Newspaper Clippings

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Newspaper Clippings


Education and Discrimination, Crime, Policing, and Gangs,


This is a collection of over 20 newspaper articles on a variety of topics.


Jodi Heckel, Amy F. Reiter, Mike Monson, Steve Bauer, Anne Cook, Julie Wurth



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Community members who have commented on the Champaign school district's settlement agreement to end its consent decree case want a guarantee the black community will continue to have a role in monitoring equity issues in the district, and they want to know what will happen if the district doesn't comply with the agreement.

Twenty people or organizations submitted comments on the settlement agreement to the federal district court. The Champaign school district and the plaintiffs, representing the district's black students, reached a settlement in July on three outstanding issues in the consent decree case. District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade asked for anyone interested in the settlement to submit a summary of comments by Sept. 1.

A letter submitted by the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana states the settlement document does not include provisions "that will sufficiently protect the rights and best interests of African-American students."

As part of the settlement, the district agreed to establish an education equity committee with a diverse group of community members to review and report on equity issues.

The Ministerial Alliance letter notes there are no guidelines for selecting members of the new equity committee. The organization states at least 51 percent of the committee members should be black, and that community organizations working for the betterment of black residents – such as the Ministerial Alliance, CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, and the Champaign-Urbana Area Project – should be represented on the committee.

The committee needs accountability and a leader with authority or monitoring powers, not just a facilitator, wrote Bishop King James Underwood, pastor of the New Free Will Baptist Church, and the Rev. Dr. Evelyn Underwood, associate minister at the church and president of the Ministerial Alliance, in their comments.

"There is no safeguard to ensure that members represent the interests of the African-American community in Champaign, and will adhere to the original intentions in creating the committee," they wrote.

The Underwoods also suggested the settlement agreement include a non-retaliation clause so members of the committee can feel secure in openly expressing their opinions.

The local chapter of the National Council of African-American Men emphasized the need to ensure fair and adequate representation of black families on the equity committee. It suggested that individuals or organizations who were retained by or who received money from the school district with respect to consent decree issues in the last four years should be considered employees of the district and not adequate community representatives.

Champaign parent Sonya Lynch wrote that the equity committee should include parents, not just community members familiar with the consent decree.

Patricia Avery, director of the Champaign-Urbana Area Project, suggested the equity committee should remain in place until educational equity is no longer an issue, and that its meetings be held in neighborhoods in the black community, such as at Douglass Center or in Garden Hills.

Several letters also mentioned the lack of any enforcement provision in the settlement agreement.

"We are very, very concerned that there are no legal sanctions for noncompliance included in the Proposed Settlement Agreement," said the letter from the Ministerial Alliance, noting that black families don't have the financial resources to sue the district for noncompliance.

Without the consent decree, there is no check and balance system in place, wrote Linda Gray, a parent, grandparent and University of Illinois employee. Gray questioned who will ensure that the district follows through on the terms of the settlement agreement.

Other concerns raised in the comments submitted to the court include continuing the afterschool programs currently offered in two black churches in the community, and ensuring black students living near Washington and Garden Hills elementary schools will be able to attend the schools after they become magnet schools.

Phillip Van Ness, a former school board member who signed the consent decree, was one of the only people submitting comments who expressed confidence in the district. He wrote the district has shown a "sincere commitment to right past wrongs," and has put in place practices that benefit all children.

"These positive results provide the most powerful assurances, more than hired consultants, more than the implied threat of court intervention, that the present course will not be abandoned," Van Ness wrote.

Before the court approves the proposed settlement, it will hold a fairness hearing at 10 a.m. Sept. 15 at the federal district courthouse, 201 S. Vine St., U. Some of those submitting comments may get to speak at the fairness hearing. McDade will decide who will be permitted to speak.
Only three people have applied to be on a new equity committee for the Champaign school district.

The school district, which is seeking community members to serve on its new Education Equity Excellence Committee, planned to choose between five and 10 residents for the group.

Those interested in serving on the committee have only a few more days to get their applications in. They are due at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Applications are available at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 S. New St., C., or on the district's Web site at

Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd said she and others are hoping to have many applications come in at the last minute.

"I am surprised" by the number of applicants so far, Shepperd said. "There has been such interest in this committee. We are hoping by next Tuesday we will hear from several people who want to serve."

The district sent home information about the committee with students, sent out a press release, asked a flier to be posted at the public library, put information on its Web site, and sent applications to organizations such as the NAACP and the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana, Shepperd said.

The district is seeking a diverse cross-section of the community to serve on the committee. Members of the committee must live within the Champaign school district.

The community members may include parents, representatives of community organizations that address equity or education issues, and individuals who can help achieve the committee's goals.

The school district created the committee as part of its settlement agreement in its consent decree case. The purpose of the committee is to provide a way for the district and the public to communicate, to foster a climate of equal opportunity, and to have a diverse group of community members who will review data in areas such as academic achievement, special education, and attendance, discipline and graduation rates.

Even before the committee was created, it generated controversy.

A number of black community members have expressed concern that it will not adequately address their concerns or give them a voice in equity issues in the district. Two of the most important issues for them were ensuring the black community had sufficient representation on the committee and having the committee meet often enough to accomplish its goals.
The guidelines for a new equity committee of the Champaign school district include some, but not all, of the suggestions made by community members about who will be on the committee and how it will operate.

The Champaign school board created the "Education Equity Excellence" committee in September, as part of the settlement agreement in its consent decree case.

A group of community organizations and individuals offered recommendations to the school district for the procedures to govern the committee. The recommendations came out of concerns of black community members that the committee would not sufficiently address their concerns or provide them with a voice about equity issues.

"We worked so hard," said the Rev. Evelyn Underwood, president of the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana, one of the groups working on the recommendations. She said those drafting the suggestions tried to be reasonable and "watered down" some recommendations they felt could be controversial. She was disappointed that what she deemed the most important suggestions weren't adopted by the district.

"This is such an important committee," Underwood said. "This let me know they don't want to work with us."

The purpose of the committee is to provide a way for the district and the public to communicate, to foster a climate of equal opportunity and to have a diverse group of community members who will review data on academic achievement, special education, and attendance, discipline and graduation rates.

Underwood sees the new equity committee as not just replacing the district's Planning and Implementation Committee, which met monthly and monitored equity in a number of areas during a federal consent decree, but also as providing the oversight of equity issues that the federal judge and court monitoring team did under the consent decree.

Two of the most important issues for the black community were ensuring that the committee reflected those most affected by the equity issues in the district – primarily poor black students – and having the committee meet often enough to do its work. The community recommendations included meeting once a month, rather than twice a semester; having the committee's composition reflect the economic and ethnic data of the students under consideration; and including at least two African-American parents, two high school students and representatives of organizations working for the betterment of African-Americans.

The procedures approved by the school board Monday call for a committee that reflects the district's student enrollment, with at least five, and up to 10, community members. School board President Dave Tomlinson and board member Stig Lanesskog said that number of committee members will provide for a good cross-section of community representatives.

Superintendent Arthur Culver also noted that anyone can come to the committee meetings and provide input.

The procedures also provide for meeting twice a semester for no more than two hours, although Tomlinson has also said the committee members can decide to meet more often.

"That's not enough time to do the work that needs to be done," said the Rev. Vanessa Buchanan, also a member of the Ministerial Alliance. "They don't plan to do anything."

The district did adopt some of the community suggestions. They include limiting terms (other than those of the superintendent or central office administrators) on the committee to six consecutive years; adopting a policy for filling vacancies on the committee; providing the meetings shall be subject to the Open Meetings Act; providing that minutes of the meetings shall be shared with the school board and the public; having the superintendent make a report on the committee to the school board twice a year; and specifying that the committee shall define the scope and purpose of any task forces it establishes.

Tomlinson said the board received more input on the committee procedures than on any other administrative procedure in the past several years.

Also on Monday, the board adopted guidelines for public participation at its meetings. Public comment will be limited to the beginning of its business meetings, but the board will allow public comment throughout its study sessions.


Anyone interested in serving on the Champaign school district's Education Equity Excellence committee can submit an application to the school district. An application form will be posted by next week on the district's Web site, at
If only buildings were as flexible as rubber bands.

But in the absence of expandable walls, getting more classroom space in schools is easier said than done, as the Urbana school district facilities committee – a group of volunteers charged to come up with a long-term plan for the district's spaces – is finding out. On Thursday night, the group heard from several community members at a meeting in one of the buildings up for discussion – King Elementary School.

A group of Urbana fine arts teachers talked about not having enough space to teach their curriculum, occasionally doing "art-on-a-cart" and taking their class from room to room, other times teaching in the gym.

Betty Allen, the elementary fine arts coordinator, said spaces varied by school and year, meaning Leal Elementary now has one fine arts classroom for dance, drama, art and music, while three elementaries have triple that.

She asked the facilities committee to find "a safe, dedicated place in which to explore, learn and create."

Brandon T. Washington, an elementary music teacher, said he was concerned about where the decreasing space was heading. "We are in, I guess, a heightened state of alert," he said.

From the community, parent Penny Rearden talked about a small thing that she felt would make a big difference: an awning for Prairie Elementary School, so that children wouldn't have to wait in the open, exposed to rain and snow.

She was happy to hear the project may not need the attention of the committee – it's already on the district's list for summer projects, said John Dimit, the Urbana school board vice president.

The list will be brought to the next Urbana board meeting on Dec. 16.

Troy Burks, representing the Ministerial Alliance, said that after a tour of several of the elementary schools, "it was night and day different in the older parts of the school" and the newer ones – and he saw much work to do. He asked the committee to remember to distribute funding equitably.

The committee talked about ways to change existing space, with some floating the idea of elementaries divided by grades while other committee members shot the idea down. Redistricting – moving the boundaries of where children go to school – was also briefly discussed, as some school populations are larger than others.

At its next meeting, on Jan. 8, the committee will hear a presentation on green schools and work on finalizing topics for its recommendations to the school board in the spring.
Bishop Dr. Sherman L. Peppers Sr. of Champaign died at 5 p.m., Saturday (Oct. 25, 2008) at Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 31, 2008, at St. Luke C.M.E. Church, 809 N. Fifth St., Champaign. Bishop James H. Feltus Jr., International Presiding Senior Bishop of Church of God In Christ United, will officiate. Burial will be in Danville National Cemetery. Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Heath & Vaughn Funeral Home, 201 N. Elm, Champaign.

Sherman was born on April 17 in Paducah, Ky., to the late Sherman Leon Peppers and Alma Bates. Sherman married Mary Jo (Shumpert) Peppers on Feb. 3, 1967. She preceded him in death on Oct. 3, 1992.

He is survived by his sons, S. Lemond Peppers II and Edward JoVell Peppers, both of Champaign; one sister, Jacqueline Batts of Bakersfield, Calif.; three brothers, Leroy Dailey Jr. of Sacramento, Calif., Anthony Dailey of Wichita, Kan., and Garland Taylor of Decatur; four grandchildren; and host of nephews and nieces. He was preceded in death by both parents, three brothers and three sisters.

