With Greitens appointees in place, state education board removes commissioner

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Margie Vandeven was fired as commissioner of the embattled State Board of Education on Friday morning, the end of a months-long push by Gov. Eric Greitens to stack the board with appointees who would vote for her removal.

Vandeven’s ouster was decided in a 5-3 vote. All five votes came from Greitens’ new appointees — one of whom, Eric Teeman, was appointed and sworn in not long before the meeting started.

The board also voted to appoint Roger Dorson, currently a deputy commissioner in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as interim commissioner. It’s unclear what the search for a new commissioner will look like and what the time frame will be, Board President Charlie Shields said.

The board deadlocked when it first voted to fire Vandeven last week after Claudia Onate Greim, appointed by Greitens, voted in favor of keeping the commissioner. Greim resigned less than 24 hours before Friday’s meeting, citing her discomfort with how the change in leadership was taking place. Teeman, an Independent from Raytown, is her replacement.

The controversial vote left the board divided. Michael Jones, a board member since 2011, said he is “now actively in resistance as a member of the State Board of Education, period.”

“This board has lost its legitimacy as a governing body,” he said.

None of the five board members who voted to fire Vandeven were present at the following news conference, and they did not comment as they left the building.

The board’s decision also comes hours after a Cole County judge struck down two lawsuits aimed at stalling the governor’s efforts.

One of the lawsuits came from John Sumners, who said his nomination was withdrawn by Greitens because he wouldn’t cooperate with firing Vandeven. Another former Greitens nominee, Melissa Gelner, said her appointment was withdrawn for the same reason.

Both Sumners and Gelner listened in on the board’s closed discussion by phone — a decision made by a board vote — but neither were allowed to vote. Jennifer Edwards, who currently sits in their former seat, was allowed to vote, but the board acknowledged confusion over who truly holds the seat at the start of the meeting.

Vandeven’s tenure has been met with widespread support from legislators, school administrators and nearly every major education organization in the state. She grew emotional at the news conference following her firing after receiving a standing ovation.

“At the moment, political forces are eclipsing educational decisions,” she said. “Though I didn’t come to Jefferson City to fight, I’m willing to fight for children and teachers.”

In a statement, Greitens said Vandeven’s removal was a win for families and students.

“The State Board of Education voted for new leadership for our school system,” he said in the statement. “That’s a major step in the right direction as we work to improve public education in Missouri.”

Charles E. Smith, the president of the Missouri National Education Association, an advocacy group for public schools, said Vandeven’s dismissal was disappointing.

“As a teacher, student success is at the center of every decision we make,” he said in a statement. “The governor’s top-down approach runs contrary to the spirit of our constitution, turning students, teachers, and our local schools into political props. The confusion and chaos the governor has created does nothing to help students achieve.”

Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, the House minority leader, also criticized Vandeven’s removal.

“The unwarranted firing of the state education commissioner is the worst abuse of political power by a Missouri governor in living memory,” she said 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.”

Supervising editor is Sky Chadde: news@columbiamissourian.com, 882-7884.

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