Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wheaton College professor suspended for saying Muslims, Christians worship same God

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A tenured political science professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical university outside Chicago, has been suspended after she wrote in a Facebook post that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Dr. Larycia Hawkins wrote on the social media site on Dec. 10 that she was donning the hijab head scarf during the period of advent before Christmas as a sign of solidarity with Muslims. In her post she said "we worship the same God."
After that statement drew criticism, the school said Hawkins was on administrative leave.
"In response to significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements that Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Larycia Hawkins has made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam, Wheaton College has placed her on administrative leave, pending the full review to which she is entitled as a tenured faculty member," said the statement, issued on Tuesday.
Wheaton College spokeswoman LaTonya Taylor did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for information about how long the suspension would last, how unusual it was and who would conduct the review. Hawkins also did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The college said that when they participate in causes, faculty and staff must faithfully represent the school's evangelical statement of faith.
On her Facebook page on Dec. 10, Hawkins said she would wear the hijab in solidarity with Muslim neighbors. "I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book."
Hawkins, who has written on race, religion and American politics, said she had consulted with the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, an advocacy group, to make sure that it would not be seen as offensive for a non-Muslim woman to wear the headscarf.
The solidarity gesture comes as Muslims around the United States report worries of a backlash and growing Islamophobia after a couple who had pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State killed 14 people in California in early December.
After she was criticized for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God, Hawkins said on her Facebook page that there are convincing arguments for expressing religious solidarity with Muslims and Jews and asked people who do not agree with her to accept her love and her offering of peace.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Above is from:  http://news.yahoo.com/illinois-professor-suspended-saying-muslims-christians-worship-same-190334985.html

Sunday, November 29, 2015

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A Wealthy Governor and His Friends Are Remaking Illinois - The New York Times

 

The richest man in Illinois does not often give speeches. But on a warm spring day two years ago, Kenneth C. Griffin, the billionaire founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds, rose before a black-tie dinner of the Economic Club of Chicago to deliver an urgent plea to the city’s elite.

They had stood silently, Mr. Griffin told them, as politicians spent too much and drove businesses and jobs from the state. They had refused to help those who would take on the reigning powers in the Illinois Capitol. “It is time for us to do something,” he implored.

Their response came quickly. In the months since, Mr. Griffin and a small group of rich supporters — not just from Chicago, but also from New York City and Los Angeles, southern Florida and Texas — have poured tens of millions of dollars into the state, a concentration of political money without precedent in Illinois history.

Their wealth has forcefully shifted the state’s balance of power. Last year, the families helped elect as governor Bruce Rauner, a Griffin friend and former private equity executive from the Chicago suburbs, who estimates his own fortune at more than $500 million. Now they are rallying behind Mr. Rauner’s agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions.

“It was clear that they wanted to change the power structure, change the way business was conducted and change the status quo,” said Andy Shaw, an acquaintance of Mr. Rauner’s and the president of the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan state watchdog group that received donations from Mr. Rauner before he ran.

The rich families remaking Illinois are among a small group around the country who have channeled their extraordinary wealth into political power, taking advantage of regulatory, legal and cultural shifts that have carved new paths for infusing money into campaigns. Economic winners in an age of rising inequality, operating largely out of public view, they are reshaping government with fortunes so large as to defy the ordinary financial scale of politics. In the 2016 presidential race, a New York Times analysis found last month, just 158 families had provided nearly half of the early campaign money.

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Buying Power

Articles in this series examine America’s growing concentration of wealth and its consequences for government and politics.

Many of those giving, like Mr. Griffin, come from the world of finance, an industry that has yielded more of the new political wealth than any other. The Florida-based leveraged-buyout pioneer John Childs, the private equity investor Sam Zell and Paul Singer, a prominent New York hedge fund manager, all helped elect Mr. Rauner, as did Richard Uihlein, a conservative businessman from the Chicago suburbs.

Most of them lean Republican; some are Democrats. But to a remarkable degree, their philosophies are becoming part of a widely adopted blueprint for public officials around the country: Critical of the power of unions, many are also determined to reduce spending and taxation, and are skeptical of government-led efforts to mitigate the growing gap between the rich and everyone else.

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“There was never so much money behind these efforts,” said Iris J. Lav, formerly a senior adviser at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning economic think tank in Washington.

“It has gotten much stronger in the last five or six years,” Ms. Lav continued. “There’s the sense of an opening, of a discontent with the old model. It’s about social insurance, the social compact — who’s responsible for whom?”

Illinois was fertile ground for the movement. Four of the state’s last 10 governors have gone to jail. Decades of mismanagement by state officials of both parties have left Illinois with more than $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, among the most of any state. Public employee unions, assured that the state’s Constitution made their retirement benefits untouchable, focused on lobbying for other spending. By last year, the state owed billions more in unpaid bills.

And tax increases are particularly difficult in Illinois, where other state constitutional provisions ban raising taxes solely on the rich. A temporary income tax boost presided over by the state’s last Democratic governor, Pat Quinn, was resented by many voters

The future governor was among those fuming. Around Chicago, Mr. Rauner, a Republican, was known for dashing off angry, blind-copied emails about the state’s fiscal woes to a long list of fellow businessmen and political leaders. Some of those who coalesced around his campaign, like Mr. Griffin, had also backed Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, a Democrat, in his battles with teachers’ unions. Others had collaborated on endeavors including Chicago’s Olympic bid, or the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a group of wealthy and politically active business leaders. (Mr. Rauner, Mr. Griffin and other supporters declined requests for interviews.)

“They’re not what you would call the traditional corporate world,” said William M. Daley, a Chicago hedge fund executive and former chief of staff to President Obama, who served on Mr. Rauner’s transition team. “They come with a very political and philosophical bent.”

Mr. Daley added, “I think they believe philosophically in that business mentality and that strong public unions are a root of all evil in governing places like Illinois or Chicago and New York and California.”

To bring about a revolution in the Illinois Capitol, in Springfield, Mr. Rauner and his allies have created what amounts to a new campaign economy, in which union money has long been the financial lifeblood of both parties. Contributing millions to his own campaign, Mr. Rauner triggered a state law that removes limits on campaign contributions when a wealthy candidate spends heavily on his or her own race.

The law, intended to limit the influence of the wealthy by providing a level playing field, had the opposite effect: Freed of the restraints, supporters of Mr. Rauner poured millions more into his campaign, breaking state records. About half of the $65 million he spent through last year’s election came from himself and nine other individuals, families or companies they control. Mr. Quinn, the incumbent, spent about $32 million, with many unions making mid-six-figure contributions.

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Mr. Rauner’s biggest donor was Mr. Griffin, who gave $5.5 million and put his private plane at Mr. Rauner’s disposal. Mr. Rauner’s allies spent millions on political advocacy groups, research organizations and party committees. The Chicago Sun-Times reversed its no-endorsement policy to back Mr. Rauner, who was a part-owner of the paper before he ran for governor.

“He didn’t have to play by the same rules as other candidates,” said Bill Hyers, the chief strategist to Mr. Quinn. “He just kept on spending.”

Never before in modern Illinois politics had so few people provided so much of the money for campaigns. The size of the average contribution in last year’s general election almost tripled over those made in the previous governor’s race, according to a Times analysis of campaign records collected by Illinois Sunshine, a project of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Local Republican organizations found themselves flush with cash. Mr. Rauner blanketed the state with ads promising, vaguely, to “shake up Springfield” and slammed Mr. Quinn as an insider beholden to special interests.

Campaign for Political Reform; National Institute on Money in State Politics. Figures shown include only money raised before the election.

Attacks on Mr. Rauner’s wealth fell flat, even as he splashed around money in flamboyant ways: Late in the campaign, he drove up to a credit union on Chicago’s predominantly black South Side, depositing $1 million to support small-business loans.

