JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri state school board member is among a growing list of people raising concerns with efforts by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens to oust the state’s top education official.
Board member John “Tim” Sumners, who was appointed by Greitens, is asking to delay a special meeting requested by his colleagues during which some members are expected to call for Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven’s ouster, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday.
In a Sunday message to other board members, Sumners said he’s “tremendously troubled” by the maneuver.
“We all know the purpose of the meeting,” he wrote. “I am concerned that we are asking a brand new member who has not had the opportunity to learn the workings of the department to vote on an issue of this magnitude.”
He said he’s worried his opinion could cost him his position on the board, which Greitens could revoke before the appointees are up for a Senate confirmation when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.
Greitens’ spokesman Parker Briden told the Post-Dispatch that despite funding increases for schools, “we haven’t seen a corresponding performance increase.” He didn’t immediately return an Associated Press request for further comment Monday.
Days after another appointment last week gave Greitens’ appointees a majority on the board, three of his picks — Eddy Justice, Doug Russell and Claudia Onate Greim — requested a special meeting Nov. 21 to discuss the hiring and firing of agency personnel. The meeting has not yet been scheduled.
Missouri School Boards’ Association Executive Director Melissa Randol in a Sunday statement said the independence of the State Board of Education “is being undermined.”
She said Greitens is trying to replace Vandeven with “an out-of-state acquaintance” who supports expanding charter schools in the state, likely a reference to Atlanta school administrator and education consultant Kenneth Zeff. Greitens’ campaign paid for Zeff to visit mid-Missouri in August.
It would take five votes to fire Vandeven.
Board members Victor Lenz and Mike Jones, who were appointed before Greitens took office, said they would refuse to vote to fire Vandeven.
Republican Rep. David Wood, a leader in education policy, on Monday urged board members to “stay the course and retain Dr. Vandeven as commissioner and Charlie Shields as president of the State Board of Education until after the Senate confirmation hearings on the new members.”
“This delay will give the legislature a chance to determine if these appointments are non-political and have the best interest of Missouri education as their motivation,” Wood said.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com