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

Margie Vandeven gets a hug from a supporter after the State Board of Education voted 5-3 to remove her as Education Commissioner.
Marshall Griffin I St. Louis Public Radio
Margie Vandeven gets a hug from a supporter after the State Board of Education voted 5-3 to remove her 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

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.