Sherman was a retired MTD driver of over 25 years, where he diligently and warmly greeted and transported many within the Champaign-Urbana community. Sherman was called into the ministry in 1972 and co-pastored and pastored many churches in and outside of the Church of God in Christ United connection. Prior to his decline in health, Sherman was a former member of the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana. Sherman was an active member of the National Association of Clergy and often donated his time and talents to local church and religious functions.

In preparation for his many spiritual duties, Sherman completed two years at Parkland College in religious studies, continuing on at Fisk University in Tennessee. He furthered his spiritual training by completing the Doctoral program within the Feltus Theological Seminary.

Aside from his clerical duties, Sherman enjoyed gospel music, classic Western movies, but most of all his family, whom he leaves to cherish his memory.

Memorials may be made to the Seeds of Sherman Peppers Scholarship Fund at First Federal Savings and Loan Bank of Champaign, being dedicated to further the education of Sherman’s grandchildren.

Condolences may be offered at
A federal court judge will rule soon on whether he'll require a "comprehensive good faith" public hearing before the end of the Champaign school district's consent decree.

Plaintiffs' attorney Carol Ashley has asked for a hearing on whether the district has complied in good faith with the consent decree, which aims to establish racial equity in a number of areas within the district. In a motion filed Monday, she stated: "That this decree should automatically end without a public accounting of district successes and failures seems inconceivable."

The consent decree is set to expire June 30. Ashley has filed two motions to extend it.

Sally Scott, the school district's attorney, said she expected the plaintiffs would request a good faith hearing, but it is not necessary and the law does not require it. She declined to say Tuesday whether she would object to such a hearing, saying she needs to review the motion and talk with district officials.

School board President Dave Tomlinson said, "We have never contended there needs to be a hearing. June 30 is the end of the consent decree, including all the oversight. We want to continue the programs and policies put in place. We believe we can do that on our own, with the board and community's oversight."

At a hearing in federal district court in Peoria Tuesday morning, Judge Joe Billy McDade gave Scott until Friday to respond to the request for a hearing. Ashley will have three days after that for a response, then McDade will rule on the matter.

During the 25-minute hearing Tuesday, McDade also set dates for Scott to respond to the latest motion to extend the consent decree, filed Monday, and for the two parties to agree on a schedule for limited discovery and a hearing.

Ashley is seeking to extend the consent decree on several grounds. In a motion filed in February, she said the district has failed to put additional elementary seats in north Champaign.

She filed a second motion to extend Monday, claiming the district has not made any progress in the area of special education, and that it does not have a permanent plan for alternative placement of students with behavioral problems.

Scott said the district has made good faith efforts to comply with the consent decree in both those areas.

"We're very proud of our Academic Academy," she said, referring to a new program this year for students not doing well in a traditional high school setting. "We think it's doing a terrific job of educating the students who attend."

Ashley wants to consolidate the two motions for hearing.

McDade said that although he doesn't like to rush in such matters, both parties need to move quickly so the issues can be decided before June 30.

Fourteen community members made the trip to Peoria Tuesday to observe the hearing. The Rev. Evelyn Underwood, president of the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana, said many residents she knows are concerned the progress

In a 5-4 vote, the Champaign City Council pulled the plug on the idea of creating a citizens police review board to review complaints against police officers.

But even council members who voted against the proposal said they want city panels already in place, such as the police-community relations committee and the human relations commission, to continue to look into ways to improve the complaint process and enhance dialogue with the minority community.

"I think a lot more gains can be made by working with the system we have now, rather than creating something negative," said Mayor Jerry Schweighart, a retired city police officer and fierce opponent of a citizens review board.

As an example, Schweighart said he would consider allowing organizations that serve the minority community, such as the Urban League of Champaign County, the NAACP or the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana and Vicinity, to be empowered to take citizen complaints against officers.

The council vote wasn't a surprise, with a conservative bloc of council members opposing citizen review. Those members included Schweighart, Tom Bruno, Deborah Frank Feinen, Karen Foster and Vic McIntosh.

Favoring further exploration of the issue were Michael La Due, Marci Dodds, Ken Pirok and Gina Jackson.

"It's not unreasonable to have outside oversight," said Dodds. "Outside checks and balances are built into our form of government."

But Schweighart later asked, sarcastically, why the council didn't create a council review board "that scrutinizes every comment and vote you make."

The council members on the losing side said they didn't necessarily want to create a citizens review board, but wanted to continue to explore ideas. They said giving complaint review duties to an existing body, like the human relations commission or even the city council itself, would make more sense than creating a new body.

The Rev. Charles Nash Sr., president of the ministerial alliance, said afterward that the vote wasn't a surprise.

"I think we'll continue to dialogue around these issues," he said. "As we dialogue, we build relationships ... and then we begin to trust one another. When we trust one another, then we can go to the next step, which is to fix the problem."

Nash was one of several local black leaders to speak in favor of a review board. Under a proposal put forth by the police-community relations committee, the monitoring board would have reviewed the internal police investigation of a complaint and the police chief's disposition of the complaint and indicated whether it agreed or disagreed with the chief's finding.

The Rev. Jerome Chambers, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said the council's rejection of the proposal would waste two years of work by the police-community relations committee. He also mentioned the lack of minorities on city staff and the council.

"The way the city is made up, you don't have many minorities in any real positions," he said. "I'm looking at this as the same old stuff, a different day."

Police Chief R.T. Finney said he and his department would continue to work with the community and with community groups. He also said the "general feeling" among the department's 125 police officers was that the department's internal complaint review process works well and that a review board isn't needed.

"We have a process in place that, when we do find officer misconduct, we take action," he said.

Citizens who file a complaint and are unhappy with the outcome have the option of asking for a review by City Manager Steve Carter.

Public comment on the issue was extensive, with a nearly full house, including more than 10 uniformed police officers sitting at the east end of the council chambers.

None of those officers spoke, but Tom Sonneborn, general counsel for the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, based in Springfield, argued against a review board. He said the Champaign Police Department receives relatively few citizen complaints.

"You receive one complaint for every 2,500 calls for service," he said. "And is that a complaint that an officer is rude, that he wasn't polite to somebody? Let's keep in mind what they do."

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said his doubts about the wisdom of buying 25 Tasers for his police department began to grow as Tuesday night's city council meeting wore on.

For three hours, speakers went to the podium and many expressed, in strong terms, their belief that there's a lack of trust between the police department and the black community.

"You go through a 3-1/2-hour meeting with people coming up and expressing their opinion – not so much on the Tasers but on the relationship between that segment of the community and the police department," said Finney, who became the police chief Nov. 17.

"What should be my priority, pushing the Tasers or improving my relationship with the community?"

By 2 p.m. Wednesday, Finney had made his decision. At a meeting with Champaign City Manager Steve Carter, Finney recommended withdrawing the proposal to purchase the Tasers, which shoot two darts up to 21 feet and deliver an electrical charge of 50,000 volts to temporarily incapacitate the person shot.

Carter agreed with Finney's recommendation.

"At this point, we're better off focusing on improving the relationship of the police department and the city in the minority community," Carter said.

The city manager said the decision not to buy the Tasers would last at least through 2004.

Carter and Finney said the city still has a possible future interest in acquiring Tasers, but, as a result of public input, wants more evidence that the devices are medically safe.

The decision to withdraw the request to buy the Tasers, at a cost of about $30,000, followed Tuesday's 4-4 tie vote by the city council on the proposed purchase. It ends, for now, a controversy that continued to grow after the city council delayed the purchase in mid-February at the request of Tracy Parsons, president of the Urban League of Champaign County.

Parsons could not be reached for comment today.

But another Taser opponent, Kimberlie Kranich of Champaign, said she was delighted with the decision.

"This is incredible," she said. "I think it is a prudent and wise decision by the city. It's my understanding the chief led the way on this. As a new police chief, I think it's prudent and wise to build these relationships.

"I'm very proud of the community members that had the courage to come before the city council and express their concerns," she added.

Kranich helped form CU Citizens for Equity and Justice, a grass-roots group formed around the Taser issue.

Carter said the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana, for the first time, had offered to help improve relations between the police department and the black community if the city reconsidered the purchase.

"This is the first time the Ministerial Alliance has taken a public position of offering to help," said Carter. "I think it would be a mistake not to take them up on it."

Carter said he also thought it would be a mistake to have a new police chief begin his tenure by making such an unpopular decision.

"Chief Finney has not had enough time to get out in the community as much as he wants," Carter said. "This (purchasing Tasers) would make it harder than it needs to be. We want Chief Finney to get a chance to know people before he's forced to take on a real controversial issue."

Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart, a former city policeman who was perhaps the council's strongest advocate of buying Tasers, said he supported the decision not to purchase Tasers, at least for now.

"We put the new chief on the spot," he said. "It's probably a good idea to set it aside and give the new chief a chance to educate them on how helpful a Taser could be."

A Taser is a gunlike device used by 4,000 U.S. police departments, including the Champaign and Vermilion county sheriff's offices and Danville police. It uses compressed nitrogen to shoot two darts up to 21 feet. The darts trail thin wires attached to the Taser to deliver an electrical charge that can last up to five seconds, causing an instant loss of neuromuscular control and any ability to perform coordinated action.

You can reach Mike Monson at (217) 351-5370 or via e-mail at
The plan to restructure Urbana High School after it failed to meet standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act has not yet been finalized.
After months of meeting and debating, the plan to restructure Urbana High School in the wake of failing to meet federal testing benchmarks has yet to be finalized.

In a June 4 e-mail, the State Board of Education gave the district 30 days to come up with a revised plan for figuring out what's working and fixing what's not.

But those days have come and gone. School starts next month, and though parts of the plan are still undecided, Urbana schools staff members have begun altering how UHS functions.

When school starts Aug. 27 for freshmen (Aug. 28 for grades 10-12), students will have an altered day, including more extra-help time with teachers for underclassmen. Freshmen will share teachers in core subject areas like math and reading, and teachers will meet more regularly to share knowledge and skills, a concept called a professional learning community.

All are common strategies for high schools starting to restructure, said Carol Diedrichsen, the principal consultant for federal grants and programs for the state board. Diedrichsen's job is to advise the schools on restructuring and to make sure the plans meet federal guidelines.

Taking apart the pieces ...

The UHS plan started forming in November, when district and school administrators, teachers and school board President Mark Netter started to talk about restructuring in earnest.

The Rev. Evelyn Underwood, president of the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana and Vicinity, spoke several times at board meetings about the restructuring plan. She said the district had not done enough to include the community, particularly the black community, in both the plan and execution.

Don Owen, Urbana's assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, coordinated the group, and said he looked for a mix of people, both in terms of race and school specialty. "We invited every African-American (on the) staff to be part of it," he said, "so there was a lot of discussion about diversity."

UHS teacher Chris Luffman served on the committee, and said people tried to monitor areas of concern. "I'm a special education teacher, so that was my thing," he said, "to make sure they're not forgotten or overlooked or bypassed in any way."

