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Greitens’ picks for State Board of Education accelerate commissioner search process

School Illustration
File | Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio

With the task of going through a state Senate confirmation process approaching, Gov. Eric Greitens’ picks to the Missouri State Board of Education successfully sped up the process of finding an education commissioner over the objections of the board’s president.

The governor’s five nominees outflanked three other board members during a teleconference Thursday to open and close the application process for a new education commissioner before an early January meeting. The board fired Commissioner Margie Vandeven Dec. 1 over objections of lawmakers from both sides as well as leaders and supporters of traditional school districts.

The board voted to open applications for the commissioner position on Friday morning. Applications will be due in about three weeks on Jan. 8, the day before the board’s monthly meeting.

Eddy Justice, one of the unconfirmed members, is among those who’ve said they desire a robust national search for a education chief. But Justice and the other four balked at the idea of collecting input for an updated list of commissioner qualifications or hiring a search firm before opening up the application window.

“I think it gets the ball going,” Justice told fellow members. “I don’t think we want to drag our feet on the getting the ball going.”

Justice emphasized that the board will likely not pick a commissioner during its Jan. 9 meeting, but rather assess whether they have sufficient applicants — or need to reopen the search process.

“I can’t speak for the other board members, but if I were to estimate it, I would say if a commissioner is hired on the 9th it would be against my better judgment,” Justice said in a telephone interview.

Justice is on a three-member subcommittee that will solicit input from lawmakers and educators on what the board should look for in selecting a commissioner.

Vic Lenz, a board member from St. Louis County who opposed firing Vandeven said “it’s a slap in the face” if the application goes out before getting input from lawmakers and educators.

“I think that is a really short time frame to fill a position as important as the commissioner of education,” said board president Charlie Shields, who wanted to keep the window open to mid February.

Three years ago when the position was last open, the board took applications for a month before settling on Vandeven, an internal candidate.

It’s expected Greitens wants a new commissioner who is more supportive of charter school expansion and public funds available to students to attend private schools. He hasn’t outlined specific objections to Vandeven or what he’s looking for in a replacement but said Missouri’s education leaders are “bureaucrats” that don’t have students’ best interests in mind.

After the board voted to oust Vandeven, Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, threatened to filibuster Greitens’ nominees to the state board when the legislature reconvenes in January. Romine reiterated that course of action during an appearance on the Politically Speaking podcast on Wednesday.

Asked if Romine’s threats played any role in determining the hiring process for a new commissioner, Justice replied: “No. And like I told you the last time we talked, I made a commitment to make decisions for what’s best for the 900,000 Missouri students.”

“And if I make a decision based on my Senate confirmation against what’s best for Missouri students, then I’ve violated my own integrity and I refuse to do that,” he said.  

Before the board's regularly scheduled Jan. 9 meeting, it's slated to have a public hearing for Jan. 8 at 2 p.m. in Jefferson City.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum contributed to this report.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.