Local weighs in on state board

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Superintendent: ‘politics at play’ in Missouri Board of Education decision

Ripples were felt among educators across the state when in a closed meeting in early December, members of the Missouri Board of Education voted to replace Dr. Margie Vandeven as commissioner of education, citing a 'need to move in a new direction for public education.'

The board also voted to appoint interim commissioner Deputy Commissioner Dr. Roger Dorson.

Cassville Superintendent Dr. Richard Asbill said he believes that politics are at play in the decision, and he is concerned about the direction the Board is heading.

"Commissioner Vandeven is a class act," he said. "In the post-Board meeting conference, the question was asked about compelling evidence or performance issues raised regarding Vandeven. The answer by the three state board members who stayed for the press conference was 'no.' All of Commissioner Vandeven’s evaluations were positive.

"She took over the Department of Education just three years ago, and has done an absolutely great job in reaching out to all the stakeholders in the Missouri public education systems, teachers, administrators, businesses, and parents. State Board President Charlie Shields commented that in the 30-plus years of his service to the State of Missouri, that he has never seen our state education community so collaborative and focused on unified goals to improve education for our Missouri students." 

Asbill said the decision to remove Vandeven is clearly political and uniformed, as the newest appointed members directed the effort to remove her. 

"It is unfortunate that the Missouri Constitution framers' efforts to ensure that our Missouri Public Education system remain non-political and protected from political interest, fiscal influence, and efforts that would be contrary to serving all Missouri children has been tossed aside in what appears to be specific efforts to promote a political position and repay political contributions," he said. "The key is that there are several governmental bodies, education, transportation and conservation, that are meant and have [had] safeguards to keep those boards non-political.

"In this case, it appears or is apparent, that Governor Greitens has made political appointments to the state board for the purpose of political gain and/or influence. It is important that our local communities of parents, teachers, administrators and students work to keep that collaborative focus on what is best for our students and local schools and ensure that personal political interest not distract our efforts."

While he respects the Governor’s position and power, Asbill advised residents to be wary of those who have exerted political power in similar manners in the past, and how those results have not always worked out well for the people.

"It would be unfortunate for the children of Missouri and the school districts of the state to wake up three years from now and think they should have done something to stand up for public education," he said.

That's why in positions of leaderships, transparency and accountability are paramount, Asbill said, referencing a Dec. 10, 2017, article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch alleging that the Governor had broken his vows of transparency regarding finances, and addressing his recent statement that school superintendents are just "overpaid bureaucrats."

"I, along with my other Barry County superintendent colleagues, really strive to work hard and represent students, teachers, and our community, all in an effort to provide the best opportunities for our children," he said. "Do we make mistakes? Yes, but we constantly strive to be better and look at how we can improve.

"The Governor has listed school superintendents as 'overpaid bureaucrats' who take money from classrooms, teachers and students. I am hired by a local board of education who evaluate my performance each and every month. They hold me accountable for managing and investing our local taxpayer’s investment in our local school, just like my colleagues in Barry County and Missouri. Superintendents understand the responsibility they have been given and directed by local boards of education, and we work hard to ensure that all children, rich or poor, athletic, musical, artistic, academically gifted or academically challenged, college or career focused, and regardless of race or gender, get an opportunity to have a public education that provides them opportunities to be successful in career and life. Public education is important to our children, community and state. It is the one system that should remain free of political interest and efforts to benefit one person or ideal.

Ultimately, the decision is "just the tip of the iceberg" and a divergence, Asbill said.

"The old excuse of pitting teachers against administrators or parents against teachers is an old tactic meant to distract most of us from hidden agendas and political efforts that are usually tied to political interests and political money and gain," he said. "Not only has the State Board in effect shut the door on collaboration and open dialogue to benefit all Missouri students, but they have in fact punched every local community, parent and teacher in the face and said, 'You no longer matter.'"

In Vandeven's departing statement, she called schools "the souls of our state," and described her position as an opportunity she would "cherish forever."

"The job of commissioner in Missouri is traditionally not a political role," she said. "But, at the moment, political forces are eclipsing educational decisions. Although I did not come to Jefferson City to engage in political fights, I am willing to fight for children and educators. I’m an educator, a teacher. Like most Missouri teachers, I focus on students.

"I became Commissioner to help teachers be more effective, to make schools stronger. And, while we have plenty of room for improvement, today in Missouri, teachers are more effective and schools are stronger. Public education matters. Every child matters. If we operate strong public schools, we produce a stronger Missouri; a state with higher achievement, with more talented workers, with better neighbors and with lower crime."

The next meeting of the State Board of Education is set for Jan. 9 in Jefferson City.

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