Luffman worked on developing surveys about school climate and getting them to parents and students to fill out. The committee looked at other schools that had restructured and the surveys they had done, finding questions like: "Does your child feel like they belong at this school? Would you recommend this school to other people? " Luffman said.

He said the committees and subgroups looked at students' schedules, looked at which students were failing and which were successful and why. "We came up with the idea that we're going to have to do this together – the parents, the students, everyone," he said.

Danville High School is also beginning to restructure this year, with a plan already reviewed by the state board, said Kathy Houpt, the district's director of secondary education.

Danville's restructuring committee – which included community members – came up with a plan that includes smaller "houses" for freshmen, Houpt said. It also includes a focus on increasing students' knowledge of words integral to understanding a subject, like knowing what "democracy" means if you're taking a U.S. history class.

As well, Houpt said, more teachers have been hired to allow all teachers a daily period for professional development.

... And putting them together again

When Urbana administrators brought the restructuring plan to the Urbana school board – which has to pass the plan before it goes to the state board for review – most of it sailed through with little discussion.

But a proposal for a new $70,000 administrator position – the director of student achievement and accountability – did not sail anywhere.

With the position, the school board was split on approving the plan. (Board member and UHS parent Benita Rollins-Gay was taking her daughter on a college tour during the deciding school board meeting.)

Rollins-Gay said she supports most of the plan for the high school – saying she's already seen improvements in the building – though she's undecided on that accountability administrator. "I know it's needed, but then I look at the money," she said.

Board member Brenda Carter – a UHS parent – also would like to see an independent evaluator to "get a more unbiased opinion."

After hours of discussion at an April board meeting, the $70,000 position was removed from the plan, and the plan sent to the state board – and then sent back, with 30 days to make changes.

While Owen tries to find the committee members, many of whom are on summer vacation, the board representation on that committee will shift to Carter and Cope Cumpston, who opposed the evaluation administrator during that first go-round.

The updated committee will focus solely on those accountability issues, said Owen. "ISBE has asked us the question, 'Who is going to oversee these efforts?' And they want names attached to that," he said.

Owen said that, to some degree, administrators including Superintendent Preston Williams need some hand in looking at if the plan is working. "You can't hold a community committee accountable," he said. "Preston's accountable."

Underwood, representing the alliance, as well as Robert Lewis of Urbana – a member of the district's Equity Steering Committee – said they'd like to see a community committee, led by a independent consultant, evaluating how much the school has improved.

"You need a representation of the community when you're dealing with public schools," Lewis said. "You don't have to be an administrator to see what's going to benefit your child."

Owen said the community, including Urban League, the Ministerial Alliance and other groups, should be a part of the process of restructuring. "We've invited all those groups in ... to talk about how we can work better together," he said.

Diedrichsen said school districts have involved the community by holding regular forums as well as hiring an administrator to see if restructuring is succeeding. Even with "a district-level person who is really overseeing the score business," she said, it can make sense to get more people involved when looking at other measures of success.

That's the plan in Danville. Houpt's position is new to the district, and her job is to oversee the restructuring. She'll also serve on a board of teachers, community members, parents and students, who will hear and respond to regular progress reports, she said.

"The board of education expects monthly updates," Houpt said. "They are also very closely monitoring what we're doing."

In Urbana, if the school board passes the revised plan – which it will see at either a late August or early September meeting – it goes back to the state board.

"Bottom line is, they have to get off the list by their performance on the Prairie State (Achievement) Exam," Diedrichsen said. "We do not assume in one year they turn everything around."

Diedrichsen said that since the district is clearly working on the plan, there can be some flexibility about those 30 days. Urbana schools, she said, are "taking this seriously. They have been engaged with me over the last year. This has not been done in a closet."

While the committee and boards construct new parts of the restructuring plan, Luffman said he's ready to move forward on the changes that passed the debate.

"We've identified some areas where the kids are going to get the help they need, and that's exciting," he said. "I want to be a part of a school that's successful, and not on some list."
Members of the Urbana City Council will officially take up the renewal of an ordinance for a Citizen Police Review Board, but they will not consider a change to allow ex-felons to be appointed.

Meeting in a study session Monday as a committee of the whole, the council voted unanimously to consider reauthorizing the review board ordinance at their regular board meeting next Monday.

A report given to the council showed the review board received information on eight citizen complaints since July 2, 2008, but after investigation by Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily, none of those cases was appealed to the review board.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said that should not be a surprise.

"We do have a very good police department," the mayor said.

Scott Dossett, a member of the review panel, said the group approved two key recommendations to the city council.

The panel called for a change from the current requirement that findings of a complaint be reported to the complainant within 14 days and that "every effort shall be made to resolve the complaint within 30 days."

The Citizen Review Board also recommended that if a complaint is not resolved with that time, that a status report be mailed to the complainant every 30 days.

"We live in a transient community and people move every year," Dosset said. "We don't want to lose track of the people who filed the complaints."

However, the council agreed with Prussing's recommendation that the response time be set at 45 working days.

Dossett said the other key recommendation by the review board, on a 3-2 vote that fit with a recommendation from the C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice, was to allow ex-felons to be included on the board. The city has a contract with the police union that prohibits the appointment of ex-felons.

"The majority saw this as discriminatory," Dossett said.

Lynn Barnes, D-Ward 7, and Heather Stevenson, R-Ward 6, both said they opposed the idea of allowing an ex-felon on the review panel.

Other issues of concern from the review board are that there is not enough "outreach" or public information about the process and the lack of an independent investigator working for the review board to investigate complaints.

Rev. Troy Burks, representing the Ministerial Alliance, said that group is concerned about a lack of requirement for the board makeup be racially proportional to the population.

"Striving for a board with a more reflective composition is crucial," Burks said.

He said the ministers' group also was concerned that the current ordinance gives the mayor the power to remove a board member. He suggested changes be made to give "checks and balances" to the mayor's powers.

Burks said the ministers also agreed with the Citizens for Peace and Justice about the makeup of the board.

After the council voted in a study session to move ahead on the review board ordinance without changing the language on board makeup, Burks said he was disappointed – and a little surprised that there was not more discussion among council members.

"What the community needs to understand is that people of color are the ones that most often have contact with the police," Burks said. "People in affluent neighborhoods do not have that contact. All we are asking for is an equal playing field."

Alderman Robert Lewis, D-Ward 3, said after the meeting that he, too, would like to have more discussion about those issues, but had to yield to the fact that the review board has not yet had any actual complaint cases to consider.

"We are ready to do it," Lewis said. "We need to get to it."

During the study session, he said that increased distribution of information about the review board is important.

Barnes said that issue and the idea of a review board investigator were both discussed and rejected in the process of establishing a Citizens Police Review Board.

Barnes also "dedicated" and delivered her council packet to Diane Marlin, who was elected to replace Barnes on the board.
Champaign City Council member Tom Bruno has never been shy about sharing his opinions, and he seldom misses a city council meeting.

But Bruno, an Urbana attorney, did miss Tuesday's council study session about whether the city police department should spend nearly $30,000 purchasing 25 Taser guns.

And, in his absence, the council split 4-4 on whether to go ahead with the proposed purchase of Tasers, a "less lethal" device that shoots two electric darts to incapacitate its human target with a 50,000-volt charge.

The tie vote means the purchase is on hold until all nine council members show up at another meeting and the issue is raised again.

The anticlimatic vote followed an emotional meeting that lasted more than three hours and packed city council chambers with more than 60 residents. At one side of the council chambers sat about 12 police officers and many of their family members, wearing buttons saying, "Support Our Police," while on the other side sat Taser opponents, many of them members of the black community.

Council members Kathy Ennen, Michael La Due, Giraldo Rosales and J.W. Pirtle opposed the purchase, while Mayor Jerry Schweighart, Vic MacIntosh, Jim Green and Ken Pirok supported buying the Tasers.

Council opponents of Tasers said they didn't think the police department had made its case that the devices, which can be shot from up to 21 feet away, are needed. Some said they aren't convinced Tasers are safe.

"I do have a concern about the trust and accountability of our police officers toward our citizens," Rosales said. "I still don't believe this community wants police using Tasers against its citizens."

Ennen, a registered nurse whose specialty is cardiovascular cases, said she remained unconvinced about the safety of Tasers. She said research presented by police showing the devices' safety came from two physicians who had been hired by the manufacturer, Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz.

"We do not have reliable information sitting in front of us," Ennen said.

A Taser is a gunlike device used by 4,000 U.S. police departments. It uses compressed nitrogen to shoot two darts up to 21 feet. The darts trail thin wires attached to the Taser to deliver an electrical charge that incapacitates a person for up to 5 seconds, causing an instant loss of neuromuscular control and any ability to perform coordinated action.

Green said he thought Tasers "can be an effective tool and promote safety not only for the officers but the public." He asked that officers use the devices "wisely and sparingly."

MacIntosh said he thought Champaign police have shown restraint in the past, citing statistics showing that police have fired a weapon only once in three years, drew their guns only 30 times last year and used pepper spray only about 25 times annually despite "all the bar fights."

Schweighart, who worked for 32 years as a Champaign police officer before retiring several years ago, said he wasn't happy with all the negative remarks made about police during a lengthy public comment period.

Referring to officers and their families in the audience, Schweighart said: "Quite frankly, if I had to sit here and listen to some of the comments made tonight, I'd have a hard time going out to serve you tomorrow."

Schweighart said he saw in the audience the same faces and organizations that protest on numerous other issues, mentioning by name the Urban League of Champaign County, the Champaign County chapter of the NAACP, and the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana, all of whom opposed purchasing Tasers.

During a presentation, Police Chief R.T. Finney said he was convinced Tasers would reduce the number of both officer and suspect injuries and would reduce the frequency of people resisting arrest. He said 43 officers and 26 suspects were injured during 2003. Worker - compensation claims filed by officers for the past three years total in excess of $317,000, he said.

Finney said Tasers would prove useful in cases where people are resisting arrest or assaulting subjects, or in situations where someone is being held hostage or is suicidal. He said Champaign police deal with more than 200 cases of resisting arrest each year, or about 2 percent of their overall cases.

"I believe the Taser is a safe addition to the current options we have," Finney said. "I believe we will see a reduction in injuries to officers and suspects."

Finney said the police department will document use of force incidents as part of the annual report provided to the community, and would, during the first year, report Taser use to the city council, the human relations commission, the community relations committee and the police chief's advisory committee.

Audience members said there is a pronounced lack of trust between the police department and the black community that will only worsen if Tasers are deployed.

"If you all get Tasers, you need to get an independent citizens review board," said Cleveland Jefferson of Champaign. "It's not that they (police) are bad, it's just that they need somebody else reviewing them."

The Rev. Charles Nash, pastor of the new Hope Church of God in Christ and president of the Ministerial Alliance, said there is a lack of trust between police and the black community in Champaign.

"It's not the stun gun that worries our community," he said. "The problem is trust. They don't trust the police department. There's no relationship between the community and the police department."

