Governor touts administrative reviews, changes for improved economic development in Missouri

By: 
Dave Marner

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has made 10 appointments to the 8-member State Board of Education since taking office in January.

One was ineligible and withdrew, one refused the appointment. Two were withdrawn by the governor. One resigned. Five currently hold positions — and those five voted Dec. 1 in closed session to fire the state’s education commissioner, Dr. Margie Vandeven.

Missouri Board’s of Education voted 5-3 for new leadership for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) citing a need to move in a new direction for public education in Missouri. 

Greitens invited rural Missouri newspaper reporters to his Capitol office on Dec, 6 for an informational discussion session.

Ten of us were in attendance and heard how happy he and his wife, Sheena, were with his job as governor.

“We’re really happy here,” Greitens said. “We really love this job.”

He noted Missouri’s unemployment was the lowest it’s been in 17 years and moved up in the ranking nine places for economic development from 48th previously. He touted an administrative review of regulations which are designed to “free up” farmers and businesses from the bureaucracy of too much government.

There’s a change in direction he noted, saying, “It’s a broad based prosperity all across Missouri and its looking good for us in rural Missouri.”

There’s a new steel plant planned in Sedalia. He’s pushing legislation this spring to offer veteran hiring preferences.

He’s talked with federal leaders and he’s seeking a reduction in the “red tape” of overreaching regulations in all aspects of the Missouri economy. He wants to improve broadband internet and cell phone technology in Missouri to benefit every house, family and church group.

He and the First Lady have 13,000 stars on their trees in the Governor’s Mansion —one for every foster child in Missouri they are working to make a better life for through policy change.

He’s striving to make Missouri the “best state for veterans” and points to an additional 800 jobs he’s working on creating in the Missouri National Guard to provide “fantastic opportunities for our young people.”

And, he noted near the end of nearly 20 minutes of comments, “I love this job. Sheena and I and the boys are happy here.”

But, apparently, he wasn’t happy with  the commissioner of education he inherited from the prior administration.

Asked what deficiencies the top DESE administrator had which caused her dismissal by a board the governor had stacked against her over the past few months, Greitens cited his recent interactions with Missouri Farm Bureau members, parents, and teachers across Missouri.

“As we were walking out of the Farm Bureau, folk, people were coming up, patting us on the back and saying ‘thank you.’ Saying ‘thank you.’”

He ignored the part of the question where the Missouri associations of superintendents, principals at all levels, and the state and national teachers associations all submitted letters of support on Vandeven’s behalf.

“Administrator pay in the state of Missouri, you know, take a look, we can send you the numbers, it’s close to, anywhere in the top third-ish in the country,” Greitens continued. “But the teacher pay, the starting teacher pay, like I said is 48th.

“To put this in real concrete terms, sir, so Missouri pays at the national average in schools, if our teachers were paid at the national average they’d make an extra ten-thousand dollars a year. That should give you some sense for how skewed this system is.”

Teacher pay is set locally, he was reminded by a reporter.

“Yes, and what we need to have is leadership at the top that is insisting that if Missourians are paying Missouri tax dollars, and you’re sending your tax dollars to the state of Missouri to spend on K through 12 education, I want leaders who are insisting on results. I want leaders who are demanding of superintendents — show me the results that you’re getting for the money that the people of Missouri are spending.”

Greitens, who campaigned for governor as the political outsider, noted he and his administration have received “tremendous blow back from a lot of bureaucrats around us.”

Those bureaucrats, school administrators among them, had benefited from the system in place by receiving higher salaries. And more administrative positions, he noted.

“But I can tell you, as I said, from walking around the Farm Bureau, talking with teachers, parents, all over the state of the Missouri, said to us, ‘you know what, I notice the same thing. That when I was growing up there was one superintendent. Now there’s three assistant superintendents, and there’s these extra principals and all of this money’s been going to administration.’ And that ‘the costs of administration has been rising a lot faster than the money that we’ve actually been spending in schools.’”

When it was noted by a reporter that many of those assistant administrator positions came to be through the implementation of the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP), a secretary cut in for the third time to remind the governor his next appointments were waiting.

He didn’t respond to the MSIP observation. He did answer a couple more questions but cut off any further discussion on Vandeven’s firing. After 50 minutes, he shooks hands and thanked the reporters for attending. Vandeven began her career at DESE in 2005 as a supervisor of the MSIP review program.