If you follow Missouri education policy, you’ve heard about a few alleged controversies which has led to a trio of teacher’s unions and a handful of Democratic lawmakers to ask for the resignation of Dr. Chris Nicastro, the Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Dr. Nicastro’s alleged wrongs? (1) Conferring with a group likely to place an initiative petition on next year’s ballot regarding teacher tenure – and recommending a changed suggestion to the fiscal note on the bill which was recently upheld by a Missouri court, and (2) refusing to allow the status quo in Kansas City to continue.
What you probably don’t know is the long backstory on this which exposes it for the farce that it is.
You’d think by the tone of their statements that the allegedly controversial meetings on the ballot initiative were only recently revealed to these unions. After all, if they’re so far out of line, it would make sense that the unions would cry foul right away. Turns out, however, that the unions have had them since early May.
So why would they wait nearly half a year before saying anything? Because they had a lot of issues to hang over Dr. Nicastro’s head over the last six months.
- First, there was the decision whether to accredit the Kansas City schools or not. To the Board of Education and Commissioner Nicastro’s credit, the Board refused to allow the status quo to continue.
- Next there was the issue of what to do about transfers in the St. Louis area. Rumor has it there was a push for DESE to issue guidelines to effectively end the transfers. The Board issued some basic guidelines (in my opinion to help protect districts from themselves), but appropriately refused to attempt to change the law by bureaucratic fiat.
- Then there is the ongoing issue of how to change the transfer statute. Rumor has it that the Establishment is pushing DESE and the Commissioner to stop the transfers via administrative rule – skipping right past the legislature, never mind the legalities of such a maneuver. To their credit, DESE and the Commissioner, I’m told, have said that wasn’t advisable or possible.
- Finally, there was a lawsuit filed against the initiative petition on teacher tenure. The unions challenged multiple aspects of the initiative petition, including the fiscal note. On November 19, the teacher’s unions’ lawsuit was rejected by a Missouri judge. The very next day the Associated Press reported that unions were criticizing Nicastro for the meetings related to the initiative.
Connect the dots? Here’s how the unions want to pull this one off. First, gather the “evidence” early – and hold on to it. Next, see what you can do to get favorable decisions for your issues from your target. If things go your way, hold on to your trump card as long as you can. Who knows when you might need to use it? Then, and only if your target isn’t cooperating, go nuclear. Hopefully you get her removed. And if you do, you know her replacement will know who’s in charge here. It’s you. Any questions?
The criticisms of Dr. Nicastro are driven purely by the fact that she and the State Board have proven time-and-again-and-again-and-again that they have the backbone required to resist bowing to political pressure from special interest groups whose biggest interest is not the education of children but to oppose anything that endangers their monopolies of control over failing school districts.
Much credit goes to State Board of Education President Peter Herschend for immediately defending Dr. Nicastro here and here. Not everyone is going to agree with everything the Board or Dr. Nicastro does. At times, I’ve been a vocal critic of the Board. But all Missourians should be thankful for a Board of Education doing its best to deal with very difficult, if not impossible, issues – and proving by its actions that it won’t simply kowtow to special interests.