Nash said some police officers have a desire to use force on blacks.

"They can't shoot their guns, but they'll be able to use these Tasers," Nash said.

You can reach Mike Monson at (217) 351-5370 or via e-mail at

The percentage of minority employees working for the city stayed flat last year at 12 percent and remains below the city's long-term goal, the city's latest affirmative action audit shows.

None of the city's 14 department heads and top-level employees is a minority, records show, while two of the city's 12 division heads are black.

The city's Human Relations Commission will discuss the affirmative action audit by at 5:30 p.m. today in council chambers at the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.

The city voluntarily adopted an affirmative action plan, a tool to ensure equal employment opportunity and a diverse work force, in 1991. The city issues an audit each year to measure progress.

"We do value diversity in our work force," said Lori Bluhm, the city's assistant human resources director.

The audit shows that during 2006, some 68 employees were minorities out of the work force of 564 total employees, or 12 percent of the work force.

The city's goal is to raise the level of minority employment to 14.7 percent by 2011, according to Bluhm.

"We think that's a reasonable expectation and that the city should be able to achieve that," Bluhm said. She said the goal is based on the number of minorities or females available for employment within eight different job categories established by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"Affirmative action doesn't set quotas by any means," she said. "It says you'll make a good-faith effort to recruit qualified people into your applicant pool."

The audit shows the city far exceeded its goal for employing women, with 35 percent of the city's work force being female, well above the goal of 28 percent.

The audit shows that 9 percent of the city's firefighters and 8 percent of its police force are minority.

City figures show that of the 119 fire department employees, seven are black males, one is an Hispanic male and one is categorized as "nonwhite."

Of 151 police employees, five are black males, three are black females, one is an Hispanic male, one is an Hispanic female and three are other nonwhite.

The city council's only black member, Gina Jackson, said she believes the audit shows the city needs to do more "to reach out" to the minority community and to work more closely with the University of Illinois to recruit graduating minority students.

"We need to sit down with all the different minority groups and say 'This is what we have to offer,'" Jackson said. "City staff as a whole is working on it, and the city's efforts as a whole are to be commended. But I believe we can do more things in cooperation with the University of Illinois to recruit minority employees."

The city took a number of steps to attract minority job applicants last year, including hosting a job fair at the Douglas Center Annex, developing a brochure on "steps to employment with the city of Champaign," participating in the Champaign-Urbana Latino Festival and National Night Out, holding an informational meeting with a representative of the NAACP to discuss ways to increase minority job applicants and co-sponsoring a community job fair with the UI, the Urban League, the city of Urbana, the Ministerial Alliance and others.

That is in addition standard recruitment efforts, such as attending minority job fairs, advertising geared toward minority communities and use of minority media, the audit report states.

Parkland College board members have picked a North Carolina firm to help them find a new president for the college.

At a special meeting Thursday, the board selected Hockaday-Hunter and Associates of Broadway, N.C., to assist with a national search to replace President Zelema Harris, who will retire July 1, 2006.

"We're mirroring what we did when we picked Dr. Harris 15 years ago," said Jim Ayers, a board member who serves on the new search committee. "We hire a search firm, we'll develop a profile talking to our constituents about what characteristics the new president should have. We'll advertise and recruit and we'll identify semifinalists and finalists."

Ayers, a Monticello attorney, said Hockaday-Hunter helps community colleges nationwide find executives. Donny Hunter, Parkland's consultant, is a former teacher, principal, superintendent and executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges.

The board will pay Hunter about $20,000.

Board chairman Linden Warfel said this month or early next month the committee will schedule a "seeking" meeting, a three-in-one session with community representatives, then faculty and staff and finally with search committee members to talk about priorities for Parkland's next president.

He said community groups he'd like to see participate include the Urban League of Champaign County, the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana, the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, the University of Illinois as well as other organizations.

Board member Bonnie Kelley, who's also a member of the search panel, said a challenging job lies ahead. "We're functioning in a timely manner, but it's time to start rolling," she said.

"This process has been a concern of mine for about four years when I realized Dr. Harris might retire soon," Kelley said. "The college is in wonderful condition, and I'm worried about how we will find someone to take her place. Her nationwide reputation will make her hard to replace."

"The relationships she's developed as one of the leading community college presidents in the country, no one else has them," Warfel said. "We won't be able to match that."

Evert Levitt, head of the engineering science and technologies department and a faculty representative on the committee, also said committee members are ready to go to work.

Other administration members on the search committee include Linda Moore and Dorothy Voyles. Faculty representatives include Willie Fowler, Rochelle Harden, Paul Sarantakos and Jim Forman. Parkland student Jeff Rolfing and Parkland Foundation representative Donald Dodds serve on the committee, Mary Nicholas represents the support staff and Minor Jackson is equal opportunity representative, a nonvoting position.

Jackson is director of the Business Development Center.

Ayers said he expects a large applicant pool. He served on the committee that picked Harris, which received 84 applications and identified 29 other people recommended as possibilities.

Ayers said several of the state's 48 community colleges are looking for presidents, including Joliet Community College, Lake Land Community College at Mattoon, the College of Lake County at Grayslake, Lincoln Land Community College at Springfield, Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby and Olive-Harvey College in Chicago.

Warfel said Harris leaves Parkland in an excellent position to move ahead with new leadership. "The processes we've been doing under her leadership, the things like the focus futures and strategic planning, have help us know who we are and who we'd like to come here to lead us in the future," he said.
With just a few days of school left before the winter break and preparations for the holidays in full swing, teachers are likely to see more empty seats in their classrooms.

The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the times when the Champaign school district struggles most with keeping kids in class.

Attendance is a nationwide problem, particularly at the high school level.

In Champaign, the district is mandated by federal consent decree to raise attendance of minority students. The district's goal is to raise attendance in all its schools – with a total of about 9,000 students – to 95 percent by the end of this school year.

Empty seats also cost the district money. State aid is based on attendance. The formula for calculating it varies every year, but each student-day of attendance last year used to determine state aid brought the district $14.15 per day, per child, Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas said.

There are all kinds of reasons children don't attend school. Some miss because of health reasons, such as asthma, difficulties in managing medication or pregnancy. Others are homeless; or they are in homes without utilities or enough food; or their families keep moving from place to place.

Some are caring for younger siblings or a sick parent. Others are on their own. Their parents are working two jobs or shift work, or they are away caring for a relative, so the children are responsible for getting themselves up and to school on time.

Tracking truancy

Stephanie Record, the attendance improvement coordinator for Central High School, was trying to track down some of those students who weren't in school one morning earlier this month.

– Her first visit was to the home of a girl who is out of school because she is pregnant. The tutor who visited her house has dropped her because she hasn't been home at their scheduled meeting times.

The girl wasn't home when Record visited, either, so Record left a note for her.

– At another house, Record talked with the grandmother of a student who has been missing several class periods during the day, including the one just before his lunch period.

Record said he's taking two lunch periods, and she tells the grandmother he can see a tutor or participate in an online credit recovery program in lieu of serving the detentions he has for missing classes.

– At 10:15 a.m., Record checked on the next family. As the mother let Record in, she explained her son and daughter slept late but are just on their way to school. The mother then asked Record to talk to her daughter, who is considering dropping out.

"They weren't on their way to school," Record said after driving the students to school and making sure they had passes to get into class.

Record said she's frustrated with the mother, who keeps excusing them from attending. An older child already has dropped out of school, and Record said the girl has missed the equivalent of two years of school during the last four years.

"Them being disengaged in school is the result of a parent keeping them out for such a long period of time," she said.

Personal approach

A state grant helped the district hire Record and three other attendance outreach workers since 2003 to work with chronically truant students and their families.

They target the students with the most unexcused absences. The student at the top of Record's list on a day in early December – the 66th day of school – had missed 54< 1/2> days.

The staff works closely with deans and counselors, meets with students and parents and does home visits. All agree that the strategy with the most success with such students is building relationships and finding someone at the school who can connect with the student – whether it's an attendance worker, teacher, coach, counselor or secretary.

"I think kids who we are going to see the most success with are those connected with us or another adult in the building that they have a relationship with," she said. "It could be anybody. But if we find that person in school who connects with them, that's what gets them through sometimes."

Centennial Principal Judy Wiegand said it is helpful to have someone who can focus on the school's top truants and take the responsibility off the deans and counselors.

"You don't see it when you look at the percentages. We tend to be right at 92 percent (attendance rate) and have been the last few years," Wiegand said. "But in my opinion, it is certainly helpful having that person to get out and do that outreach work.

"They try to delve deeper into why is that student making the choice not to come to school."

Consider these current problems:

– One student is responsible for getting the power turned back on periodically, and other household duties, because his mother has a disability.

– Two brothers have to drop off an infant sibling at day care, then catch a bus to school, Record said. They're nearly always late.

– Another student helps his mentally-impaired brother get on the bus in the morning.

"A lot of these kids have so much more on their plates than school, and so much more on their minds," she said.

Record, whose background is in social work, tries to understand their life circumstances and keep their school attendance in perspective.

"There are different levels of success that don't show in the numbers," she said.

Parental problems

The district's attendance workers sometimes find it difficult to get high school parents involved.

"At this age, a lot of parents think a 16- or 17-year-old, it's their responsibility to come to school, and there's not a lot they can do about it," said Rush Record, the attendance outreach worker at Centennial High, who is married to Stephanie Record.

Other times, though, parents welcome help from the attendance staff, he said. They refer families to service agencies if they need help with food, rent or utilities, and they hand out bus tokens.

"A lot of families we work with are living in poverty. We're not doing a lot of home visits in Cherry Hills," Stephanie Record said.

They also continually remind students of the importance of education.

"But convincing someone who's living in the moment and hanging out with friends having a good time is tough," Stephanie Record said.

Rush Record said he sometimes acts as a mediator, talking with teachers and giving suggestions for making up missed work.

"When you've got a student that misses so much school, they get behind academically, and they can get frustrated and feel like they are lost and just can't make up all the work," he said. "We remind them they have time, so all is not lost."

Central Principal Bill Freyman said the outreach workers "have been really helpful in dealing with the kids who are moderately truant, the kids who have some real attendance issues but are still workable where we can tie them to services or supports.

But ...

"While we're successful with individuals, I can't say we've been successful at solving the problem," he said. "The No. 1 reason students don't do well here right now is because they don't come enough."

Critics chime in

Carol Ashley, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the consent decree case, believes the district needs to broaden its focus.

"They need to get the kids who are missing 10 days a year," she said. "It doesn't address the kid who is missing a little bit, and that takes him from a C to a D."

Fred Clarke, director of pupil services for the district, agreed.

"The focus does need to be on those kids who are showing those initial signs and intervening before (the student) gets to be a chronic truant," he said.

Ashley criticized the district's approach to attendance thus far, saying it has no comprehensive attendance plan, but a hodgepodge of programs.

"It needs a shot of community involvement. It needs a methodical approach," she said, adding that it is also related to climate and discipline. "It's not just about getting kids there. It's about what environment they experience (at school)."

