McHenry County hopes to move past regional education office's troubled past

  • Interim Regional Superintendent Mike Freeman works inside of his office at the McHenry County administration building in Woodstock.

    Interim Regional Superintendent Mike Freeman works inside of his office at the McHenry County administration building in Woodstock. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media

  • Leslie Schermerhorn, former regional superintendent of schools for McHenry County.

    Leslie Schermerhorn, former regional superintendent of schools for McHenry County. Mark Black for Shaw Media

 
 
Updated 12/13/2021 7:33 PM

McHenry County officials are trying to turn the page on a troubled past few years at the McHenry County Regional Office of Education that resulted in the removal last month of the regional superintendent.

State audits of the office found repeated accounting and organizational errors for six straight years, and an internal county audit in July identified 27 problems. Then-Regional Superintendent Leslie Schermerhorn blamed the county for the errors, but county leaders said she was responsible and failed to address the problems.

 

"It all could've been corrected with a basic understanding and ability to understand running an office and knowing what the statute is and communicating," McHenry County Auditor Shannon Teresi said. "We can't do the steps for them."

The bulk of the issues involved an improper accounting of funds.

The Regional Office of Education manages five bank accounts that are largely outside the county's reach. Teresi recommended that the accounts be consolidated and moved under the county's control to provide the office's small staff with better financial management. But that never happened.

A month after Schermerhorn was removed from office, the county is moving forward with changes.

The county board will consider a resolution later this month that would close two of the office's bank accounts and reopen them under the county's control. It also would add the McHenry County treasurer as a signatory to three other accounts under the state's control.

Interim Regional Superintendent Mike Freeman has been with the office since 2013 and supports consolidating the bank accounts, noting that with the office's small staff, it will help them "more accurately account for the funds," and "we can address some past findings."

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"I think it was a good first step going forward," he said.

Since taking over last month, Freeman said he has been in contact with the Illinois auditor general's office on plans to correct issues in the state audit.

Schermerhorn declined to comment for this story, but she previously said she would pursue legal action to fight her removal, which she argued was an illegal move by the county board. No legal action had been filed as of Friday.

For all the problems the office had, many of the findings in the audit were related to similar issues, and officials hope they can be corrected soon.

"If they follow the recommendations that we put in the internal audits, I do think a lot will change very quickly," Teresi said.

Freeman said he hopes he is the one to lead the office into its next chapter. He is one of three applicants to become the next regional superintendent.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

County board Chairman Mike Buehler said interviews with the candidates will begin soon. The county has until mid-January to make a hire, according to state law.

"(The candidates) know the issues," Buehler said. "It's been on the front page twice in the last three months, and I think people are well aware of the issues. I would think a good candidate would go the extra step and read the audits and see what the solutions are."

The position of regional superintendent is an elected one that will be up for reelection in 2022. Schermerhorn was appointed to the job in 2012 and ran uncontested in 2014 and 2018. County officials have said they want to find some stability with the next superintendent by identifying someone willing to run for the office.

State Sen. Craig Wilcox, a Republican from McHenry and former county board member, is working to make changes to state regulations that govern what qualifies a person to be regional superintendent.

"It has not been a very competitive position for elections, and it's difficult to find people that are looking to do that position and meet all the qualifications," Wilcox said.

He said his bill would try to better tailor the qualifications for the office to what regional superintendents do. It would include allowing people to have a superintendent endorsement or business endorsement on their educator's license to attract candidates who are better equipped to manage office and financial operations.

Officials now hope they will be able to find the right kind of leadership to fix several years of problems and get the office back to working with schools.

"Unfortunately, the whole thing with Leslie and the county board was a big distraction around here," Freeman said. "I wish Leslie the best, but I think it's good to look toward the future and rectify the things that need to be taken care of."

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