Tag: east central Illinois

One of the most right-wing newspapers in the entire country couldn’t find a single Betsy DeVos supporter in the education community

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This blog post was originally written on Medium by the administrator of this blog and has been republished in full.


Above the fold on the front page of today’s issue of The News-Gazette, a Champaign, Illinois-based newspaper that covers the east-central part of Illinois and has a very right-wing reputation, was this story about how many in the public education community are opposed to the nomination of Betsy DeVos to the office of U.S. Secretary of Education.

In The News-Gazette’s attempt to find a DeVos supporter, they couldn’t find a single one in the educational community in East Central Illinois.

The strongest opposition to DeVos came obviously from teachers’ union leaders, although many in management (i.e., public school administrators) strongly opposed DeVos as well. Sheila Greenwood, the superintendent of schools in the Bement, Illinois public school system (covering southern portions of Piatt County, Illinois), said this about DeVos:

Bement Superintendent Sheila Greenwood was so appalled by how DeVos answered senators’ questions last month that she contacted her legislators, “begging them to put a stop to this insanity.”

“She couldn’t answer basic questions about schools, funding or assessment. She is uber-wealthy and has no experiences with public education because she lives like the 1 percent and knows nothing,” Greenwood said. “I think Trump will have his puppet and others will run the department.

Jeremy Darnell, the superintendent of the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley public school system in Illinois (map of district here), said this about DeVos:

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Superintendent Jeremy Darnell was unimpressed with her hearing, as well, saying it was “very evident” she lacks understanding of current education issues.

[…]

“Votes should be cast on merit, preparation and the ability to effectively fill an essential role in our national government, not party line politics,” Darnell said. “All appointments should be considered for their ability to effectively advise our elected leadership. No leader can be a master at all so the essential need to surround yourself with experts in their field is more important today than ever.

The Bement and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school districts are located in some of the most Republican areas in all of Illinois, and voters in both school districts voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

The closest person that The News-Gazette could find to a DeVos supporter was Mr. Seth Miller, the superintendent of the public school system that I attended, the Westville Community Unit School District in Illinois. I’m paraphrasing, but Mr. Miller’s thoughts about DeVos were basically of the “give DeVos a chance if she’s confirmed” mentality without offering any explicit support of DeVos:

“We have the best educational system in the world. A leader who is committed to children, who need access to public education, would receive my support,” Miller said. “… Spirited debate with informed constituents helps make us a strong country — big enough and brave enough for diverse opinions. It is my hope that whoever is confirmed as the next secretary of education will help perpetuate this democratic ideal in our public school system.”

Having seen video clips of the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, it is clear to me that, if confirmed, DeVos would be a downright horrible Education Secretary.

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A cautionary tale about how room-and-pillar mining destroys Illinois farmland

Larry Skinner, a farmer from near Newman, Illinois, located in the east-central region of the state, is still dealing with environmental damage from a coal mine under his farm that closed in the 1980’s. Specifically, his farmland is subsiding due to the room-and-pillar mining leaving the ground very weak, especially above where “rooms” created by the mining. Much of Skinner’s land is now unsuitable for farming due to the areas where the ground has sunk being too wet or flooded, and Skinner has to pay out of his own pocket to fix the subsidence, because the mining company that closed the mine under his land all those years ago has long since changed hands.

Skinner’s story, which you can read about here, serves as a cautionary tale about how room-and-pillar coal mining turns some of the most fertile farmland in the entire world into low spots where rainwater collects and renders the land unsuitable for growing crops like corn and soybeans. While room-and-pillar mining is designed to prevent subsidence, in practice, areas where “rooms” have been created by mining between “pillars” left untouched by the mining are very prone to subsiding and causing environmental damage.

Despite the damage that room-and-pillar mining has done to farmland in east-central Illinois, one mining company, the Indiana-based Sunrise Coal company, wants to put even more Illinois farmland at risk of serious environmental damage. The proposed Sunrise Coal mine, which would be located in southwestern Vermilion County, would consist of a room-and-pillar mining operation under fertile farmland, as well as a 500-acre, above-ground coal processing plant and rail transfer point. Additionally, ponds would need to be constructed to store liquid slurry waste generated from the washing process used to remove impurities from the coal. In addition to the risk of farmland subsidence associated with room-and-pillar mining, there’s additional environmental threats associated with the proposed mine, such as coal dust ending up on crops and farmland from the processing plant, as well as the risk of the slurry ponds leaking and causing groundwater to become contaminated. The environmental risks associated with the proposed mine are so severe, Sue Smith and her husband, who own a 1,600-acre farm near the site of the proposed mine, have refused to sell the mineral rights to their land to Sunrise Coal.

As someone from a community, located about 13 miles or so to the northeast of the proposed mining site, that was built around coal mines in the early 20th century, I’m not completely against coal mining. However, there are significant environmental risks associated with the proposed room-and-pillar coal mining operation in southwestern Vermilion County that could cause long-term environmental damage that would negatively impact the area for decades, if not permanently.