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Greitens gets his way on second try: Vandeven fired as education commissioner

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens got his wish to install a new education chief Friday after enough of his appointees to the state's board of education voted to remove commissioner Margie Vandeven.

The Missouri State Board of Education voted 5-3 to oust Vandeven, according to board member Mike Jones, from St. Louis. It was the second vote on Vandeven’s status in the past couple of weeks.

The five Greitens appointees, Jennifer Edwards, Eddy Justice, Doug Russell, Marvin Jungmeyer and Eric Teeman, voted to dismiss Vandeven. Jones, Vic Lenz and board president Charles Shields voted to keep her.

Roger Dorson, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's deputy commissioner, will take over as interim education commissioner.

Vandeven got two standing ovations from dozens of superintendents and education officials who supported her over the past few months. She thanked her backers and asked everyone to focus on what else happened at the meeting — the re-accreditation of Normandy schools.

"So if I had to go out on a (given) day, this is a good one to go out on," she said.

Justice said Vandeven's departure was required to change the culture of Missouri's schools.

“I think we need to change the culture in our education bureaucracy in the state of Missouri, and the way you effectively begin to change the culture is to change the leadership,” Justice said.

But Jones said the decision to remove Vandeven tarnished the board's repuation.

“This board has lost its legitimacy as a governing body," Jones said. "I think this board, today, forfeited its right to ask for your cooperation in implementing public policy.”

Reversal of fortune

While the Nov. 21 vote to oust Vandeven was unsuccessful, two developments on Thursday tipped the scales in Greitens’ favor. 

Board members voted to appoint Roger Dorson as interim Education Commissioner.
Credit Marshall Griffin I St. Louis Public Radio
Board members voted to appoint Roger Dorson as interim Education Commissioner.

Claudia Oñate Greim, the only Greitens appointee to vote against Vandeven’s dismissal, resigned from the state board Thursday night, after saying she was uncomfortable with the level of independence at the board. Greitens subsequently appointed Raytown resident Eric Teeman in her place.

Also on Thursday, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem rejected a bid from former board member Tim Sumners to immediately regain his seat on the board of education. Sumners also opposed Vandeven’s ouster.

The board’s move paves the way for Greitens, a Republican, to install a top education official who’s more supportive of charter school expansion and public assistance for students to attend private schools.

"Today, kids, teachers, and families won," Greitens said in a statement."The State Board of Education voted for new leadership for our school system. That's a major step in the right direction as we work to improve public education in Missouri."

Both Republican and Democratic state lawmakers have voiced opposition to Greitens’ perceived politicization of the board. Vandeven has also received support from public school backers, including superintendents and the Missouri School Boards Association.

“The unwarranted firing of the state education commissioner is the worst abuse of political power by a Missouri governor in living memory," said House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty in a statement. "Commissioner Vandeven is a respected and effective educator and did not deserve this treatment, especially considering that the governor still hasn’t provided a legitimate reason – or any reason – for her removal. Given the governor’s bumbling incompetence in getting to this point, Missourians should be deeply concerned about the damage he is likely to inflict on public education.”

Greitens’ appointments to the board will have to be confirmed by the state Senate when it reconvenes in January.

Vandeven became education commissioner in January 2015. She’s a native of Missouri and began her teaching career in O’Fallon.

Follow Ryan and Marshall on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney ; @MarshallGReport

Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Ryan Delaney
Ryan is a reporter on the education desk at St. Louis Public Radio, covering both higher education and the many school districts in the St. Louis region. He has previously reported for public radio stations WFYI in Indianapolis and WRVO in upstate New York. He began his journalism career working part time for WAER while attending Syracuse University. He's won multiple reporting awards and his work, which has aired on NPR, The Takeaway and WGBH's Innovation Hub. Having grown up in Burlington, Vt., he often spends time being in the woods hiking, camping, and skiing.
Marshall Griffin
St. Louis Public Radio State House Reporter Marshall Griffin is a native of Mississippi and proud alumnus of Ole Miss (welcome to the SEC, Mizzou!). He has been in radio for over 20 years, starting out as a deejay. His big break in news came when the first President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989. Marshall was working the graveyard shift at a rock station, and began ripping news bulletins off an old AP teletype and reading updates between songs. From there on, his radio career turned toward news reporting and anchoring. In 1999, he became the capital bureau chief for Florida's Radio Networks, and in 2003 he became News Director at WFSU-FM/Florida Public Radio. During his time in Tallahassee he covered seven legislative sessions, Governor Jeb Bush's administration, four hurricanes, the Terri Schiavo saga, and the 2000 presidential recount. Before coming to Missouri, he enjoyed a brief stint in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reporting and anchoring for WWNC-AM in Asheville, North Carolina. Marshall lives in Jefferson City with his wife, Julie, their dogs, Max and Liberty Belle, and their cat, Honey.
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