By Steve Robinson | July 30, 2017 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonSomeone in charge gave the scoreboard operator at The Corn Crib the night off on Saturday, July 29. If the scoreboard operator was lucky enough, that person should have showed up at the ballpark anyway for the annual “Legends” game. Proceeds from the contest went to benefit The Miracle League of Central Illinois.

Bill Wright, the late owner of Uncle Bill’s Self Storage in Normal, helped throw out the first pitch, as it were, to making sure the Twin Cities would have a league where a child, regardless of their disabilities, could play the grand old game just as other children do. Each player in the Miracle League gets a “buddy” to help them bat and field and run bases. That’s part of how the Miracle League works. Part of a nationwide organization, Miracle League of Central Illinois (MLCI) has been playing its seventh season in 2017. Wright had a hand in getting the league off the ground and passed away in 2012.

The two sides for the Legends game were divided by the colors of the event’s logo, green and yellow. A total of 4,260 fans came out to see and cheer for guys who used to suit up for Major League Baseball. They were joined by local guys lucky enough to share a dugout with them.

The “Green” team, captained by former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Mitch “The Wild Thing” Williams, consisted of Judge William Yoder, State Rep. Dan Brady, State Sen. Rodney Davis, WGLT FM General Manager R. C. McBride, Former Cubs/Giants/Phillies alum Mike Fontenot, Former Chicago Cubs center fielder Bob Dernier, former St. Louis Cards pitcher Rick Ankiel, former Oakland A’s outfielder Jose Canseco, former Chicago Bears Hall Of Famer Dan Hampton, and The Pantagraph’s Randy Reinhardt.

The “Yellow” team, captained by Dustin Crone, consisted of this roster including the following players: Former Atlanta Falcons defensive back Brian Jordan, former Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, former Cardinals pitcher Jason Isringhausen, Former Chicago Bears tackle Steve McMichael, and former WJBC Radio Reporters Adam Nielsen and Alan Sender.

The evening had a wild beginning as Canseco and Ankiel took part in a home run contest prior to the game. Softballs flew out of The Corn Crib as the two former superstars engaged in a little friendly competition which everybody marveled at.

I’d love to tell you who won the Legends Game itself, but since the scoreboard wasn’t turned on and like many of the fans, I got caught up in the camaraderie and the fun the evening produced, I think it would be safe to say the big winners on the night was The Miracle League of Central Illinois and its players and volunteers. Other winners on the night were the fans who came out to cheer and marvel at the guys who played in the majors and still appear to have what it takes, and their local teammates who joined in on the fun. The Miracle League players have a field of very own right behind The Corn Crib and play their games on Sunday afternoons in the spring and summer.

Kids Playing Leap Frog And Chicago 6 Band: After the game, fans waited for a concert by the Chicago 6 Band fronted by Hampton and McMichael. They entertained the crowd that stayed after the game with songs from Elvis and Pink Floyd, among others. Between tunes (and at times after altering tunes to mention their previous occupation), the band members reminisced and took some semi-friendly jabs at their former coach, the legendary Mike Ditka.

They started out by playing to a crowd that sat in the stands while the stage was set in deep center field. But as the concert continued, the fans, roughly 300 or so, many wearing Cubs gear and World Series Cubs gear, took to the field to get a closer look and interact with their favorite players.

Prior to the concert, kids took to the field and played catch or other games as they and their parents waited for the concert to start. Among those kids were a couple sets of three or four kids playing leap frog. The first set of kids, we thought, was only going to go from home plate to first base. But they showed they had a little more energy and determination than it turned out managing to round the bases until they reached third. That’s when they appeared to run out of gas. With the first set of kids, four kids played, and one child would abandon the game for a short time and pick it up again before the whole crew stopped.

A second set of three kids weren’t as ambitious as they started from home plate to leap frog as far as they could go. The second group barely made it to first base. But while both sets played, they had our group of fans in the stands down the first base line smiling.

By Steve Robinson | July 29, 2017 - 10:29 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Steve RobinsonLate buses, either at the start or end of the school day. Uncertainty over where a bus is exactly when it is expected at a specific location. A shortage of regular and substitute drivers. All of these items plagued Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co., the transportation provider for Normal-based Unit 5 schools at the beginning of last school year.

As a result, there were many angry parents who made their feelings known at a number of district Board meetings. It took a change in First Student’s chain of command for the matter to see a turnaround.

This newspaper did extensive reporting on the busing situation that arose last school year, and the most notable quote from the whole episode for me was from Unit 5 Board Member Mike Trask, who reminded First Student officials who attended those meetings that Dr. Mark Daniel was the district superintendent and not the bus depot supervisor. That comment came as a result of Daniel having had to be involved in the matter practically daily until it could be smoothed out. It took most of the first semester for that to get done, and included a change in First Student’s hierarchy when their location manager at the time resigned five days into the new semester.

