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Christopher Kays, For The Southern 

Carbondale pitcher Alec Barrett fires a pitch home during the Terriers' win over Herrin at Carbondale Superblock Fields on Wednesday.

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SIU | Board of Trustees
In SIU Board work session, trustees, constituents argue over future of system's funding formula

CARBONDALE — At the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees work session on Wednesday, trustees and representatives of Carbondale and Edwardsville argued over the future of state appropriation distribution between the two campuses.

The issue at hand was a proposal to begin a phased adjustment of the state appropriation funding to allow for differences in enrollment — Carbondale’s enrollment is plunging, while Edwardsville's is on an upward trajectory.

Faculty and staff from both campuses argued for their universities in public comments, and the subsequent discussion revealed a division among trustees.

The proposal calls for an initial shift of $5.1 million in state funding from Carbondale to Edwardsville for Fiscal Year 2019 and anticipants the hiring of an external consultant to determine a new funding formula.

The board will vote on the reallocation at Thursday's full meeting in Carbondale.

At the start of the public-comment period, the chants of about two dozen demonstrators protesting SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s restructuring plan just outside the doors of the ballroom stalled the meeting for a few minutes. Board chair Amy Sholar asked the police officers who were present to “move the protesters to another area so we can in fact hear our speakers.”

The demonstrators chanted, “Our education! Our institution!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Montemagno got to go!”

Ahmad Fakhoury, a representative of the SIUC Faculty Senate, said a hasty reallocation of state funding would weaken the university.

“It would dramatically and negatively affect Southern Illinois,” Fakhoury said. “We, the SIUC Faculty Senate, therefore urge you to deny the reallocation.”

Rod Sievers, chair of the Administrative Professional Staff Council, said there are vast differences between the two campuses, as SIUC is a research university.

“The question is, what’s the hurry? The decision that would give Carbondale only three months to prepare for a $5.1 million cut is hasty at best, perhaps even cruel,” Sievers said.

Anthony Travelstead, president of the SIUC Civil Service Council, said enrollment should not be the primary factor when considering appropriation distribution because the campuses have different missions. He said SIUC is in the middle of a major reorganization to increase enrollment and is facing its budget challenges responsibly.

“Carbondale is proud of the success of Edwardsville, but in one system, one institution should not thrive at the expense of another,” Travelstead said.

Trish McCubbin, a professor in the School of Law, presented a Graduate Council resolution calling for a delay in the decision on the $5.1 million reallocation. She argued that the proposal is based on inaccurate and misleading data and said there should have been consultation with the Carbondale campus.

“We are one system, and the health of one campus affects the health of another campus. We should be working to strengthen resources together as a whole rather than pitting one campus against another,” McCubbin said.

Ian Toberman, an SIUE Staff Senate member and vice president of the SIUE Professional Staff Association, said that when SIUE provided a $35 million loan to Carbondale last year, it was suggested that SIUC needed just one more year to turn things around.

“Here we are again at SIUE being asked to shoulder the burden so another school can find itself, or find more students,” Toberman said.

David Balai, an electrician with SIUE University Housing, said that despite the challenges of the budget crisis, Edwardsville is thriving because of fiscal belt-tightening and because its leaders have made the right decisions.

“We are only asking to not be penalized for making good decisions,” Balai said.

Nicole Klein, an associate professor in SIUE’s School of Education, said she obtained two of her degrees from SIUC and that she grew up in Carbondale. She commended the board for considering the phased-in reallocation.

“Three weeks ago … I needed to split my classroom into two different classes. I called campus scheduling, and on campus there was not one single classroom that could be booked. They were all full. There was no place to move my class to. That’s how carefully we are using our resources,” Klein said.

SIU System President Randy Dunn said that after the March 9 board retreat, there was a request from the Edwardsville campus for a phase-one reallocation driven by enrollment to implement for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Dunn said that based on what other funding formulas from university systems look like, it’s fair to say that enrollment tends to be the largest driver, although other variables like research mission can factor in.

“Given that that enrollment piece tends to be compelling, and the fact that the enrollments between the two institutions are very close, I thought that warranted at least a consideration,” Dunn said.

Bill Winter, SIUE’s chief budget officer, explained that his office used four different methodologies to determine an annual funding gap adjustment target:

  • A simple headcount of students at both campuses.
  • A method that considers student “full-time equivalents,” wherein two half-time students are counted as one student.
  • A method that uses student full-time equivalents but also imposes a weighting factor to recognize the differing missions of the two campuses.
  • A method based on the average appropriation per student full time equivalents.