Clarke said while progress hasn't been as fast as he'd like, the district is moving forward, and the students targeted by outreach workers improved their attendance in the first quarter of this school year by about 7 percent, the best increase so far.

A priority, he said, is increasing community involvement.

Last spring, the district created an attendance improvement volunteer program similar to mentoring programs, in which a community volunteer meets regularly with a student with attendance problems. Clarke said it has struggled to find enough volunteers.

Administrators held a breakfast meeting with several members of the Ministerial Alliance in November to propose a collaboration, in which churches would be paired with schools to work with students and families and make suggestions improving the district's interaction with families.

The district also would like to identify students in various congregations who might have attendance problems and have churches help emphasize the importance of attending school.

"They have wider arms than we do," Clarke said of churches, "and they have additional resources to reach out to those people that are involved in students' lives that we don't have access to."

'Everybody is watching'

While the district works with students of all races who are missing school, the consent decree mandates it reduce the gap between black and white students in attendance. Stephanie Record said she deals disproportionately with black students. Earlier this month, almost all of the top 30 truants at Central were black. At Centennial, the list was almost evenly split between white and minority students.

Officials hope the involvement of black churches will help boost the attendance of black students. But, as one principal noted at the Ministerial Alliance breakfast, those students involved with a church are not usually the ones missing school.

The issue is not unique to Champaign, but "We're under the gun here because everybody is watching," Stephanie Record said.

The school district is trying a number of other things to keep kids in school. Currently, it is holding a contest between Central and Centennial high schools. Whichever school improves its attendance the most by the winter break will win a live radio remote from WCZQ 105.5-FM.

The timing of the contest was designed to help boost attendance during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The radio station has run public service announcements promoting attendance, and the district put up six billboards around town in August.

The district also provides money for incentives to the schools, such as $5 or $10 gift cards for food or to Best Buy or Wal-Mart. At the elementary school level, students might get extra recess or computer time or Illini gear for improving attendance.

At the high school level, the attendance staff uses the gift cards to encourage juniors with attendance problems to come to school during testing periods – or to reward students who have shown improvement. Beginning in January, those with perfect attendance will be eligible for a monthly drawing for a gift certificate to the mall.

Centennial has tried random drawings for students who are in class on time. Wiegand said the drawings raise awareness among students that attendance is important.

"You just never know if that's what the hook is," Rush Record said.

If nothing works to improve a student's attendance, the district must rely on the court system. Freyman has met with Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz to talk about how to proceed with the most severe truants at Central.

"Once we've exhausted what we're doing, we really need to focus on the kids who aren't too far gone to help. We don't want to give up on any kid," Stephanie Record said. "(But) we have to be realistic with some of these kids who are so severe, and we have to focus our energies on those who we can impact the most."

Concerns about a shooting on Hedge Court in Champaign are being raised by leaders of three local organizations, but the leaders say they will be somewhat patient in getting answers to their questions.

Tracy Parsons of the Urban League, the Rev. Jerome Chambers of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Rev. Charles O. Nash Sr. of the Champaign-Urbana Ministerial Alliance said Friday they met with Mildred Davis, whose house was the scene of a shootout between Champaign police officers and Torriano Johnson on June 24.

They also said they met with Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney to discuss the situation. All three are members of the Champaign Police Community Relations Committee. They and Finney were interviewed Friday at the police department.

"We are all concerned about the safety of the community," Nash said.

Parsons said they are also concerned about the safety of police officers.

Nash said all three groups are committed to getting answers to hard questions, but for now, they are satisfied that police will provide answers when they can.

"We are walking down the middle of the road," Nash said. "We need the police department. The police department needs us. We are better off when we work together."

Johnson, 32, whose last known address was in the 1100 block of North Third Street, Champaign, has been charged with attempted murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm and armed violence. His bond is $3 million.

According to police, events started about 8 p.m. June 24 in Urbana. Johnson shot at an ex-girlfriend in an apartment in the 500 block of East Fairlawn Drive, Urbana.

Police said he also shot at the woman's sister.

Police said Johnson then displayed his gun and took a vehicle in the 1800 block of South Lincoln Avenue about 8:15 p.m.

Champaign police found that car near Mattis Avenue and Springer Drive about 10:30 p.m. that night.

They reported shots were fired from the car, and officers chased the vehicle into the Garden Hills neighborhood.

Police said Johnson entered the house at 4 Hedge Court and shot at police officers.

The officers then returned fire.

At his arraignment hearing, Johnson admitted he tried to shoot and kill an ex-girlfriend in Urbana and admitted shooting at Champaign police. Johnson denied trying to kill another woman in Urbana.

An appointed public defense attorney entered pleas of "not guilty" to the charges.

Mildred Davis was not available for comment Friday, but in a June 28 interview with The News-Gazette, she said a man ran into her house at 4 Hedge Court and police started shooting while she and family members were still in the house.

She and some children ran out of the house, and two others hid under a bed in a back bedroom, she said.

Chambers said Davis was still visibly upset by the events as she discussed them Thursday with the three leaders. He is providing food for the family from a food pantry from his church.

The family's refrigerator was unplugged that night and the family did not return to the house for several days, allowing food to spoil.

Nash said they are also satisfied that other things are being put in place for Davis and her family, including counseling and repairs to damages in the house.

"Several rounds were fired into the house," Nash said.

He said there were between 15 and 30 shots fired, but after meeting with Finney, the three leaders believe that there is a misunderstanding by many community residents about what happened.

"They feel that the police department shot in the house when there were people in the house whose lives were put on the line," Nash said. "That's not necessarily the truth."

Nash said questions will continue to be asked of police until answers on the Hedge Court shooting can be provided.

"Let the police department do their job without outside interference," said Chambers. "When they get the information and are allowed to publish it, we trust that they will."

"We are just thankful that nobody got hurt," Nash said.

Finney told the three leaders Thursday and repeated again Friday that some information about Johnson's actions and motivations cannot be discussed publicly because the criminal case is still pending.

"This case would become much clearer if we could release all of the information we have to the community," Finney said.

"We never shot at the house," Finney said Friday. "We shot at the suspect. Some bullets hit the house. We never shot without seeing him."

Parsons said the three leaders now better understand that this was a "volatile situation that spilled over to a residential neighborhood in Champaign."

Like another incident this summer where police were involved in a shootout at West Side Park, police had to respond to violence, and people could have been harmed in either case, according to Parsons.

Donnell Clemons, 47, was arraigned Wednesday on charges of attempted murder of two police officers, aggravated discharge of a weapon at the police and possession of a weapon by a felon.

The charges accuse Clemons of shooting Deputy Chief John Murphy and Officer Shannon Bridges.

Officer Jack Armstrong was also wounded in that June 7 shootout.

"We don't always get to pick our backdrops when we are dealing with deadly force," Finney said.

Urban League of Champaign County interim Director Sandra Jones and others are packing up to leave their building in Champaign after the organization shut its doors Nov. 14.
Years ago, a black mom walked into Ks Merchandise and found not one black doll to buy for her daughter.

She confronted the manager, who told her, "No one's ever asked me to buy black dolls, and I only buy things that are going to sell."

The mom, Vernessa Gipson, told him, "Maybe you don't sell them because you don't have them." She complained to the Urban League of Champaign County, which wrote a letter to the store's corporate headquarters, which apologized.

To Gipson, who later worked at the Urban League, it was a small example of the agency's central role in advocating for black and lower-income families,

"The league was one of those places that you knew had the backs of black families, and families with low income, and other at-risk families," Gipson said. "It just makes you wonder who's out there being the watchdog right now."

The league, which closed Nov. 14 amid mounting financial problems, helped low-income families buy homes, ex-felons find jobs and young adults hone their work skills. For families on hard times, it was a hub for services throughout the community.

But, particularly under former president Tracy Parsons, the league also spoke out on civic issues, pushing for educational equity in Champaign-Urbana schools, working to open minority business opportunities, and brokering disputes between police and the black community.

Who will take on that role now?

Most likely a combination of organizations and individuals, community members and civic leaders said last week.

The league's programs have been parceled off to other groups, and several government agencies and nonprofits do similar work. But it leaves a "huge void" no one agency can fill, said former county board Chairwoman Patricia Avery.

"We have a lot of good people doing good work. But no one has the mission statement of the league," Gipson said.

Lyn Jones, president and CEO of the Champaign County United Way, said directors of United Way-funded agencies discussed the issue Tuesday.

"There's clearly awareness on the part of agencies in town that there's going to be some gaps" in services, Jones said.

Peter Tracy, executive director of the Champaign County Mental Health Board, said the county has organizations headed by blacks that can pick up part of the league's mission. Tackling youth and delinquency issues, for example, are the Champaign-Urbana Area Project, headed by Avery; the TALKS Mentoring program run by the Rev. Harold Davis, and the Mental Health Center's Peer Ambassadors program.

On police-community relations, the city works closely with prominent blacks on the Champaign Community and Police Partnership committee, who "will tell us quite frankly what they think the needs of the community are" and how the city should respond, Assistant City Manager Dorothy David said.

Former Urban League board president Larine Cowan, director of affirmative action at the University of Illinois, said the community has moved past the point where it needs a single spokesman for the black community, as Parsons and the late John Lee Johnson were sometimes viewed.

Blacks now hold elected office and leadership positions in C-U schools, local government, Parkland College and the UI, Cowan said.

"There are so many learned people of color who can speak to almost any issue affecting African-Americans and people in general," Cowan said. "I think that's a good thing."

One person can't represent the views of a diverse black community, added city council member Gina Jackson, whose district extends from Campustown to northeast Champaign.

"Several people should step to the forefront," agreed former Urbana city council member Lonnie Clark.

Clark was friends and business partners with the late Vernon Barkstall, who headed the Urban League for 27 years. Parsons now works at Clark's radio station, WBCP (named for Barkstall, Clark and former Champaign city council member J.W. Pirtle).

Noting Barack Obama's election as president, Cowan said the country has grown in terms of race relations. It might be time for a new organization, a multiracial group that encompasses blacks, Latinos, Asians and "poor people regardless of race," Cowan said.

"It doesn't mean that the problems of African-Americans have dissipated," she said. But "there are opportunities here for us to start something new, and something that will impact more people,"

Newly elected county board member Carol Ammons, a social worker with Catholic Charities, said the league wasn't just for blacks, helping seniors and low-income residents of all races.

Jackson said economic development, not civil rights, was the Urban League's primary responsibility.

But it also made people aware of racial disparities that they might otherwise overlook – the absence of minority children in gifted classes, for example, or the overabundance of black youth in juvenile detention, Gipson said. Even with blacks in leadership roles, it helps to have an outside advocate, she said.

The NAACP historically filled that role at the national level, but the local chapter has little staff and struggled in recent years. The 2005 conviction of its former president, Cleveland Jefferson, for stealing money from the chapter made supporters reluctant to contribute time or money, said its current president, the Rev. Jerome Chambers. A St. Louis native, Chambers said he's had to overcome the "outsider" label.