But as the current school year approaches, district and First Student officials both say they are ready for the start of school and look forward to making sure such episodes like last year’s aren’t repeated this time around.

Last month, I met with Mark Bohl, location manager, and Ladel Cass, a district manager for First Student, to find out just how preparations were going. Also at that meeting were Daniel and Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district. Bohl assured me the busing routes – all 126 of them – are completely mapped out and that he has enough drivers, substitutes, and monitors to get the job done when school opens in the district Aug. 16.

Right now, Bohl said, he has 145 drivers on his roster ready to drive. That means they have completed the necessary training and are certified by the State. In addition to those, he added, the company has “a significant number of driver candidates in the pipeline.”

At the time I did the interviews in mid-July, Bohl added that First Student was still waiting for information from the close of summer school and from parents who would submit changes before making any last minute tweaks to routes. Those changes are something the busing provider anticipated, he explained.

Bohl was “able to turn the situation around very quickly” after his hiring in October, explained Adelman. Adelman added First Student has made sure they have a 20 percent staffing of substitute drivers on hand to step in if there are issues. Bohl added parents can access routes using the district’s Skyward information system. That information, he said, is regularly updated.

For parents who read this and still are skeptical that their fears and concerns over what took place last year might get repeated later this month, Bohl said all aspects have been addressed, adding, “It’s going to be better. We’re going to accomplish the task. I foresee a great startup. We’ve got everything in place. The drivers are engaged, and everyone’s excited.”

Preparation for the situation will also include keeping the public informed through the local media, Daniel added. In addition, parents will receive notices through Skyward, he said.

“We’re going to be starting this year with what we ended last year with in terms of expected performance,” Cass added. He said once problems developed as they did last year, First Student’s corporate staff in Ohio offered suggestions to help improve the situation.

“I know this is a business operation. First Student is watching what is going on this school year,” Cass added. He said both he and Bohl have frequent calls from their superiors asking about progress made, and inquiring about any sort of assistance which might be needed at this point.

Bohl said working with Unit 5 “is key and has been a joy.” He said doing the job the company does without any kind of support from a district makes First Student’s job harder. But the two groups have been working as a team to see that last year’s problematic start isn’t repeated.

I also spoke to Trask about the situation and about his hopes for how the situation will progress as the new school year begins. I will bring you his comments in my next column.

By Steve Robinson | July 28, 2017 - 10:09 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – The very first group Carl Teichman ever volunteered for was the local United Way campaign in the mid-1980s at the request of a colleague. From there, his efforts earned him a reputation as someone who could be counted on to aid his community when asked.

At the annual Town of Normal Appreciation Reception on July 27, Teichman, Director of Government and Community Relations at Illinois Wesleyan University who has been there since 1979, was recognized as the Town’s Citizen of the Year. The announcement was made by Mayor Chris Koos when the function was held at the Astroth Community Education Center on the Heartland Community College campus.

From that first time of being asked to volunteer, Teichman said, he has been asked to become involved in other efforts to help benefit the Town. He is the past president of the McLean County Regional Planning Commission, a governing body he has been part of since 2006. He has also served as a member of the Main Street Call For Investment Committee, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, which he has served as Board President since last year.

Born in Chicago, Teichman graduated from high school in Antioch, Ill., but said after attending and graduating from IWU, he liked the Twin Cities so much that he decided to stay.

Teichman also currently serves on the Board that oversees the McLean County Museum of History, telling the gathering, “I certainly would like to see what happens with the Museum, and I’m part of the Board of the Ecology Action Center. Obviously, making the community more sustainable is a good thing.”

Teichman credits his employment at IWU with helping him achieve all that he has done and which allows him to help the community. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the University because they’ve given me the ability to do a lot of things as part of my job.”

Teichman’s wife of 33 years, Laurel Mode Teichman, said she was notified of her husband’s honor a few weeks back. “It was exciting to find out, and I’m very proud of him and for him,” she said.

In his remarks introducing Teichman, Koos said, “He is a humble and modest individual who lives each day asking, ‘What good did I do today?’ He has helped the Town of Normal by creating a vibrant and exciting future.”

After being introduced, Teichman, the father of two children, said, “I certainly thank the Town of Normal, all the people who were part of the decision-making to make me Citizen of the Year.”

“While I do my part, I know all of you in this room do your part,” Teichman said to the 250 invited guests attending. That number included some past Citizen of the Year recipients. “I think that’s one reason Normal is such a great community to live in.”

This function marked the 60th year the Citizen of the Year award has been given by the Town. Past recipients have included: Clarence Ropp (1960); Howard J. Hancock (1976); Hall Riss, Jr. (1982); Stanley R. Ommen (1994); Edward Jelks (2004); and Myra Gordon (2012). The honor has gone to a married couple five times during its history, the last couple to receive the honor being Dan and Kathy Steadman in 2014.

Unit 5NORMAL – In years past, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board and Normal Town Council members have tried to form a committee which would examine an issue or concern both groups had a need to address for the good of the community.