“It had never happened before,” said Otis Monroe, a community activist in Chicago. “We said, ‘If you want black votes, you should invest in African-American-owned initiatives.’ Rauner was the only one who responded.”

On Election Day, Mr. Rauner won every county except Cook County, which encompasses Chicago. That evening, he giddily declared to his supporters: “This is our time. This is a transformational period. We will not accept the status quo. We are going in a new direction — the voters have spoken.”

The eye-popping sums continued to flow in the weeks that followed. On the last day of December, shortly before inauguration, Mr. Rauner, Mr. Griffin and Mr. Uihlein poured an additional $20 million into Mr. Rauner’s campaign committee. The money was intended to help Mr. Rauner beat back union pressure on state lawmakers during the legislative session ahead.

All told, the Griffin family’s contributions to Mr. Rauner through the end of 2014 came to $13.6 million — more than the combined sum donated to Mr. Quinn by 244 labor unions.

For Mr. Rauner, the election results affirmed his agenda to shrink government and make the state more friendly to business.

But voters seemed torn. Along with electing Mr. Rauner, they gave Democrats a supermajority in both houses of the legislature.

They also approved two advisory ballot measures. One proposed an increase in the state’s minimum wage, something Mr. Rauner had told a candidate forum he was “adamantly, adamantly against raising.” Another urged lawmakers to amend the Illinois Constitution to allow a millionaires-only income tax increase, something Mr. Rauner had campaigned against.

Mr. Rauner was undeterred. Immediately after taking office, he unveiled a strikingly ambitious policy agenda, one with a more ideological tinge than even some Republicans had expected.

Along with expected cuts to spending and property taxes, he proposed tort reform; local “right-to-work zones,” where union membership and dues would be voluntary; and a half-dozen constitutional amendments. He sought to bar public unions from making contributions to state lawmakers — state contractors are already barred — and in February issued an executive order prohibiting public employee unions from collecting mandatory fees from state workers who are not members.

Mr. Rauner and his supporters believed such changes were necessary to fix Illinois: Only by disempowering the unions and making the state more hospitable to business, they have argued, can revenue grow fast enough to fix its financial problems.

But despite voters’ deep unhappiness with the direction of the state under Mr. Rauner’s predecessor, they quickly soured on their new governor. Just two months into his term, Mr. Rauner found that his job approval rate was around 36 percent, according to a poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Almost half of Illinois voters favored either tax increases or a combination of increases and spending cuts to fix the budget.

Mr. Rauner has since signaled he will discuss new revenues as part of a budget deal, but only if the legislature includes some of his union restrictions or other policy changes as part of the deal.

“I’ve been one who thought he misread his mandate,” said David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “People were ready for a change, but the emphasis on attacking the labor movement, that really poisoned the water here.”

The unexpected rift between Mr. Rauner and his constituents echoes a greater divide between the political views of the very wealthy and those of the broader public, one that has taken on new significance as the rich invest more time and money in politics.

The voters in Illinois should look to Wisconsin as the example of what the new, ultra-right Republican party brings: outlawed public...

Around the same time that Mr. Rauner began running for governor, a group of researchers based at Northwestern University published findings from the country’s first-ever representative survey of the richest one percent of Americans. The study, known as the Survey of Economically Successful Americans and the Common Good, canvassed a sample of the wealthy from the Chicago area. Those canvassed were granted anonymity to discuss their views candidly.

Their replies were striking. Where merely affluent Americans are more likely to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, the ultrawealthy overwhelmingly leaned right. They are far more likely to raise money for politicians and to have access to them; nearly half had personally contacted one of Illinois’s two United States senators.

Where the general public overwhelmingly supports a high minimum wage, the one percent are broadly opposed. A majority of Americans supported expanding safety-net and retirement programs, while most of the very wealthy opposed them. And while Americans are not enthusiastic about higher taxes generally, they feel strongly that the rich should pay more than they do, and more than everyone else pays.

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“Probably the biggest single area of disconnect has to do with social welfare programs,” said Benjamin I. Page, a political scientist at Northwestern University and a co-author of the study. “The other big area has to do with paying for those programs, particularly taxes on high-income and wealthy people.”

Illinois, Mr. Page added, is “a case study of the disconnect in action — between what average citizens want the government to do and what it does.”

In many states, however, including old union strongholds of the Midwest like Indiana and Ohio, a rising distrust in government has proved a more powerful force in mobilizing voters — particularly with enough money behind it. In Illinois, Mr. Rauner and his allies have responded to the budget impasse with a redoubled, well-financed effort at persuasion.

To encourage Republican lawmakers to stick with him on tough votes, the governor has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to them. In April, ex-Rauner aides set up Turnaround Illinois, a super PAC designed to support state lawmakers who backed his agenda and “oppose those who stand in the way,” according to state filings. The group’s main contributor is Mr. Zell, the Chicago investor and Republican donor, who gave $4 million.

In June, after Mr. Rauner and lawmakers failed to reach a budget deal, Turnaround Illinois spent close to $1 million on television ads assailing Democrats.

The true impact of their financial muscle may not be felt until the legislative elections next fall, in which Mr. Rauner’s allies could again exploit an opening in the campaign finance law to spend unprecedented sums. (The same provision that removed the caps on Mr. Rauner’s campaign lifts them in any legislative race in which a “super PAC” spends more than $100,000. Mr. Rauner’s group has enough money to trigger the law in more than two dozen races.)

Mr. Rauner’s closest supporters hope to elect more Republicans. But some wealthy families, mindful that Democrats are likely to control the legislature for the foreseeable future, have financed an even more ambitious goal: to carve out a new faction of Democrats more willing to reach a compromise with the governor.

That effort has raised more than $14 million, in donations that rival the largest contributions in the presidential campaign. One million dollars came from Helen Zell, Mr. Zell’s wife, and $2 million from the head of a financial firm in which Mr. Rauner is an investor. The largest disclosed contribution came from hundreds of miles beyond Illinois: The former Texas energy trader John Arnold and his wife, Laura, gave $5 million.

Mr. Arnold, a Democrat, declined to be interviewed for this article. But in an essay published last year, he described himself as a counterweight to traditional interest groups like labor unions and corporations.

 

A Wealthy Gov

“One might ask why Laura and I should be able to influence policy decisions just because we have money,” Mr. Arnold wrote. “Were government immune from lobbyists and money, I would agree on the premise of the question. However, government is deeply influenced by special interests.”

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His goal, Mr. Arnold wrote, was “to counterbalance these entrenched forces, on the right and the left, by providing policy solutions rooted in objectivity and solid analysis.”

For the moment, Illinois is creaking along, polarized and deeply discontent with its leaders. Five months into the fiscal year, the state has no budget. A combination of court orders and partial appropriations bills has kept the government in operation, but at a level of spending that exceeds the state’s current revenue.

Now, every month, Illinois falls even further behind on its bills. Illinois politicians, on the other hand, are flush as never before.

As of early November, Mr. Rauner and the state’s new super PACs had a combined $36 million available to spend. The state’s 15 best-funded labor union PACs, along with campaign committees controlled by Democratic legislative leaders, had slightly more than half that, but are likely to put in millions more in the months ahead.

Next year’s legislative races promise to be the most expensive in history. And Mr. Rauner, those who know him say, is just getting started.

Said Mr. Shaw, of the Better Government Association, “I think he views this as a very long, long term war.’’

Sarah Cohen contributed research.

ernor and His Friends Are Remaking Illinois - The New York Times

Monday classes canceled at University of Chicago after threat | WGN-TV

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Monday classes canceled at University of Chicago after threat | WGN-TV

Monday, November 16, 2015

We kicked the Koch Brothers’ a**: How Denver parents beat back big money, charter schools, right-wing lies - Salon.com

This election cost over three quarters of a million, SEE:  http://boonecountywatchdog.blogspot.com/2015/10/school-board-recall-vote-in-colorado.html

Although many Democrats are disappointed, even in a “panic,” with the results from last week’s off-year elections, they need to be aware of where progressives won and learn from communities that bucked the influences of big money, especially in contests where education was a top-tier issue.

