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Missouri lawmakers from both parties backing Vandeven

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Margie Vandeven could be voted out as Missouri's Education Commissioner at a specially-called meeting next week.

Gov. Eric Greitens is facing growing opposition from lawmakers for possibly ousting Margie Vandeven as Missouri’s education commissioner, who oversees K-12 schools across the state.

Greitens’ five appointees to the State Board of Education — Claudia Onate Greim, Doug Russell, Eddy Justice, John “Tim” Sumners, and Marvin “Sonny” Jungmeyer — could vote next week on whether to fire Vandeven.

Sumners, Greitens’ newest appointee, told St. Louis Public Radio earlier this month that he made no agreement with the governor to fire Vandeven as a condition of his appointment to the board. He also told the Post-Dispatch this week that he now feels his tenure on the board “may not last long.”

Republican state Rep. David Wood of Versailles said any vote on Vandeven should be postponed until Greitens’ appointees are confirmed by the Missouri Senate.

“I have great concern that we’re having board members come on who’ve actually not even spent a couple of meetings in the position(s) yet, voting (on) such a major decision,” Wood said.

He added that while it’s normal for a governor to appoint like-minded individuals to a board or commission, to try and oust an incumbent education commissioner is “very unusual.”

“To replace a commissioner who, by everybody that I’ve talked to is doing a very good job, seems a little extreme,” he said.

In addition, three Republican lawmakers — Sen. Gary Romine of Farmington, Rep. Kathy Swan of Cape Girardeau, and Rep. Lyle Rowland of Cedar Creek — sent a letter to the State Board of Education praising Vandeven’s work with both the legislature and local school districts.They urged board members not to fire her.

House Democrats have accused Greitens of breaking the law when he removed Melissa Gelner of Springfield as an appointee after she said she would not vote to oust Vandeven.

“The law is as plain as can be: you cannot remove a member of the State Board of Education without some due process,” said state Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis. “That includes a hearing, and that did not happen.”

Gov. Eric Greitens speaks during a news conference after the end of the 2017 legislative session. Greitens used this opportunity to compare lawmakers to third graders for not passing enough bills.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Eric Greitens has been seeking to replace Vandeven with a charter school advocate.

Greitens’ spokesman Parker Briden said in a written statement that the Missouri Constitution and state statutes gives the governor the authority to remove appointees prior to a confirmation vote by the Missouri Senate.

The governor’s actions are obviously legal,” Briden said,

But House Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, disagreed with Briden. She pointed to another state law that “specifically prohibits the governor from removing a state school board member without cause or due process.”

This week, Vandeven was elected to sit on the board of directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers. That’s a national organization made up of state-level education commissioners from across the United States.

The state education board is scheduled to meet 10 a.m. next Tuesday, and may choose to keep or remove Vandeven as commissioner.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.