McHenry County Board set to vote to remove regional superintendent

  • Leslie Schermerhorn, the McHenry County regional superintendent of schools, could be removed from office by the county board Tuesday.

    Leslie Schermerhorn, the McHenry County regional superintendent of schools, could be removed from office by the county board Tuesday. Mark Black for Shaw Media

 
By Ben Szalinski
Shaw Media
Updated 11/14/2021 7:55 PM

The potential removal of 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 is their last option.

"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, a Republican from Crystal Lake who has led the push to remove Schermerhorn.

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

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

"By golly, state your case, make your argument. Help us help you. This has not been happening," said board member Jeff Thorsen, a Crystal Lake Republican.

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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.

Board members say Schermerhorn has disregarded her responsibilities and not showing up to defend herself makes it seem like she's indifferent to the problems.

"If this is a serious issue, you'd think someone would be here to discuss that," said board member Kelli Wegener, a Democrat from 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.

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 others 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.

Schermerhorn ran unopposed as a Republican in 2014 and 2018, after being appointed to the office in 2012. She is up for reelection next year.

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," said board member Theresa Meshes, a Democrat from Fox River Grove.

Other board members said removing Schermerhorn is a step they wish they didn't have to take, but it's 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 Paula Yensen, a Lake in the Hills Democrat.

If the board votes Tuesday to remove Schermerhorn, the county will have 60 days to appoint a replacement. Until then, the assistant regional superintendent is allowed to handle the duties of the office.

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