Rockford City Council Approves $168 Million Budget

Dec 9, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Rockford City Council approved a $168 million budget for 2021 amid an economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carrie Hagerty is the finance director with the City of Rockford. She said that the goal for the new budget is to weather the ongoing financial pressure of the pandemic.

“We don't anticipate any changes in staffing levels in this budget. So we're really just maintaining the levels of service that we are providing today, through the 2021 budget,” said Hagerty.

A northern Illinois art museum is following up Saturday morning cartoons with afternoon caricature fun.

The Rockford Art Museum has a youth Cartoon Club. Jaymee Fedor is the education and engagement manager at the museum. She said she recently moved back to Rockford from Philadelphia, where she had a community of children who attended her drawing workshops at the library where she taught.

This year, the December night sky features a rare phenomenon that is famously called the "Christmas Star.” It’s called that because, according to the Bible, it's what the Magi followed as they traveled to Bethlehem to see the new child, Jesus.

Illinois State Board of Education

The Illinois State Board of Education released an interactive report showing how teacher preparation programs across the state are performing.

The Illinois Educator Preparation Profile allows employers and prospective education students to scour data about college programs to see how well they recruit students of color, what percentage of graduates get placed in teaching positions and a host of other metrics.

This year has been difficult due to COVID-19, but some Rockford organizations are urging residents to show their brighter side this holiday season.  

The Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, along with the City of Rockford and ComEd, are co-sponsoring #Decorate815. This challenges Rockford residents to decorate their homes and yards.

Spencer Tritt

“Are you there?” Jen Cotovsky types into the Google Meet chatbox. Still no response. Then, finally, a new message pops up from the student on her caseload. Cotovsky is a social worker for DeKalb High School.

The student has their camera and microphone off, so the chatbox is the only way to talk right now. Those are the most challenging meetings she has with students. At this point, she’s used to talking to high schoolers with their camera off.

Illinois is under a Tier 3 Mitigation strategy in efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Indoor gatherings that don’t include those from the same household are prohibited. One northern Illinois museum isn’t letting this stop their show.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Due to the rise in COVID-19 related deaths in Rockford, local officials are turning to alternative cold storage options for the recently deceased.

Earlier this week, WREX reported that the Winnebago County Board was considering leasing a refrigerated truck to accommodate potential overflow of COVID-19 related remains.

Angela Fellars is a representative-elect for the Winnebago County Board and she said the new cold storage truck is already in Rockford and ready for use.

Durbin Urges Passage Of COVID-19 Relief Package

Dec 4, 2020

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said Congress needs to pass a COVID-19 emergency relief package now. He said the legislation is substantial and includes funds to support various measures. 

“We have a $908 billion program that can make a significant difference in the lives of many Americans and save many American businesses that are teetering on the brink of failure and bankruptcy.”

But Durbin said passage of such a bill remains uncertain.

Provided by Richard Holinger.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week's poem is by Richard Holinger

City of DeKalb

DeKalb’s mayor and the president of Northern Illinois University emphasized cooperation and economic development at a State of the City event Thursday.

Mayor Jerry Smith touted several successes, such as the arrival of Facebook and the Ferrara Candy Company to DeKalb. He also highlighted a joint effort with the University to help small businesses cope with COVID-19.

“From the get-go, a group got together to see what could be done to help these businesses, and DeKalb County UNITES was born.”

New Report: Major Windfall For ComEd At Expense Of Customers

Dec 2, 2020

According to  new report out this week shows ComEd is enjoying record profits while its customers pay higher electricity delivery rates than they should be.

The report by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG),  show that the 2011 Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (EIMA) is at the center of ComEd’s "profit machine." 

Photo provided by CFNIL.

The cost of higher education seems to rise every year and it can be difficult to understand how to pursue financial aid. Jennifer Smith is the engagement director with the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois. She said there is a virtual community scholarship fair especially for graduating high school seniors who live in the region.

"It's a great opportunity to meet directly with local scholarship providers," she said, "and talk about the scholarships they offer."

Susan Stephens

After talking to school nurses and staff, Mel Gilfillan thought the Winnebago County Health Department’s statement that there were cases but no spread of the virus in schools was wishful thinking.

He’s the president of the Rockford Education Association. Those concerns were confirmed when Rockford Public Schools reported its first COVID-19 outbreak among staff at Spring Creek Elementary.

“The Spring Creek situation was just so shocking and upsetting to many people. And I think what it did was it just it stopped the zero percent spread in schools talk,” he said.

Yvonne Boose

This first day of December is Giving Tuesday and one northern Illinois organization is asking for help -- so they can help others.

Major Mark Martsolf is the Winnebago County coordinator for the Salvation Army. He said the organization served way more families this year than last.  

“I've been a Salvation Army officer for 40 years. I've just not seen the need so pronounced,” he said. “First time recipients, people who have to rely on support services that never had to before, perhaps they're laid off from their jobs.”

Photo provided by U of I Extension.

If you are trying to avoid extra stress and pounds this holiday season, the University of Illinois Extension is offering “Health at Home Holiday Edition” webinars. 

Diane Reinhold is a nutrition and wellness educator with the Extension. She said the webinars are an opportunity to help people deal with seasonal challenges.

"Often we feel overwhelmed with the holidays," she said. "So taking 30 minutes out of your day to gain some skills and maybe laugh and have a little fun is our goal."

