August 28, 2014
The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald
Our View: Good people stop bullying
We approve of a new state law requiring school districts to have bullying and prevention plans in place, although it's disappointing if any Illinois school needed to be told to do that.
Fortunately, most local school districts do have a plan in place and have been taking bullying seriously for several years to foster a safe learning environment for all students.
It's unrealistic to expect schools to be able to control every individual incident of bad behavior, but we can and should expect them to protect students and make sure there are consequences for students threatening, intimidating or physically injuring other students.
We were particularly pleased to see the attitude of a fine teacher at Prairie Ridge High School. Jamie Buck clearly has a passion for the issue and a sensible approach to dealing with bullying that she shares with her fortunate students.
"Anti-bullying programs are about telling bullies not to be bullies, so we took a different approach," Buck said. "I wanted to help my students be sure of who they are and confident in who they are so if they hear those (bullying) comments it won't affect them."
Buck issues students challenges such as smiling in the hallways, avoiding social media, not cursing, telling three adults why they are appreciated, among others.
Even the most well-adjusted, confident students could face bullying, and we shouldn't blame victims. But teaching kids how to build their confidence, character, attitude and wit will go a long way toward deflating the power of verbal taunts and emotional abuse.
These are valuable lessons that these teens will carry into adulthood, and we applaud teachers such as Buck and many others who see the importance of the other side of the bullying equation.
August 27, 2014
The Jacksonville Journal-Courier
Imagine going to pick up your car from the mechanic and being told the problem you had been promised was fixed a few months ago really wasn't.
But now it is.
Then once you're a block away from the shop, it becomes apparent nothing has been done.
That's kind of how we feel over the entire debacle involving political hiring in the administration of Gov. Pat Quinn.
The story actually starts years ago, when Rod Blagojevich was governor. There were a lot of people who had helped win the office and apparently a little back-scratching to be done.
There are guidelines against such political hiring, though. The landmark Rutan vs. Republican Party of Illinois prohibits any government entity from hiring or firing public employees because of their party affiliation.
But there are always exemptions. Sometimes, a person's political affiliation has a direct bearing on the job, such as a political aide.
Or a "staff assistant."
So as nice-paying positions within the Illinois Department of Transportation would come open, many were converted to Rutan-exempt staff assistant positions. These spots went to political players who reports said would do menial tasks while soaking up the public dime.
When Blagojevich had his little "oopsie" moment and was removed from office, running mate Quinn stepped into the governor's office and vowed to clean up the political train wreck.
By his second year in office, though, there were 104 staff assistants within IDOT — double the number that existed in Blagojevich's last full year.
A 2013 report by the Better Government Association called the practice into question and political activist Michael Shakman sought action through the courts to appoint an independent monitor to look into hiring within the transportation department.
The agency, again, said the situation was being addressed.
A review this month by The Associated Press raised questions about whether that was the case.
So then comes a report by Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza that was uncovered last week by The Chicago Tribune. The scathing review detailed how hundreds of people have been hired to staff assistant positions doing tasks that should have been open to anyone.
Former Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider told the Chicago Tribune last week that it was the governor's office that pushed the political hires. Quinn countered Tuesday that transportation officials simply should not have hired them.
State officials have had Meza's report since July, but it was not until last week — hours before it was to be made public — they decided to address it.
Acting transportation secretary Erica Borggren said the 58 employees in question would be removed under a "material reorganization."
Before thinking that will end the matter, consider the same maneuver was tried in 2003 to get rid of employees with Republican ties and years later the courts decided the workers were entitled to get their jobs back, receive millions in back pay and have their benefits put back into place.
We expect the next move in this situation will be in the court system as well.
This is not a fix. This is an attempt to get the political hiring issue out of the spotlight during a crucial election period.
The problem is still going to be there until political influence is removed and some faith is restored in the hiring process.
August 26, 2014
The (Joliet) Herald-News
Update state's aging technology
Illinois state government is in trouble again.
This time, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services let Illinois have it for its faulty way of withdrawing federal Medicaid money.
The federal audit, released last week, found that the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, during fiscal 2010 through 2012, averaged withdrawing $60 million more quarterly in Medicaid money than it actually needed. That's a no-no.
The extra Medicaid money was deposited in the state's general fund and used for purposes for which it was not intended, such as transportation, education and pensions. That's another no-no.
And during the period audited, Illinois was two to six months' late in repaying the Medicaid money, costing the federal government nearly $800,000 in lost interest. Oops.
State officials said they justified all the money they withdrew.
The problem, according to Michael Casey, a state finance administrator, is the state's outdated, 30-year-old computer system.
It's so old it can't do daily calculations for the reimbursement rates for a half-dozen different programs. So officials basically give their best educated guess as to the dollar amounts needed.
Blaming the computer is as old an excuse as the computer age itself. But in this case, Casey is right.
The authors of "Fixing Illinois: Politics and Policy in the Prairie State" reported the findings of a 2009 report by the Taxpayers' Action Board. James D. Nowlan and J. Thomas Johnson wrote that Illinois' human services departments have "dozens of legacy computer systems," and many of them are 30 to 40 years old.
Such antiquated, fragmented systems "inhibit worker productivity, prevent Illinois from reducing costs, and challenge cross-department collaboration," they wrote.
That prompted Nowlan and Johnson to offer No. 27 of their 98 suggestions to improve state government.
They call on the state to develop a modern information technology system for human services, where all agencies can share information about clients.
To pay for all the new computers, software and networks, the state's bonding authority should be used for "this desperately needed long-term capital investment."
Nowlan and Johnson have an excellent point.
The aging computer systems in state government are dragging it down. Upgrades across the board could greatly lessen problems in human services agencies, and very likely other state departments and agencies.
While Casey was quoted as saying his department is due to receive new computers by the end of 2017, we say that's not soon enough.
It's time for state governmental leaders to get serious about addressing the state's aging information technology before it gets Illinois into any more trouble.