Archive for Sunday, September 20, 1998

September 20, 1998

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A conservative Olathe City Council member wants to add his brand of Republicanism to the state Board of Education.

It was as if John Bacon was riding his unicycle on a political tightrope.

Bacon, a conservative Republican candidate for the state Board of Education, learned a mistake had inflated by about 3,000 votes his primary-election margin of victory over moderate GOP rival Dan Neuenswander.

Once the missing 3,000 votes were found, it sliced to 24 votes Bacon's lead over Neuenswander, a former Lawrence school superintendent who lives near Baldwin.

State officials ordered a recount of all ballots in the 3rd District, which covers Douglas County and parts of Johnson, Miami, Osage and Shawnee counties.

Bacon, a two-term member of the Olathe City Council, feared reopening ballot boxes would allow a mischievous individual to steal the election.

``That's always in the back of your mind,'' he said. ``You want to be careful that everyone is objective.''

After weeks on the highwire, a tally made official Sept. 15 showed Bacon with 13,563 votes and Neuenswander with 13,548 -- a 15-vote margin.

The political bug

John W. Bacon, 36, grew up in a family with 10 children -- he was eighth in line -- in McPherson.

His father ran unsuccessful campaigns years ago for Kansas governor and attorney general as nominee of the Prohibition Party.

``He didn't get many votes,'' Bacon said.

But standing up for principle -- his dad was an uncompromising critic of liquor consumption -- lingered.

In 1981, Bacon moved to Olathe to enroll at MidAmerica Nazarene University. It's a 1,400-student liberal arts university affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene. He earned an accounting degree in 1985.

He kept books for a manufacturing company and audited rural electrical cooperatives before starting a private accounting firm seven years ago. His wife, Melanie, also is a CPA.

The couple have three children -- Brett, 12, Chad, 10, and Andrea, 8. They attend a public elementary school less than a mile from home.

Bacon was the only member of his family to catch the political bug. The urge to serve surfaced six years ago when the state Board of Education implemented a system for evaluating schools known as ``quality performance accreditation.'' Bacon helped found a site council at the local elementary to represent views of parents.

``QPA, overall, has been good for Kansas,'' he said. ``It helped set a course.''

He said QPA needs fine tuning to make certain the program is aimed at specific academic benchmarks rather than advancing vague ``socialistic-type goals.''

In 1995, an acquaintance asked Bacon to run for Olathe City Council. Neighbors, including Democrats, convinced him to give it a shot. He was elected to the first of his two-year terms.

``I try to do what is right,'' he said. ``My vision of Olathe is that I want it to be the best city in Kansas.''

A friend from MidAmerica Nazarene, Kevin Gilmore, approached Bacon about running for the state Board of Education. Gilmore had decided not to seek re-election to the 3rd District seat.

``I turned him down,'' said Bacon, running a hand through his close-cropped red hair. ``I said, `I'm happy right here.'''

An alternate recruited by Gilmore dropped out 10 days before the filing deadline. Gilmore pleaded with Bacon to reconsider.

``I said, `Yes.'''

One parent's voice

Campaigning has afforded Bacon a chance to demonstrate his prowess on the unicycle. In a recent parade, he pedaled down the street.

But activism comes at a cost: ``I relish the day when I can play church softball again.''

As the fall campaign picks up steam, Bacon said he would increase his visibility in the district. He admits to not campaigning enough in Douglas County during the primary. He plans to visit Neuenswander soon to search for ideas that might be incorporated into his campaign.

``I think we have to do that,'' Bacon said. ``I don't think I can abandon 50 percent of the votes in the Republican Party.''

Bacon said he was comfortable with the ``conservative'' label attached to his campaign. ``I think I am,'' he said, but ``in Johnson County, Kansas, I think I'm pretty mainstream.''

Bacon vowed to be the candidate of the parent. ``I think it's important parents have a voice.''

Several issues, including QPA, have proven challenging for the ideologically divided Board of Education.

Debate has surfaced on proposals for an alternative teacher license system. Bacon said any plan taking primary control away from local school districts was unacceptable.

``We must keep it at the local level.''

Another touchy subject has been expansion of charter schools, which are public schools governed by a charter granted by the state and approved by the local school board. If goals aren't met, the charter can be pulled. Bacon likes the idea of charter schools.

``If you have a group of people who think the public school doesn't have the quality they want, they should be allowed to create an alternative. It might bring a little competition.''

Bacon, who is active in his church, said he didn't believe public schools should be transformed into missionaries.

Schools shouldn't be used for political purposes either, Bacon said. For example, he said, it didn't make sense to frighten first-graders with lessons about destruction of rain forests in South America.

``Why are we doing that?'' he asked. ``Stick with core subject areas -- something they can deal with in our front yard.''

Bacon proposed a new program to honor Kansas teachers. It would be financed by contributions from volunteer organizations at each of the state's 1,500 schools. The goal would be to raise $1.5 million annually to begin granting $5,000 awards to nearly 200 Kansas teachers within five years.

``They deserve it,'' he said.

Bacon is disturbed by the high school drop-out rate in Kansas -- 18.2 percent statewide in 1997-98. School districts should be required to keep the rate below 5 percent, he said.

He doesn't believe schools need more money to get better. ``I think we have adequate funding,'' he said.

In general, Bacon said, Kansas public schools do well. His goal is to push the envelope on academic achievement.

``There's plenty of room for improvement.''

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.

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