The $5.125 million figure was determined by averaging the highest and lowest numbers.

SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook said that he understands the pain that would come with reducing SIUC’s budget, as Edwardsville had to cut 12 percent of its state budget during the budget impasse.

Pembrook said that SIUE’s proximity to St. Louis has helped it grow quickly in the last two decades, and that SIUE is currently the least expensive public university in Illinois.

“Additional investment will translate to more growth,” Pembrook said.

Trustee Phil Gilbert questioned why the Phase 1 reallocation was developed prior to the hiring of an external consultant, which the board had discussed at its March 9 retreat.

“I am proud of Edwardsville and what they’ve accomplished … but this is the wrong way to do it,” Gilbert said.

Dunn said it makes sense to do an early adjustment that gets the appropriation distribution closer to a 60/40 split, which has been the operating policy of the board for decades.

“What I’ve pointed to in some of my conversations, is the fact that if you have some kind of insurance coverage on property or your home, and there’s damage that takes place ... you don’t have to wait until the final adjustment to have some sort of good-faith payment that takes place for the need that exists at that immediate point in time,” Dunn said.

Trustee Shirley Portwood said she was pleased to see the proposal because “it offers an opportunity for the board to show good faith toward Edwardsville for the progress they’ve made and the assistance that they have rendered to Carbondale.”

“And along those lines, the discussion, to my knowledge, has never been before this board in 20 years. It’s time for the discussion,” Sholar said.

Trustees Joel Sambursky and Marsha Ryan said that there has not been enough time to analyze the issue.

Montemagno said it was too early to say any additional resources should go to SIUE, and that there are multiple variables to consider.

“Enrollment is one variable associated with the process. Community health is another,” Montemagno said.

The meeting marked the first appearance of trustee Tom Britton, who was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday. Both Britton and Ryan need to be confirmed by the Senate but have full voting privileges.

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Harrisburg | Mason Ramsey in Concert
Golconda's 'Little Hank' is an internet sensation after appearance on 'Ellen,' Walmart concert

HARRISBURG — He may sing "The Lovesick Blues," but 11-year-old Mason Ramsey of Golconda was anything but lonely Wednesday afternoon at Harrisburg Walmart. The store sponsored Mason's first solo concert in a parking lot packed with fans. 

Ramsey captured Internet fame when a video of him yodeling while performing the Hank Williams Sr. classic “Lovesick Blues” in Harrisburg Walmart on March 24 went viral. He is known to SI Opry and Kentucky Opry fans as “Little Hank,” the boy who sings Hank Williams Sr. songs. He even won a talent contest at the Kentucky Opry.

Walmart Store Manager Even Manzo said Ramsey was in the store the weekend before Easter, when one of the customers recognized him and asked him to sing for her.

That video, filmed by Dana Tanner of Harrisburg, won Ramsey an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" on Tuesday. During the show, Ramsey was told he would be performing Saturday on the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville, a lifelong dream of his. He also received a $15,000 college scholarship from Walmart.

But, Ramsey has a history of performing in Walmart. Videos and eye-witness reports show Ramsey has given mini-concerts in other Walmart stores in the region whenever a fan recognizes him.

Jamie Tylka, market manager for Walmart, said the company decided to do something else to help Mason’s music career.

“The Youtube video was shot in the store, so Walmart came together to do his first concert at the store,” Tylka said.

Manzo said the concert came together in less than a week.

“Walmart can make things happen really, really fast. We can put on a concert,” he said.

Walmart also gave t-shirts with a pictures of Ramsey on the front to the fans as long as they lasted.

Anderson Riddle, 10, of Galatia, came to the concert with his grandma, Becky Riddle of Raleigh.

“We’re really excited that we got t-shirts and got in the first row,” Becky Riddle said.

Marilyn Halstead /  Marilyn Halstead, The Southern  

Mason Ramsey, 11, of Golconda, also known as #walmartyodelboy, greets fans Wednesday, April 11, 2018, from a stage in the parking lot of Walmart in Harrisburg. 

“I want a small picture (of Ramsey), and I want it framed and in my room,” Anderson said.

He has seen Ramsey perform at Old Settlers Days in Galatia.

