Board was essentially immobilized when former governor's appointments stalled

The state Board of Education, unable to meet since December because it lacks enough members for a quorum, will convene next Tuesday for a required semiannual meeting if new Gov. Mike Parson makes the necessary appointments.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Monday sent out notice of the meeting with an agenda that includes restarting the stalled search for a new commissioner of education to replace Margie Vandeven, ousted Dec. 1 in an action that angered lawmakers and education leaders throughout the state.

The agenda also includes five proposed rules, five charter school renewals and four educator discipline cases. By law, the board must meet at least twice a year, in June and December.

“Governor Parson has indicated publicly that the State Board is a priority, and, because of statute, we are required to post information about a potential meeting one week in advance,” department spokesman Tyler Madsen wrote in an email. “If the board does not meet on June 12, we have a tentative date of June 26 set for another attempt.”

Former Gov. Eric Greitens’ effort to oust Vandeven led to the paralysis of the board. Greitens cycled through 10 appointees to find five willing to vote to fire Vandeven. After the Dec. 1 vote, the state Senate refused to confirm any of Greitens’ five appointees to the board, leaving it with only three active members.

Board President Charlie Shields said Tuesday that he will meet with Parson later this week.

“I have no assurance” Parson will make appointments by next Tuesday, he said. “But under the notion that we might be able to have appointees I went ahead and noticed up the meeting on the 12th.”

Parson's office did not respond to an inquiry about his timeline for making appointments.

The routine work of the department has continued while the board has been unable to meet but that is about all, Shields said.

“The fact is that we haven’t met for six months but the world didn’t come to an end,” Shields said. “The problem has been in education policy you constantly want to be moving forward and really, we have not been able to do that for almost a year because all this stuff started in regard to the former commissioner last fall.”

After Greitens resigned on June 1, Missouri School Boards’ Association Executive Director Melissa Randol said in a news release that the change would allow work on improving public education to resume.

“This is a sad, but necessary day for Missouri,” Randol said. “It became very clear Missouri could not move forward on public education and other critical issues under the current circumstances.”

Greitens never publicly stated why he wanted to remove Vandeven, who had been commissioner for three years, but it appeared he wanted to hire someone who supports school-choice policies.

In August, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Greitens used campaign funds to fly Atlanta charter school expert Kenneth Zeff to Jefferson City. Greitens’ gubernatorial campaign received at least $370,000 from prominent school-choice proponents in 2016, including $275,000 from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and $40,000 from Betsy and Richard DeVos. Betsy DeVos later became, and is currently, education secretary under President Donald Trump.

The action raised bipartisan anger in the Senate, which must confirm appointees.

Under the Missouri Constitution, people appointed to state boards and commissions while the legislature is not in session are able to act until their confirmations are approved or rejected. Those interim appointments must be confirmed within 30 days of the beginning of a session, or withdrawn from consideration, or they may not ever serve on that board again.

Greitens withdrew his five appointees — Eddy Justice of Poplar Bluff, Jennifer Edwards of Springfield, Doug Russell of Lebanon, Marvin Jungmeyer of Russellville and Eric Teeman of Raytown — on Jan. 3, the first day of the session, and reappointed them. That lengthened the time for confirmation but ended their power to act on board matters.

Justice was approved by the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee but rejected by the Senate. The Senate on May 14 also refused to accept a message from Greitens withdrawing the appointments.

After taking office Friday, Parson said appointing new board members would be one of the first items on his agenda.

"We are very well aware of the state school board,” Parson said. “We aim to get that board up and running as soon as we can.”

Since Vandeven’s ouster, Roger Dorson, deputy commissioner, has been interim commissioner. The board began a search for a new commissioner and had a Jan. 8 deadline for applications. The process will have to be begun anew, Shields said.

“Everything that took place on that process is probably meaningless at this point,” Shields said.