Rep. Swan opposes effort to fire education commissioner

Monday, November 20, 2017
Kathy Swan

State Rep. Kathy Swan has urged members of the State Board of Education to “abandon efforts” to remove Missouri’s embattled education commissioner.

The Cape Girardeau Republican, who chairs the elementary and secondary education committee in the House, is one of three lawmakers who recently signed a letter to members of the state board in support of commissioner Margie Vandeven.

The other two lawmakers are Sen. Gary Romine, chairman of the Senate education committee, and Rep. Lyle Rowland, who chairs the House subcommittee on appropriations for education.

Gov. Eric Greitens wants the eight-member board to fire Vandeven, The Associated Press reported.

But four of the eight members of the board said before Tuesday’s scheduled board meeting they back Vandeven, The AP said.

Swan said the state board has sole authority to hire and fire the commissioner, who directs the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

But she said the current talk of firing the commissioner “runs counter to good business practice.”

The lawmakers said in their letter, dated Wednesday, they find “the latest developments regarding the Missouri State Board of Education to be puzzling and deeply troubling.”

The legislators wrote they “have been extremely impressed with the passion that Dr. Margie Vandeven possesses for Missouri students and our state’s public education system.”

They added Missouri “benefits from a commissioner that has a ‘heart for kids’ and understands the intricacies of public education in our state.”

Vandeven’s “leadership style makes her the right person to lead the department,” the letter stated.

“Whether in the public or private sector, good policymaking stems from strong leadership and evidence-based, decision-making,” they wrote. “Recent developments appear to move away from these best practices.”

According to the letter, “Nearly 1 million children in our state depend on us making good public policy and efforts to replace commissioner Vandeven only distract from the issues that we must work together to address.”

Swan said Greitens has appointed five new members to the board, but the state Senate has not confirmed the appointments.

She and the other two lawmakers said in the letter the new members “have not had ample time to learn the complexities of public education, much less be able to make informed personnel decisions based upon their own experiences working with the department.”

The Cape Girardeau lawmaker said Friday her office has received phone calls from educators, school superintendents and the public expressing support for Vandeven.

“Some of them say she is the best commissioner we have had,” Swan said.

Swan said Friday she doesn’t understand why the governor wants Vandeven replaced when she has “done a good job.”

But Missouri School Boards’ Association executive director Melissa Randol said the independence of the state board “is being undermined” because Greitens wants to replace Vandeven with an “out-of-state acquaintance” who supports expanding charter schools, according to The AP.

The wire service has reported the acquaintance likely is Atlanta education consultant Kenneth Zeff. Greitens’ campaign paid for Zeff to visit Missouri in August.

Swan said the state board was set up to keep education services from being politicized.

The current developments have injected politics into the equation, she said.

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