring

The controversial school funding overhaul championed by state Senator Andy Manar is apparently dead for this session of the General Assembly. 


The bill had cleared the Senate, but hit a wall in the House because of objections by lawmakers from the Chicago suburbs.  The bill would allocate most school funding on the basis of need alone, raising fears that it would result in big shifts of state dollars away from wealthier suburban districts toward less affluent schools downstate. 


The bill’s House sponsor says the legislation won’t become law in its current form, but will be brought back up in the spring… after the new legislature is seated.


SJ-R Reporters Seek Public Support In Contract Fight

State Journal-Register reporters will be hitting the streets next week… but not in search of a scoop. 


They will be staging a rally Monday outside the newspaper offices downtown, hoping to drum up public support for their push for a union contract.  The United Media Guild has been negotiating with GateHouse Media for months, and pay appears to be a major sticking point. 


The union says SJ-R reporters haven’t had a raise in seven years… while some GateHouse executives have gotten seven-figure bonuses in that time.

Benedictine University To Drop Programs For ''Traditional'' Students, Will Focus On Adult Learners

Calling it a change in strategy, Springfield's Benedictine University says it will end undergraduate programs aimed at "traditional" students, and will instead focus on degree programs for adult learners.


Traditional students are defined as those between the ages of 18 and 22 who are continuing their education right out of high school.  A statement from the school says the high cost of providing those programs for those students, and a projected decline in their numbers in the years ahead, forced the decision to end those programs in May of next year.


Substantial layoffs are expected with the decision, which was approved Thursday night by the Benedictine board.  A spokesperson says students and staff are being notified of the changes.

Illinois Republicans File Suit Alleging Voting Impropriety

There are still almost two weeks to go before Election Day, but allegations of wrongdoing when it comes to the voting process are already flying.

Illinois Republicans have filed a lawsuit against Rock Island County Clerk Karen Kinney, alleging that the Clerk is allowing absentee ballots to be opened early and that poll watchers aren’t being allowed to observe those citizens who are taking advantage of early voting procedures. In a release provided to News/Talk 970 WMAY, Illinois GOP Chair Tim Schneider says that the lawsuit is “necessary legal action to ensure that every single voter’s voice is heard.” Kinney has not yet responded to the suit.

Montgomery County Cub Scouts Expected to Recover

Three Cub Scouts in Montgomery County are expected make a full recovery after being injured in an experiment at a meeting in Raymond on Monday evening. In that incident, police say that the scouts and a parent leader were mixing boric acid and antifreeze in a fire pit in attempt to produce a flame of a certain color. The mixture exploded, resulting in burns on the arms and hands of the victims, including the parent supervising the experiment.

Rauner Takes Poll Leads

With two weeks to go before Election Day, the polls are starting to shift toward Republican challenger Bruce Rauner. In the latest Rasmussen and Chicago Tribune polls, Rauner has come from as many as eleven points behind in the previous poll – taken at the end of September – to take a small lead on incumbent Governor Pat Quinn. The newest Rasmussen poll, released on Thursday, shows Rauner with a one-point lead, and the latest Tribune poll, also released on Thursday, has Rauner up by two points.

Urban Flooding Expert: Fixes Won't Be Cheap, But Better Than Alternative

An expert on urban flooding warns that long-range fixes to the problem could be expensive… but says people are already paying the price in flood damage, so investing in infrastructure upgrades makes sense in the long run. 


Harriet Festing says there are other things that homeowners can do immediately to upgrade their own properties and steer flood waters away from their homes and basements. 


Festing says a growing number of major rain events… and an increase in urban surfaces covered by concrete and asphalt… will likely guarantee that the urban flooding problem gets worse before it gets better.


Festing will take part in a public meeting on the urban flooding problem this evening, starting at 6pm in the Sangamon County Boardroom downtown.  It will be proceeded by an open house from 4:30 to 5:45pm at the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission offices in the County Building.


Unemployment Plunges In Springfield

Springfield’s unemployment rate took a big drop in September… down from the previous month and from the same period one year earlier. 


The 5.7% jobless rate was second-best in the state, just a tenth of a point higher than Bloomington-Normal.  It compares to a 6.5% rate in August… and 7.5% in September of 2013.


State officials say Springfield has added 2100 jobs in the past year.


Manar School Funding Bill To Be Sidelined Until Next Year

State Senator Andy Manar’s school funding revamp now appears to be on hold until next spring… after a new legislature is seated.  That's according to a report in the Daily Herald newspaper.


Manar’s bill would allocate most school funding dollars on the basis of need… which would result in state funding being diverted from wealthier school districts to poorer ones.  That has fueled opposition from lawmakers in the Chicago suburbs, and led the bill’s House sponsor to say she wants to rework the bill and try again early next year.


SJ-R Reporters Seek Public Support In Contract Negotiations

State Journal-Register reporters will take to the streets next week, trying to drum up public support for their effort to reach a deal on a contract with the paper’s corporate owners. 


Members of the United Media Guild are demanding pay raises for the first time in seven years… and note that GateHouse Media has paid seven-figure bonuses to some executives during that time. 