Most notable of the wins was a school board race in Jefferson County, Colorado, just outside Denver, that many national media outlets had actually hyped but then mostly ignored once the results were in.

The vote, the New York Times reported before Election Day, was about “whether to oust a polarizing school board that has championed charter schools, performance-based teacher pay, and other education measures.”

“The skirmish has been tense,” the Washington Post explained, “with alleged death threats, social media clashes, and attacks on talk radio.”

Both news stories told of a national program bearing down on the school district, with “money pouring in from Americans for Prosperity, the national organization founded by the Koch brothers,” in an effort to impose an agenda from outside the community that included a new history curriculum, new restrictions on teachers’ job security, and more privately-operated charter schools.

Students, teachers and parents were openly revolting against the school board, staging school walkouts, holding boisterous protest rallies and waging a petition campaign to demand an election to recall the school board majority.

The national outlets consistently got the story of the election wrong, adopting a talking point from a libertarian think tank that the contest was a “proxy war” between the Koch Brothers and “teachers’ unions,” when, in fact, the recall effort was mostly led by parents.

Then, when the results came in last week, and voters recalled the board majority and voted in a new slate of progressive-minded candidates, national outlets generally ignored the story, and the news was relegated to local outlets and bloggers to report.

But what the national media have misreported and overlooked is an important story of how communities fighting to control their education destinies can win against big-moneyed interests and a charter school industry that want to dictate what schooling is like across the country.

A Major Battle to Preserve Public Schools

I went to Jeffco (what the locals call it) this summer and reported about the emerging national story for Alternet.

I found this outstanding school district – where real innovation is taking place in the public schools – is “under assault by right-wing groups, some with connections to evangelical Christianity” and “a powerful charter school industry, different from the ‘organic charters’ Jeffco parents already send their kids to.”

My firsthand investigations, which included more than a dozen interviews and visits to community events and school sites, revealed a fight over “who gets to call the shots in education systems strained by unending financial austerity and an unremitting ‘reform’ agenda whose intent is unclear to the people in its way.”

I met with local Jeffco citizens who engaged in scores of house parties, circulated flyers and repeated a message of dissent against the three board members who were intent on imposing a market-based philosophy of education conceived in libertarian think tanks and charter school corporate offices.

Why should you care about a school board election in suburban Denver?

As a reporter at Al Jazeera correctly understood in her pre-election report, the contest had “national implications.”

The race, Sandra Fish writes, “has ramifications far outside the school district … Because Jeffco is the ultimate swing county in the key swing state of Colorado,” Fish finds, “that means success – or defeat – there could be replicated across the U.S.”

She quotes a professor of education history at New York University saying, “Colorado has become a kind of test case for these issues. Others around the country will be watching to see if the money and the influence matters … It’s going to be a very close election is my guess.'”

The professor was mostly right, except about the margin of victory. It wasn’t close. Voters “overwhelmingly,” according to the Denver Post, voted for the recall, with the charter school-backed board members going down by an average of 64 percent to 36 percent.

A Jeffco classroom teacher involved in the resistance effort, Paula Reed, had this to say in an email to me about the importance of the recall win: “This was a major front in the battle to preserve public schools for kids and stop privatization for profit. I said to myself and everyone I pulled in that if we won, we would know for the rest of our lives that we had been part of something huge.”

Why Grassroots Matters Most

“The success of this recall has been a true testament to what grassroots can accomplish,” Jeffco parent activist Jonna Levine tells me in an email. “We sent a strong message that community can win over big corporate machines like the Koch Brothers.”

Levine co-founded and leads, with Jeffco parent Shawna Fritzler, the grassroots group “Support Jeffco Kids.” Organizing parents into these grassroots groups, including Jeffco United, that helped lead the petition effort proved to be a key to the successful campaign. Parents have an undeniable stake in anything related to public schools. And unlike teachers, they can’t be intimidated by school administration or be fired.

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Above is from:  We kicked the Koch Brothers’ a**: How Denver parents beat back big money, charter schools, right-wing lies - Salon.com

Illinois students of for-profit schools to get $3M in debt relief under settlement - Chicago Tribune

 

About 2,700 Illinois students of for-profit schools will receive about $3 million in debt relief under a national settlement with a Pittsburgh company running trade schools and colleges.

The Justice Department on Monday announced the settlement, which resolves a consumer fraud investigation by several attorneys general and separate whistleblower lawsuits.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says Education Management Corporation (EDMC) used "deceptive" recruitment and enrollment practices.

The agreement says loans offered through school programs won't be collected. It applies to certain students attending between 2006 and 2014. Students will be contacted. Madigan's office says there also will be a phone number.

The corporation operates five Illinois colleges with Argosy University and Illinois Institute of Art campuses in the Chicago area.

Under the agreement, EDMC must also make reforms that'll be independently monitored.

Education Management Corp., the second-largest for-profit college chain, agreed to pay $95.5 million to resolve allegations that it paid employees based on student enrollment in violation of federal law.

For-profit colleges are reeling from mounting government probes, tanking stock prices, regulatory scrutiny and depressed student enrollment. ITT Tech is being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud; University of Phoenix has been suspended from receiving military tuition assistance; and Career Education Corp. closed all 14 of its Sanford-Brown schools. As marquee names falter, the industry itself appears to be in trouble.

Federal court upholds rules aimed at for-profit college industry

In the case of Education Management, the Department of Justice claims the company violated a federal ban on incentive compensation at schools participating in federal financial aid programs. The rule is meant to prevent schools from steering students into loans to boost revenue.

Prosecutors say the company flouted the ban by paying recruiters based on the number of students enrolled, leading employees to use aggressive and deceptive tactics to get students in the doors. Top recruiters received Pittsburgh Pirates tickets, free lunches and all-expense-paid vacations to Las Vegas and Puerto Vallarta, according to the complaint.

All the while, Education Management swore to the Department of Education that it was complying with the rules. Between July 2003 and June 2011 about 90 percent of the tuition the company received, or $11 billion, came from federal grants and loans, according to the complaint.

"EDMC's actions were not only a betrayal of their students' trust; they were a violation of federal law," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Monday during a press conference. She called the settlement "a historic step forward in our collective and ongoing fight against fraudulent and abusive practices in the for-profit education industry."

Madigan sues five debt-relief firms over student loans

 

 

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed five lawsuits Monday against debt-relief companies she claims preyed on consumers struggling to repay student loans.

The companies charged upfront fees as high as $1,250 for bogus services or for help that the borrowers could have gotten themselves for...

Problems at the company came to light in 2007 when Lynntoya Washington, a former assistant director of admission at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division, sued the company under the so-called False Claims Act. The law encourages witnesses to come forward in cases where the government has been defrauded by providing them up to a third of the proceeds recovered by authorities.

State and federal authorities joined Washington's case in 2011, shortly after another whistleblower, Michael Mahoney, the director of the company's online higher education division, came forward with more evidence of misconduct.

The civil settlement is the largest involving false claims made to the Department of Education. It calls on Education Management to provide students with a single-page disclosure detailing job placement rates, free orientation and the ability to withdraw at no cost up to seven days after their first class on campus or 21 days online.

The company will also forgive the debts owed by former students who left within 45 days of their first term and whose final day of attendance was between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2014.

"We are also pleased to have resolved the civil claims raised by the Department of Justice and state attorneys general," said Education Management president and chief executive Mark McEachen said in a statement. "Though we continue to believe the allegations in the cases were without merit, putting these matters behind us returns our focus to educating students."

