School superintendents puzzled by governor’s motives for public education

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School administrators are wondering just what Governor Eric Greitens might be up to.

After months...Gov. Greitens has gotten the top education official in the state fired.

Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven was voted out on December first.

Many are getting the impression there are unknown ulterior motives, and board members were kicked off, and appointed, because of how their votes aligned with those secretive intentions.

But here’s why you should care - what’s happening in Jefferson City, with the politicizing of a non-partisan school board, could cause an impact all the way to your child’s classroom.

“I can’t think of anything more important than educating kids,” said Dr. Damon Kizzire, Kirksville R-III superintendent.

“When you have someone that has that much control, and you’re not sure what the intentions are, it’s kind of scary,” said Andy Turgeon, Knox County R-1 superintendent.

Gov. Greitens defended the firing of Commissioner Vandeven, harshly criticizing the amount of money schools spend on administrators…like superintendents.

It’s not that schools need more money, Greitens says, it’s that they aren’t spending it in the right places.

“Where did that money go? Bureaucrats took it. Several administrators make more than $250,000.00 a year. Six figures.,” Greitens wrote in a press release from Nov. 21. “Today, the system works for insiders and bureaucrats who get paid real well, but it fails too many students, families, and teachers.”

That means administrators like Kizzire, who makes $133,500 according to the latest available public records.

“We were underfunded to begin with, and that money was put it to get us where we were supposed to be,” Kizzire said.

State Representative Nate Walker says the argument about administrator pay is distracting from a bigger issue.

“I think the governor is choosing a red herring here – people in different positions make more money,” Rep. Walker said.

School administrators, who have rallied around Vandeven, agree.

After all, the education commissioner isn’t involved at all with superintendent salaries.

“That’s why you have local boards to make those decisions, and they are the ones that set the salaries,” Turgeon said. “The governor put that out – that has nothing to do with our commissioner of education, she does not hire us, she does not set our salaries.”

And it’s the way Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven was removed that concerns education watchdogs.

Over the course of less than a hundred days, Greitens removed five members of the eight-person state school board of education and then, when one of his appointees wouldn’t vote to fire Vandeven, he replaced them too.

“The state board is supposed to act as a non-political entity, I don’t think that constitutes what’s happening now,” Turgeon said.

“One of the reasons why we have these commissions is to try to take out politics, and made sure the administration of these programs are done in a sane and positive way and not by political agenda,” Rep. Walker said.

“People don’t understand how can these board members be appointed, they’re not yet approved by the senate, but yet here we are swapping in and out board members, who are going to make some pretty serious decisions,” Turgeon said.

“Superintendents across the state have decided that we believe that what DESE (Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) is trying to do, and it has really united us in a common purpose across the state and with that in mind, why would you replace somebody that is doing a good job. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all and that’s one of the things that as superintendents we’re speaking up on,” Kizzire said.

Rep. Walker told KTVO he thinks Greitens ousted Vandeven to make way for a commissioner who’s in favor of charter schools.

“He’s got a pet peeve, he wants to have charter schools throughout the state of Missouri, that’s the real issue, and charter schools are underperforming where they’re at,” said Rep. Walker. “They’re not a good solution for North Missouri or any place in rural Missouri.”

“Charter schools don’t even follow the same requirements that public school does,” said Turgeon. “We have our evaluation system, even though charter schools do get some public dollars, they don’t have to follow the same rules as far as school accreditation, and that’s frustrating.”

But administrators say they really don’t even know for sure where the governor’s priorities are.

Even when they ask him...they don’t really get a response.

“I’m just asking about the commissioner, is he in favor of public education, what is his stance on the future of public education, and I get back that he is very busy and he’s dealing with roads and veterans and those kinds of things, and I do not want to downplay any of those different things, but I don’t think he’s giving a lot of thought back to the question that I was posing to him,” Kizzire said.

“It’s unsettling times because you don’t know for sure, one decision they make up there can impact all our students,” Turgeon said.

“I was an early supporter of Governor Grietens, and I’ve been disappointed in some of the things that he’s done in recent times, and I think part of it may be because of inexperience, but I think also he needs to listen to the real citizens of the state and not just his donor base,” Rep. Walker said.

KTVO reached out to Governor Greiten’s office Friday afternoon for a comment but did not receive a response.

The State Board of Education is now searching for the next commissioner.

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