Moderates settle for 6-4 majority on Board of Education

Moderates settle for 6-4 majority on Board of Education
Wichita Eagle, Wed, Nov. 08, 2006

CARL MANNING, Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. - Moderates, who plan to get rid of anti-evolution standards forced onto Kansas schools, had to settle for a 6-4 majority after failing to unseat two incumbent conservatives in Tuesday's elections.

In the 7th District, Republican incumbent Ken Willard of Hutchinson eked out a narrow 51 percent victory over Democrat Jack Wempe of Lyons, a former state Board of Regents member.

The other conservative incumbent, Republican John Bacon, won re-election in the 3rd District with 56 percent of the vote over Democrat Don Weiss. Both men are from Olathe.

In the 9th District, moderate Republican Jan Shaver of Independence defeated Democrat Charles Kent Runyan of Pittsburg with 55 percent of the vote, while moderate Republican Sally Cauble of Liberal defeated Tim Cruz, a former Garden City mayor, with 64 percent of the vote in the 5th District.

Democratic board member Janet Waugh of Kansas City was unopposed.

The winners join five members not on the ballot this year: moderate Republicans Sue Gamble, of Shawnee, and Carol Rupe, of Wichita; Democrat Bill Wagnon, of Topeka; and conservative Republicans Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, and Kathy Martin, of Clay Center.

Come January, moderates will be calling the shots and one of the first things they're expected to do is rework the science testing standards for students to once again make them more pro-evolution oriented.

Last year, when conservatives held a 6-4 edge, they endorsed standards that critics say promote intelligent design, viewed by some as warmed-over creationism. Proponents say the standards encourage an open discussion of evolution and its flaws.

The anti-evolution standards made Kansas the punch line for countless jokes, portraying the state as ignorant and backward.

Control of the board has changed between the two factions since 1998, resulting in anti-evolution standards for student testing in 1999, evolution-friendly ones in 2001 and anti-evolution ones in 2005.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius wants to strip the board of most of its duties, reducing it to an advisory panel with most of the power vested in an appointed secretary of education. The state had an elected superintendent of public instruction until 1969.

Evolution won't be the only issue on the moderate majority's agenda.

The board likely will dump Education Commissioner Bob Corkins, who was hired by conservatives last year. He lacked any experience as a school administrator, supports charter schools and vouchers and opposed increased school funding when he operated a conservative think tank.

Another issue is sex education. In March, the board required local districts to get permission from parents before teaching children sex education. Most districts had assumed a child would participate unless a parent objected.