Education Management, which enrolls more than 100,000 students, did not admit to any wrongdoing.

"This settlement should be a warning to other career colleges out there: We will not stand by while you profit illegally off of students and taxpayers," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during the press conference. "The federal government will continue to work tirelessly with state attorneys general to ensure that all colleges follow the law."

The case against Education Management is the government's latest effort to crack down on for-profit colleges accused of defrauding taxpayers and students. The Department of Education's decision last year to cut off Corinthian Colleges' access to federal student loans and grants for falsifying job placement and graduation rates ultimately led the company to file bankruptcy. The department fined the company $30 million in April, a month before Corinthian shut its doors.

Associated Press, The Washington Post contributed

Illinois students of for-profit schools to get $3M in debt relief under settlement - Chicago Tribune

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Enbridge Energy shows support for Boone County

 

By Kathryn Menue

Editor

BOONE COUNTY – On Monday, Nov. 9, Enbridge Energy Company Inc. traveled to the Rock Valley College (RVC) Woodward Technology Center (WTC) at 9 a.m. to “dedicate a new scholarship at Rock Valley Community College.”

“The new scholarship, known as the Enbridge Energy Company Pipeline Industry Awareness Scholarship, will award five $1,000 scholarships to students in Boone County,” Enbridge Energy stated in their press release. “Enbridge has established similar scholarships at several other two-year schools throughout Illinois. This scholarship at Rock Valley Community College will now mark an Enbridge scholarship established at every community college along its Illinois system.”

Rep. Joe Sosnowski (Ill.-69), Belvidere Mayor Mike Chamberlain, and Enbridge Energy created the scholarship alliance to support students from Belvidere and Boone County who want to enter into an engineering or trade program at Rock Valley College.

“The reason we call it the ‘Pipeline Industry Awareness Scholarship,’ is because for too long, our industry was ‘out-of-sight and out-of-mind’ in our communities,” John Gauderman, Enbridge Director for Chicago Region Operations said. “By building great partnerships like the ones we have with Rock Valley College, we’re hoping to change that.”

At the scholarship presentation, Gauderman stated that the newly founded scholarship was a “great opportunity for Enbridge to show how we operate in the communities. We are very happy to have five $1,000 scholarships at Rock Valley.”

Rock Valley College was very appreciative of their support as well.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” RVC President Mike Mastroianni said. He explained that this scholarship will be a great start for the engineering program RVC plans to establish in the upcoming years in the WTC. The new engineering program will allow students to receive a four-year engineering degree from RVC at a more affordable rate than at state universities.

“This is wonderful news for the community and it exemplifies how the Belvidere/Boone County area is positively impacted by Enbridge Energy,” Neeley Erickson, legislative aide to Rep. Sosnowski, said.

Enbridge Energy shows support for Boone County

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

U of Illinois trustees to consider settlement with professor who lost job offer over tweets

 

CHAMPIAGN, Illinois — University of Illinois trustees are expected to consider a legal settlement with a professor who lost his job offer over a series profane anti-Israel Twitter messages.

University spokesman Tom Hardy confirmed trustees are expected to vote on a proposed settlement with Steven Salaita in his lawsuit against university trustees, former Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise and others. Hardy declined to offer details and neither the university nor Salaita's attorneys responded to requests for comment.

Salaita was offered a job to teach at the university starting in August 2015.

But after his messages on Israeli military action against Palestinians that summer Wise withdrew the offer. Some university donors had complained about Salaita.

Salaita claimed he had already been hired as a tenured professor. That would mean his messages were protected speech.

U of Illinois trustees to consider settlement with professor who lost job offer over tweets

Illinois explains decision to fire athletic director Mike Thomas - Sports - Rockford Register Star - Rockford, IL

 

By The Associated Press

Posted Nov. 9, 2015 at 2:00 PM
Updated Nov 9, 2015 at 2:01 PM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois fired athletic director Mike Thomas on Monday, saying he had done nothing wrong but a change was needed after football and women's basketball players alleged they had been mistreated by their coaches.
Thomas, who will be paid $2.5 million to buy out the remainder of his contract, said he believes he acted appropriately but accepts the decision.
"I believe it is a good time to turn the page and put the focus of this organization back on the success and welfare of our student-athletes," Thomas said in a prepared statement.
Thomas is the latest high-profile leader to be swept aside in the turmoil at the university's flagship campus this year, following the resignation of one of his top backers, chancellor Phyllis Wise, and the August firing of football coach Tim Beckman.
The school also released final reports on independent investigations into the players' allegations. The football report found that Beckman pressured players to play hurt and interfered in medical decisions, echoing details that were disclosed when he was fired, but the women's basketball investigation found no evidence of racially motivated player mistreatment as alleged by seven former players.
Interim chancellor Barbara Wilson praised Thomas for leading the athletic department through a difficult six months, but said the university's sports programs needed a fresh start. She declined to offer details on exactly why she decided to fire Thomas.
"It's time to put the distractions of the past months behind us," Wilson said at a news conference at Memorial Stadium. "This has not been an easy decision, but I believe it's the one that will allow us to concentrate on the future."
The move leaves hiring decisions still to be made on a head football coach, where Bill Cubit is serving on an interim basis, athletic director and their boss, the chancellor.
Senior associate athletic director Paul Kowalczyk will take over for Thomas as interim athletic director. He said he planned to quickly meet with coaches on campus and with major donors and business partners to try to assure them that the sports programs and projects such as the renovation of the State Farm Center basketball arena are on track.
"I'm going to take the helm at this point and try to calm the waters," said Kowalczyk, who added that Thomas offered to help him get up to speed. "I feel for the guy."
Allegations of mistreatment by former football player Simon Cvijanovic surfaced in May, and the report found that Beckman "employed tactics that violated standards related to sports medicine protocols and scholarships."

For the women's basketball program, the report said claims that against coach Matt Bollant and an assistant created a racially abusive environment were unfounded. The assistant, Mike Divilbiss, quit months ago, and the players have sued the school, Bollant and Thomas. A former women's soccer player also sued the school, claiming she was improperly cleared to play after a concussion.

Amid all of that, Wise resigned in August, just before the university revealed she used a private email account to avoid scrutiny of her discussions of university business.
Thomas came to Illinois from Cincinnati in 2011, replacing longtime athletic director Ron Guenther. He received a contract extension and a raise a year and a half ago, and university trustees praised him for the $60 million generated when the university sold the naming rights to the Assembly Hall arena to State Farm help pay for its $165 million renovation.
Thomas also moved to shore up the Illini's high-profile struggling teams, firing football coach Ron Zook, men's basketball coach Bruce Weber and women's basketball coach Jolette Law. Fans, however, were lukewarm about his hiring of Beckman, men's basketball coach John Groce and Bollant.

 

Illinois explains decision to fire athletic director Mike Thomas - Sports - Rockford Register Star - Rockford, IL

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

All U-46 School Board Members named as suspects in crime – | Illinois Leaks

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The Elgin Police Department was called by us and arrived shortly after the call. There were half a dozen officers there at one time, and eventually a call was made to the Kane County State’s Attorney, who after research, advised the PD to complete a criminal report naming the board members  as suspects, and forwarding it to his office. This process took over 2 hours to complete.

Section 2.06 (g) of the Illinois Open Meetings Act makes public comment a right, at all public meetings (with reasonable rules).

The U-46 School Board held three meetings yesterday, October 19, 2015. The first meeting started at 4 p.m. and consisted of a finance committee meeting with the meeting notice posted, but no posted agenda at the building that we could see. This meeting included public comment time.

The second meeting, called for the purpose of a closed session for student discipline and other things started at 5:15 p.m. There was a notice posted, but no agenda. There was also no public comment session, in violation of law. All closed meetings must be called from an open meeting – and return to open meeting after the closed portion. No exceptions.