A few feet away, Mason’s grandparents, Frances and Ernest Ramsey, sat in a small group of chairs waiting for the concert to begin.

The crowd listened to DJ Suede and the Remix Squad (Kyra Claxton, Elise Collins, Anthony Ranches and Bryce Speaker). Paul Costabile, host for the concert, brought Ramsey out and asked him a few questions so his fans could get to know him better.

First, he asked Ramsey when he started singing.

“I started when I was only 3 and now I am 11,” Mason replied.

“What would you say is your favorite performance so far?” Costabile asked.

“This one here,” Ramsey said.

He said he wanted to collaborate with Blake Shelton someday. Costabile asked Shelton to call Ramsey.

“Do you want to get into making your own country music someday?” Costabile asked.

“Uh, uh, well, I guess I can try,” Ramsey replied.

“I think you’d be pretty good at it, what do you think?” Costabile said.

“I think so, too,” Ramsey agreed.

Marilyn Halstead /  Marilyn Halstead, The Southern  

Mason Ramsey, 11, of Golconda, also known as #walmartyodelboy, performs Wednesday, April 11, 2018, on a stage at Walmart in Harrisburg. 

Then Ramsey started singing. He started with “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” and went on to cover “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Hey, Good Lookin’,” and “Lovesick Blues.”

During the concert, Harrisburg Mayor John McPeek read a proclamation making April 11, 2018, Mason Ramsey Day in Harrisburg.

Harrisburg Mayor John McPeek reads a proclamation making April 11, 2018, Mason Ramsey Day while Mason holds his hat to keep it from blowing away. 

“It is just for all the publicity he has brought to the city and for what Mason did inside Walmart. It says a lot about Mason as a young man,” McPeek said.

Marilyn Halstead /  Marilyn Halstead, The Southern  

Kyle Cox of McKee Foods presents 11-year-old Mason Ramsey with a year's supply of Drake's Yodel Cakes in honor of his yodeling video of Hank Williams Sr. classic "The Lovesick Blues."  

Kyle Cox of McKee Foods of Collegedale, Tennessee, maker of Little Debbie and Drake snack cakes and Sunbelt Granola Bars, gave Ramsey a year’s supply of Drake’s Yodel Cakes.

Trump warns Russia: "Get ready" for attack on Syria

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned Russia to "get ready" for a missile attack on its ally Syria, suggesting imminent retaliation for last weekend's suspected chemical weapons attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis took a more measured tone, saying the U.S. and its military coalition partners were still studying intelligence on the attack.

At stake is the potential for confrontation, if not outright conflict, between the U.S. and Russia, former Cold War foes whose relations have deteriorated in recent years over Moscow's intervention in Ukraine, its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and, most recently, its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Russian lawmakers have warned the United States that Moscow would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime and that it could trigger a direct U.S-Russian military clash. Russia's ambassador to Lebanon said any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launching sites targeted — a stark warning of a potential major confrontation.

Meanwhile, Syrians braced on Wednesday for a possible U.S. attack in retaliation to an alleged chemical assault that killed dozens over the weekend. Some stocked up on food and prepared underground shelters while others taunted the U.S. president to go through with his threats.

Activists reported that government forces vacated strategic potential targets, including air bases around the country in apparent preparation for incoming strikes.

The Foreign Ministry in Damascus denounced Trump's threat to attack the country as "reckless" and a danger to international peace and security.

Trump, who has often said a commander in chief should never telegraph his military intentions, apparently did so himself, tweeting that missiles "will be coming" in response to the suspected chemical attack that killed at least 40 people near Damascus.

"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria," Trump wrote. "Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"

Defense Secretary Mattis, however, indicated that evidence of what happened was still being studied. At a photo-taking session during a Pentagon meeting with his Dutch counterpart, Mattis was asked by a reporter whether he had seen enough evidence to blame the Syrian government.

"We're still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies," Mattis said. "We're still working on this."

Trump suggested Monday he had little doubt that Syria was to blame, but neither he nor other administration officials have produced hard evidence. This is in contrast to an incident one year ago in which the U.S. government had video and other evidence of certain aspects of an actual attack by Syrian aircraft, which involved the use of sarin gas. Trump responded then by launching dozens of Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield.

Asked whether the U.S. military was ready to conduct an attack in Syria if ordered, Mattis replied, "We stand ready to provide military options if they're appropriate, as the president determined."

