Commission may decide fate of regional superintendents
Regional Superintendent Gil Morrison called the past few months draining and exhausting.
He and the 47 other regional superintendents in Illinois went more than four months without receiving a paycheck from the state after Gov. Pat Quinn cut the Regional Office of Education out of the state budget for the fiscal year.
“I just want to focus on my job, and for the last year, it has been a challenge … trying to focus on my office and my job without having to worry about whether we’re going to be paid,” Sangamon County Regional Superintendent Jeff Vose said.
Regional superintendents are focusing their attention on a commission that holds the fate of their role in Illinois’ education system. The Streamlining Illinois’ Regional Offices of Education Commission is expected to play a major part in deciding whether Illinois continues to have regional superintendents. It is scheduled to meet Wednesday after Quinn’s annual budget address.
When Quinn received the budget for Fiscal Year 2012, which continues through June 30, he used his line-item veto to cut $376 million, including $11.3 million for regional superintendents.
The state’s regional superintendents and their assistants spent four months in limbo until November, when state officials shifted the ROE’s funding stream from state funds to corporate personal property replacement taxes – a revenue stream previously dedicated to school districts and other local taxing bodies.
Morrison hopes to see funding once again come out of the state’s general revenue fund because his office enforces state mandates in local school districts. His office is in charge of making sure school buildings are up to code, verifying the correct curriculum is being taught at appropriate grade levels, ensuring that background checks are conducted on teachers and making sure teachers have the right certifications.
“That’s just scratching the surface,” he said. “Nobody is aware of who we are and what we do. We constantly have to educate people about who we are and what we do.”
April 1 deadline
Cutting the pay of regional superintendents wasn’t the first time Quinn tried to save money through educational consolidation. In a previous State of the State address, he talked about consolidating Illinois’ 800-plus school districts, but the idea went nowhere in the General Assembly.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor wants to focus more resources on the classroom rather than bureaucratic operations.
“The governor recognizes that a number of things can be examined, and we want to be as efficient as possible on administrative costs to achieve best outcomes for children,” Anderson said. “We’re interested in finding ways to improve efficiency on administrative costs so we can invest more in early childhood education, bilingual education, literacy programs and class instruction, all to make our students college- and career-ready.”
But regional school superintendents are elected positions, and Vose said it was his duty to the public that kept him from leaving office after several months of not being paid.
“I feel like I have an obligation,” he said.
Vose liquidated his Roth IRA and dipped into his savings, financial moves for which he said he might not ever be able to recover.
State Rep. Roger Eddy of Hutsonville, who represents House Republicans on the commission, said it will make recommendations to the Legislature and governor about how to deliver educational services.
Eddy said a key factor is regional school superintendents are elected positions.
“I don’t know how, from my point of view, to eliminate elected positions,” Eddy said.
The commission was scheduled to give its recommendations Aug. 1, but legislation has been introduced to move the deadline to April 1. Eddy, who is the bill’s chief co-sponsor in the House, said the commission will affect the budget, and the recommendations should be issued at a time when lawmakers are discussing how much to spend and on what.
“This is an effort to avoid that kind of fiasco again,” Eddy said.
Robert Daiber, regional school superintendent for Madison County and the superintendents association’s president, is eager to avoid a repeat of last year’s funding battle. He said the fate of the superintendents lies with the commission.
Daiber said if the commission recommends funding the offices, he thinks there is “no question” the state’s regional superintendents will be funded.
“If they come out with a report, I hope we continue to be funded from general revenue fund, that our work is recognized as valid and valuable and that we do, indeed, provide an economic and efficient means for assisting schools accomplish their goals,” Morrison said.
But the commission’s recommendations are not binding. In fact, it is similar to a panel that was formed and convened two years earlier.
In 2010, the Streamlining Illinois’ Educational Delivery Systems Task Force advocated an expanded role for Regional Offices of Education by having them take on some duties of the Illinois State Board of Education. But the task force’s recommendations didn’t stop the governor’s veto pen.
Anderson said the task force reported that it didn’t finalize all of its work.
“But the bottom line is that the governor believes in shifting more resources to the classroom, where we can invest in our children instead of in administrative costs and bureaucracy,” Anderson said. “And he’s committed to constantly reviewing and pursuing ways to do that.”
Eddy hopes for better coordination among the superintendents, the commission, the General Assembly and the governor’s office.
“There needs to be more thought and consideration put into this, and hopefully this will happen with this commission,” Eddy said.
• Daily Chronicle reporter Nicole Weskerna contributed to this report.