The rally will be staged outside the newspaper’s offices on South Ninth Street during the noon hour Monday.

Oberweis Calls On Durbin To Release Internal Sex Harassment Report

U.S. Senate candidate Jim Oberweis is calling on incumbent Dick Durbin to release an internal investigation into claims that a longtime Durbin aide harassed a female co-worker. 


The woman did not file a sexual harassment complaint… and was ultimately fired after writing a book and accepting an advance in violation of Senate ethics rules. 


The internal investigation reportedly cleared Mike Daly of the harassment claim, but he was reassigned so that he no longer supervised other employees.  Oberweis says that report has never been released, and asks what Durbin is hiding.


Historic Lincoln-Era Menard County Census Discovered

Menard County officials have discovered a copy of the county’s 1840 census… one which references several key figures in the life of young Abraham Lincoln. 


The Chicago Tribune reports the handwritten census lists residents of the newly-created county, which had been officially established one year earlier.  They include Lincoln associates like James Rutledge, who urged him to pursue a political career. 


Lincoln himself was not in the census, having left Menard County for Springfield in 1837.

Court-Appointed Monitor To Review IDOT Hiring

A court-appointed monitor will look into hiring irregularities at the Illinois Department of Transportation, a ruling that challenges Governor Pat Quinn’s assertion that he’s already addressed the problem. 


Cook County Judge Sidney Schenkier ruled that an independent review is needed to make sure that laws against political hiring are being followed.  The ruling came in a case that resulted from an investigation by News/Talk 970 WMAY’s watchdog partner, the Better Government Association, which found people were improperly given jobs at IDOT based on political connections instead of merit. 


Quinn’s Republican opponent Bruce Rauner says the ruling shows Quinn is, quote, “corrupt and cannot be trusted to clean up state government.”


Political Reporter Resigns, Claims Paper Caved To Pressure From Rauner

A highly-regarded political reporter based in Springfield has quit his job… and is accusing the newspaper’s owner of caving in to pressure from Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner. 


Chicago Sun-Times reporter Dave McKinney was pulled off his beat for several days this month after the Rauner camp tried to stop a critical story prior to publication… and accused McKinney of a conflict of interest because his wife works for a PR firm that has Democratic clients. 


McKinney notes that shortly after the controversy, the paper abruptly reversed its position against endorsing candidates and threw its support to Rauner.  He says the incident is having a “chilling effect” on reporting.


Durbin, Oberweis Meet In Only Debate

The candidates for U.S. Senate have met in their one and only debate of the fall campaign. 


Republican challenger Jim Oberweis says Illinoisans and all Americans have seen their personal finances get worse while Dick Durbin has served as one of the top Democrats on Capitol Hill.  Durbin says he wants to boost American job prospects by rewarding companies who keep jobs here rather than moving them overseas. 


And there was one surprising area of agreement between the two… when Oberweis said he would support a federal law legalizing same-sex marriage.  He has opposed it as a state senator.


Another Lincoln-Era Home Set For Demolition

Another Lincoln-era home in Springfield is about to meet the wrecking ball… unless someone steps up to take on the cost of repairing and moving the building. 


The State Journal-Register reports a hearing is set for November 12th on the city’s request for a demolition order against the crumbling Condell House… which was built on South Fourth Street in 1842.  Located across from the Governor’s Mansion, the home has partially caved in… and it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to short it up and relocate it. 


Local preservationists are hoping a benefactor will step forward to take on the project… but admit it’s a long shot.

Raise Illinois Coalition Encourages Early Voting

Members of the statewide coalition that supports a non-binding referendum on the November ballot to raise the minimum wage to $10/hour are urging voters to take advantage of early voting procedures across the state.

A spokesperson for the Service Employees International Union told the press that many of those workers that would be affected by a potential minimum wage increase work multiple jobs and may not be available to vote on November 4th and that early voting opportunities are “critical”. The Raise Illinois coalition is touting a study that suggests that 1 in 5 Illinoisians would get a raise, if the minimum wage were to increase from the current $8.25/hour.

Judge Orders Court-Appointed Monitor To Oversee IDOT Hiring

A court-appointed monitor will be put in place at the Illinois Department of Transportation to look into the department’s hiring practices and ensure that laws against political hiring are being followed. 


A judge ordered that monitor over the objections of Governor Pat Quinn, who says his administration has corrected hiring problems at IDOT, making the additional oversight unnecessary. 


Republican governor candidate Bruce Rauner says the ruling shows that Quinn is “corrupt and can’t be trusted.”

Magro Aiming For Memorial Day Opening

The owner of a retail meat and meat processing operation hopes to be open for business in Springfield by Memorial Day 2015.


Tony Magro received City Council approval Tuesday night for his operation, which will focus mostly on retail sales but which will also slaughter and process livestock on a small scale one day per week.


Magro says the former Eagle Supermarket and Dane's Discount site needs extensive renovations, but he hopes to have the work completed and be ready to open by late next spring.



