The Missouri Board of Education voted on Friday to fire Margie Vandeven as the state’s education commissioner. Board member Mike Jones of St. Louis says the next education chief will be “tainted” by the way the opening was created.
“There will never be a way to disconnect the new person from the way Commissioner Vandeven’s tenure ended,” said Jones. “Whoever you pick, will be suspect, particularly if they have the governor’s support.”
Governor Eric Greitens, a Republican, has been working for several months to appoint members to the board who are willing to terminate Vandeven.
“It would be very hard for me to give that person the benefit of the doubt going forward in public education,” said Jones. “You would have to put me over here as a skeptic, no matter what process we use to select them.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Greitens’ campaign committee paid Kenneth Zeff to visit Missouri in early August. Zeff, of Atlanta, is a charter school advocate with more than a decade of work in education. The two were in the same class of White House fellow under the George W. Bush administration.
There are questions about whether Zeff would meet the employment requirements of the commissioner job. According to Ed Counsel Law firm in Columbia, he does not appear to have the qualifications.
The governor said the board’s vote on Friday means kids, teachers and families have won. He said it has taken a major step in the right direction to improve public education.
Among other things, Greitens has made his case for a change in department leadership by saying Missouri has too many well-paid school administrators and teachers don’t make enough money.
“Here are the facts: Missourians spend about the national average on our schools,” Greitens said in a written statement. “I support public schools, and our team supports public schools. We made education a priority. We put more money into schools than ever before in Missouri history. We fully funded K-12 education for the first time in years, and we added $64.6 million to the K-12 budget.”
Greitens goes on to say “bureaucrats” took that increase in funding.
“In our schools, we’ve got too many bureaucrats. We’re top ten in the country for our number of school administrators. And they’re well paid,” said Greitens. “In fact, in Missouri, administrator pay has been increasing more than twice as fast as teacher pay. Several administrators make more than $250,000.00 a year. Six figures. That money should go into the classroom. It should go to teachers.”
Missouri Board of Education President Charlie Shields, a Republican, said pitting school teachers against administrators is a trick because their salaries are determined by local school boards.
“To say that somehow this department and this state board valued administrators more than teachers, A, we don’t get to make that decision and B, that argument is only made for disruption purposes,” said Shields.
Vice President Victor Lenz agreed with Shields.
“We’re a local controlled state and that’s not going to change. That’s the way it needs to be,” said Lenz.
Jones, a Democrat, was also outspoken about the governor’s comments.
“To put out a statement that is so untethered to the reality of how our teachers and superintendents are paid and where the decision about that gets made, is a gross disservice to the people of the state of Missouri,” said Jones. “We have got to stop tolerating in high public officials this delusional, made up definitions of reality. It almost doesn’t worth repeating because that’s how wrong it was.”
The board voted 5-3 in favor of firing Vandeven. All five of the governor’s appointees voted to remove Vandeven. They were not available for press questions after the vote.