Gov. Eric Greitens withdrew all five of his appointees to the Missouri Board of Education Wednesday morning, then quickly reappointed them in a procedural maneuver that buys them more time to be confirmed by the state Senate.
But the maneuver also means the eight-member board has only three active members. Nominees appointed during the legislative session — which began at noon Wednesday — aren’t permitted to begin serving until they are confirmed.
Thus, the board doesn’t have a quorum and can’t take any votes or officially meet until at least two other members win Senate approval.
The development is the latest twist in an ongoing tussle between the governor and education groups over the future of public schools in Missouri.
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The governor spent much of last year appointing new members to the board in the hopes it would fire the state’s top education official, Margie Vandeven. He finally succeeded last month when his five appointees voted to oust Vandeven and begin a search for her replacement.
So far the state has received only one application for the job. Roger Dorson, deputy commissioner of the Division of Financial and Administrative Services for the state’s department of education is serving as interim commissioner.
A handful of senators had vowed to block Greitens’ appointees, and if Greitens hadn’t withdrawn their names from consideration, then opponents would have had to stall the process for only 30 days to kill the nominations — and ban them from serving on the board for life.
Because the appointments were resubmitted after the legislature convened for the 2018 session, the Senate has until it adjourns in May to contemplate the nominations.
Parker Briden, spokesman for Greitens, said the governor made the moves after being contacted by members of the Senate seeking more than the allotted 30 days to review and vote on the board appointees.
“I know there is a desire among senators to be involved in this process and to give our advice and consent to well-qualified appointees,” Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Today’s action will free up extra time for the Senate to give prompt consideration to a number of the Governor’s other important interim appointees.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Jefferson City Republican, said that “allowing the Senate additional time to weigh in on these very important positions on the State Board of Education was a positive decision by the governor.”
But two Republican senators made it clear Wednesday that they would still work to stop Greitens’ appointments from being confirmed.
State Sen. Gary Romine, a Farmington Republican who heads the Senate education committee, said the five appointees don’t deserve to be considered because they showed poor judgment in voting to fire Vandeven at the governor’s behest.
He was joined by state Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican and frequent critic of the governor, who said Greitens would do well to find new nominees.
“If he resubmits those names to the Senate, there is a big chance those people will be barred forever from serving,” Schaaf said.
Later, Schaaf discussed how long a filibuster of the governor’s nominees might go.
“We could go a long time,” he said. “A very, very long time. An infinite amount of time.”
Members of the board of education are set to hold a public hearing on Monday to get input on the traits they want to see in the next education commissioner. The hearing will be recorded for board members to listen to later, once they have a quorum.
And on Tuesday the board is scheduled to meet to narrow the field of applicants, extend the application process or hire a group to conduct a national search for Vandeven’s replacement. The board might still meet, but no action will be taken.
Without enough members for a quorum, the board would not be able to move forward in its search for a new commissioner. The vote that opened the application process for the job also closes the application process on Monday.
“If we ever get a new board, we would have to vote to reopen the application process,” said Charlie Shields, board president and one of only three remaining members.
“This puts us in a position where we can’t conduct any business,” Shields said. “We can meet but we can only listen to reports.”
The freeze on board action means the board also can’t renew any school charters or approve the new Missouri School Improvement Program, which is the state’s blueprint for continuing to improve education in the state.