Three new Missouri Board of Education members have called a closed door meeting for next week in hopes of reportedly considering the termination of Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven and board president Charlie Shields. Claudia Onate Greim, Eddy Justice, and Doug Russell are suspected of being part of an effort led by Republican Governor Eric Greitens to remove Vandeven and apparently replace her with Atlanta charter school expert Kenneth Zeff.
In 1945, state lawmakers changed the Constitution to maintain the education department’s independence from politics. Missouri School Boards Association Executive Director Melissa Randol tells Missourinet Greitens wants to undermine the board’s independence. She says education is too precious and too important to allow it to be manipulated by political games.
“This is unprecedented for a governor to essentially make the commissioner a political-appointee position. Once you set that precedent, you’ve eroded the protections that have been put forth in the Constitution to protect the commissioner,” says Randol.
Greitens has appointed five new board members. They are awaiting consideration by the State Senate and possible confirmation is not expected until next year.
“They haven’t even been vetted by the Senate. They’re making the most important decision they have to make as a state board and that’s deciding who their CEO is going to be,” says Randol. “Why is this so critical? Why do they have to move on it before their confirmation?”
Randol says statute requires the board to meet twice a year – once during the month of December. She questions the need to spend money on Tuesday’s special meeting in Jefferson City if another one must take place about 10 days later.
The governor’s office has not returned Missourinet’s request for comment.
The Missouri Legislature and governor, not the board and commissioner, have the power to expand charter schools. Attempts to expand them have met opposition on both sides of the aisle by members of the General Assembly.
Missouri’s charter schools are limited to St. Louis and Kansas City school districts, and any that are unaccredited. The state has 38 charters.
The current process to open a charter school starts with the submission of an application for approval to the sponsor. Vetting of potential charters happens by the sponsor, not the Missouri Board of Education or Commissioner. Current sponsors include seven Missouri universities, Kansas City Public School District and the Missouri Charter Public School Commission.
Charter-sponsored applications are then forwarded to the Missouri Board of Education for consideration. By the time a charter school application reaches the board, the panel is essentially putting a rubber stamp on it. A Missouri law enacted this year requires the state board to evaluate the sponsors every three years about its quality of charter applications, renewal, intervention and closure decisions.
The Education Commissioner has the power to withhold funds from a sponsor or limit the number of charters a sponsor can have.
The majority of sponsors are not currently accepting new charter applications because they are at capacity. The Missouri Charter Public School Commission is still accepting applications, but has denied recent submissions due to inadequate charter applications. The only charter the commission is currently sponsoring is a Kansas City school with about 130 students called Citizens of the World.
According to Missouri’s Board and Commissions page, two of nine commission members have current terms. Three are vacant and four are expired. The salary of Robbyn Wahby, who serves as the commission’s executive director, is right below Vandeven’s.