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Cook County condemns schools superintendent, wants money back

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Daily Herald
by Robert McCoppin

Cook County commissioners who approved a $190,000 loan to the Regional Office of Education last year did an about-face Thursday, asking for an investigation of the superintendent who runs the office and repayment of the loan.

The condemnation comes in response to a state audit that alleges Charles Flowers, the regional superintendent of schools, used public funds for thousands of dollars in airplane flights, meals, and cash advances for himself and his family.

Located in Westchester, the regional office of education certifies teachers and administers grants to 143 public school districts that handle 400,000 students in suburban Cook County. State lawmakers abolished the office in 1994, commissioners said, but reinstated it a few years later.

The office is nearly $1 million in debt, and owes the county $190,000, due at the end of this month.

Flowers told ABC 7 that he would not resign, as some county commissioners have suggested he should, because there is more work to be done. He also said he had repaid the cash advances that the state auditor questioned.

A county resolution sponsored by Commissioner Liz Doody Gorman, who represents some Northwest suburbs, supports Illinois Auditor General William Holland's call for an investigation by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office has said it is reviewing the report.

The county resolution also called for the county state's attorney to investigate and try to get the money back.

Commissioners individually called for the abolition of the office of education, saying its duties were redundant of the Illinois State Board of Election.

Gorman, who was the only commissioner to vote against the loan last year, said it was unusual for the county to loan money to another governmental body, but Flowers, a former special education administrator from Maywood, was friends with county board President Todd Stroger, whose office put the item on the agenda.

"This is over-the-top corruption at its best," she said.

Stroger spokesman Eugene Mullins said any friendship between the men is irrelevant, because Flowers is an elected official and the county board approved the deal.

Commissioner Earlean Collins questioned the need for any regional school office when the state has a board of education.

"If we don't need that type of duplication of services," she said, "we need to abolish all of them."

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