Candidates can put Kansas back on the right track
Candidates can put Kansas back on the right track
KC Star – July 9, 2006

Kansans deserve a better state Board of Education. The Aug. 1 primary election gives voters an opportunity to make much-needed changes in a board that has become seriously sidetracked by religious issues.

The board attracted national and even international ridicule by including criticism of Darwin’s theory of evolution in the science standards that direct school districts in their curriculum choices.

The majority on the state board also has made it more difficult for students to learn about sexually transmitted diseases and how to avoid pregnancy. And the board hired a state superintendent who has been openly hostile to better funding of public schools and friendly to the idea of using public tax dollars for private education.

Kansans have long made education and religious freedom high priorities.

But now many Kansans feel the board has gone far astray from these traditional values.

In recent years, the board majority has shifted between religious conservatives and moderates. In the 2002 election, there was a 5-5 split and little got done.

Kansans can correct the course again in this election.

All of Kansas is affected by the state board’s influence on the image of Kansas as a good place to live, raise kids and create businesses. The current board’s policies have the potential to harm the credibility of current graduates. In addition, the board’s actions make it more difficult for the state to attract professionals, especially in the sciences.

The Star is making recommendations in contested primary elections for the five districts on the ballot this August.

1st District, Democratic primary: Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kan., is the only incumbent seeking re-election this year who does not vote with the religious right. A small-business owner, she is a past president of the Turner Board of Education and has been state board chairman. Her opponent, Jesse Hall, is backed by supporters of the board’s conservative majority.

3rd District, Republican primary: John W. Bacon of Olathe has been a disappointment. Harry E. McDonald of Olathe, a retired Blue Valley biology teacher, is the right choice for people who want to reverse the board’s direction. McDonald is past president of the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers. He is active in Kansas Citizens for Science. To prepare, he has talked with all the superintendents in school districts in the 3rd District, so he is well versed in what districts need from the state board. Also in the GOP primary is David A. Oliphant of Olathe.

5th District, Republican primary: Sally Cauble of Liberal in southwest Kansas is a former elementary teacher and a member of the Liberal Board of Education. She’s running against Connie Morris of St. Francis, who has led the criticism of evolution, calling it a “fairy tale.” Cauble understands that schools are important to the economic success of a community, and she’s got the background to represent her district well.

7th District, Republican primary: Donna Viola of McPherson is a small-business owner and president of the McPherson School Board. She favors decision-making at the local, not state, level. The incumbent is Ken Willard of Hutchinson, who votes with the board majority. Another candidate is M.T. Liggett, a Mullinville artist.

9th District, Republican primary: The incumbent, Iris Van Meter of Thayer, is not seeking re-election to this southeast Kansas seat. She’s been part of the problems. However, her son-in-law, Brad Patzer of Neodesha, is seeking election, and he unfortunately appears to share her views. A much better choice is Jana Shaver of Independence, a former teacher and administrator, who is on the Independence Community College Board of Trustees and has been president of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees.