Greitens appears to lack board votes to fire education chief
By SUMMER BALLENTINE
Nov. 16, 2017
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Four of the eight members of the State Board of Education say they oppose Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' efforts to fire the education commissioner ahead of a meeting next week during which her fate is expected to be discussed.
Two members, John "Tim" Sumners and President Charlie Shields, told The Associated Press this week they intend to vote against the firing of Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven if it comes up during the meeting next Tuesday. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported two others, Victor Lenz and Michael Jones, would also oppose the firing.
Ousting Vandeven would pave the way for Greitens to appoint a replacement, possibly an Atlanta school administrator who shares his support for charter schools and served as a White House fellow alongside Greitens in 2005. The governor used campaign funds to pay for Kenneth Zeff to visit mid-Missouri in August, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported.
Greitens hasn't elaborated why he wants to change the education commissioner, a department that is quasi-independent from the governor. The governor's spokesman Parker Briden did not respond to requests for comment from AP.
Three members appointed by Greitens called for next week's special meeting, during which they are expected to discuss firing Vandeven. But Sumners, another Greitens appointee, told the AP he would "absolutely not" vote her out, and the three board members appointed by former Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon also oppose the firing. It would take five out of eight votes to fire her.
Sumners said he accepted Greitens' appointment to the board, even realizing there was an expectation that he would have to back the governor's plan to fire Vandeven. He said he initially agreed after the governor's staff argued the education department was plagued by incompetency, but once reviewing the matter himself, found "that was not the case."
He said he's concerned that members with little experience will be asked to make radical changes in leadership and has asked to delay Tuesday's meeting.
Without Sumners' support, opponents of Vandeven have few options and face a time crunch to oust her. Sumners said if members force out Vandeven on Tuesday, Greitens then could recommend a replacement that the board could vote on before the legislative session begins and senators return to the Capitol in January.
Greitens' appointments are subject to Senate confirmation. Greitens can withdraw appointments before then, but once they're locked in they're not at risk of losing their appointments for voting against the governor's wishes.
Three education leaders in the Missouri Legislature urged State Board of Education members in a letter Wednesday to drop efforts to fire Vandeven, calling the attempt "puzzling and deeply troubling" and praising Vandeven as having a "heart for kids."
Sumners, education policy leader Republican Rep. David Wood and others have predicted that instead, Greitens might rescind his appointment of Sumners and replace him with a candidate more likely to vote out Vandeven.
Greitens previously withdrew his appointment of Springfield resident Melissa Gelner, who had said the Greitens' administration was pressuring her to make "rash" decisions about leadership.