The third meeting started at 7 p.m. and had its meeting notice and agenda posted with a public comment session.

All agendas were on the school’s website, but only the 7 p.m. meeting was posted at the school building.

Read the entire article by clicking on the following:  All U-46 School Board Members named as suspects in crime – | Illinois Leaks

College of DuPage Board Fires Robert Breuder | Patch

By Amie Schaenzer (Patch Staff) October 20, 2015

 

 

The College of DuPage Board of Trustees fired its embattled President Robert Breuder at a meeting Tuesday night.

The board voted 4-1 to approve the termination, with Trustee Dianne McGuire of Naperville casting the sole no vote. She said the firing of Breuder was centered around a ”politically driven vendetta that is unworthy of this board.” Two trustees, Erin Birt and Joseph Wozniak, were not present and did not vote.

Other trustees spoke of the many examples of misconduct and mismanagement during Breuder’s term. Deanne Mazzochi, board vice chairman, said improper “electioneering activities” by Breuder helped the college secure a $168 million referendum “that this institution and taxpayers will be paying for for decades.”

The College of DuPage and Breuder have been under fire for months regarding its finances and administrative practices and Breuder has been the subject of public scrutiny regarding a $762,867 severance package the former board of trustees approved, according to the Daily Herald.

An investigation into Breuder began in spring 2015. During the course of the investigation, “the college found evidence of misconduct and mismanagement, which Breuder, participated in, oversaw or failed to prevent,” according to the special board meeting agenda. A full list of the allegations of Breuder can be viewed below in the board agenda.

Here is a brief timelines looking at some of the allegations leveled against Breuder, who has been on paid leave, over the past year:

College of DuPage Board Fires Robert Breuder | Patch

Belvidere Central Middle School student under investigation for making threats - News - Rockford Register Star - Rockford, IL

Ben Stanley

Posted Oct. 19, 2015 at 3:40 PM
Updated Oct 19, 2015 at 8:04 PM

BELVIDERE — A middle school student has been "removed from school" and is being investigated by the Boone County Sheriff’s Department after making threats discovered Friday by school officials.
“They found no weapons and no ability to carry out any threat,” State’s Attorney Michelle Courier said. “There was a search at the home and the school as well. It’s still an open investigation.”
Belvidere School District did not clarify whether the student had been expelled or temporarily suspended. Belvidere Central Middle School officials contacted the Sheriff's Department at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 16.
"School officials had brought some writings that concerned them from a student to our school resource officer, which began an investigation," Sheriff Dave Ernest said. "We take these cases very seriously, that’s why this investigation is ongoing."
Few details about the threats have been made public because the student is a juvenile.
"We are working with the Sheriff’s Department on possible charges," Courier said. "However, there was no evidence that students were in danger."
District spokeswoman Shannon Hansen said parents of kids enrolled at Belvidere Middle School were sent the following message by phone and email Friday night:
"As a parent of a Belvidere Central Middle School student, we want you to be aware of something that occurred. This afternoon we were notified of a possible threat made by a student. The student has been removed from school, at no time were classmates or staff members in danger, and the situation is being investigated by the Boone County Police Department and the State's Attorney's Office. The safety of your child is our first priority, and we encourage parents and students to share information with administrators at any time the safety of an individual could be in jeopardy."
Ben Stanley: 815-987-1369; bstanley@rrstar.com; @ben_j_stanley

Ben Stanley

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Breaking: McHenry teachers and board reach a tentative agreement. | Fred Klonsky

 

October 10, 2015October 10, 2015 / Fred Klonsky

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 6.23.13 AM

Parker Carbine, a 17 year-old candidate for Homecoming King in McHenry.

Early this morning striking high school teachers in McHenry, an hour northwest of Chicago, reached a tentative agreement with the school board. The teachers have been on strike since a week ago Thursday. Bargaining has been going on since April.

Congratulations and details later.

Breaking: McHenry teachers and board reach a tentative agreement. | Fred Klonsky

Colleges worry about spring semester if budget feud continues - DailyHerald.com

 

State officials say some community colleges have expressed concern about having to cut back class and program offerings for the spring semester if the ongoing budget feud in Springfield drags on into next year.

Local community colleges aren't getting state money via court orders like many programs are, so any money owed to them since July 1 hasn't been sent.

"We are hearing from some of our colleges that they are worried about the spring semester," Illinois Community College Board spokesman Matthew Berry said.

In remarks this week, Gov. Bruce Rauner publicly raised the idea that the outcome of Illinois not having a budget could be even more severe.

"Universities and community colleges will not receive state funding, causing some to wonder whether they will be open for the second semester. Outrageous. Should not happen," Rauner said.

No local community colleges are talking publicly about drastic action, and how individual colleges will fare as the state budget impasse drags on could "vary widely," Berry said. Community colleges get a large share of their income from property taxes, and suburban districts tend to have higher property values than colleges elsewhere in the state. So the effects might be less serious in the suburbs.

Oakton Community College spokesman Paul Palian said he doesn't know of any class-cutting plans, but he said schools are "preparing to tighten our belts even further."

Palian said a main concern for students is whether colleges will be able to keep floating the need-based state-funded scholarships. Most Illinois colleges and universities are covering the cost of the Monetary Award Program for its students that qualify, counting on the state to come through and pay eventually.

That could get harder to do if the battle between Rauner and Democratic leaders lasts much longer.

"We're monitoring the situation in Springfield very closely," Palian said.

Harper College identified those scholarships as one of its concerns, too, saying in a statement "the college is committed to funding these expenses for the time being."

An Elgin Community College leader said future issues could be "difficult to predict."

"In the past, when the state has made late payments or missed payments, we have been forced to use funds from other areas to continue programs like adult education, (general education development), or (English as a second language)," Sharon Konny, the college's vice president of business and finance, said in a statement. "But if this impasse continues, it will certainly limit our ability to offer high quality educational and training opportunities to our district residents."

And College of DuPage board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton didn't signal any problems ahead.

"We have cut our property tax levy, tuition, and our deficit while raising salaries by three percent," she said. "This shows that it's possible for community colleges to tighten their belts."

Rauner this week again tried to push Democrats to either help adopt his pro-business proposals or approve a budget without Republican support. Democrats, though, say it's the governor who had the chance to avoid the budget struggle.

"There is no question all of the disruption caused by the current impasse is due to the governor's decision to veto the spending plan approved by the legislature," House Speaker Michael Madigan said.

Lawmakers are due back in Springfield Oct. 20.

Colleges worry about spring semester if budget feud continues - DailyHerald.com

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Despite bomb threat, NIU goes on with Midnight Madness | Daily Chronicle

