Rewards for high-achieving students an intriguing idea

Bill Trankina has been an administrator in the Rantoul City Schools district for 23 years. He's seen the good years, when the district was doing well financially and the village's demographics were strong, with healthy employment, low poverty and high education rates, mainly because of the presence of Chanute Air Force Base. Things have been more challenging since Chanute closed.

Test scores are down, and poverty rates and the number of students who move during the school year are up. The district did not meet adequate yearly progress standards in 2005. It is losing experienced teachers to the Champaign school district.

Campus bar owners should scale back 'drinking holiday'

Last March 4, the University of Illinois and the city of Champaign hosted – unknowingly – an Unofficial St. Patrick's Day event. It was a promotion brewed up by Campustown bar owners to encourage UI students, as well as students from all over the Midwest, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day a few weeks early. Celebrating the real St. Patrick's Day in Champaign wouldn't be as much fun or as profitable, the bar owners figured, because UI students would be gone on spring break.

So the Campustown bars opened early – as early as 8 a.m. that Friday – and what has been called a "drinking holiday" began. The result, according to a report to the Champaign Liquor Advisory Commission:

Indiana governor shows the way on government reform

You wouldn't hear this kind of talk from most Illinois politicians, but across the border in Indiana the governor is proposing to – gasp! – eliminate a layer of government.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has proposed eliminating township assessors and putting those responsibilities in the hands of county assessors. There are 1,008 townships in Indiana but 92 counties (Illinois has 1,433 townships which, a 1999 Associated Press series found, cost Illinois taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars a year). Think there might be some efficiencies in moving to a countywide property assessment system? In addition, Daniels argues that his proposal would make for more uniform property assessments and would professionalize the assessment process.

Only one way to deal with threat of terror

A truce? The United States certainly appreciates the offer from terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, but it's a little late for that.

Still, one has to give the al-Qaida leader credit. If bin Laden wanted his latest audiotape to make a splash, his suggestion of a negotiated truce last week was a great way to do it. Of course, the offer was delivered along with the threat of more terrorist attacks, and it's easy to decide which of the two is the more credible offer.

Champaign's youth smoking ordinance achieves nothing

Champaign City Council members voted last week to criminalize the possession of tobacco by minors. From now on, under city ordinance, anyone under 18 who is found in possession of tobacco products can be fined $145.

There is no doubt that tobacco use is a significant national health problem, that its use should be discouraged (among people of all ages) and that government has an appropriate role in fighting tobacco use. But Champaign officials and Champaign residents should be under no illusion that this ordinance – no matter how costly the penalty – will do much to decrease smoking among teenagers. On the contrary, it's more likely to further institutionalize disrespect for the law.

Tax break for fuel-efficient cars makes no sense

Among Gov. Rod Blagojevich's latest legislative initiatives is a plan to give a $500 state sales tax credit on the purchase of a new, fuel-efficient car, beginning July 1.

The idea, officials say, is to help Illinois drivers save money, promote fuel efficiency and boost the use of alternative fuels.

Some questions about air conditioning in schools

In less than two months, residents of the Champaign school district will have their say on a proposal to issue $65.9 million in bonds to finance the construction of three elementary schools (at a cost of $30 million) and improvements, renovations and additions to eight existing elementary schools (adding up to $29.4 million), plus a number of other land acquisition and building improvements.

If approved at the polls on March 21, school officials say that property taxes on a $150,000 home, with an equalized assessed valuation of $50,000, would increase about $42 a year.

Brady addresses state's woeful pension mess, how about others?

Illinois' gubernatorial primary election is two months away, but so far only one candidate has dared to bring up the issue that is a bigger threat to the state's future than any other – its enormous pension obligation.

While Gov. Rod Blagojevich claims to be too busy governing than to even debate his Democratic primary opponent, Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington at least has the courage to take on the 800-pound gorilla menacing the state's future budgets.

Governor takes on Washington, as he takes its money

The consensus of observers, Democrat and Republican, was that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's speech Wednesday was more about the state of his campaign than about the state of the state. And which campaign? Is Blagojevich running for governor of Illinois or president of the United States? In his 39-minute speech, Blagojevich referred to Washington, the Bush administration or the federal government 22 times.

Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, noted that Blagojevich "seemed to be much more concerned about things going on in Washington than things going on here in Illinois."

C-U, university natural choice to host IHSA events

The Champaign-Urbana community got some great news this past week when the Illinois High School Association decided to keep playing its championship football games at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium for the next five years.

At the same time, the IHSA created the possibility of additional good news locally by deciding to expand its playoff system from two to four classes for five major sports – three for girls and two for boys. Starting with the 2007-08 school year, some of those additional championship events – boys' and girls' basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball – will have to be played somewhere, and UI and community leaders already have expressed the desire to have the UI campus expand its host role.