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Cook County Board wants Flowers out

Friday, July 03, 2009
by Gregory Tejeda

CHICAGO | The Cook County Board has found an issue upon which it is unified - Regional Superintendent of Schools Charles Flowers' conduct on the job is unacceptable and he has to go.

Without opposition, the County Board on Thursday approved a resolution that urges the Illinois General Assembly to remove Flowers from his post, which oversees teacher certification in the Cook County suburbs of Chicago.

The County Board cited a report by the Illinois auditor general's office from last month that highlighted numerous concerns about the Suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education's financial situation.

The Cook County state's attorney's office also is prepared to file a civil action to recover $200,000 Flowers borrowed from the county but did not pay back by the Tuesday due date, a spokesman for the office said.

"We are all disappointed with Mr. Flowers, who seems to be stealing money allegedly," said County Board President Todd Stroger, although he said provisions calling for abolishing the office concern him. "Abolishing the office won't solve the problem. It will only create a new one."

Not as concerned was County Commissioner Anthony Peraica, who said the situation with the regional superintendent's office calls for drastic action.

"This is yet another example of why Illinois is No. 1 in corruption," Peraica said. "We have it at the state level, the county level, the city level, the municipal level and now at the school level."

The resolution's approval comes one day after investigators searched Flowers' home and office in west suburban Westchester for evidence in the ongoing criminal investigation that began in April. The auditor's report contends the office is about $1 million in debt due to Flowers' conduct, which allegedly includes hiring family members, using office credit cards to pay for personal purchases and providing a $6,000 cash advance to a relative.

As of Thursday, Flowers had not been charged. Calls to his office Thursday were unsuccessful.

Some officials are concerned about abolishing the office, wondering if a leadership change would be sufficient.

Commissioner Joan Murphy, whose south suburban district includes the border region around Calumet City and Lansing, said she worries that eliminating the office punishes staffers who did nothing illegal, while also complicating the situation with teacher certification in the Chicago suburbs.

"Is there some way we could put an interim person in there so that no one loses their certification?" Murphy said, while Commissioner Deborah Sims cited the range of duties the superintendent's office performs, including certification of school bus drivers.

"It's not only about the teachers, it's also about the babies on the buses," she said.

But other commissioners are eager to do away with the office altogether.

"This office is totally nonfunctional today," Commissioner Larry Suffredin said. "We need to find an alternative means for (teacher) certification."

Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman was not sympathetic toward the idea that staffers could lose their jobs because she does not think the office functions properly.

"To save positions for other inept workers, I don't see the point of it," she said.

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