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State board standoff delaying charter school renewals

Tuesday , February 13, 2018 - 3:56 PM

By Kristen Taketa St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Missouri Board of Education has now missed two of 11 meetings scheduled for this year, because it doesn’t have enough members for a quorum.

As a result:

Some charter schools are awaiting renewal of their charters, the contracts that spell out how they will operate and what they will accomplish.Changes intended to make Missouri’s school accountability system more equitable are likely delayed another year.A residency program that would recruit and train teachers for hard-to-staff schools in the St. Louis area is waiting to officially launch.St. Louis residents are still waiting on the State Board of Education to decide who should govern their school district and how that transition will happen.

That’s on top of the search for a new state education commissioner — the vacancy that led the board to its current standstill.

In the last six months of 2017, Gov. Eric Greitens appointed 10 people to the state board that oversees Missouri’s public schools. Two declined, one resigned and two others were removed by Greitens in the effort to remove the former commissioner, Margie Vandeven. In December, a board of five Greitens appointees and three holdover members voted 5-3 to fire Vandeven.

But the State Board of Education has lacked a quorum since early January, when Greitens withdrew then resubmitted his five appointees in an effort to buy more time for their confirmation in the Senate. Legislators were upset about Greitens’ political maneuvering and were threatening to hold up the appointments.

Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, has said he will block the confirmation process for the five appointees: Jennifer Edwards of Springfield, Eddy Justice of Poplar Bluff, Doug Russell of Lebanon, Marvin Jungmeyer of Russellville and Eric Teeman of Raytown.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, has said he tentatively plans to hold hearings next month to decide whether the five will get to stay. The legislative session ends in May.

Even if five new people are quickly appointed, it would still take time for so many new members to learn how to work on the state board, said board Vice President Victor Lenz.

“My biggest concern is that, when we start meeting again, we’d have five new members who have no background on what the board needs to do and what we’ve been doing in certain areas,” Lenz said.

Decisions on hold

The canceled state board meetings have delayed a remake of the state’s public school evaluation system, the Missouri School Improvement Program. The project was led largely by Vandeven and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and has been more than two years in the making. The revamp would shift the system for grading schools from fixating primarily on student test performance to a more holistic view that considers factors such as school climate, parent engagement and school leadership.

The department gave the board a rules proposal to vote on in October, but the board declined to take action. Now, because of the additional delays, the new rules likely wouldn’t go into effect until 2020, said Sarah Potter, department spokeswoman. And that depends on whether the new members of the board decide the changes are worth making.

The board’s lack of a quorum may also hold up a decision on what kind of board should govern St. Louis Public Schools. The St. Louis district’s governing board members voted last month to recommend a return to the currently sidelined elected school board. But, they’re looking to the state board to make the final decision and to outline how that transition should happen.

On the agenda for its two canceled meetings, the state board was also scheduled to vote on charter renewal for Lafayette Preparatory Academy, Eagle College Prep and Lift for Life Academy, all St. Louis charter schools.

“It just makes a lot of people nervous because we really want to move forward and focus on educating the kids,” said Marshall Cohen, executive director of Lift for Life.

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