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Board Games

Will the real Illinois state school board please stand up?

That's the question an Illinois Senate committee raised last week when it held up the appointments of four potential board members while advancing the nominations of five appointees. Now, nobody is sure who makes up the panel.

A law approved last year required Gov. Jim Edgar to reconstitute the board, shrinking it from 17 members to nine. But the Republican governor's appointments must be confirmed by the Republican Senate, where some members are at odds with the governor over the fate of state schools Superintendent Joseph Spagnolo.

An internal audit last fall questioned some of the superintendent's expense-account reimbursements and his hiring of foreign consultants without bids. Despite the audit, the old board voted 11-1 to give Mr. Spagnolo a raise and extend his contract. But several Republican leaders in the Senate said they hoped the new board would discipline or fire the superintendent.

Some of the governor's choices for the panel, however, do not seem to have the same priority.

Sen. J. Bradley Burzynski, a member of the Senate executive-appointments committee, said last week that his committee wants to hold up the appointments until a state audit is released and the four nominees can be questioned about it. But the auditor general's report on the state education department may not be out till spring.

"It boils down to accountability," Sen. Burzynski said. "It's something we have been demanding of our schools, and if we can't hold our state superintendent or school board accountable, we aren't setting a good example."

The governor's education aide said the tiff has continued because Mr. Spagnolo's leading critic on the board was not among the four members reappointed by the governor.

"This was somebody who mattered to them, and this is their way of sending a message," said Allen Grosboll, an aide to the Republican governor.

In the meantime, Republicans say the five members of the board confirmed by the Senate last month now legally make up the board and are considering introducing legislation that would make that official.

Now, until that issue is resolved, Mr. Grosboll lamented, "there's no oversight of the superintendent, of the staff, or any educational policy."


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