Removal of McHenry County regional superintendent set for final vote

The regional superintendent did not show up to the meeting and board members gave no indication they were against removal

Leslie Schermerhorn, regional superintendent of schools for McHenry County, on Saturday, June 15, 2019, in Woodstock.

Removing McHenry County Regional Office of Education Superintendent Leslie Schermerhorn is set for a vote Tuesday before the McHenry County Board.

The board is acting after six years of failed state audits by the local Regional Office of Education under Schermerhorn’s leadership, which has included multiple findings of unaccounted funds and problems with the office’s organizational structure. Board members said they think Schermerhorn has shown an indifference to addressing the problems and removing her from office was the last option they had left.

“It’s not about if she’s capable of doing fingerprinting or those other things [the regional office is responsible for], she has refused to manage the money,” said board member Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, who led the push to remove Schermerhorn.

Problems identified by state audits of the Regional Office of Education include misclassifying $152,000 and allowing $243,726 transactions to go unreported. The most recent audit conducted by McHenry County Auditor Shannon Teresi in July produced 27 findings.

McHenry County Board member Joe Gottemoller is seen during a Committee of the Whole meeting of the McHenry County Board Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at the McHenry County Administrative Building in Woodstock.

The board has been moving forward on Schermerhorn’s removal without hearing from her. She has not come in person to defend herself in front of the board since Nov. 3, when the resolution was introduced to remove her from office.

“By golly, state your case, make your argument. Help us help you. This has not been happening,” said board member Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake.

Schermerhorn declined to comment on the impending vote against her, but said she welcomes any board member to come talk to her. She said only one has done that.

Board members pushed back against arguments Schermerhorn made in front of a state lawmakers in September, in which she said the board is to blame for the problems in the audits because they did not try to help her fix the problems. Schermerhorn has also not appeared before the County Board since that meeting.

Members said Schermerhorn has disregarded her responsibilities to the board and not showing up to argue in for herself makes it seem like she’s indifferent to the problems.

McHenry County Board member Kelli Wegener is seen during a Committee of the Whole meeting of the McHenry County Board Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at the McHenry County Administrative Building in Woodstock.

“If this is a serious issue, you’d think someone would be here to discuss that,” said board member Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake.

The county has provided her ample opportunities to obtain help over the years, Gottemoller said, including enlisting the aid of the Boone-Winnebago Regional Office of Education and hiring part-time accountants to help Schermerhorn get the office’s finances in order.

Board member Tanya Jindrich, D-Crystal Lake, said she received the first quarterly report she is aware of from the McHenry County Regional Office of Education last week.

State statute gives county boards power to remove regional superintendents if they fail to make reports to the board, violate the law or fail to do their job. It also holds County Board members individually liable for missing funds at a regional office of education, Gottemoller said.

The McHenry County Regional Office of Education is different from most 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 single counties.

Schermerhorn, who is an elected official, has argued she answers to the state and the County Board cannot remove her from office.

“I’m afraid we’re not going to hear a word until after we accomplish this and by then, it might from a [lawsuit]. But we can’t let that stop us and make us afraid,” Thorsen said.

McHenry County Board member Jeffrey Thorsen is seen during a Committee of the Whole meeting of the McHenry County Board Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at the McHenry County Administrative Building in Woodstock.

Nothing is stopping Schermerhorn from running again in 2022 when her position is up for reelection, board member John Collins, D-Crystal Lake, pointed out.

Schermerhorn ran unopposed for the regional superintendent as a Republican in 2014 and 2018 after being appointed to the office in 2012. Collins and Jindrich warned they will need new people to step up and run for regional superintendent next year if they want to keep Schermerhorn out of office.

No board members have publicly expressed their desire to vote against the resolution removing Schermerhorn from office, meaning Tuesday’s vote could be unanimous.

“I’d like to be mindful of the fact that in the future, it looks poorly for all of us when there is division in our county government and we need to find better solutions so that we don’t come to this regrettable point (where we need to remove an elected official from office) with some other roles in our county,” board member Theresa Meshes, D-Fox River Grove, said.

Other board members said they wished that removing Schermerhorn was not a step they had to take and that she would’ve been more receptive to the county’s help, but added that removing her was necessary.

“It is in the best interest of the county and the people we serve, the students and the faculty of all these school districts,” said board member Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills.

If the board votes to remove Schermerhorn on Tuesday, the county will then have 60 days to appoint a replacement, said board member Michael Vijuk, D-Cary.

In the meantime, County Administrator Pete Austin said the assistant regional superintendent is allowed to handle the duties of the office.

Regional School Superintendent Leslie Schermerhorn speaks with a school bus driver on Aug. 25, 2016.  “The student enrollment is fluctuating greatly in different communities, and it’s time to be strategic about that,” Schermerhorn said. “Which buildings we’re going to keep, how we can best use the buildings – that kind of thing.”