Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, set on ousting the state’s commissioner of education, on Monday rescinded his latest appointment to the state Board of Education.
John T. Sumners, a retired pastor from Joplin, got the news on a voice message left on his telephone at 4 p.m. Monday.
“The message said, ‘This is to inform you that the governor has withdrawn your appointment to the State Board of Education. It is not necessary for you to attend tomorrow’s meeting,’ ” Sumners told The Star.
A letter from the governor to the Secretary of State’s office confirmed that Greitens was pulling Sumners’ name from consideration for the education post.
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The meeting referred to was specially scheduled for Tuesday in Jefferson City, where the state Board of Education is to vote on whether to fire Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven.
Greitens has tried for months to appoint enough people to the board to fire Vandeven and replace her with a longtime advocate for charter school expansion.
But Sumners, appointed by Greitens in October, has said he would not vote to fire Vandeven at Tuesday’s meeting.
The board is made up of eight members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Until Monday afternoon, five were Greitens appointees, although they still need approval from the Senate when it returns for the 2018 session in January.
The other three members of the board who were not appointed by Greitens — Board President Charlie Shields, Victor Lenz and Michael Jones — also oppose the firing. With Sumners on the board and siding with those three, a vote on Vandeven would be a tie, and she would keep her post.
By removing Sumner, any vote on whether to fire Vandeven would likely end up four in favor and three against.
The governor’s office has not said whether it plans to make a new appointment to the board before Tuesday’s meeting.
If he does, Sumners said, “...five people who have not even been confirmed by the Senate with be voting on a decision of this magnitude.”
Greitens had pledged during his campaign for governor to support charter school expansion and education savings accounts. During his 2016 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.
Sumners said that when he was appointed by the governor in October, “it was pretty well understood that one of our jobs would be to replace the current commissioner.”
But after hearing from the state’s deputy education commissioners and other education leaders at the state level, he said he was convinced Vandeven had “surrounded herself with great people” whom he doesn’t want to see lost in the shuffle.
“I knew right away that the picture that had been painted for me of her was not accurate,” Sumners said.
“I’m not the loser here,” Sumners said after learning he had been removed from the board. “My life goes on. The losers are the kids in the state of Missouri because here’s a commissioner who clearly cares about what is best for the them, about what is best for the system,” Sumners said.
“This is a big slap in the face to Margie Vandeven, she is so incredibly popular with teachers and administrators all over this state.”
It’s the second time one of Greitens’ own appointees has balked at his plans. Melissa Gelner of Springfield was appointed to the board in July, sworn in on Aug. 15 and removed from the board by Greitens in September.
In a statement, Melissa Randol, executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, criticized the removal of Sumners.
“This move clearly demonstrates the intent of the governor to circumvent the constitutional authority of the state Board of Education to employ the Commissioner of Education and then replace her with his own choice. A very troubling decision by the governor,” Randol said. “This is raw politics at its worst.”