Mattis was to meet with Trump later Wednesday.

In the past, Trump has condemned others for forecasting military plans, repeatedly blistering President Barack Obama during the 2016 campaign. During one speech, he said, "We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything."

Asked about Trump's tweet about an impending attack on Syria, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, who ran the Pentagon for President Bill Clinton, said on CNN that it "compromises the mission somewhat."

Trump did not detail what a strike on Syria would look like, or whether these would be U.S. missiles. U.S. officials have been consulting with France, Britain and other allies on a possible joint military operation, but the timing remained in doubt Wednesday. Trump canceled a foreign trip in order to manage a crisis that is testing his vow to stand up to Assad.

Shortly after his tweeted warning to Russia, Trump took a more conciliatory tone in lamenting that the U.S.-Russia relationship "is worse now than it has ever been." There is no reason for this, he wrote, adding that "Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together."

Trump's administration has sought to show toughness on Russia, with a series of economic and diplomatic actions, including new sanctions last week against government officials and oligarchs. Trump has largely avoided criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin by name, though he singled him out in a tweet over the weekend for supporting Assad.

The U.S., France and Britain have been in extensive consultations about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week, U.S. officials have said. A joint military operation, possibly with France rather than the U.S. in the lead, could send a message of international unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons and counter Syria's political and military support from Russia and Iran.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday called for a "strong and joint response" to the attack in the Syrian town of Douma on Saturday. The Syrian government denies responsibility.

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In news conference, Carbondale officials urge SIU Board to delay vote on reallocation of funds

CARBONDALE — Just minutes before the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees were to meet in the Student Center to discuss reallocation of funds from Carbondale’s campus to Edwardsville’s campus, a group of elected officials, along with business and healthcare professionals, gathered at the Carbondale Civic Center urging the board not to vote on the matter Thursday.

The Board of Trustees is set to take action on a proposal to begin a phased adjustment of the state appropriation allocation to better reflect the enrollment levels at the two campuses.

Typically, the two campuses have seen a 60/40 percent split in state funds since about 1979, but in Fiscal Year 2018, SIUC received about 64 percent while SIUE received the remaining 36 percent, according to figures presented to The Southern on Wednesday by SIU President Randy Dunn.

The proposed $5.1 million comprises about 1.4 percent of the current operating budget for SIUC, according to previous reporting in The Southern.

On Wednesday, Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry said such a decision requires careful consideration and input from the SIUC community, adding that everybody in Southern Illinois is part of that community.

“As mayor of Carbondale, I have concerns with this proposal,” he said. “First of all, why do this now?”

Henry said the shift in funding means little to the Edwardsville campus, but it would have a major impact on the future of the Carbondale campus.

“This will force more layoffs, impact our financial stability, and hinder the chancellor’s organization initiative,” he said. “And the cut in funds would take more than $39 million of economic activity away from Southern Illinois.”

He called for Dunn and the board to rethink its decision to move forward until proper research has been done.

“I believe in our communities in Southern Illinois and I believe in this region,” Henry said. “Acting together we can make SIU, the city of Carbondale and Southern Illinois a place we are proud to call home, but only you can decide what happens next.”

When asked about the changing enrollment between the two campuses, meaning that SIUC’s is declining and SIUE’s is increasing, Henry said there is more involved in the funding situation than just enrollment.

“This is a research university, we have Ph.D. programs, we have a law school — all of these things cost more money,” Henry said. “We are also a campus that has student housing. You can’t compare enrollment. That is one small piece of the pie.”

Henry said his main point was that the reallocation doesn’t need to happen now, and since the board promised to study the problem more closely, it needs to get that input before making a decision.

Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens said there are about 400 people who live in and around his city that work on the SIU campus in Carbondale.

“Anybody in Southern Illinois, as a mayor, a county board member, a commissioner, who doesn’t think it is important to be a champion for this university or the city of Carbondale, is cutting off their nose to spite their face,” he said.

He said it is incredibly important that not just the elected leaders in Southern Illinois be heard on this issue, but that members of the community also need to make their voices heard.

“I would put a call to action to people in Du Quoin, Murphysboro, Harrisburg, Herrin, Carterville — you name the city, or ‘burg or village in Southern Illinois — they need to be picking the phone and calling the Board of Trustee members and letting them know how important it is not just to us — but everyday people in this region,” Stephens said.