School District Prods Contributions

Companies supported Referendum Group...Won Bids
By Bob Susnjara, Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted on March 09, 2002

The Stevenson High School District in Lincolnshire is denying accusations it improperly prodded two companies into contributing $50,000 to a private group seeking passage of a referendum. Both corporations were negotiating new deals with District 125 late last year when the donations were made to the Stevenson Referendum Campaign Committee. The group is promoting the district's education fund tax rate increase referendum on the March 19 ballot.

Rolling Meadows-based Pepsi Americas gave $25,000 to the referendum committee that initially was part of a $60,000 contribution earmarked for District 125's student activities fund. Pepsi topped Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Chicago for a new contract to provide soft-drinks to the district.

Laidlaw Transit Inc. of Naperville provided $25,000 to the referendum group before it topped Skokie-based Alltown Bus Service for a $1.5 million busing deal at Stevenson.

Stevenson Superintendent Richard DuFour said Friday the school did nothing wrong in its dealings with Pepsi and Laidlaw.

Chicago election law attorney Richard Means took a dim view of District 125's actions. Means said Stevenson clearly violated a state law prohibiting public money from being spent on campaigns or political organizations when Jim Hintz, Stevenson's associate superintendent for business, asked Pepsi to give the $25,000 to the referendum group.

All $60,000 of Pepsi's money belonged to Stevenson's student activities fund because it was part of negotiations with a public body, Means said. He said taxpayers should file a lawsuit to reclaim the $25,000 that went to the Stevenson Referendum Campaign Committee.

"It's public money," Means said, "and they can't fiddle with it."