School & District Management

Kan. School Board Goes Out Fightin’

By Jessica L. Tonn — January 09, 2007 1 min read
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Pugnacious to the end, members of the Kansas state board of education threw these terms around last month at their final meeting before the board’s six-person moderate majority, composed of both Democrats and Republicans, takes control this week.

The 10-member panel has a contentious history, having fought within the past two years over how to treat evolution in the state’s science standards, the hiring of Education Commissioner Bob Corkins, and sex education policies. (“Kan. State Board Primaries Find Republicans Divided,” July 26, 2006.)

At issue last month were travel expenses incurred by outgoing conservative Republican board member Connie Morris. The board in September unanimously approved the trip to Washington to meet with lawmakers, which took place late last month, after Ms. Morris had attended her final meeting as a state board member.

But some members had undergone a change of heart by the time Ms. Morris was ready to travel.

“I did vote [to approve] this. … But I did tell the press afterwards that it may have been a misjudgment on my part,” said moderate Republican Sue Gamble at the Dec. 12-13 meeting.

Conservatives defended Ms. Morris’ actions, saying that she was within budget and had not broken any rules. And despite their last-minute reservations, Ms. Morris’ critics on the board took no action to overturn their approval of her trip or to make any policy change.

Bickering on the board is unlikely to end anytime soon.

The panel is expected early this year to overturn the science standards adopted in 2005, which contain language critical of evolution. The members also will have to find a replacement for Mr. Corkins, who was hired by the conservative majority in 2005 and resigned two weeks after the Nov. 7 elections, in which moderates picked up seats.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who favors stripping the panel of some policymaking powers, was not shy about expressing her hopes for the new board at a recent Education Commission of the States session in Denver.

Referring to board member Bill Wagnon, a Democrat, she said, “Bill is about to become the chairman of the state board of education of the great state of Kansas, and let me just say, it’s a great day.”

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A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2007 edition of Education Week

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