McHenry County Board member Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, is calling for the removal of Regional Superintendent of Schools Leslie Schermerhorn in the wake of several audits showing the McHenry County Regional Office of Education mishandled its accounting for several years.
At Tuesday’s County Board meeting, Gottemoller said the board needs to take action to address the problems at the McHenry ROE and the state gives the board the power to remove a regional superintendent “in case of neglect.”
“The only way this board can act is by resolution, and we have statutory responsibility to remove the superintendent of schools. I’m asking that we do it,” Gottemoller said.
The fiscal 2019 audit of the McHenry County ROE conducted by the Illinois Auditor General’s Office identified five accounting and organizational errors, while a July 2021 audit by the McHenry County auditor produced 27 findings. The findings included imbalances between bank accounts, problems with the office’s internal organization and improper documentation of expenses.
Schermerhorn declined to comment on Gottemoller’s statements but has previously defended her office, saying the County Board should be blamed for not providing the office with an accountant.
“The state is really who I answer to because I’m a state agency,” Schermerhorn said last week in an interview with the Northwest Herald.
Gottemoller told County Board members Tuesday that state statute holds them individually liable for financial damages created by regional offices of education.
County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, said board members would talk “offline” about how they might be able to go forward with Gottemoller’s suggestion.
The McHenry County Regional Office of Education is unusual from many of the other 34 in Illinois because it is inside a single county while many ROEs are in multiple counties. The ROEs in Lake, Kane, DeKalb, DuPage and Will counties also serve a single county.
While some oversight of the ROE, such as budget approval, falls to the county, other aspects, including the review of state bank accounts, are the state’s responsibility. Because of that, Schermerhorn told the County Board during the Sept. 16 Committee of the Whole meeting that the county’s audit of her office exceeded the county’s powers.
“I believe that the county auditor by statute went beyond the scope of the audit that is allowed for a county to perform,” she said in a subsequent interview.
While Schermerhorn also said the county’s audit should not be released unless approved by the County Board, McHenry County Auditor Shannon Teresi said her office is independent of the board and audits do not need to be approved by the board to make them public. The July audit of the ROE conducted by the county examined five bank accounts the county exercises oversight on.
Schermerhorn said if the county wants to help her office fix their problems, they should allow her office to hire a full-time accountant.
“The county wants us to hand over all of our accounting to them. At this point, I’m probably going to do it because I’m being pushed into that decision, but that’s not common practice for an ROE to push their [bookkeeping] to the county,” Schermerhorn said.
Buehler said the county plans to add a specialized accountant to the county’s finance department to handle accounting for the ROE.
The ROE lost their full-time accountant in December 2018 after the County Board decided not to fund the position after state audits found several problems with the office’s accounting. Since then, the county has paid for various other accountants to help the office, most recently an accountant from the Boone and Winnebago county Regional Office of Education.
“Historically, the McHenry County Board has been mostly hands-off regarding the ROE office. It was not until the repeated failed audits that the board has become more involved,” Buehler said.
Beginning with the fiscal 2014 audit, the state has found accounting errors every year through 2019. Schermerhorn told lawmakers in Springfield on Sept. 1 that she doesn’t expect the fiscal 2020 audit to be different.
“If I would’ve told that to my constituents, I would’ve been gone two years ago,” state Rep. Jaime Andrade, D-Chicago, told Schermerhorn.
Schermerhorn was appointed regional superintendent by the County Board in 2012 after working for Chicago Public Schools. She was reelected to the position in 2014 and 2018 in uncontested races. She is up for reelection in 2022.
Buehler sent a letter to the auditor general and the General Assembly’s Legislative Audit Commission earlier this month offering to testify about the state’s findings in its audits of the McHenry County ROE.
He sent the letter after Schermerhorn told lawmakers the County Board was making it hard for her to fix the mistakes in the audit, and in response, lawmakers on the commission said Buehler should answer questions.
Buehler said the auditor general’s office acknowledged receiving the letter, but no further steps have been taken by state lawmakers to have Buehler answer questions about the ROE in Springfield.