Gov. Mike Parson has been very clear about his major legislative goals heading into 2019, with workforce development ranking among his highest priority items. He can make no bolder step toward improving employers’ workforce choices than by getting the state’s public schools back on track after the damage inflicted by disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens.
Margie Vandeven was the person spearheading that effort long before Parson took over from the scandal-plagued Greitens. But Greitens, seemingly hellbent on making a mess of everything he touched, decided to force Vandeven out as the state’s school commissioner. On Tuesday, she was rehired for the job she never should have been forced to leave.
Greitens meddled where he had no business tinkering. The state school board was designed to be an independent, bipartisan, consensus-building group whose goals were supposed to supersede political agendas and focus solely on giving Missouri children the best education they could receive.
Despite Vandeven’s superior qualifications and high praise from education professionals, Greitens wanted to put his own stamp on public education. He never publicly explained his reasoning or legal justification since the governor has no power over who gets the job. But to get what he wanted, he tried to stack the state board with loyalists who would vote Vandeven out.
As we wrote almost exactly one year ago, Greitens handled this issue exactly like the neophyte, inexperienced politician he was. Someone with political experience would’ve been skilled in the art of persuasion, compromise and negotiation to get what he wanted. Instead, Greitens drew on the only background he knew, as a former Navy SEAL, and attempted to muscle his way to victory. The result was an unmitigated disaster, which Parson inherited and is methodically working to correct.
After waiting for the 2017 legislative session to end, Greitens engineered a series of interim appointments to the school board. He threatened appointees who wouldn’t do his bidding. Friends of big donors took priority as appointees even if they had no interest or track record in public education. As pressure intensified to get rid of Vandeven, some appointees declined to serve or withdrew from consideration.
This game of musical chairs went on and on for months. This year, the Senate refused to confirm Greitens’ appointees, leaving in limbo a body that oversees about 900,000 K-12 students, including the roughly 24,000 attending St. Louis Public Schools.
One of the state board’s unfinished items of business is setting the timetable for St. Louis schools to transition from appointed to elected governance. A long-awaited evaluation system for statewide school performance also is due. None of this can happen as long as the board and its commissioner remain in flux.
Vandeven is an excellent choice to bring the state’s education needs into closer alignment with Parson’s priorities.