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updated: 10/28/2010 11:11 PM

51st candidates discuss education

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  • Steve Riess

    Steve Riess

  • Ed Sullivan

    Ed Sullivan


Candidates in the 51st state representative race differ on how best to address education during a time of fiscal difficulty.

The race pits Democratic challenger Steve Riess, a Hawthorn Woods village trustee, against incumbent Ed Sullivan Jr. of Mundelein, seeking a fifth term.

Information comes from interviews, candidate questionnaires and other sources.

"Our education platforms are 100 percent opposite on all levels," Sullivan said.

Property taxes are the main source of revenue for public schools, he said, and charged Riess wants to take money from high property tax areas and give it to low property tax areas.

Sullivan said he would fight any idea to allow local property taxes to be distributed to other schools.

"While many people do not like to pay property taxes, they at least know that the taxes will be used locally," he asserted. Areas with higher land values typically have more money to spend on education, Sullivan said.

Parents in certain districts, such as Stevenson High School, vote for tax hikes because they want the best for their kids, he added, and would revolt if the funds were redistributed.

Riess said educational opportunities should be provided on an equal basis and quality shouldn't depend on where people live.

He said school funding is complex, but boils down to a case of haves and have nots. Funding for education needs to be reformed, he added.

Since the state can't manage it's finances, sending property tax revenues to Springfield to be redistributed is not a viable alternative.

"I don't have it clear quite how to do it. What I'm suggesting is school funding should be done on a more regional basis rather than a neighborhood basis," he said. "It's something that needs to be done long term and plans have to be laid. We're not taking away from schools in Winnetka; we're changing the way they receive funds."

The first step is to streamline the system, Riess said. He advocates consolidating school districts to save money, but said worker severance incentive programs should be considered first in hopes some would consolidate voluntarily.

"The transition to regionalized education funding is going to be a long process, with many political battles and probably a lot of accusations and yelling but I believe if we are to survive as a nation of free people, educational opportunity must be the same for everyone," Riess said.

Sullivan said he favors local control of schools.

"We also have to, on the local level, demand more accountability of the school boards," he said. "If we didn't have all these (salary) increases, we'd be able to save a lot more jobs."

Sullivan sponsored a school choice bill that failed. It would have resulted in a pilot program in Chicago allowing parents of kids in the lowest performing schools to take a voucher to a private school. He also voted for the bill to double the number of charter schools in Illinois,

Riess said a voucher system sounds like a good idea, but is not long-term because it would create many other problems, such as determining how many students would be allowed at a given school and who would decide who is accepted.

The 51st District includes all or parts of Deer Park, Hawthorn Woods, Kildeer, Lake Zurich, Libertyville, Long Grove, Mundelein and Round Lake Park.