Changing of the guard at ISBE?

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Christopher Koch

Christopher Koch

The Illinois State Board of Education will hold a special meeting Thursday to discuss a “personnel” matter behind closed doors.

State officials won’t name the employee they’ll be discussing — and it’s a 440-person agency — during the closed session. But one of ISBE’s most important duties, outlined in its bylaws, is to appoint the state’s Superintendent of Education, so some insiders say that’s likely what the meeting is about. The election of Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican who swiftly named Rev. James Meeks as chair of ISBE, adds fuel to the fire of speculation.

Christopher Koch has served as state superintendent since 2006 and had previously held other administrative roles within ISBE for more than a decade, including as director of special education and the state’s chief education officer.

Board members contacted by Catalyst referred questions to ISBE’s communication office. An ISBE spokeswoman said she could not discuss details of the closed-door meeting, except to say it was related to personnel.

The board does not plan to take any actions following the closed-door session, according to the agenda.

Koch’s most recent contract ended in February, meaning he now serves “at the pleasure of the board,” said ISBE spokesman Matt Vanover. In other words, he can be fired at any time.

Thursday’s meeting will be held in an unusual location — the South Side offices of the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, where Meeks is the pastor.

Meeks was appointed earlier this year by Rauner, who has also appointed another four people to the nine-member board since he took office in January. That gives the Republican governor — who supports an expansion of charter schools and the creation of a voucher program — more influence on the direction of state education policy.

The governor can propose a candidate for superintendent of schools, according to ISBE’s bylaws, but a spokeswoman for Rauner’s office declined to say whether he’s made any recommendations.