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Getting Its Wish

Illinois school officials were told earlier this month to slice at least $25 million from this year's education budget. And they already knew they had to find a new state schools chief by year's end. Time to wish upon a star? Well, sort of.

On Nov. 15, the Illinois board of education named Ernest R. Wish as the state's interim schools superintendent. Mr. Wish, a 70-year-old former managing partner of the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand, has spent most of his career in business.

He'll need that expertise to prune the $6.22 billion that was to go to pre-K-12 education this year. His appointment came two days after Gov. George H. Ryan, a Republican, told the state school board to make the budget cuts.

Mr. Wish, who was not available for comment last week, told the Chicago Sun-Times shortly after his appointment: "I'm not fazed at all. That's what my job is. ... When I hit the ground, I hit the ground running."

Ronald J. Gidwitz, the chairman of the state board, said Mr. Wish likely won't stop at $25 million.

"In all candor, the decisions to cut have been made already, and the real task will come next year," he said. "Things will be tougher."

Illinois' decision to tap a former businessman for such a high- ranking education post is highly unusual, said Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University.

Noting that many school districts have hired noneducators to as superintendents, Mr. Kirst said: "It's interesting that once guys like that are found to be a success, others say, 'Why not?'"

Mr. Wish will replace Glenn W. "Max" McGee, whose three-year contract was not renewed because of lagging student test scores in the state.

Mr. Wish was also the city clerk of Chicago from 1993 to 1995. He was scheduled to start his new job on Nov. 26 and will overlap with the remainder of Mr. McGee's tenure, which ends Dec. 31.

Mr. Wish's post ends next June 30.

—Mark Stricherz

Vol. 21, Issue 13, Page 18

Published in Print: November 28, 2001, as State Journal

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