Committee backs regional superintendent candidate

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WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County Board committee agreed Friday that Leslie Schermerhorn was worth the wait to fill the long-vacant regional school superintendent seat.

The Public Health and Human Services Committee voted after a brief and positive interview, 5-0, to recommend that Schermerhorn, of Bull Valley, be appointed to the position, which has been vacant since last June.

Schermerhorn, a 1977 graduate of Marian Central Catholic High School, has worked since 1999 at the LaSalle Language Academy in Chicago and has been the assistant principal since August 2007.

Her father is retired McHenry County Judge Thomas Schermerhorn. Leslie first became a lawyer before she started volunteering in Chicago schools and realized that education was her calling.

“I’m still reeling,” Schermerhorn said Friday afternoon. “It was a very happy experience. I didn’t expect to feel so welcome.”

County government’s experience in trying to fill the seat for the highly specialized office over the past year has been anything but a happy experience.

Approval by the County Board next Tuesday will end a long and peculiar story starting with a double resignation and including state funding woes, a lack of qualified candidates, and the backing out of a previous contender after his arrest record became public.

The office handles such duties as certifying teachers, truancy enforcement, administering GEDs, and school safety inspections.

“We look forward to having a qualified individual in this position that has been open for a very long time,” said committee member Anna May Miller, R-Cary.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision last year to defund 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, Gene Goeglein, to retire a month earlier than planned. His elected successor, Joseph Williams, turned down the position rather than work unpaid.

State lawmakers in November restored funding through local governments’ shares of the personal property replacement tax paid by corporations, trusts and utilities. But just as much of a problem for the county as filling an unpaid position was the long list of requirements that regional superintendents must have under state law.

Regional superintendents must have a master’s degree, 20 semester hours of postgraduate education, a supervisory certificate, and have spent two of the past four years in full-time teaching or public school administration.

More than a dozen candidates applied, but only one had the necessary qualifications. However, he backed out Feb. 6 after county leaders learned his past included a sentence for driving under the influence and dropped DUI and domestic battery charges.

Schermerhorn said she followed the county’s problems in filling the position through Northwest Herald articles and thought she did not have the qualifications, but then she looked into it and realized that she did.

“I realized, hey, I can do this,” she said.

While committee member Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, called Schermerhorn’s experience “a huge plus for our county,” she plainly asked whether she had an arrest record or “skeletons in her closet.” Schermerhorn said she did not and that she just last year had a criminal background check through Chicago Public Schools.

Others asked her to address her voting record, given that state law requires her to be a Republican like the previous officeholder who resigned. She voted GOP in her last two primaries, but had pulled Democratic ballots prior.

Schermerhorn replied with a quote often misattributed to Winston Churchill: If you’re young and conservative, you have no heart – if you’re old and liberal, you have no head.

“I attribute the switch to experience, intellect and change, and I come from a very strong Republican family,” she told committee members.

McHenry County Republican Party Chairman Mike Tryon, who did not attend the meeting, said he had no concerns about her party bona fides. If approved by the County Board, Schermerhorn will have to run in the November election to fill the rest of the unexpired term.

“I’ve known her family since I took my first steps in politics,” said Tryon, who served as County Board chairman and is now a state representative. “She’s a qualified candidate, and we’ve had great Republicans in our country, like Ronald Reagan, who were Democrats and left [the party].”

The County Board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

What it means

The McHenry County Board will vote next Tuesday to appoint Leslie Schermerhorn to fill the long-vacant elected office of regional superintendent of schools.

The board’s Public Health and Human Services Committee voted Friday, 5-0, to recommend that Schermerhorn, of Bull Valley, get the job.

Qualifications

One of the reasons the seat has remained vacant so long has been the long list of qualifications required under state law. Beside being “of good character,” McHenry County’s candidate must:

• Have a master’s degree.

• Have at least 20 semester hours of graduate professional education.

• Have a valid all-grade supervisory certificate, or state limited supervisory certificate, or life supervisory certificate, or administrative certificate.

• Have at least four years of teaching experience.

• Have spent at least two of the past four years in full-time teaching or supervision of public schools.

• Be a Republican, the same party as the previous elected officeholder who declined the job.

There also are several restrictions:

• A regional school superintendent is forbidden from holding any other employment.

• Any educator collecting a pension from the Teachers’ Retirement System is ineligible.

Sources: Illinois School Code, Illinois Election Code, McHenry County

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