Q-C loses its voice on state school board - Quad-Cities Online: Local

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Q-C loses its voice on state school board

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Posted: Tuesday, September 22, 1998 12:00 am | Updated: 3:15 pm, Tue Apr 22, 2014.

The Quad-Cities' voice on the Illinois State Board of Education silenced itself.

After serving on the state school board for more than five years, Harry Litchfield of Coal Valley resigned Friday in the wake of a state senator's claim that the board's political makeup violates the law.

Last week assistant Senate Majority Leader Vince Demuzio, D-Carlinville, filed a request for Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan to determine if the board is legally constituted.

Law states no more than five board members representing a particular political party can serve simultaneously, Mr. Litchfield said Monday.

``Before I left, there were five Republicans, two Democrats and two Independents,'' Mr. Litchfield, a Republican, said. ``On the surface, the law was being adhered to.''

However, information compiled by Sen. Demuzio about the voting history of the nine board members indicated seven voted Republican in the last primary, according to Pat McGuckin, press spokesman for Senate Democrats.

Every action by the board since it convened in January 1997 could be ruled illegal if the attorney general determines its makeup violates state law, Sen. Demuzio said in his press release.

Mr. Litchfield did not want the issue to interfere with the board's business, including its search for a new state school superintendent to replace Joe Spagnolo, who resigned in July.

``I think the last thing you need when searching for a new superintendent is to have the group that's doing the hiring be challenged if they are legal or not,'' he said. ``No one forced me, asked me or coerced me to resign. It is my attempt to clear the situation.''

Mr. Litchfield, manager of learning and development at Deere and Co., already planned to leave the board when his term expired in January. The terms of two more board members also expire in January, but one is a Democrat and the other -- another Republican -- serves as board chairman, Mr. Litchfield said.

``It was logical for me to be the one to leave,'' he said.

Mr. Litchfield's resignation didn't answer Sen. Demuzio's concerns, Mr. McGuckin said.

``It is still the Senator's contention that too many people of the same political party are on the board,'' Mr. McGuckin said. ``But he will wait for the Attorney General's ruling.''

A ruling is expected by the end of the week, according to an attorney general's office spokesman.

Sen. Demuzio decided to check the voting records of state school board members after they decided to try to hire a new superintendent before a new governor would be elected in November, instead of waiting until after the election, Mr. McGuckin said.

Mr. Litchfield didn't know if Gov. Jim Edgar planned to appoint someone in his place before January.

When Gov. Edgar looks for a replacement, hopefully he will try to find someone from the Quad-Cities area who will work as hard as Mr. Litchfield did to provide a regional voice at the state education level, Rock Island County Regional Superintendent Joe Vermeire said.

``Mr. Litchfield has served this area well,'' Mr. Vermeire said. ``He was always looking for input from school people and the community from the Western Illinois region, and provided his voice and vote at the state level.''

Mr. Litchfield will not be totally silenced. State board chairman Lou Mervis asked him to advise the board on an ad hoc basis and remain on a couple of strategic agenda teams.

``But as a bona fide board member, the state doesn't have me,'' Mr. Litchfield said.

``I do not leave the board with the sense of completion that I had expected to feel,'' he wrote in his letter of resignation to Gov. Edgar, ``but I do believe that I am doing the best thing possible to resolve the current situation in the best interests of the children of Illinois.''

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