Clark and Gipson said it may be time for local ministers to take a more visible role.

"Many of their parishioners are going to be adversely affected as a result of this," Clark said. "Collectively, they need to be discussing it and seeing what contribution they could make."

Black communities have historically relied on a "collective, progressive, consistent voice from the faith community," Gipson said. "I'm not seeing that recently."

The Rev. Evelyn Underwood, president of the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana and Vicinity, said she couldn't speculate on the organization's role until the ministers discuss the league's situation.

Chambers and Avery want to rally local support to try to save the league, and draft a community impact statement on its closure.

"The league is too important to be written off in the community," Chambers said.

He and Avery said they tried to contact interim Urban League director Sandra Jones in the last year to offer their help, but got little response.

For her part, Jones said she tried to solicit more support for the league through local black churches last February, but only four allowed her to speak to their congregations.

Underwood said she hopes the National Urban League will step in to help.

Herman Lessard, senior vice president of affiliate services for the National Urban League, said his agency was kept apprised of the chapter's financial problems and sent a team in last January to help.

But the local Urban League can't reorganize, or start a new chapter, until its legal and financial problems are resolved, officials said. The agency is under investigation by state and federal authorities because of questions about the use of grant money. Investigators told Jones the inquiry could take two years.

After the "dust settles," Lessard said, the national will work with the community to see if there's any interest in resurrecting the league.

The 45-year-old chapter was founded to bring blacks and whites together, and it has the most integrated board in the community, Jones said. That mission is still important, Avery said.

"Even if the programs are picked up by other agencies, I'm more concerned that the spirit of the organization and its founding will be lost," Ammons said.

What's happened to Urban League programs?


— Community Day Care: 40-year-old day care center at Bradley Avenue and Neil Street closed on March 1 because of ongoing deficits. City recently bought that property and several others in the same block for $250,000.

— Education programs: League also closed its education department March 1, transferring $80,000 in United Way funding for three programs to Regional Office of Education in Rantoul.

Civic engagement

— At Promise of Success: Joint project with Champaign schools and University of Illinois to encourage academic achievement by middle-school students was transferred Oct. 1 to UI Extension. Imani Bazzell, former director of civic engagement for league, is now a UI employee.

— Mental health grant: $20,000 grant to help Mental Health Board of Champaign County draft federal proposal for comprehensive children's initiative was returned to mental health board. Grant will now go to Champaign-Urbana Area Project.

Work-force development

— Digital Divide: Community computer lab designed to bridge "digital divide" for underserved populations is moving to Parkland College, a partner on the project.

— Ex-felons program: State has not decided what to do with $135,000 annual grant to help convicted felons re-enter work force through job training, employer support, etc. Similar $15,000 grant was returned to Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.

— Ways to Work: Program funded through National Urban League to help workers buy discounted cars with low-interest loans was discontinued last spring because federal government changed grant requirements, interim League director Sandra Jones said.

— Workforce Initiative: State grant to provide GED programs and skill development to young adults was transferred to Illinois WorkNet in Champaign, a grant partner.


— Urban League Development Corp. ran home-ownership program for low-income families and two apartment buildings for low-income renters.

The 12 homes were transferred to Busey Bank and Regions Bank, which held mortgages, under a "deed in lieu" of foreclosure, Jones said. Homeowners will now pay those banks instead of Urban League but should see no other changes.

— Crestwood Apartments, Urbana: 20-unit building was transferred to Hickory Point Bank under "deed in lieu" of foreclosure. League owed $800,000 on property and had tried to sell it for $1.1 million.

— Urban Park Place, Champaign: League will continue to manage building as it works with Illinois Development Authority on the property's future.

— Credit counseling; Canceled. Funding came from National Urban League.

League Headquarters

— Two-story building at Springfield Avenue and Neil Street is being transferred to developers Mike and Dan Hosier, who bought it and nearby parking lot earlier this year.

Urban League Boards

— Boards for Urban League and its development corporation must remain in place until state and federal investigations are completed, which could take two years, Jones said. League did not declare bankruptcy because it held no assets of its own. Any property was tied up in mortgages or owned by granting agencies, she said.

Help book

Families who don't know where to turn for services can check out the 2008 edition of Champaign County's "Help Book," 50 pages on subjects from children's services, health care, finances and housing to immigration, libraries, schools and recreation. The free book is available at Family Service, 405 S. State St., C, and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, 201 W. Kenyon Road, C. It's online at (click "contents") and The United Way of Champaign County also supports the project.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart doesn't think he has anything to apologize for.

Some black leaders in Champaign say he does.

Schweighart, a former Champaign police officer, was raked over the coals at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting for remarks he made near the end of the March 23 council session, which was dominated by discussion of whether the city council should approve purchasing 25 Taser guns for city police.

Tasers are a device used by police that shoot two darts up to 21 feet and deliver a 50,000-volt charge to temporarily incapacitate someone for up to 5 seconds. The council split 4-4 on whether to approve the purchase, and Police Chief R.T. Finney decided the next day to withdraw the request for at least the rest of the calendar year and to work on improving trust and communication between police and Champaign's black community.

Just before the tie vote, Schweighart expressed annoyance and disapproval about the numerous comments from the audience criticizing police and describing a lack of trust between city police and the black community.

Schweighart mentioned his 32 years as a Champaign police officer and said, "If I had to sit here and listen to some of the comments made tonight, frankly, I'd have a hard time going out to protect and serve you."

The mayor also said he always sees the same faces protesting, mentioning by name the Urban League of Champaign County, the Champaign County chapter of the NAACP and the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana. He challenged those groups "to take a step, too" toward improving trust and communication with the city.

On Tuesday night, several speakers said they think Schweighart owes the black community an apology.

Tracy Parsons, president of the Urban League, called Schweighart's remarks "very irresponsible." Parsons said he has been serving on a committee of black leaders and concerned citizens that has been meeting with the police department for the past three years, and that his organization is involved in "productive, positive activity."

"I feel (the comments) were very disrespectful, particularly to the black staff who work for the city," Parsons said. "I think you owe your black staff and I think you owe the community an apology."

Former council member John Lee Johnson said last month's meeting was "democracy at its best" and that Schweighart's remark criticizing the NAACP "steps on the history of this nation."

"That was inappropriate," Johnson said. "That was beneath what the people of Champaign have elected our mayor to be."

The Rev. Jerome Chambers, pastor at the Liberty Temple Church in Champaign, held a videotape of a network television report this week on the role of Tasers in the deaths of 40 people nationwide.

He said the report talked about a man with a medical problem who was shocked by a Taser four times and died two days later. He said the report also showed videotape of a young black boy with mental problems in a padded cell being shocked repeatedly by police officers who burst into his cell.

Chambers said Schweighart owes the community an open apology. He said people in the black community are "very upset" and appalled by the remarks.

"I pray for you," Chambers said. "... We love you, but we don't love the way you think about us."

Schweighart remained calm during the barrage of criticism, but no apology was forthcoming.

After the meeting, when questioned, Schweighart said he doesn't see a need for an apology. He said he wasn't upset about the opposition to Tasers, but about the frequent criticism of city police at the March 23 meeting.

"There was a constant stream of people talking about torture by police and lynchings by police," with some of the incidents mentioned dating back to the 1940s, he said.

He said if the black community wants to build trust with police, there needs to be positive comments and steps taken, not just criticism.

"I don't know that I have anything to apologize for," he said. "I may have to have some dialogue to let people know where I'm coming from."

Schweighart said that in his 32 years as a police officer, five years on the city council and five years as mayor, "I don't believe in all that period of time, I've shown any tinge of being a racist."

He also said no representatives of the organizations he criticized have come to his office to address the issue of trust.

"I'm always willing to sit down with any group at any time," Schweighart said. "It has to be in the context of something positive and get away from finger-pointing."

Council wants to decide liquor changes one by one

The Champaign City Council voted 5-4 Tuesday night to defeat a proposal to make several amendments to the city's liquor code.

Council member Michael La Due said he and other council members want to vote on the various liquor issues one by one, and not as a package.

The bill would have increased liquor fees, required restaurants with liquor licenses to provide food service at all times, capped the number of bar liquor licenses in Campustown and automatically granted a Class A bar license for projects that exceed 3,000 square feet in size and have a minimum investment of $500,000.

In other business:

– Council members amended the city's curfew laws to make it apply to teens 16 and under, and not 17-year-olds. Police officers are also now required to ask why the minor is out past curfew to learn if there is a valid excuse protected under the Constitution.

Curfew is now 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight to 6 a.m. on weekends for 14- to 16-year-olds. For those 13 and younger, curfew is 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily.

– The council approved a four-year contract with about 100 city employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1960. The contract grants annual wage increases of 2.75 percent, 3 percent, 3 percent and 3.25 percent.

Your input:

Contact City Manager Steve Carter at 403-8710 or send e-mail at Or, contact News-Gazette staff writer Mike Monson at 351-5370 or send e-mail to

May was a hot month in Champaign-Urbana.

In a month of hotter-than-usual temperatures, there were at least nine shooting incidents.

"The summer heat brings people out together more often," Champaign police Deputy Chief Troy Daniels said. "This, unfortunately, causes an increase in certain kinds of violent crime."

Midwest Climate Center Director Steve Hilberg said May featured 17 days above 80 degrees, with high temperatures averaging 7 degrees above normal for the month.

The consensus from police and others is that the shootings stem from personal clashes and hot tempers, rather than the kind of violence spawned by gangs in the 1990s.

"From a historical perspective, the violence Champaign experienced in the early to mid-'90s was greater, but it's important to remember that even one violent crime is too many," Daniels said. "It's a real person who got hurt, not just a statistic."

Champaign police crime analyst Gary Spear said the city had 2,346 reports of violent crime in 1996 – compared to 1,886 last year.

Five men were injured – one twice in separate incidents – and police have arrested three men for shootings in C-U between May 9 and May 28.

"We have war on the streets of Champaign-Urbana, in some places," the Rev. Jerome Chambers said. "We must invest in peace."

Chambers, pastor of Liberty Temple Ministries in Champaign and local president of the NAACP, said he warned Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney earlier that he "felt it was going to be a long, hot summer."

Chambers said he also recently met with Tracy Parsons, director of the Urban League of Champaign County, and the Rev. Charles Nash of the Champaign-Urbana Ministerial Alliance.

Together, they are calling on community leaders and ministers to help resolve disputes before they become violent. Ministers will make themselves available to help work things out peacefully between people who are having problems, Chambers said.

Urbana Deputy Police Chief Pat Connolly said unlike gang turf battles, the recent local shootings seem to involve retaliation for personal grudges.

"There seems to be an upsurge of people solving problems with guns," Connolly said. "It seems like when there's a dispute, someone goes out, gets a gun and comes back and takes a shot.

"That's scary to us."

He urged anyone who sees someone with a gun to call police immediately.

"Let us identify a problem before it becomes a shooting," Connolly said.