By JESSE SEVERSON - jseverson@shawmedia.com

DeKALB – There was certainly madness at the NIU Convocation Center on Thursday night.After temporarily being cancelled because of a bomb threat on campus, the NIU Midnight Madness went through as planned, with the Huskie men’s and women’s basketball teams giving fans a first look at the 2015-16 season.“It’s part of the madness, unfortunately,” Northern Illinois men’s basketball coach Mark Montgomery said of the chaotic atmosphere at the Convocation Center, which held many students during the night due to the bomb threat. “Hopefully everywhere on campus is safe, which it sounds like it is.”According to NIU spokesman Brad Hoey, the bomb threat was called into the NIU Police and Public Safety department around 6 p.m. With the Convocation Center providing shelter for the students after the arena was swept by authorities and announced as cleared at 7:15 p.m., Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier said the decision to go on with the Midnight Madness event happened around 7:30 p.m. – with the event starting at the original time of 8:30 p.m.“If it wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t have gone on with the event,” said Frazier, who watched the basketball event on Thursday.Montgomery said that some of the players that lived off-campus went home from the Convocation Center after being told the event was cancelled – before swinging right back to the gym when it was decided to be back on.“Our guys were ready to perform no matter what,” he said. “Everybody lives so close anyway, when we told them it's back on, they were back over here in a hurry. Initially, it was off, but you thought it was cancelled a little early at 6:30. Once they did the appropriate matters and checking things out, we didn’t mind performing, so it was all right with us.”Northern Illinois women’s basketball coach Lisa Carlsen, who is preparing for her first season with the Huskies, said her players weren’t nervous to continue the basketball festivities after the authorities deemed the arena safe.“There’s obviously authorities on campus that are going to make those calls,” she said. “Luckily, we got to a point where they thought we’d be safe having this event. It’s a weird night but we’re going to do our best with it and hopefully have our students have some fun with it.”After the hectic events before the Midnight Madness, there was still basketball played. Both teams had short intrasquad scrimmages to go along with a 3-point contest – won by men’s guard Austin Pauga – and a dunk contest, which was won by junior guard Aaric Armstead.The Huskie men open the season at the NIU Showcase, opening against Cal State Northridge on Nov. 13. The women have an exhibition at home against St. Francis on Nov. 7.“The kids have been working really hard this week, but obviously we have a ways to go,” said Carlsen. “But I really like their approach to things because there’s going to be some things that are going to be different and going through that transition of change will take a little bit of time.”

Despite bomb threat, NIU goes on with Midnight Madness | Daily Chronicle

Superintendent (District 100) Search Community Forum experiences low community participation

 

By Michele Gruba

Reporter

BELVIDERE – On Thursday, Sept. 24, B.W.P and Associates hosted a community forum to allow stakeholders an opportunity to assist them in searching for School District 100’s new superintendent. Unfortunately, only ten members of the community were in attendance.

The consensus among attendees regarding the night’s dismal numbers seemed to be alack of communication and advertisement by District 100. Those who did participate indicated they became aware of the event via Facebook posts by PASS (Parents Advocating for Students and Staff), a local advocacy group or a Robocall by the school district.

Les Ried former District 100 school board member agreed with that assessment.

“Lack of publicity was a factor,” Reid said.

In an email response from Mark Friedman, B.W.P and Associates President, he indicated that low turnout is not unusual and should not hinder the selection process.

“The numbers were fairly typical of what we see in most districts and won’t have a negative impact. There was a great discussion, and we pulled some valuable information. The open forum is just a small part of the profile we are building, so we were not unhappy with the turnout,” Friedman        said.

Reid discussed why it is imperative to be actively engaged in the community and the importance of his participation in the superintendent selection process.

“Having been a member of the District 100 school board in the past and having been involved in the selection of two past superintendents it is critical to make the best selection possible. As a stakeholder in the community, I feel a responsibility to stay involved, and I wish more people would become involved in the community.”

B.W.P partner, Anne Noland, and consultant, Patricia Wernet, lead the discussion by explaining the areas where they would be collecting data. They wanted good qualities of the school district, areas of concern, traits that are important for a new superintendent, and open discussion regarding the future of the district.

Although the group of participants was small, there appeared to be a good cross-section of the Boone County population. Everyone was very enthusiastic while providing feedback and had a united desire for positive change within School District 100.

“The importance of selecting the right superintendent for this district has never been more apparent,” Reid said.

Reid’s thoughts were echoed during the discussion on areas of concerns. The majority cited long-standing communication deficits and lack of trust between District 100 and the community. The new superintendent will need to work on rebuilding confidence and foster meaningful communication with stakeholders to repair community relations.

“Establishing themselves quickly as a leader with vision in the District 100 community,” Reid said on the obstacles facing a new superintendent and as far his hopes for the future: “a renewed respect for parents and district employees.”

Positive aspects the District 100 community were also discussed, and again, the participants were in agreement: dedicated teachers, parent support, incredible kids, satisfaction with new additions to the school board and excellent facilities.

Mark Friedman conceded, explaining all of those attributes add value when attracting quality superintendent candidates.

“We are optimistic. In a tight market for superintendents, we will be very proactive in sharing with potential candidates what a good job the Belvidere Superintendent position is. Our day in the district confirmed Belvidere would be a great career move for the right person. The positives far outweighed any negatives,” Friedman said.

The most important information B.W.P collected over the course of the evening was the characteristics desired in a new superintendent: honesty, problem solver, good character, communicator, vision, and accountability.

Throughout the day, B.W.P and Associates held focus group around the district gathering information from district employees, school board members, and the community. They also used a survey that was available on the district 100 website until Oct. 1.

According to Friedman, all the information will be compiled, and the data will be used to help them bring quality candidates to the table.

“When we have all of this information we will prepare a formal Profile Report and then present it to the Board of Education.”

The next opportunity for the community to hear the status of B.W.P’s search for the next superintendent will be at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the board of education on Oct. 13, at 6 p.m. at the central office.

Superintendent Search Community Forum experiences low community participation

Friday, October 2, 2015

Arne Duncan, Education Secretary, to Step Down in December - The New York Times

 

WASHINGTON — Arne Duncan, the secretary of education and a member of President Obama’s original cabinet, will step down in December after a long tenure in which he repeatedly challenged the nation’s schools to break out of their hidebound ways.

A White House official confirmed Mr. Duncan’s decision to step down and said the president has decided to name John B. King Jr., the deputy secretary of education, to replace Mr. Duncan to lead the Department of Education.

Mr. Obama is expected to formally announce the personnel changes and take questions from reporters Friday afternoon.

In an email to his staff sent Friday morning, Mr. Duncan praised the work of his department, saying that “as a comparatively small team, often under challenging conditions and timelines, our staff has continued to offer example after example of dedication beyond the call of duty.”

He said the department would be in good hands under Mr. King, a former commissioner of education in New York State and a former president of the University of the State of New York.

As secretary, Mr. Duncan started the “Race to the Top” program, in which billions of dollars was offered in a competition to school districts to innovate in the ways they teach children. Mr. Duncan accompanied the president from Chicago, where the two had forged a friendship.

Arne Duncan, Education Secretary, to Step Down in December - The New York Times

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How much is the District 100 Superintendent search going to cost?

On good authority it should be around $20,000.  Here are the rates and charges for B.W.P. and Associates the recently hired head hunter.

The contract information is available at:  http://www.boarddocs.com/il/district100/Board.nsf/files/9Z3J8R4BF7B6/$file/BWP.pdf

Consultant Fee and Expenses
The consulting fee for our services will be $14,900 plus expenses, which include creation and maintenance of candidate files, communications to those in the network and to prospective candidates, postage and telephone charges, clerical expenses, and consultant expenses.
Reliable estimates for candidates' interview costs and Board travel are difficult to determine because of mode and distance of travel, and the number of persons involved are unknown. We are well aware of the dangers of these "hidden" costs as well as the fiscal restraints with which school districts operate.
Our best estimate of basic search expenses is as follows:
 Secretarial support $800 to $1,500
 Online survey, if desired $250 to $300
 Materials/supplies $400 to $900
 Consultant expenses Less than $950
*Consultant travel will depend on the distance traveled and the number of trips
The following options, if incurred, will be billed directly to the Board from the publisher or through the Firm and are in addition to the above consultant fees and expenses.
 Advertising in national publications; i.e., Education Week, estimated at $1,200 to $2,200, costs being dependent on variables such as size, layout and frequency of postings. Generally, there is no cost for regional postings.
 Advertising on the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) website at a cost of $410 to $880, dependent on the number of weeks posted.
Payment Schedule
Our consultant fee is normally billed in three equal installments:
 Upon the signing of the Letter of Understanding,
 After the presentation of the slate of semi-finalist candidates,
 Upon the appointment of the new superintendent.
Final expenses are billed within 90 days of completion of the search.
Quality Assurance
If the new superintendent resigns or is dismissed for cause within twelve months of commencing duties, BWP & Associates will conduct a new search at no additional cost to the Board except for expenses.

