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Returning Fire

Illinois State Superintendent of Education Robert E. Schiller was sitting nearby when Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich's denunciation began.

In his State of the State Address on Jan. 15, the governor accused the state board of education of massive waste that hinders improvements in education.

He accused the agency of imposing burdensome regulations twice as long as the King James Bible.

That wasn't all. Two-thirds of the speech was focused on the state board. The governor blamed the nine-member panel and the state education agency it oversees for many of Illinois' education problems.

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich

"To sum it up, the Illinois state board of education has failed at its mission," said Gov. Blagojevich, a Democrat in his second year in office.

The governor capped his complaints with calls for restrictions on the board's power, whose members his office appoints. He would place the board and the agency more directly under his control.

In response, the state superintendent is fighting back.

Mr. Schiller said in an interview last week that his agency is "most efficient" compared with other state and local school systems he's overseen.

He added that the state board has little control over Illinois' 888 local school districts.

"The state board did not have any advance notice of this, nor did the governor inform me that he was going to launch into a mean-spirited attack," Mr. Schiller said.

Mr. Blagojevich's remarks were a surprise in part because the governor, previously a member of Congress, had campaigned on raising state spending for schools and opposed elimination of the state board.

"You're not going to find any state boards or state agencies that are very popular, because they're in a compliance mode," Mr. Schiller said.

The state superintendent released lists of job candidates the governor's office sent him last year, but last week he said he wasn't alleging that the governor had pressured him to hire anyone unfairly— contrary to news reports in Illinois.

Mr. Schiller was not convinced state legislators would approve the governor's plan to take away the board's powers. He added that the governor already has the power to fill one vacant seat on the board and can appoint three other new members at year's end.

—Alan Richard

Vol. 23, Issue 23, Page 30

Published in Print: February 18, 2004, as State Journal

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