Local Democratic Committeemen voted unanimously last week to make Proviso High School District 209 board of education member Charles Flowers the Democratic candidate for Cook County Regional Superintendent in the Nov. 7 general election.
The office is currently held by Republican Robert Ingraffia, who is serving in his first term as superintendent, but has worked in the office for 31 years, 25 of which were spent as an assistant regional superintendent.
Ingraffia said he is puzzled at why anyone else would want the job.
“I guess he doesn’t understand the problems the agency has in terms of our lack of funding. We’re going to be in real financial straits down the road,” he said.
“I question what the Democrats are thinking by even slating someone. There’s no patronage to speak of, and no gigantic salaries…I think my wife makes more money as a teacher than I do,” he said.
The position currently pays just under $95,000 per year.
The office operates with a budget of about $1 million, according to Ingraffia. It receives no funding from the county, and about $100,000 from the state.
The remainder of its funding comes from intergovernmental grants and fees for services including bus driver training and teacher certification. The office’s primary responsibility is to serve as a liason between the Illinois State Board of Election and suburban school districts.
Flowers said his goal is to increase accountability and take a more hands-on approach if elected. He said he hopes to emphasize staff development programs for local school districts, especially those operating in deficit mode.
“I just think a new breath of fresh air and a new way of doing business is in order,” Flowers said. He said that if elected he would work to increase checks and balances in the office and to take a more hands-on approach to the job.
The regional superintendent’s office has the authority to initiate hearings to remove school board members, but has not done so in response to complaints of corruption at Dist. 209 and other area school districts.
Flowers said he has been disappointed in his own dealings with Ingraffia surrounding complaints he has filed regarding conduct at District 209.
“Most definitely, under the table deals have been made,” he said.
He said that he felt Ingraffia’s approval of the creation of a new position at District 209 for now Chief Education Officer (CEO) Robert Libka after it was determined that Libka did not have the required credentials to serve in the superintendent’s role for which he was originally hired was particularly suspect.
When making the personnel changes, the board acknowledged that Libka and newly promoted Superintendent Phylistine Murphy would both retain their previous responsibilities, and Murphy would be called upon only to sign documents which require the signature of an authorized superintendent.
“If you recall that whole argument ” we made the district find someone with a superintendent certificate to serve as superintendent,” said Ingraffia. “If the board wants to have someone else in addition to work with Dr. Murphy, that’s up to them.”
Flowers said he was unsure whether he would seek to retain his position on the Dist. 209 board if elected.
“I’d like to serve in both capacities and know I can do it in an unbiased and professional way,” he said.
Ingraffia said he believed it could create a conflict of interest for Flowers to seek both positions. Flowers has been seen by many as a likely candidate to challenge current Dist. 209 board president Chris Welch in next year’s school board elections.
Ingraffia worked as a teacher in both public and private schools before joining the regional superintendent’s office 31 years ago.
He spent three years as deputy regional superintendent following his time as an assistant superintendent before being elected to the office’s top spot three years ago.
He holds a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Loyola University and received his superintendent certification through DePaul.
Flowers has served on the Dist. 209 board since April, 2005 and also has served as board president at Maywood School District 89. He taught special education and coached wrestling at Proviso East until 1999, and in 1995 became the school’s Director of Community Education. He is currently Director of Special Education for Chicago-based Ada S McKinley Community Services, Inc.
Flowers holds Master’s degrees in Criminal Justice, Educational Administration and Special Education from Chicago State University.