August 4, 2013
By Judy Masterson
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon visited North Chicago Friday — the final stop on an annual tour led by her office and the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs in which a team of pollsters survey residents who live around military installations.
Dubbed the Defense and Local Community Listening Post, the event, held at North Chicago High School, drew about 40 people including a smattering of elected and education leaders who used electronic clickers to register their answers to questions about local employment opportunities and to rate satisfaction with infrastructure, local schools and quality of life.
Simon, who announced this week her intention to seek the Democratic nomination for state comptroller in the November 2014 election, said the posts, also held in Belleville and Moline, are helping to improve the quality of life in the state’s defense communities.
“One of the biggest concerns is treatment of children in military families, and particularly that they come and go with such great speed that we really need to do as much as we can to plan, knowing that kids are going to be coming and going,” Simon said. “We’ve done a lot as a state, but we’ve heard at each stop where there are more areas we can improve.”
Simon and the pollsters, furnished by Western Illinois University in DeKalb, home to the institute, moved from table to table during small group discussions. In the area of health, the survey revealed a low satisfaction with the availability of mental health services. On a scale of one to seven, with seven for extremely satisfied, the quality of local schools registered in the 3s, as did infrastructure. Sixty percent agreed that Naval Station Great Lakes, the country’s only Navy boot camp and that abuts North Chicago, benefits the community economically. But on the question of whether the military benefits surrounding quality of life, opinion was split, with 34 percent agreeing and 34 percent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.
Simon, who supported the opening in 2012 of privately-operated charter school on Navy property, said she has discussed challenges faced by North Chicago public schools, from which Navy families have fled, with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. She said state schools Superintendent Chris Koch, who 13 months ago fired the North Chicago School Board and appointed two oversight panels to replace it, is also focused on District 187.
“We’re making sure the resources the state can provide are placed at the disposal of the schools,” she said. “The good news is we know what the challenges are. We’re still working on the improvements; that’s not going to be an overnight thing.”
North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, sitting across from Simon, again floated his idea, in light of the persistent rejection of the city by grocery retailers, to open the Navy Commissary to the public, while only taxing those without military IDs.
Simon acknowledged the city’s struggle for economic development.
“In order for a base to be successful — we’re all federal taxpayers and we want things to work well and work efficiently — it has to be a community where people want to move,” she said. “Great Lakes hasn’t always been seen that way.”