Editor's Note: Newswoman Lindsey Tanner spent the summer asking Illinoisans what's on their minds as they prepare to make choices in the Nov. 8 election. In the last of her reports, she describes voters' concerns about schools.
CHESTER PRUSACZYK sells cars in a coal-mining town, so he knows about hard times. They hit every time a mine shuts down and idles some of the few folks who earn enough to buy his products.
He still wasn't prepared for the note his third-grade daughter brought home from school one day last year.
"It was really pitiful," recalled Prusaczyk, 45. "The teacher sent a note home asking if we had any paper we could spare for test paper."
At the same time, Prusaczyk complained, local school administrators were making handsome salaries that could have been pared to help pay for classroom resources.
"It really burns me," Prusaczyk said.
He's not the only one upset about public schools in Illinois. From wealthy Chicago suburbs to rural farm communities, many Illinoisans said education is the top issue that will affect their voting decisions in November.
Even voters without school-age children believe kids are being shortchanged by a system that is unequally financed, staffed by too many ill-equipped teachers and administrators, and failing to adequately prepare students for the future.
"Our education system is in shambles and our kids aren't being taught," said Dean Howard, 53, a retired rail worker in the Central Illinois farming town of Sullivan.
Many said a complete overhaul - from the way schools are financed to what is taught in the classroom - is needed to improve education in Illinois.
And many shared the view of businessman David Connor of Peoria, who thinks reform won't happen unless special interests that "have a vested interest in no change" lose their grip on the political process.
Pat Bauer lives on a pretty, tree-lined street in Elmhurst, a suburb west of Chicago in Du Page County. In a system that relies heavily on property taxes to finance education, schools in the prosperous, fast-growing county are relatively well-financed and well-equipped.
Bauer and her attorney husband have two adult daughters who attended public schools there, and she's happy with the education they received. What worries Pat Bauer are the Chicago kids who live in the poor, West Side neighborhoods she drives through on her way downtown.
"I passed a grammar school the other day, and it so badly needed painting, it was incredible-looking," said Bauer, 58.
She thinks schools should get more money from the state.
"Education is such a basic right, I think, as well as a necessity," she said. "We have too many children in the inner cities who are not getting the education that they're entitled to. They go from (troubled) homes . . . to schools that look dilapidated. I don't know that everything in their lives should be so run-down."
Raphael Guajardo, a longtime Chicago school principal, observed that although the skills required of educators are rapidly changing, "The demands have probably risen faster than we can meet them."
Cathy Meckes, head of a Quincy health care coalition, sends her own children to parochial schools but hears horror stories about local public schools; her office …