Two months after McHenry County Regional Office of Education Superintendent Leslie Schermerhorn appeared before state lawmakers to address the office’s sixth consecutive failed state audit, the McHenry County Board is moving forward with a resolution to remove her from office.
The County Board’s administrative services committee voted unanimously Wednesday to remove Schermerhorn as regional superintendent, advancing the measure to a full board vote for consideration on Nov. 16.
The Regional Office of Education has been under intense scrutiny during Schermerhorn’s nine years in office for unaccounted funds, errors found in state and county audits and what board members have described as a failure to address ongoing problems.
“Nothing was done to address them, and it’s gotten worse,” said board member Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, who led the push to remove Schermerhorn from office.
Gottemoller described the situation with the Regional Office of Education as “probably one of the hardest topics this board has ever dealt with,” and said a decision to remove her was not to be taken lightly, but something that had to be done.
“I respect the fact that the voters elected Ms. Schermerhorn to do her job, but they elected us to do our job, which is to make sure she does her job. And she’s not doing her job so if we don’t do something, then we are complicit,” said board member Carlos Acosta, D-Woodstock.
State statute gives the County Board power to remove regional superintendents if they fail to make reports to the board, violate the law or fail to do their job, Gottemoller said.
Schermerhorn argues the board does not have that power because she is an elected official who reports to the state.
“The way to get rid of me is to vote me out of office,” she said.
The McHenry County Regional Office of Education is different from many of the other 34 in Illinois because it covers a single county while many offices are responsible for multiple counties. The regional offices of education in Lake, Kane, DeKalb, DuPage and Will counties also serve a single county.
Schermerhorn was appointed regional superintendent in 2012 after the previous superintendent left office. She ran as a Republican and was elected by the voters again in 2014 and 2018, but never faced a challenger.
Schermerhorn did not attend Wednesday’s meeting and declined to comment further on the attempt to remove her from office.
However, she provided board members with a letter she said outlined the state law that describes her reporting duties to the board. The letter was provided on yellow paper to get the attention of board members, Schermerhorn said, because she does not believe board members have listened to her.
Appearing before state lawmakers on Sept. 1, Schermerhorn said the county has not helped her address the problems found in audits of her office by, for example, choosing to not retain her office’s accountant in 2018. But board members say that’s not true.
“There was an intent by many individuals to try to provide assistance to the office,” said board member Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry.
Shortly after Schermerhorn’s meeting with state lawmakers, the county released a timeline showing its efforts to help Schermerhorn fix the problems in the audits, including by providing part-time accountants and enlisting the help of the Boone-Winnebago Regional Office of Education.
The most recent audit conducted by McHenry County Auditor Shannon Teresi in the summer produced 27 findings. Teresi frequently suggested in the audit Schermerhorn consolidate the office’s five bank accounts, but Schermerhorn responded by saying consolidating was not necessary to better track funds.
Board member John Collins, D-Crystal Lake, said Schermerhorn seemed “indifferent” to the findings in the audits and he never saw a sense of urgency from her to address the audits’ findings.
“The more you worked with her, the less you got done with her,” board member John Jung, R-Woodstock, said of his interactions with Schermerhorn.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Gottemoller shared more information he learned over the weekend about how the Regional Office of Education handled grants it received for math and science education in 2016. He said the office reported spending the full amount of grant money that year, but in 2016 and 2017, returned $106,000 of grant funds back to the state.
“I don’t know anybody that thinks it is a good idea that we send grant money for math and science programs back to the state of Illinois,” Gottemoller said.
Schermerhorn said Gottemoller’s claim is inaccurate, but declined to elaborate further, saying it’s a complicated issue to understand.
“I don’t think that’s a proper way of running an organization of the magnitude the Regional Office of Education has,” said board member Michael Vijuk, D-Cary.
County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, released a statement Wednesday reacting to the committee’s vote recommending Schermerhorn’s removal from office.
“The County Board has an obligation to the public to ensure the office is a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars, and that it carries out its mandated duties to serve the teachers, students, and parents of McHenry County. The County Board has exercised every avenue to work with Schermerhorn to correct these problems, without success,” Buehler said.
He called removing elected officials from office “a last resort,” but it is the only option the county has left.
If Schermerhorn is removed from office at the Nov. 16 meeting, the board will look for candidates to appoint as the new regional superintendent. The position is next up for reelection in 2022.