District 100 Salary Schedule for non-teaching staff over $75k

Click on information to enlarge. This is from:  http://www.district100.com/District/Business%20Office/Collective%20Bargaining%20Contracts/2015-16%20IMRF%20Salary%20Compensation%20Report.pdf

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District 100 Teacher/Administrators’ Salaries

The entire list is available at:  http://www.district100.com/District/Business%20Office/Collective%20Bargaining%20Contracts/2015-16%20Administrator%20and%20Teacher%20Salary%20Compensation%20Report.pdf

 

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Problems arise as new management takes over operations at PAC

What is happening at District 100’s auditorium?  This is from FACEBOOK

By Michele Gruba

Reporter

BELVIDERE – On Wednesday, Sept. 16, the faculty of the fine arts department at Belvidere High School (BHS) discovered they no longer had access to the Performing Arts Center (PAC) which also served the classroom, performance venue, and rehearsal space for theater arts students.

Dan Holmes, Belvidere High Schools theater arts and theater tech teacher, had previously served as the manager of the PAC from 1999 when it opened until May 2015 when he resigned his position as PAC Manager.

“This will be my last year of teaching. I wanted to lighten my load and focus on teaching my students,” Holmes said regarding his resignation as manager of the PAC.

On Monday, Sept.14, the board of education approved Adam Walsh d/b/a The Studio as the new manager of the PAC. He will receive a stipend of $14,004 for the 2015-2016 school year.

The Studio has been a frequent renter of the PAC. According to documents on the board of education website, The Studio began renting the PAC in Sept. 2014 and has been a recurrent customer through the current school year.

In an email response signed by Co-Interim Superintendent Dr. Larry Weck , the question as to if Adam Walsh d/b/a The Studio being one of the most frequent renters of the PAC is a conflict of interest, was not answered. The following information about Walsh was provided.

“In response to a resignation, the District hired a new PAC Manager on Sept. 15.  Adam Walsh has a B.S. in music from Bradley University and has been involved in every aspect of theater since the 1990’s.  Adam and his wife, Courtney, have built dinner theaters from the ground up and have produced and musically, technically, and artistically directed numerous shows for a variety of companies.  They are co-owners of The Studio, a performing, and visual arts studio in Cherry Valley, and have utilized the Performing Arts Center on a rental basis on multiple occasions over the last year.”

Faculty from Belvidere High School and Belvidere North High School are now required to submit a written request to use the PAC. Faculty members were not consulted on these new procedures or given advanced notice of their implementation.

“Faculty members from both BHS and BNHS cannot access the PAC without submitting a written request to Shannon Hansen [District 100 Communications Coordinator], who then contacts Adam Walsh. Neither Adam Walsh nor Shannon Hansen work on site during the school day. There was no communication or collaboration about these changes with faculty or consideration on how they could impact student learning,” Holmes said.

Formal introductions between faculty and Walsh have so far not taken place. Weck’s response contained information on how Walsh was introduced to school staff; however, why formal introductions were not an immediate priority was not included.

“Individuals with scheduled PAC rentals during the 2015-2016 school year, as well as all building principals, were introduced to Mr. Walsh on Sept. 16 by email, and he will be making formal introductions as he settles into his new position.”

It remains unclear who authorized the locks being changed on the PAC or why faculty of BHS and the fine arts department were not given any notice this change would occur.

According to the response from Weck, locks were changed as a security measure.

“Locks on the perimeter doors around the PAC have been changed in order to safeguard the facility, including the light and sound equipment and their programmed settings, costumes, sets, and other tangibles housed within the PAC.”

Until Wednesday, Sept. 16, the fine arts faculty all had keys to the PAC. Theater arts, band, chorus, and art teachers all used the PAC in a variety of ways to enrich student learning while providing a hands-on learning experience.

However according to a source that would prefer to remain anonymous this is no longer the case.

“These changes have not just affected theater; band, chorus, and art are also impacted. Theater class is now being held in an art room without the benefit of learning on a stage. Creating and designing sets is difficult in the constraints of a classroom and also affects the learning environment of students in the adjacent classroom. Chorus and Band cannot practice in the PAC without completing paperwork and waiting to see if it fits into The Studios practice schedule. ”

While no direct response was provided by District 100 regarding the accusations that reduced student use of the PAC and classroom relocations is having a negative impact on student learning, they did provide the following information on the change in use of the PAC.

“While some changes have taken place over the past year, some things have remained the same.

Schools and student organizations have the first opportunity to schedule events; Space can be reserved for classroom use as needed. Otherwise, music, band, art, and theater teachers have designated classrooms. Students from Belvidere High School and Belvidere North High School have opportunities to provide sound and lighting technical assistance for productions.”

On Thursday, Sept. 24, the only document available on the PAC page on the District 100 website was a seating chart and a link to the PAC calendar. The following day Friday, Sept. 25, a uniform rental agreement was created at 1:34 p.m. by Hansen.  However, the response from Weck on the scheduling process and rental agreement had been put in place over the past year.

“Over the past year, some processes have been streamlined, and others implemented in order to promote safety and consistency.”

“A uniform rental agreement form was created for internal and external use. This form outlines a user’s needs and is the start of a paper trail for use of the facility. (Internally some schools were following a formal process while others were not.)

A PAC calendar was created and is posted on the district website. Anyone wishing to use the facility can check its availability prior to submitting a request for use, and the community can see what events are available to attend.”

According to the faculty of the fine arts department, the requirement to sending a written request to Hansen to use the PAC during the day for classes or events is new this school year. This is supported by a document located on the board of education website. An excerpt of Department highlights dated Sept. 14 from Interim Superintendent Cheryl Gieseke to the Board of Education under communication.

“Work related to the creation of a needs form to be completed for all events at the Performing Arts Center and distributed same to internal and external users”

The problems at the PAC since the new manager has taken over do not stop at changed locks, scheduling conflicts, and reduced student usage. Concerns have also arisen about potential safety issues.

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, when the locks were changed the students and staff in the band, and chorus classes no longer had access to the hallway behind the stage. That was their designated safe zone in the event of a tornado. In the response provided by Weck, no information was provided on whether students and staff have an alternative safe zone to utilize.

According to multiple sources on Thursday, Sept. 17, during an after-school activity, a student with a medical condition had to urinate outside. This student could not access the bathrooms behind the stage or in the lobby because they were locked.

In the response by Weck, bathroom usage was addressed but what was not addressed was student or staff access during after school activities, or staff use when working at night or on weekends.

“Restrooms in the PAC lobby are open for use during the school day. This change provides more stalls and sinks for students and staff, and the space is checked regularly by hall monitors. Previously only the restrooms in the back hallway of the PAC were available on a limited basis during the day.”

According to multiple sources who would like to remain anonymous, adult volunteers from The Studio have had access to the building, unchaperoned, without checking in with the front office and when Walsh is not on the premises.

In the response from Weck, it never addressed if these adult volunteers have been background checked, or if a policy on volunteers from The Studio having unsupervised access to the building while students are present is in place.

It was discovered on Wednesday morning, Sept. 23, that the PAC had been left unsecured overnight by The Studio or its volunteers, according to a sourse that would like to remain anonymous.

“They had repeatedly been asked not to leave the exit doors propped open. In response to this request, tape was placed over the lock to prevent it from locking and was left on, leaving the building open overnight.”

The only area of Weck’s response that addresses building security in any way is the section relating to lock changes on Wednesday, Sept. 16. Policies or safeguards for securing the PAC when in use by The Studio or its volunteers was never mentioned.