During those years, such agreements to begin those committees never quite took hold. But following a joint session of the two governmental bodies July 26 in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Council and Unit 5 Board members have agreed to try again.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos directed City Manager Mark Peterson to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding between the Town and the district. Peterson would negotiate the agreement with Dr. Mark Daniel, Unit 5’s District Superintendent. Peterson and Daniel sat side by side at the speakers’ table across from a nearly-full dais of both Council and Board members who sat at the Council table.

All seven Unit 5 Board members joined five of the seven Normal Town Council members for the session that lasted nearly an hour. Normal Town Council Member Chemberly Cummings was away on business and Council Member Kevin McCarthy was on vacation.

“I think we can pull this committee together and get started pretty quickly,” Koos told Peterson and Daniel. He added the two governmental entities are and have been looking for items where they can collaborate together.

“I’m so appreciative that we are here talking about how to expand our collaborative efforts,” Daniel told the gathering.

Town of Normal“We need to keep the lines of communication open,” Koos responded, explaining that, in the past, such attempts at collaboration had faded. “We don’t want that to happen again.”

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz, a former member of the Normal Planning Commission, said when NPC dealt with a particular issue, she often found herself asking if the school district was aware of the matter being discussed.

Peterson said such collaboration would have been helpful last December when both groups were deciding whether to assist electric car manufacturer Rivian Automotive as it sought to purchase the former Mitsubishi Motors North America plant on the Town’s west end.

Separately, Council and School Board members are expected to approve establishing a permanent committee which would have members from each group. It is anticipated that group will meet quarterly, and that their first meeting could come as early as sometime in August. Each group will choose two members to be part of the committee, with Peterson and Daniel attending. However, Peterson and Daniel would not be voting members.

Unit 5-State Budget Update Presented: Unit 5 Business Manager Marty Hickman presented the gathering with a recap of the district’s financial standing as it waits for money from the State budget to arrive, provided State Senate Bill 1 is either signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner or vetoed by Rauner followed by the veto being overturned by legislators.

If funds do not arrive in a timely manner, Unit 5 schools could close after 60 attendance days, said Hickman. That would put the closing sometime in November. Classes start Aug. 16, but the district’s problems will be compounded should the funding impasse go on past Aug. 3, added Hickman.

Unit 5NORMAL – It’s still summer and that means families probably still haven’t thought about matters relating to school just yet. But officials at Normal-based Unit 5 School District have been working and keeping an eye on matters such as school funding. The district anticipates receiving money owed it once Gov. Bruce Rauner signs the funding bill which would release dollars from Springfield to local districts.

Senate Bill 1 needs to either be signed by Rauner or have the Illinois General Assembly override a Rauner veto of the legislation for money to begin arriving. There is also concern how an increase in the State income tax, passed by Senate Democrats in May, will affect the district.

Dr. Mark Daniel, District Superintendent, explained that although the budget for the State has been passed, “The distribution of those funds is still in limbo. That’s very concerning for us.” Daniel said the district has 60 days’ worth of reserves which would be gone by mid-October barring any sudden need for the cash to be used.

“We will do our level best to find alternative funding,” Daniel said. “We will use those resources to the extent we can until there truly is no more school.” If the funding isn’t released for the district to keep operating, he said, he suspects “there will be enough mothers standing on the Capitol steps of Springfield and pounding down doors, that I think legislators will find a way to distribute funds.”

At recent Unit 5 Board of Education meetings, Daniel and Board members, most notably Board Member Mike Trask, have encouraged parents to write and call legislators. Daniel said, “I think there’s been a steady flow of communication to legislators” concerning the matter.”

Unit 5 mapDaniel said he thinks if SB1 or another bill which would send the money due the district in its direction isn’t passed soon, “There will be so much public frustration and push-back, and when mothers are on the doorstep of the Capitol, that will cause our legislators to find ways to distribute funds.”

Unit 5 has $5.4 million in back payments due it from Springfield which would be reimbursement due the district for Transportation and Special Education during the 2016-17 school year. Daniel said he expects that funding to be received, but can’t say when the district will see it arrive.

SB1 increases Unit 5’s funding to “over $400,000, to be received,” Daniel said. “If, in addition to that amount, we were to receive the 80 to 85 percent of proration the State said that they will give us for Transportation, that would be better that the 70 percent proration we received from them last year.”

But Daniel cautioned, $400,000 can be received and spent rather quickly if an urgent need were to develop. He said an urgent need such as helping a special needs child or pay the repair bill on an air conditioning chiller could drain the fund quickly.

In May, State Senate Democrats opted to pass legislation which increased the State income tax and widened State sales taxes. State income tax increases are helping to finance the money coming in from SB 1, Daniel reminded. As a result of the vote, the personal income tax rate went up from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, while the corporate income tax rate would go from 5.25 percent to 7 percent.