It appears that being head of education in the state of Missouri may not be all that attractive a position.
Two weeks after the Missouri Board of Education opened the application process in its search for a new state commissioner of education, only one person has applied for the job.
Of course, applicants have until Jan. 8 — five more business days — to toss their name in for the position. That’s the same day the state will host a public hearing giving Missouri residents a chance to get in on the process by expressing what traits and qualifications they want in the next commissioner.
The board is scheduled to meet the following day to narrow the field of applicants. But if the current show of interest continues, that may prove to be not too challenging a chore.
President of the Board of Education Charlie Shields said two weeks ago, board members decided to close the application process at the start of the second week of January without first developing criteria for the type of person who should apply. He thought the board was rushing the process.
“I think that’s a really short time frame to fill the position as important as the Commissioner of Education,” Shields said.
In an interview with The Star on Friday, Shields said there could be several reasons, aside from the fact that the Christmas holiday may have slowed applicants, for the seeming lack of appeal for the job.
“After so much turmoil around the position in the last few months, people may be looking at that and saying that is not an attractive position,” Shields said.
Since September, Gov. Eric Greitens had maneuvered to put enough people on the eight-member State Board of Education who were willing to fire the former commissioner Margie Vandeven.
Greitens made several appointments and then rescinded them when it appeared his appointee would not side with ousting the commissioner. Greitens eventually got the five votes he needed and on Dec. 1 the board, stacked with Greitens appointees, voted to fire Vandeven effective immediately. Roger Dorson, deputy commissioner of the Division of Financial and Administrative Services, is serving as interim education commissioner.
Shields said another reason for slow interest in the vacancy may be that the position came open in the middle of the school year.
“Superintendents may not want to go out there and put themselves through the process,” Shields said.
Then there’s this: The $197,000 annual salary “is a lot of money, but I would guess there are 10 or 12 superintendents in the state who make more than that,” Shields said.
The last superintendent salary listed for Lee’s Summit was for David McGehee, who was paid the highest in the state a year ago, before he resigned in scandal. His annual base salary was $276,000. Elsewhere in the Kansas City area, superintendent annual base salaries range from $189,000 in Blue Springs to $225,000 in Kansas City. The superintendent in Springfield is paid a base of $240,000 a year.
Sheilds said that if the pool of applicants ends up being too shallow for the board to feel satisfied, “my preference would be to re-open the process and engage an organization that has done national searches.”
Originally Shields and two other board members had favored an application process that would open Jan. 15 and last at least 30 days. That timeline suggested finalists would be interviewed in March and a new commissioner in place by mid-April.
The board opted for the current timeline, which could have the board deciding on a new commissioner as early as February.
Shields could not identify the one applicant for the commissioner’s job.
An email from The Star to the Greitens’ office asking whether his office was aware of the identity of the applicant got no response.
Before the Vandeven ouster, Greitens’ campaign for governor paid to fly in Kenneth Zeff, a charter school advocate from Georgia.
Greitens had pledged during his 2016 campaign to support charter school expansion and education savings accounts. During his campaign, he accepted more than $370,000 from some of the country’s top school-choice proponents, including Betsy DeVos, now the U.S. education secretary.
Zeff is widely considered to be Greitens’ preference to replace Vandeven.