“Locks on the perimeter doors around the PAC have been changed in order to safeguard the facility, including the light and sound equipment and their programmed settings, costumes, sets, and other tangibles housed within the PAC.  Access is provided to requested areas for each scheduled use, and the PAC is secure once vacated.”

Dan Holmes fears that the change in District priorities and student use policies of the PAC do not bode well for the future of the theater arts curriculum offered by District 100. He expressed the following sentiments in a letter written to the board of education on Sept. 18.

“My fear is that these changes are going to have a negative effect on our students and the fine arts communities at BHS and BNHS. I am sad that the theatre classes offered in District 100 (one of the best theatre curriculums in Northern Illinois) might no longer be available to students simply because we don’t the students in that space. It is sad for me to think that students will learn theatre from a book instead of doing work performing in a theatre,” Holmes said.

“I could line up hundreds of graduates, many who are working in the theatre industry, who would agree with the education experts that “hands-on learning” is much more effective than getting information from at book. It’s what they refer to as best practice. Even if students aren’t doing activities that require “hands on,” the theatre is a better environment for learning about theatre than the traditional classroom!”

Many questions were posed to Interim Superintendent Gieseke, School Board President Dan Tolbert, District 100 Communication Coordinator Shannon Hansen, and PAC Manager Adam Walsh. They were all contacted multiple times by phone and email regarding the changes at the PAC. All, but Hansen, declined to comment or respond to any of our questions.

On Sept. 25, in response to questions, Hansen provided a document signed by Weck. The document can be found on the District 100 website entitled, “Performing Art Center experiences increased use resulting in streamlined procedures.

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, after much trial and error, the district reopened the position for PAC manager.

Above is from:  Problems arise as new management takes over operations at PAC

Below are some of the postings from the District 100 website regarding the issue:

Performing Arts Center experiences increased use resulting in streamlined procedures

Page Content

Originally designed as a roadhouse, the Performing Arts Center (PAC) located inside Belvidere High School is a beautiful facility with the ability to host a variety of events.  This 850-seat theater is home to four theater and two musical productions each year by our high school students, a variety of middle school and elementary chorus and band concerts, a Madrigal Dinner, Mr. Thunder and Mr. BHS scholarship competitions, and a host of other in-district events.  Theater Tech classes regularly use the space, and band, chorus, and art classes are held periodically in the Performing Arts Center.  the venue is available for rent as well.

In response to increased interest from outside organizations, scheduling of events and marketing of the facility were assumed by the District office in 2014.  In 2015, use of the facility was expanded to include the summer months, and the PAC hosted a dance company and a theater company for shows open to the community.

Over the past year some processes have been streamlined and others implemented in order to promote safety and consistency.

•  A uniform rental agreement form was created for internal and external use.  This form outlines a user's needs and is the start of a paper trail for use of the facility.  Internally, some schools were following a formal process while others were not.

•  A PAC calendar was created and is posted on the District's website.  Anyone wishing to use the facility can check its availability prior to submitting a request for use, and the community can see what events are available to attend.  Simply select About Us and then Performing Arts Center located in the blue column to the left.

•  Restrooms in the PAC lobby are open for use during the school day.  This change provides more stalls and sinks for students and staff and the space is checked regularly by hall monitors.  Previously only the restrooms in the back hallway of the PAC were available on a limited basis during the day.

•  Locks on the perimeter doors around the PAC have been changed in order to safeguard the facility, including the light and sound equipment and their programmed settings, costumes, sets, and other tangibles housed within the PAC.  Access is provided to requested areas for each scheduled use, and the PAC is secure once vacated.

•  The District is expanding its marketing efforts to include advertising musical and theater performances by District #100 students in a local paper.  This task, and the cost of advertising, were previously the responsibility of the school's music or theater department.

While some changes have taken place over the past year, some things have remained the same.

•  Schools and student organizations have the first opportunity to schedule events.

•  Space can be reserved for classroom use as needed.  Otherwise, music, band, art, and theater teachers have designated classrooms.

•  Students from Belvidere High School and Belvidere North High School have opportunities to provide sound and lighting technical assistance for productions.

In response to a resignation, the District hired a new PAC Manager on September 15.  Adam Walsh has a B.S. in music from Bradley University and has been involved in every aspect of theater since the 1990's.  Adam and his wife Courtney have built dinner theaters from the ground up and have produced and musically, technically, and artistically directed numerous shows for a variety of companies.  They are co-owners of The Studio, a performing and visual arts studio in Cherry Valley, and have utilized the Performing Arts Center on a rental basis on multiple occasions over the last year.  Adam is familiar with the PAC and has an established relationship with the District's former PAC Manager as a result of The Studio's prior use of the space.

Individuals with scheduled PAC rentals during the 2015-16 school year, as well as all building principals, were introduced to Mr. Walsh on September 16 by email, and he will be making formal introductions has he settles into his new position.

To learn more about the Performing Arts Center or to view its calendar of events, click on About Us above and select Performing Arts Center in the blue bar on the left.  We invite you to enjoy the theater and its many wonderful productions throughout the year.

Above is from:  http://www.district100.com/Newsroom/Pages/Performing-Arts-Center-experiences-increased-use-resulting-in-streamlined-procedures.aspx

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Belvidere Board of Education hires co-interim superintendent

 

BELVIDERE– In early August the Board of Education for the Belvidere School District named Cheryl Gieseke as its temporary interim superintendent.

At its next meeting the Board will take formal action to hire Dr. Larry Weck. Dr. Weck will work alongside Ms. Gieseke as co-interim superintendent for the remainder of the school year.

Dr. Weck is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois. After serving as the Superintendent of Schools for the Addison School District from 1983 to 2003, Dr. Weck has assumed interim positions in Addison, Grayslake, Benjamin School District 25, Evergreen Park, and most recently Big Hollow School District 38.

The Board of Education is working with B.W.P. and Associates in its search for a permanent leader.  Staff, students, and community members are invited and encouraged to participate in the search process by completing a survey, Finding a Leader for our Future, and by attending an upcoming forum.

The survey is available on the district’s website at www.district100.com and is open until Oct. 1.

From:  Board of Education hires co-interim superintendent

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

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Thousands “walk-in” to Milwaukee public schools to oppose takeover. | Fred Klonsky

 

– By Kim Shroeder, President Milwaukee Teachers Education Association

Thousands of parents, educators, students and community leaders held “walk-ins” at more than 100 public schools across the city of Milwaukee to celebrate public schools and to share information about how a proposed public school takeover will hurt students and the Milwaukee economy.

The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and the Schools and Communities United coalition organized the walk-ins in response to a public school takeover plan that was passed in July as part of the Wisconsin state budget.

The school takeover plan charges the Milwaukee county executive with choosing a takeover commissioner this fall. The commissioner would then choose 1-3 schools to convert into privately run charter or voucher schools for the 2016-17 school year. In each subsequent year, up to five schools could be handed over to private operators.

Parents and community members have raised several concerns about the takeover plan. Among them:

• The takeover plan offers no new ideas or resources. Changing who runs a school will not provide the resources or support that students need to succeed.

• Many students will be left without critical services. The takeover schools are not required to meet the needs of special education students or English language learners.

• School takeovers eliminate good jobs in our city. Takeovers have hurt the local economy in New Orleans, Memphis and Detroit.

• The takeover plan eliminates democratic local control and disenfranchises black and brown communities.

• Takeovers will affect all public schools, not just a few individual schools. The very existence of our public school system is in jeopardy.

The citywide walk-ins were a step forward in building a network of school defense committees to protect and strengthen every public school in the city of Milwaukee. Parents, educators, community members and students will work together in the coming months to solidify their school defense committees and prepare for an all-city summit of school defense committees on December 5, 2015.

Thousands “walk-in” to Milwaukee public schools to oppose takeover. | Fred Klonsky