School & District Management

Illinois Chief Appears Set to Leave Amid Shake-up

By Joetta L. Sack — October 04, 2004 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The seven new members of the Illinois board of education granted embattled state Superintendent Robert E. Schiller a leave of absence last week and initiated negotiations to buy out his contract.

The board also appointed an interim superintendent during its first meeting since the seven appointees of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich assumed their seats on the nine-member panel early last week.

Gov. Blagojevich has hammered Mr. Schiller and the state education agency for what he contends is mismanagement, including a tongue-lashing during the governor’s State of the State Address in January. The governor, a Democrat elected in 2002, has also called for more gubernatorial power over education policy. ( “Illinois Governor’s Reform Plan in Jeopardy,” May 26, 2004.)

Mr. Schiller, in a Sept. 20 letter that requested a leave of absence through Sept. 30, told the board he would be reviewing his goals and options. “I may offer my resignation at that time and would like this board to have the opportunity to anticipate the need to prepare for this event,” he wrote.

But the board, which oversees the state’s $8 billion education budget and sets education policy, appears to have made a decision. On Sept. 20, it voted 7-2 to authorize a buyout of up to $160,000 for Mr. Schiller’s contract, two years before it is supposed to expire. The dissenting votes came from the two members who had held their seats before the restructuring that led to the governor’s appointments.

Board Moves

Randy J. Dunn, an education professor at Southern Illinois University and the top choice of Gov. Blagojevich, will at least temporarily take the helm of the education agency as interim state schools chief. Last week it appeared that Mr. Dunn, a former 4th grade teacher and elementary school principal, would remain as superintendent if Mr. Schiller is fired or resigns.

The seven new board members still have to be confirmed by the Illinois Senate, but state law allowed them to begin their duties immediately. Last week they also held their first meeting to lay out a new agenda.

Last spring, the legislature approved a restructuring that allowed the governor to appoint four new board members, in addition to filling three seats that were vacated this year, but it rejected a bill that would have allowed the governor to appoint all nine members immediately.

Gov. Blagojevich has ordered the new board members to focus on four goals:

• Streamline the teacher-certification process and reduce the backlog of applications for certification;

• Work with districts to reduce bureaucratic state rules and regulations;

• Work with schools to help them save money; and

• Devise innovative strategies to help improve state education programs.

Jesse Ruiz, the new state board chairman, called it a “new day” for Illinois education at a Sept. 20 press conference at which Mr. Dunn was introduced as interim superintendent. “We are proceeding as a unified team,” he said two days later at the board meeting.

Gail Purkey, the spokeswoman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the union was pleased with the change, and she predicted that the new board would have a better handle on day-to-day needs of schools.

She added that the former board members took a more business-oriented approach to education issues and did not have the hands-on classroom experience needed to make education policy. One of the new members, Ed Geppert, retired as the union’s chief of staff earlier this year.

The new board members “have unsurpassed knowledge of the issues that public education has to deal with,” said Ms. Purkey, whose union is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

‘Soviet-Style’

Gov. Blagojevich stunned onlookers during his State of the State speech when he described the state education agency as “a Soviet-style bureaucracy” and called for replacing the board with a Cabinet-level education department that would answer to the governor.

But the constitutionality of his plan was questioned by lawmakers, and eventually the legislature passed a compromise bill, SB 3000, that gave the governor more power to appoint new members to the board, but left the board independent of the governor’s office.

Gov. Blagojevich signed the legislation this month.

Mr. Schiller, in his letter to the board, said he planned to spend his leave time in Florida at a house he owns that was severely damaged by Hurricane Frances, in addition to tending to other personal matters. He was not available for comment last week.

Ronald J. Gidwitz, one of the replaced board members, said that the compromise legislation that led to his replacement was “a good law, in that it keeps the state board of education constitutionally independent.” Mr. Gidwitz was appointed by former Gov. George H. Ryan, a Republican.

In an interview last week, Mr. Gidwitz said the new board would face the formidable tasks of persuading the legislature to budget more money for education and of finding ways to improve underperforming schools. Further, he said, Gov. Blagojevich had not had any contact with the board in recent months, which in turn led to a breakdown in relations between the board and lawmakers.

“In my view, the governor has been part of the problem; maybe now he’ll be part of the solution,” said Mr. Gidwitz, who is also the president of Students First, a nonpartisan grassroots school advocacy group. “He doesn’t have the excuse of a board he didn’t appoint and a superintendent he doesn’t prefer.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Seamless Integrations for Engagement in the Classroom
Learn how to seamlessly integrate new technologies into your classroom to support student engagement. 
Content provided by GoGuardian
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 'How Are You?' Teachers and Principals Benefit From Check-Ins, Too
Check-ins are an important part of social-emotional learning for students. But what about check-ins for the adults in the school?
Image of a teacher in a classroom.
E+
School & District Management Opinion 3 Shifts That Will Benefit Every New Ed. Leader
We need leaders who can develop shared visions of what school can be.
Jennifer Perry Cheatham, Rodney Thomas & Adam Parrott-Sheffer
4 min read
conceptual image of people coming together to form a lightbulb
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management After Student's Death, L.A. Schools to Carry Overdose Antidote
The nation’s second-largest school district will provide all its schools with a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses.
1 min read
Students and community members place flowers and candles at Helen Bernstein High School where a teenage girl died of an overdose on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, in Los Angeles. Authorities said multiple Los Angeles teenagers have overdosed on pills likely laced with fentanyl over the past month, including the 15-year-old girl who died on the high school campus.
Students and community members place flowers and candles at Helen Bernstein High School where a girl died of an overdose earlier this month in Los Angeles. Authorities said multiple Los Angeles teenagers have overdosed on pills likely laced with fentanyl over the past month, including the 15-year-old girl who died on the high school campus.
Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via AP
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Whitepaper
Glimpse Into the Future of Education
World renowned futurist Gerd Leonhard and Promethean's Head of International Education Strategy explore the evolution of education.
Content provided by Promethean