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ISBE meets to discuss ‘personnel’ issue; superintendent’s contract already expired

The newly configured Illinois State Board of Education held a very brief public meeting Thursday morning before discussing a “personnel matter” in a lengthy closed session — fueling speculation that the board will soon replace the state’s superintendent.

Rev. James Meeks, who was appointed as the board’s chair after Gov. Bruce Rauner was installed, declined to specify who was being discussed, saying, “They’ll kill me if I tell you that.”

The state superintendent is in charge of the education of Illinois’ 2 million public school students across about 3,800 schools in 863 districts, heading the agency that sets educational policy for preschoolers through 12th-graders and recommends school-related legislation to the general assembly and governor.

The special meeting, held in the basement of Meeks’ Pullman church, Salem Baptist, was announced two days ago, complying with the open meetings law; its agenda specified — and Meeks repeated — that no action would be taken Thursday.

But the contract of state Supt. Christopher Koch ran out on Feb. 1 and was not renewed. Appointed under Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Koch has since been asked by the board to remain in place for an undetermined length of time, serving at the pleasure of the board, ISBE spokesman Matt Vanover said.

Koch was not at the meeting.

Asked whether the board had begun looking for a new candidate, Vanover said: “I am not aware of any specific search process. I can’t get into personnel decisions.”

Nor would he say who else may have been in the room with the board, adding that they “can invite whomever they want.”

School code also permits a governor to make a recommendation to the board. The board chair would sign the contract. Their next scheduled meeting will be April 15 in Springfield.

When asked to confirm whether there were plans to replace Koch, a governor’s spokesman declined to comment.

Rauner has already replaced five of the nine ISBE board members with his picks.

Koch has worked for the state board since 1994 and was promoted to superintendent on Dec. 1, 2006. He also has been the state’s director of special education and the chief education officer.

Contributing: Natasha Korecki

Rev. James Meeks was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner (rear) to head the Illinois State Board of Education. | Sun-Times File Photo

Rev. James Meeks was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner (rear) to head the Illinois State Board of Education. | Sun-Times File Photo