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
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
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
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
"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
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
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 is in the same building as the
Quincy Board of Education. …