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School chief candidate backs out

The sole remaining candidate for the long-vacant office of McHenry County regional school superintendent has withdrawn after County Board scrutiny after his arrest record became public.

Jeffrey Schleff, of Island Lake, pulled his name from consideration Monday morning, the day before the full County Board was to vote on whether to appoint him to the position. Schleff’s withdrawal is yet another setback for a county government that has struggled since June to fill the elected office, which handles such duties as certifying teachers, truancy enforcement, administering GEDs, and school safety inspections.

While Schleff, 54, meets the numerous requirements under state law to hold the office, a past that included a sentence for driving under the influence and dropped DUI and domestic battery charges prompted the board’s Public Health and Human Services Committee to balk Friday at a recommendation after a two-hour closed session.

Schleff announced his withdrawal in a three-page letter to the County Board, much of it focused on his educational achievements. He wrote that he is the best candidate the county will find, but cited the committee’s lack of a recommendation in his decision and said he is “unwilling to consider a position where the confidence of those invested in making the decision to approve is insufficient.”

“Have I made mistakes in my professional and personal life? I am not perfect, and it appears to some not suited for the position or the political scrutiny of officials in McHenry County. If that is the case, so be it,” Schleff wrote.

County Board chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, said the county is checking another interested candidate. Should that not pan out, he said the county would re-post the vacancy and start over. Of 11 original candidates who applied last summer, Schleff was the only one who met all of the requirements.

Koehler said he and County Administrator Peter Austin learned of Schleff’s arrest record from the State’s Attorney’s Office on Jan. 31, days before his scheduled meeting before the committee.

“I appreciate the fact that he understands, with some of the issues that were brought to our attention, this is probably the right move to make,” Koehler said.

Schleff, principal of Lords Park Elementary School in Elgin District U-46, could not be reached for comment.

According to McHenry County court records, Schleff was charged with DUI in 2006, but the charges were dropped. In 2008, he was again charged with DUI and sentenced to six months of supervision and DUI school.

Authorities charged Schleff in 2009 with two counts of domestic battery related to an incident with his now ex-wife. He was convicted on one count in a bench trial, but got a new trial after Judge Gordon Graham determined that prosecutors didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Schleff wasn’t acting in self-defense. Schleff had argued that his then-wife was the aggressor and was intoxicated.

Graham later dismissed the charge and the case was closed, and Schleff is trying to expunge it from his record.

State funding issues and the highly-specialized nature of the elected office have stymied efforts to fill it.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision last year to de-fund the state’s 44 regional offices for the month of June, and then for the entire 2012 fiscal year that began July 1, prompted McHenry County’s outgoing regional superintendent to move up his retirement a month early. His elected successor turned down the office rather than work unpaid.

State lawmakers rectified the issue in November with a bill that would pay the regional superintendents for the rest of the year from local governments’ shares of the personal property replacement tax paid by corporations, trusts and utilities.

Regional superintendents must have a master’s degree, 20 semester hours of postgraduate education, a supervisory certificate, and must have spent two of the past four years in full-time teaching or public school administration. And because the position is elected, the candidate must be a Republican like the previous officeholder.

Funding for the offices is supposed to revert with the July 1 start of the 2013 fiscal year back to the state general fund. But Quinn could very well decide again to eliminate the offices’ funding. He has called the offices an unnecessary level of bureaucracy, but zeroed-out their funding last year with no plan as to how to divide up the offices’ statutory responsibilities.

The Lake County Regional Office of Education has been helping McHenry County’s fulfill its duties to local school districts. Austin said Monday he contacted the office to let them know that a replacement would not be appointed today.

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