Citizens can call Crimestoppers anonymously at 373-TIPS (373-8477) so police can arrest people who have illegal possession of guns.

Edwin Cook, a longtime resident at 310 E. Hill St., C, said drugs and gangs are, indeed, part of a growing problem.

He said this summer has a "darn good start" at becoming like the 1990s, from what he has seen.

"It all stems from drugs, drug activity," Cook said. "It's one faction after another. And then it's retaliation."

Cook said the drug trafficking is wide open in some areas of town, with men dealing on the streets.

When residents call police, the men are gone by the time officers arrive, he said.

"In these heavily populated drug areas, we need more police patrols," Cook said.

Daniels said police "use every resource we have to stop this kind of violence.

"The good people in those neighborhoods will need to find the courage to partner with police and fight back," he said.

Daniels urged citizens who have information about recent crimes to trust police and contact them with information. He said calls can be made anonymously to Crimestoppers.

"We would ask them to do the same thing they would want done if someone they loved was injured," Daniels said.

Marlon Williamson, 44, an Urbana native drinking a soda in the shade across from King School, said the shooting there May 9 "shouldn't have ever happened."

He said young men cooped up all winter want to take out their frustrations when the weather warms up.

"They do it the wrong way," Williamson said. "They don't think."

Williamson said many fights come from people who feel that someone gave them disrespect.

"If they use their heads, they'll just walk away from it," he said.

Robert Lewis, an Urbana alderman who lives at 803 N. Goodwin Ave., near King School, agreed the shootings this month appear to involve young people who resorted to violence to solve disputes.

Lewis believes that many young black males are frustrated and "have very little to look forward to."

"It's hard for those young guys," Lewis said. "They get into a spiral."

Lewis and his wife, Rosalind, said more needs to be done with job training and counseling for young people.

"The incidents may have had to do with personal clashes, but that doesn't solve the problem," Lewis said. "The problem is that too many African-American males just don't have the resources they need."

May shootings in Champaign-Urbana

Date, location

2:08 p.m. May 9, 1200 block of West Beslin Street, U Outcome: Robert Moore was shot across from King School; Tony Deshawn Mann, 30, later was arrested

12:19 a.m. May 23, 1400 block of West Anthony Drive, C Outcome: Two men shot; Joseph L. Reid later arrested

9:40 p.m. May 23, 1400 block of West Romine Street, U Outcome: Someone fired several shots into the air while driving down the street; no injuries

1 a.m. May 24, 1400 block of Ivanhoe Way, U Outcome: Man who brought a gun and got in a fight shot at by another man; no injuries; Aaron Wozencraft later arrested

8:15 p.m. May 24, 1300 block of West Beslin Street, U Outcome: Anthony Jamerson shot at by two separate men;, Robert Moore arrested

9:29 p.m. May 24, 1200 block of West Beslin Street, U Outcome: Robert Moore shot while riding bike

10:08 p.m. May 25, 1200 block of Redwood Drive, C Outcome: Man fired gun into the air outside house; no injuries; Keith Winfrey arrested for reckless discharge

10:31 p.m. May 28, 1300 block of Hedge Road, C Outcome: Two men shot; no arrests

9:21 p.m. May 30, 500 block of East Grove Street, C Outcome: Man shot at by another man who believed he was the victim of a residential burglary; no injuries; no arrests

Sources: Champaign and Urbana police

In Urbana, where school board representatives run in wards, not at large, current board President Tina Gunsalus and challenger Cope Cumpston are waging battle right down to the wire.

In a second contested race, incumbent Ruth Ann Fisher is challenged by newcomer Zernial Bogan, a mechanic and minister who has faced information about a felony conviction in his past squarely, saying "it's all about learning."

Because voters decided in 1998 to divide the school board into wards or "subdistricts," all other seats are open in this election too. Incumbents John Dimit, Mark Netter, Steve Summers and Joyce Hudson are running unopposed in their districts. Newcomer Carol George is the only candidate on the ballot for the seat to be vacated by Laura Haber, who did not choose to run for re-election.

But in the wake of questions about George's residency qualifications, Urbana residents Alan Douglas and Jerry Moreland have filed as write-in candidates in that area, District 2.

Gunsalus and Cumpston are running in District 4. Bogan and Fisher and are running in District 3. The election is on Tuesday.

Tina Gunsalus

Gunsalus, a University of Illinois attorney and associate dean, said in spite of the fact that the board has been forced to focus on an overload of bad financial news for the past two years, board members can also report good news about district programs, personnel, students and all their accomplishments.

"This is a district with a very child-centered focus," she said. "We're moving together in a bottom-up way toward higher expectations, achievements, standards and better accountability. "

She said stable leadership, including that of 11-year Superintendent Gene Amberg, means change has occurred without "turmoil and turbulence."

Gunsalus, who has served on the board since 1991, is proud of the district's diversity leadership and its quick response to equity problems when they surfaced.

"The Office of Civil Rights came in the late '90s, and representatives had five issues," she said. "Three were resolved right away. We were monitored for two issues, minorities overidentified in special education and underidentified in gifted education and minorities."

Gunsalus said the district quickly retrained employees, adopted a national model for identification, held programs about placement and the OCR endorsed those efforts.

Urbana's effort to help fund the education of qualified minority employees who want to advance has also paid off, Gunsalus said. She said about 13 staff members have received tuition assistance in that district program.

Gunsalus said today about 21.3 percent of the teachers and support staff represents minorities, up from 15.7 percent six years ago. About 34 percent of the schools' support staff members are minorities, about 13 percent of the district's teachers are from minority populations and about 20 percent of the central office administrators represent minorities.

A mentoring program that starts at Urbana Middle School also pairs youngsters with an interest in education with adult staff members who follow them for years, even when they're at college.

"We hope they'll come back to Urbana to teach," Gunsalus said.

Gunsalus said even though money is tight, the district has continued its commitment to keeping full-time librarians in each of the district's schools.

Gunsalus, her husband and her children all attended Urbana schools, and she and her husband have volunteered there since 1985.

"We're trying to make things better for all children," she said. "I know what teachers want and what children face. They've done so much for me, and this is a way to give back."

"When I started on the board, we had false starts," Gunsalus said. "We've made dramatic changes in secondary disciplinary approaches and other practices."

"This is a two-year term, and finances will dominate the issues we face," she said. "Teachers' negotiations start April 2. Experience and knowledge are going to make a difference the next two years."

Other district strengths listed by Gunsalus and other incumbents, strengths developed long term, short term, and in the face of deteriorating finances include:

- An award-winning arts program.

- A summer academy for youngsters with very low test scores who live within the district and outside it that can bring them up to their grade level.

- Facilities kept upgraded with "creative" funding approaches, including Urbana Middle School and Leal School renovations and planned expansion of King School with funds secured by then-state Rep. Tom Berns - funds now stalled by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

- The new Aquatic Center at Urbana Middle School. "We worked with the Urbana Park District and the English Fund to make it happen," said Joyce Hudson, who represents rural Urbana on the board and is running unopposed. "We were all creative at the table."

Cope Cumpston

Cumpston, Gunsalus' challenger, takes issue with the district's progress. Her daughter attends school in the district, and Cumpston is a UI Press art director.

"Equity's how I got involved," she said. "I don't think it's a high enough priority. Yes, there's a steering committee, but the things they recommend are not high on the list. You build a pool first."

Cumpston was very involved in promoting the successful 1998 referendum proposing to zone Urbana school board elections to encourage greater diversity on the board, and that activity led her to work with Urbana's Human Relations Commission.

"I got involved with the election issue because there was no representative from the African-American community on the board in a district that's one-third African-American," she said. "Now we have two candidates representing that community."

Cumpston said the changes at King School have alienated the community and so have district plans for long-range changes at the middle school, high school and Leal School.

"The issue is communication with the community about campus development," she said. "The community doesn't feel adequately consulted. Some people feel the district is targeting their property."

She said one woman asked the district about expansion plans before she bought her house, but when the board presented a long-range campus plan recently, the woman saw her property on the blueprint.

The plan presented by district employees at a board meeting this month described long-range campus proposals for possible actions as far in the future as 30 years.

Like current board members, she supports efforts to find new sources of funding for schools, including raising tax cap ceilings for schools. Like board incumbents, she believes the education funding system needs reform.

"The most pressing problem in our district is to stabilize the budget and lay the groundwork for future school funding that will allow for quality education for all students," Cumpston said.

Ruth Ann Fisher

Incumbent Ruth Ann Fisher is challenged by Zernial Bogan in the district they share. Fisher, a long-time Urbana resident and Urbana High School graduate who's served on the board four years, said board members are taking equity issues seriously and putting people in place in the schools and in the central office to keep a close eye on district progress.

"We're following students and learning there is progress," Fisher said. "With the high mobility rate in the district, it's hard, and it's going to take time to see results."

She has two children still attending school in the district, and her interest in their education extends to the education of all Urbana children.

"They're getting a good education," Fisher said. "We look at it in a positive light."

"Being on the school board is a 24/7 job. It infiltrates your private life and your work life. You never know when a call will come or how long it will take you to get information to answer a question."

She finds it encouraging - and indicative of the spirit in the district - that everyone from board members to administrators to teachers to support staff members has become involved in addressing budget issues.

"This isn't being addressed by just a handful of people," Fisher said. ""Each and every employee is affected, and they're taking the situation seriously. We've asked for suggestions and continue to ask for suggestions. "

Zernial Bogan

Bogan, who's lived in his district for 13 months, said, like Cumpston, he's not impressed with the current board's action on equity issues.

"They haven't handled it well," he said. "On paper, it looks fine, but they filtered on one side and forgot the other. We have to have steps so everything comes out even.

"We want to make sure all our students get the education they need to be worthwhile producers in our community," Bogan said. "If we fail to teach a student, we not only fail the student, we fail ourselves. We're losing those students, and we're losing others who fail to return to our community."

He said districts have to go beyond federal "no child left behind" initiatives.

"If we don't, we're setting ourselves up for failure," Bogan said.

"My focus is no child forgotten. What about the children on the outskirts? What happens when children come out of reformatories? They're going to strike in the community, propagate drug crime and unemployment. We have to ask what else we can do."

Bogan's felony conviction in 1996 for burglary landed him a five-year sentence in 1997 to the Department of Corrections. He had prior convictions for theft, burglary and possession of a controlled substance.

People with drug convictions are not allowed unaccompanied in schools, and schools may not employ them, but the rules do not disqualify candidates with felony records from serving on school boards.

Bogan has made a major change in life direction. He's now an associate minister at Salem Baptist Church and treasurer of the local Ministerial Alliance.

"Since I've been back in Champaign-Urbana, I've been talking about my conviction because I want children to see there is always hope," he said. "There's always a chance to better yourself.

"It's all about learning lessons," Bogan said.
Eligibility issue surfaces in District 2

URBANA - A candidate for the Urbana school board may not be eligible to serve because she doesn't live at the address she listed on her petition, and her former landlady says she hasn't lived there since last July.

