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Editorial: Terminate regional superintendent, but do it wisely

Thursday, July 23, 2009
Pioneer Press
by Pioneer Press Editorial Staff

After years of mismanagement, the Suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education should be closed -- once and for all.

Last month, Cook County state's attorney's investigators raided the office in Westchester and Regional Superintendent Charles Flowers' home in Maywood. They confiscated computers and documents as part of an investigation in apparent mismanagement in the office.

A state audit in June found the following problems:

• liabilities exceeding its total net assets by $941,844,

• cash advances given to two employees for nonbusiness purposes,

• no receipts to support 70 percent of the charges on Flowers' government-issued credit card,

• Flowers' family members on the payroll, and

• late or no payments including employees' payroll, health insurance and rent on the building.

Days after the raid, the county filed a lawsuit against the office and Flowers for defaulting on a $190,000 loan.

The problems with the office are not new. A similar audit in 2007, before Flowers took over, warned the office was $413,000 in debt.

Flowers was ushered in as a reformer in July 2007, but two years later the office has doubled its debt and appears to have even more problems. Flowers blames the current office's financial problems on his predecessor.

Regardless, nearly $1 million will be absorbed by the state and county, even though neither clearly has the means to take on more debt. No wonder taxpayers are spitting mad with the government waste.

On the surface, the bill introduced by state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-57th, of Northbrook, to eliminate the regional superintendent's office has merit.

The work of the regional education office -- issuing teaching certificates and reviewing school finances of 143 school districts and 700 schools outside Chicago's city limits -- would be given to the Illinois State Board of Education.

Nekritz and her fellow legislators need to ensure that the State Board of Education will be able to take over these limited tasks. Will teachers' and schools' needs be met locally (not requiring trips to Springfield)? Will the state board of education be able to handle concerns in a timely manner?

Removing a costly layer of government administration is a smart step in the right direction for increased efficiency in government, just as long as the state education can handle these new duties and it doesn't cost taxpayers more in the long run.

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