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Time is now to dissolve Flowers' office

Sunday, November 29, 2009
SouthtownStar
by SouthtownStar editorial staff

We have called repeatedly for action from the Cook County state's attorney regarding Cook County Regional Office of Education Supt. Charles Flowers. Today, we call on members of the Legislature to abolish the office altogether and to consider consolidating regional schools offices statewide.

Certainly Flowers' alleged abuses of his office prompted us to take a closer look at regional superintendent offices statewide.

But this is not a case of one bad apple tarnishing the bunch. We simply believe the offices are not a justifiable taxpayer expense, even those that operate efficiently. Particularly in suburban Cook County, the duplication of a regional office and existing intermediate centers call for state action. With scarce resources, now is the time to address the waste and bureaucracy of the multi-layered system currently in place.

The suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education, like all regional offices statewide, is primarily responsible for teacher certification paperwork, health and safety oversight of school structures and training for bus drivers. There are other duties, but most are vague and not statutorily enforced.

We believe the duties of the Cook County office should be assumed by the intermediate centers in place and by the Illinois State Board of Education. We also believe downstate regionals should be forced to consolidate. Their responsibilities are not weighty enough to justify so many separate offices.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines) in June introduced House Bill 4588, which would dissolve the suburban Cook County office altogether. Southland state Rep. Kevin Joyce (D-Chicago) is a co-sponsor. The bill remains in the elementary and secondary education committee.

Nekritz is working on a new version of the bill, which will incorporate recommendations of a committee she established made up of school superintendents and business managers.

"The new bill will not look anything like House Bill 4588," she said Wednesday. "We're taking the approach that, if you could design the office from scratch, what would it look like?"

To Nekritz, the issue is pretty simple. Suburban Cook County schools are not well served by the suburban office, and she, like us, is fed up with the problems. For more than a decade, the regional school office has not functioned effectively.

We're looking forward to hearing her committee's recommendations, but for cost reasons and for efficiency's sake, we believe the office should be eliminated, period. We certainly don't want to see the office's duties expanded.

In the meantime, we hope the state's attorney moves hard and fast with its investigation of Flowers - an investigation spawned from SouthtownStar education reporter Duaa Eldeib's tenacious reporting of financial irregularities.

Taxpayers have waited too long.

Taxpayers deserve no less.



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