But Carol George's name is on the ballot anyway.

George says she lives in Rantoul but is attempting to buy a home in District 2, where she said she lived when she filed her candidate petition in January.

Meanwhile, this week, two write-in candidates have emerged in the city's northwest district where George is running.

They are Alan Douglas of 817 Fairview Ave., a former state trooper who has a student in Urbana schools, and Jerry Moreland of 703 North Mathews Ave., a parent who has been active in King School issues.

Both are members of the city's African-American community.

George's will be the only name on the ballot, however, for a four-year term as the district's board representative. When she filed for the election, she claimed she lived at 925 Linview Ave., a house that now stands vacant, for sale. George, who has a 13-year-old child at Urbana Middle School, initially said she had a 7-year-old second-grader at Martin Luther King School.

However, George said in a recent interview that her second-grader attends school at Rantoul City Schools, where her mother lives, because the child has developmental difficulties and George said she needs her mother's help.

She said she had planned to buy the Linview home but the mortgage wasn't approved because of "structural difficulties" there.

"Now we're trying to buy a house a block away on Busey," she said. "We're working with a Realtor, living temporarily with my mother at Rantoul. We got word about the mortgage not going through last month, and we've been trying to find a home since then."

However, Rosetta Gordon, owner of the Linview property, said George and her family moved out last summer.

"It's been vacant since the end of July," said Gordon, a Champaign resident. "At the beginning of July, I asked them to move."

She said George's family tried to buy the property but didn't pass the credit check.

George, contacted Wednesday, said what Gordon says about her date of departure from the Linview home and her credit status is "not necessarily so," but she declined to say when her family moved out or respond to the credit question. She said she must consult with advisers, "people who are aware of the situation."

"I don't know enough about the process, and I don't want to put anything out that's not the best thing for me to do," she said.

She said she should have a contract for a house on Busey by Friday. "We're planning to move into the house, but it's all still in progress," George said. She said that includes the credit check.

But George may not be eligible to serve on the school board because qualification rules specify that the candidate must be a resident of the subdistrict for at least a year to be eligible.

Since the deadline to challenge her candidacy and remove her name from the ballot is long past, that's not an easy question to answer.

Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden said after the election, the district could ask State's Attorney John Piland to file a legal petition that seeks to declare George ineligible.

He said that's never happened during his tenure.

Shelden said the rules are clear.

"In a civil case, to prove residency, you have to have a bed there," he said. "The electoral board could have challenged this back in January. An eligible candidate has to live in the district one year prior to his or her first day in office."

Piland was out of the office this week and couldn't be reached to discuss whether he would take action in the matter.

Urbana school board District 3

Zernial Bogan

Age: 50

Address: Has lived at 127 Scottswood Drive for a year and one month. Has lived in Urbana for five years.

Phone: 344-0908

Born in: New York City, came to Champaign-Urbana in 1971.

Occupation: Mechanic and contractor. Associate minister for Salem Baptist Church. Treasurer of the Ministerial Alliance.

Family: Wife, Lorean; one daughter; five stepsons.


1) "The most important issue is the achievement gap. We have to be able to have a cultural workshop for teachers so they understand and accept diversity. If teachers aren't instructed in diversity, they can't connect with children, and that connection is the main thing. Teachers are mentors, parents, friends, disciplinarians. They're there with children five days a week, and they have to make that connection."

2) "The most important improvement we must make is reducing class sizes and increasing teachers. If we don't, we're moving into the black ages. We need a more personal approach in the classroom, but I'm afraid we can't do it with the current taxing structure."

3) "Urbana will say we're taking steps and we have improved achievement; yes, but on what side. You can't show you've taken steps in the minority community. You claim to be making improvements, but we don't see them. We have to make disciplinary action changes. Children on detention aren't getting taught. If they're in the juvenile facility, they're not getting taught. The way we handle these issues when children are in kindergarten will determine how they'll do in fifth and sixth grade."

4) "This is very important. If we want to keep teachers, we have to pay them. Their education wasn't free. We have to negotiate with teachers to pay them an equitable living wage. I think we'll have to find a way. What's most important is the students, but the second most important thing is the teachers. I'd sell property and keep teachers rather than hold onto it and hope the money comes in."

Ruth Ann Fisher

Age: 46

Address: 1214 Lanore Drive

Phone number: 367-9004

Born in: Seattle, moved to Urbana in August 1966.

Occupation: Administrative assistant.

Political experience: Four years on Urbana school board. Trustee for the village of Ellsworth in McLean County.

Family: Gina, 19, EIU sophomore; Robin, 17, Urbana High School senior; Curtis, 14, Urbana High School freshman.


1. How would you represent your district? That is, which issues are most important and what's your position?

Every issue is important in this district and I do not weigh one against the other. I approach each issue with the same interest and dedication.

2. What's the most important improvement Urbana schools can make? How can that be achieved?

I think we've made an honest effort to address issues as they came up and to make improvements as they were needed, and I believe we'll continue to do that. When it comes to educating kids, all improvements are important.

3. What's the most pressing need to achieve racial equity and what would you do to accomplish it?

I will support any and all efforts brought to the board for implementing programs and services which will achieve this.

4. How would you approach upcoming salary negotiations with the Urbana?

With an open mind and the understanding that this district, as it continues to strive to attract and retain the best of the best, is in a current financial crunch and we as a board will make every effort to spend the public's money wisely.

Urbana school board District 4

Cope Cumpston

Age: 51

Address: 402 W. Nevada St.

Phone number: 239-5338

Born in: Pittsfield, Mass., moved to Urbana in 1996.

Occupation: Art director, University of Illinois Press.

Political experience: Chair of Citizens for a Representative School Board, which succeeded in 1998 passage of proposal changing election of Urbana Board of Education from at-large to district system. In second term on Urbana Human Relations Commission (since 1998).

Family: Married to Walter Matherly 20 years. One daughter: Sarah Matherly, age 14, freshman at Urbana High School.


1) How would I represent my district?

First, I would represent my district by opening communication between the board and the community. I would make district business more available to the public and staff, make organized efforts to get community input on issues such as campus development and equity needs, and be more responsive to relations with the city council and the University of Illinois.

What issues are most important? No. 1: funding for the schools. We need to expand a comprehensive evaluation of all sources of funding, and pursue additional ways to make up lost tax revenue, from Urbana and Champaign, and the University of Illinois. We should work more extensively with the University of Illinois and Parkland for all possible sharing of resources, including opportunities for professional development for support staff, and application of current research and utilization of faculty/staff in educational programs. We may need to consider a referendum to raise the ceiling of tax caps for school funding. We need to work with state legislators to work toward reform of school funding across the state. Other important issues: racial equity in the schools (see below), teacher recruitment and retention, school campus expansion.

2 & 3) What's the most important improvement Urbana schools can make? How can that be achieved? What's the most pressing need to achieve racial equity and what would you do to accomplish it?

We need to understand and close the difference in experience of groups of students (including white, African-American, Hispanic, low-income) in the issues of achievement, discipline and family involvement. We need to address the needs of all students in both the climate of our schools for students and parents, analyzing ways to bring up to grade level those who are not achieving, and offering sufficient challenge to those who are achieving at high levels. I would focus on several areas simultaneously: school climate for all students; active outreach and support for families of low-achieving students; training of teachers and staff in current research on dealing with students of varying needs; and seeking ways to individualize attention to different students in classrooms even when class size is larger than optimum.

4) How would you approach upcoming salary negotiations with the Urbana Education Association, especially in light of the district's budget troubles?

The quality of our teachers is the single most important element in the schools. We must be able to attract and keep good teachers, and must find ways to do this through competitive salaries and comprehensive benefit programs, including professional development. I would enter the negotiations recognizing what a difficult time this is for teachers and be prepared to consider deficit spending to ensure adequate raises in the short term, as other districts in Illinois are already doing. Long-term, this is of primary importance and will require local and state reform in school funding, and creative negotiations with both the union and other bodies that can contribute to teachers' welfare (including increased professional development opportunities with release time from the district, through Parkland and the UI).

Tina Gunsalus

Age: 45

Address: 511 W. High St.

Phone number: 344-7000

Born in: Urbana.

Occupation: Attorney, University of Illinois, adjunct professor, special counsel, Office of the University Counsel.

Political experience: Urbana school board since 1991; board president eight of those years. Nine-plus years on the Urbana Plan Commission. Served on boards of various community and civic organizations, including Lincoln School Neighbors Association, High and Dry Neighborhood Association, Champaign County Alliance Board of Directors (and several committees, including service as chair of the task force on human resources policies); U.S. Commission on Research Integrity.

Family: Husband Michael W. Walker; daughters Kearney (18), attended Urbana schools; Anna Shea (11) sixth-grader.


Overall: The term of office for subdistrict 4 in this election is two years. Over that period, financial issues are going to be among the most challenging facing Urbana. These include the state funding situation, Urbana's general budget outlook and the upcoming contract negotiations with the Urbana Education Association (teachers and support staff), scheduled to start April 2. I bring extensive experience and knowledge of Urbana's teachers, schools, students, facilities, budget from my 12 years of board service (eight as board president), and almost 20 years of volunteering weekly in the schools.

1. How would you represent your district?

I will best represent my district by continuing to put before all else the interests of the children of Urbana and the quality of public education in this community. Public education is the foundation of democracy: we cannot differentiate among our children in making decisions about how to deploy public resources to improve how we help children grow up to become productive citizens. This means asking about every issue how it affects children.

2. What's the most important improvement Urbana schools can make? How can that be achieved?

Increased parental and family involvement in education is the single most important improvement we can make. We must find and use every successful idea we can, and we must innovate and collaborate to achieve the highest possible level of parental involvement in our schools. We must also continue to attract our community's adults beyond parents to invest in and to work with our children. We have a large and successful mentoring program and we should look for other ways to support and expand it. We must continue to provide the most attractive professional environment we can, so the best teachers and staff want to be in Urbana, working with our children.

3. What's the most pressing need to achieve racial equity and what would you do to accomplish it?

Throughout our school system and our community, we must have the highest possible level of expectation for each and every one of our children, and provide them the tools for achieving at their highest possible level.

4. How would you approach upcoming salary negotiations with the Urbana Education Association, especially in light of the district's budget troubles?

As I have every negotiation since 1991: with respect and knowing that we are partners in education. Our teachers and staff members are professionals who are the ones in the classrooms and schools with our children. They bring important insights and information about how to improve the quality of education in Urbana. We have always used interest-based (win-win) bargaining since I have been on the board; it serves us well. At the same time, the board has a duty to be fiscally responsible and to assure that we as a district live within our means. This will require patience, good communication, trust, experience and mutual respect. The process we have developed over the years where we first agree upon the resources available and then work within that framework has been very constructive and I am pleased that we are continuing it.




Jodi Heckel, Amy F. Reiter, Mike Monson, Steve Bauer, Anne Cook, Julie Wurth , “Newspaper Clippings,” eBlack Champaign-Urbana, accessed October 13, 2019,

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