State education board retains commissioner against governor’s wishes

Gov. Eric Greitens appointed a total of seven people to five positions on the Board of Education in a bid to oust Margie Vandeven. (DESE/MGN Online)

Missouri’s Commissioner of Education kept her job Tuesday as the state education board deadlocked on an effort to replace her.

Gov. Eric Greitens appointed a total of seven people to five positions on the Board of Education in a bid to oust Margie Vandeven. Two of those replacements were withdrawn after they expressed reservations about removing Vandeven. Greitens was pushing to replace Vandeven with Georgia charter school advocate Kenneth Zeff. On Tuesday morning, the board voted 4-4 on a motion to remove her. Since it was a tie vote, Vandeven kept her job.

Board president Charlie Shields said at no time was Vandeven’s job performance ever in question. Board member Michael Jones went a step further.

“This is a political issue,” Jones said. “This is not an education issue.”

Tuesday's vote does not end the debate over Vandeven. Shields said the board could theoretically face the same question at its Dec. 1 meeting. In the meantime, former board members Tim Sumners and Melissa Gelner are asking for clarification of who should hold southwest Missouri's seat on the board. Greitens replaced Gelner with Sumners last week after Gelner expressed reservations about replacing Vandeven. On Monday night, the governor replaced Sumners with Jennifer Edwards, who voted in favor of ousting Vandeven this morning. In a letter read to reporters by Shields, Gelner and Sumners questioned whether the governor's actions were legal, especially given that Edwards was selected just hours before a scheduled board meeting.

Greitens made his appointments to the school board after state lawmakers adjourned in May. As a result, the people he has appointed have been able to serve without going through confirmation by the state Senate. Senate education committee chair Gary Romine said Greitens is trying to go around the Senate to get what he wants.

"We should be a team working together," he said. "And right now, part of it's being circumvented by not allowing the Senate to have the confirmation process on the appointees that he's made at this point."

Education advocates packed the hallway while the board met behind closed doors. While board members briefed reporters afterward, school administrators could be heard cheering outside. Melissa Randol, the executive director of the Missouri School Boards Association, said a study ordered by Greitens this summer showed Vandeven and the state's education department were outperforming other state agencies and education departments in other states. Lawmakers from both parties have praised Vandeven's performance. Randol said Greitens has yet to explain why Vandeven should be replaced.

"Why do we need to be making this decision, and why do we need to be making it in such a rushed way?" she said.

Greitens said Missouri school "administrator pay has been increasing more than twice as fast as teacher pay. Several administrators make more than $250,000.00 a year...That money should go into the classroom. It should go to teachers."

To read the governor's full statement, see the document below.

Senate Democratic leader Gina Walsh released the following statement on the process:

“Backroom deals and hostile takeovers are the kind of Washington D.C. schemes that Gov. Greitens has brought home to Missouri. Commissioner Vandeven has achieved real results for the taxpayers of this state, which is why she’s so highly regarded by folks of every political stripe. Thankfully, four State Board of Education members had the courage to stand up for Missouri’s school children and refused to be forced into a bad deal by Gov. Greitens. Missouri’s public schools have made tremendous improvements under Commissioner Vandeven, and I look forward to seeing those successes continue with her at the helm.”

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