The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday to put an advisory referendum asking voters whether the county’s Regional Office of Education should be restructured on March’s primary election ballot.
Although the language of the referendum was changed from elimination to restructuring or the sharing of services, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said if residents vote in favor of the referendum, he will seek elimination of the office, which he referred to as a symbol of a time gone by.
The office recently came under fire because of multiple repeated errors in its financial reporting, including a lack of employees actively preventing and detecting misstatements and omitted materials in a timely manner, fund balances that were not correctly rolled over from the previous year, incorrectly reported grant funding and failing to provide completed financial statements in an appropriate format by the annual deadline.
McHenry County ROE Superintendent Leslie Schermerhorn had said the ROE had been taking steps to maintain compliance with the Illinois Auditor General’s Office, such as transitioning to a new QuickBooks bookkeeping system, but it has been difficult after the departure of Ralph Surbaugh, former assistant county administrator of finance.
However, the McHenry County Public Health and Community Services Committee voted against the referendum in October. Committee chairman Chris Christensen had said he thinks the ROE could be eliminated but he would want to see a full evaluation of the office and a plan in place in the event the office is eliminated.
Superintendents David Engelbrecht of Marengo District 154, Lea Damisch of Marengo-Union District 165 and Christine Conkling of Riley District 18 expressed similar messages during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
Engelbrecht said he thinks its reasonable for the board to learn more about the financial impact of the ROE before taking action on a referendum with an unknown outcome and an unknown impact on taxpayers.
Damisch said not once has any school superintendent been asked how they feel about the function of the ROE.
Ron Erdmann, a former superintendent for Richmond-Burton Community High School District 157, meanwhile, said he was in total support of the proposal.
Erdmann voiced criticism over some of the things the ROE has supervised, such as building inspections, truancy and transportation services.
As an advisory referendum, the county board would not be bound to the outcome of the question.