Move to combine state education boards stalls as end of session looms

Thursday, April 22, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — With a mere three weeks remaining of the 2010 state legislative session, a move to consolidate Missouri's two education departments stalled on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Tuesday, the Senate approved one constitutional amendment to consolidate the two agencies. But on Wednesday, they stalled on another constitutional amendment that would define the details of how the unified education department would be governed.

Both constitutional amendments, if approved by the legislature, would require statewide voter approval to take effect.

Supporters said that consolidating the two education departments would save the state millions of dollars and increase efficiency. But opponents said they worried the measure would not guarantee the state cost savings and could throw Missouri's schools into chaos.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, actively stalled the legislation from reaching a vote. She said the resolution would threaten the level of experience in members of the state's existing boards.

"What we're getting ready to do by putting these two boards together is a pretty chaotic situation," Cunningham said. "I agree with doing it, but I think it's going to bring some chaos."

Another legislator, Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, echoed Cunningham's concerns of chaos and said he worried that combining the boards would do little to improve efficiency.

"It seems to me what this is doing is taking a couple of dysfunctional boards and just replacing them with another board," Lembke said.

The resolution's sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, attempted to address detractors' concerns with assurances that the legislation was a work in progress.

"Your comments are where we're trying to go," he said.

The piece of legislation was ultimately laid over after lengthy discussion and multiple amendments.

After debate on the action concluded, Majority Floor Leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said he was encouraged by the resolution's progress on the floor and hoped to see it taken up again Thursday. He encouraged a meeting between involved legislators prior to the resumption of debate in order to resolve disagreements.

Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, who offered an amendment on the Senate floor, said she planned to attend the meeting if it takes place. She said she had made copies of relevant papers to take with her to the discussion.

But Cunningham, a vocal opponent of the legislation, said she knew nothing of a meeting taking place and called it "amazing." Cunningham confirmed that she would offer a second attempt to block the resolution if it reached the floor again Thursday.

"Right now, I'm just confounded at what the proposal is and what the process is," she said. "I'm flabbergasted by the process."

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