ACA Open Enrollment Ends December 15th

Nov 27, 2020

Open enrollment for health insurance via the federal marketplace is underway.

The marketplace was created by the Affordable Care Act as a resource for those seeking insurance. It also helps them determine whether they’re eligible for federal subsidies to help pay for that coverage. Derryl Block is Dean of Northern Illinois University’s College of Health and Human Sciences. She said some people are worried about the current Supreme Court case challenging the ACA.

Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh -- photograph by Melanie Wieland

On a new episode of Teachers' Lounge: Lynne Ravas. She’s a recently retired English teacher who taught across the country. Lynne also has family -- including her father -- who survived the Holocaust. For decades, Lynne has worked with organizations to educate people of all ages and pass down the stories of survivors, especially as survivors themselves have passed away.

Peter Medlin

A new report reflects on the long-term cost of cutting education funding during past recessions and how Illinois can learn from those mistakes during the COVID recession.

The Partnership for College Completion argues that recessions are a rare opportunity to make college access and cost more equitable.

Mike Abrahamson is the Partnership’s policy manager. He believes the future of Illinois’ economy depends on how Illinois devotes funding to education now, when dollars are scarce and there could be budget cuts for schools around the corner.

When you think of an auction you might think fast-talking auctioneers and excited participants raising their hands or shouting out bids. COVID-19 has silenced this practice. But one northern Illinois church is continuing with its annual sale while helping local artists during the process.

The Unitarian Universalist church in Rockford is holding an online auction, marketplace and art fair. The event is normally for the church family only, but this year is open to anyone who visits their website.

Provided by Christine Swanberg.

Welcome to WNIJ’s Thanksgiving week Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week’s poem is by Rockford’s first ever poet laureate Christine Swanberg.

Swanberg’s published works span over several decades. Her writing has appeared in many anthologies and journals like Beloit Poetry Journal, Louisville Review, Spoon River and Earth Blessings.

A northern Illinois Boys & Girls club received a grant that will help bring an attraction that’s typically outside -- inside the building.

The Rockford Fairgrounds Unit Boys & Girls Club of America is putting a mural in one of its rooms with the help of what’s called an Our Journey Action-Grant formerly known as an Our Journey Micro-Grant.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A Rockford police officer has been cleared in the shooting of an unarmed black man fleeing a traffic stop back in October. 

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross announced that Rockford Police Officer Dominik McNiece was legally justified in his shooting of 21-year-old Tyris Jones. 

Thanksgiving At Miss Carly's Going Strong

Nov 25, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

COVID-19 isn’t stopping a northern Illinois homeless outreach shelter from providing a Thanksgiving meal this year. Carly Rice is the founder of Miss Carly’s. Last year, she said they cooked over 50 turkeys.

“We were cooking turkeys for like a week. And it was a frantic frenzy to make sure we had enough plates and forks.”

This year, due to COVID-19, Miss Carly’s plans to pass out Thanksgiving-themed sandwiches with a side of cranberry sauce on the side. 

Spencer Tritt

Illinois has had a shortage of teachers for years now, and that extends to substitutes. But, during the pandemic, that pool of subs has dwindled even further. That made it challenging for in-person schools to have socially-distanced classrooms staffed at all.

Chris Mehochko is the regional superintendent for Kendall and Grundy counties. Regional education offices serve as the hub for subs, helping them with licensing and background checks.

Grand Jury Returned Indictment Against Tyris Jones

Nov 20, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A Rockford man shot by a police officer last month now faces murder charges.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross announced that a Grand Jury had returned an indictment against 21-year-old Tyris Jones for first degree murder.

Jones was charged with the September murder of 25-year-old Demavalee Macklin. Rockford Police Chief Daniel O’Shea says that this is just one of the many gun fire deaths in the region.

Oberweis Seeks Discovery Recount In 14th District Race

Nov 20, 2020

14th District Congressional GOP Candidate Jim Oberweis is seeking what's called a "discovery" recount in his race against Democratic incumbent Lauren Underwood.

This would have election authorities examine up to 25% of precincts to determine if votes would have gone a different way. Campaign spokesman Travis Akin explained.

“If you are within 5%, you have the opportunity legally to ask for a discovery recount," said Akin. "We will be paying for some of those precincts with funds that we’ve raised for this express purpose.”

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours features northern Illinois poets. This week's poem is by Carandus Brown.

Brown is a devoted Christian with hopes to encourage people to find Jesus for themselves. 

Rockford Mayor Announces Reelection Bid

Nov 19, 2020
City of Rockford

The mayor of Rockford is seeking reelection in 2021.

Mayor Tom McNamara made the announcement this week, touting successes such as growth downtown, in the health care industry, and at Chicago Rockford International Airport. A central campaign message is his desire to make further improvements in those areas.

“We have had great progress these last four years and we want to build on that progress," he said. "We know there is so much more work to be done.”

The Winnebago County Health Department Thursday announced seven new deaths in the county from COVID-19. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said there has also been a significant increase in cases throughout the region.

“We’re reporting new cases of 234, our total case count throughout the pandemic is 15,719.”

Martell and Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said there is going to be a significant step-up in enforcement against businesses that violate mitigation rules. Some measures include daily ticketing, closures and ineligibility for business relief grants.