Contraband Found In Random Springfield School Search

Random searches at Springfield’s middle and high schools in recent weeks have turned up one item of “contraband,” according to Superintendent Jennifer Gill. 


Gill would not disclose the nature of the item or say where or when it was discovered, because the case is still going through the student discipline process. 


District 186 has stepped up random searches in recent weeks after two incidents of guns brought to school in the early days of the current school year.

Fire Department Evaluating How To Allocate Protective Gear

Springfield fire officials will consider equipping all units with a higher level of personal protective gear that could be used in the event first responders encounter someone with Ebola-like symptoms. 


Fire Chief Ken Fustin says the department has inventoried its protective equipment and is evaluating how it may have to be used if the current, small outbreak in the U.S. gets bigger. 


Fustin says the department has more than enough to outfit every rig with a supply of head-to-toe protective covering, but says such a move may be, quote, overkill.

Bunn to Purchase Former AT&T Call Center

The former AT&T call center on the West Side will soon have a new tenant. After sitting vacant for a couple of months after AT&T moved approximately 50 jobs out of Springfield and eliminated about 190 others, Bunn has announced that it will acquire the building for an as of yet undisclosed amount – although the facility has a fair market value of $9.7M, according to the Sangamon County Assessor.  

In a statement released to the media, the company said that the acquisition of the 101,000 square foot facility would allow for more flexibility at the company’s location on Stevenson Drive.

Poe To Undergo Adult Stem Cell Transplant

Springfield Representative Raymond Poe will undergo an adult stem cell transplant that is intended to replace his bone marrow, in hopes of curing a rare blood disease. 


Poe was diagnosed earlier this year with a syndrome known as MDS. He will undergo the procedure in Houston.  He will spend three weeks preparing for the procedure, which will happen in mid-November, followed by an “extended recovery period” that could last until February of next year.


Poe says his staff and legislative colleagues will handle constituent issues in his absence.

Quinn, Rauner Stick With Familiar Attacks In Final Debate

Governor Pat Quinn and opponent Bruce Rauner have met in their third and final debate… one in which they stuck with mostly familiar lines of attack. 


Rauner repeatedly called Quinn a “failure” as governor, while Quinn hammered Rauner over and over for his early support of a reduction in the state minimum wage… a position from which Rauner has since backed away.


And each candidate accused the other of trying to raise taxes on middle-class families… because of Quinn’s support for extending the temporary income tax hike and Rauner’s plan to expand sales taxes to cover some services.  Election Day is in two weeks.

District 186 Test Scores Improving, But Many Students Still Don't Meet Standards

Overall, Springfield public school students are showing improvement in standardized reading and math tests… even though fewer than half of District 186 students in most categories are meeting state standards in reading and math. 


The district notes that this year, for the first time, the tests are fully aligned to the more demanding Common Core standards… and say the increase in scores is a positive sign for the future.  But they acknowledge they have much more work to do to improve the numbers, especially among black and low-income students.


Memorial: Ebola Preparations Go Beyond CDC Guidelines

As the CDC issues new guidelines to hospitals on how to be prepared if an Ebola patient arrives at their doors, Springfield’s Memorial Medical Center says it already has equipment and procedures that go beyond the CDC guidelines. 


But the hospital’s chief medical officer warns it is possible to do too much.  Doctor Rajesh Govindaiah (GOH-vin-dye-uh) says the hospital has advised staff not to double up on gowns and gloves… since that can actually make it tougher to remove the gear later, inadvertently increasing the risk of accidental exposure.


Officials say it is still highly unlikely that they will have to deal with a case of the deadly virus.

Local Group Hopes To Combat Dangerous Medical Errors

It’s the first of its kind in Downstate Illinois… a partnership of health care providers will seek to compile data on medical errors that can jeopardize patients. 


The program will be based at Memorial Medical Center, and will compile data from Memorial, SIU Healthcare, and other participating businesses, including ambulance services and nursing homes. 


Memorial’s chief operating officer Dr. Charles Callahan says health care has gotten much more complicated, as patients often juggle multiple medications for multiple conditions.  He hopes the data put together by the group can show patterns that can help doctors and nurses prevent harmful mistakes in treatment.


Springfield Cheddar's Restaurant Closes Without Explanation

Another Springfield restaurant closes its doors.  Cheddar’s abruptly shut down Monday. 


No reason was given for the closure of the restaurant on Horizon Drive, just off of South Dirksen Parkway.  Several customers say on social media that the restaurant had been busy over the previous weekend, and say the closure took them by surprise. 


The Cheddar’s chain did not respond to a request for comment.


Illinois HS Football Player Critically Injured In Game

It’s a reminder that football can be a dangerous game… even at the high school level. 


A defensive tackle for Watseka High School is in intensive care in the Chicago area after suffering a broken neck during a game Friday night.  Hayden Schaumburg’s spinal cord was compressed, but not severed.  He has no feeling from the chest down but has been able to move his shoulders and fingers following an eight-hour surgery. 


Watseka’s coach says the player’s fate is, quote, “in the Lord’s hands.”


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