Missouri Senator calling on state education chief to resign

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 | 4:08 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — A Democratic lawmaker called on Missouri's education commissioner Chris Nicastro to resign or be fired Tuesday, accusing Nicastro of being "less than truthful" about her involvement with a ballot measure that would end teacher tenure and require student performance to guide employment decisions.

Nicastro also has been criticized for the way she negotiated a contract with a consulting firm last year to improve the failing Kansas City schools. The bid went to a firm that was nearly three times as expensive as the closest competitor.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat, introduced a non-binding measure Tuesday calling for Nicastro to resign or be fired by the State Education Board.

"Reports have indicated that the state education commissioner has engaged in blatantly unethical practices," said Chappelle-Nadal. "She has misused her position, severely damaging both the reputation and effectiveness of the department."

Nicastro responded by saying she was "committed to carrying on the work that we're doing on behalf of kids in Missouri, and that's what I come to work every day to do, and that's what I'll keep doing."

Nicastro has been under fire from Democratic lawmakers and teachers' unions for her involvement for the ballot proposal that would end teacher tenure and require student performance to guide employment decisions. State email records show Nicastro met with an advocate of the ballot initiative in 2012, suggested specific wording and reviewed a final draft of the initiative before it was filed this March with the secretary of state's office.

Nicastro insisted she took no position on the initiative but provided the group information just as she would with anyone proposing a change in state law.

Teachers were angered because the measure would have ended tenure protections for teachers and other certified school staff by limiting their contracts to three years. Starting in July 2015, all public school districts would need to use a staff evaluation that relies on "student performance data" to guide decisions on promoting, demoting, firing and paying personnel.

In Tuesday's resolution, Chappelle-Nadal wrote that Nicastro's advice to the sponsors of that initiative an example of "disregarding facts and truth in favor of political expediency."

Nicastro has also been criticized for the way in which she negotiated a contract with a consulting firm last year to improve Kansas City schools. The state awarded the contract to Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, or CEE-Trust, even though its bid was more costly than other submissions.

In a letter to the editor published by The Kansas City Star earlier this month, Nicastro defended her actions but said "perhaps the process could and should have been handled differently."

"Even so, it doesn't change the fact that the children and families in every community in the state deserve high quality schools. We need all voices to focus on that most essential issue."

Nicastro was named education commissioner in 2009 and is the first woman to hold the position since the office was created in 1947.

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