Topeka The Kansas Board of Education has long been a battleground between social conservatives and moderates, and Tuesday's first meeting of the new board was no different.
Within the first hour, the 10-member board deadlocked on at least a half-dozen votes to elect new leaders, and for 15 minutes of public comment, one newly elected board member was denounced for her remarks about Hispanics.
The initial battle regarded who would be chairman and vice chairman on the board.
The five moderates on the board supported Janet Waugh for a full two-year term as chairwoman, while the five conservatives sought splitting the term into one year for Waugh and one year for John Bacon. But both sides deadlocked 5-5.
Waugh is a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan., and her district includes eastern Douglas County. Bacon is a Republican from Olathe.
The board must take up the matter again today, and if it doesn't elect a chairman and vice chairman, the issue will come up every time the board meets, which is usually monthly.
The inability of the board to elect a leader left both sides accusing the other of not cooperating. It also left Waugh, currently the vice chairwoman, in charge of handling the board's agenda, since the former chairman, I.B. "Sonny" Rundell of Syracuse, was defeated in the November election.
Those supporting Waugh as chairwoman were Gamble, Bruce Wyatt of Salina, Carol Rupe of Wichita, Bill Wagnon of Topeka and Waugh. Those supporting a split term between Waugh and Bacon were Steve Abrams of Arkansas City, Connie Morris of St. Francis, Ken Willard of Nickerson, Iris Van Meter of Thayer and Bacon.
Controversy in '99
The board has often been a major battleground between moderates and conservatives.
In 1999, a conservative majority on the board made international news by de-emphasizing evolution in science standards for public schools. In 2001, moderates won back control of the board and put evolution back in the standards.
But the 2002 election put both sides on equal footing 5-5.
The frequent impasses on the board have prompted some lawmakers to propose changes to the board's makeup.
"We're trying to get some of the politics out of education," said state Sen. Jay Scott Emler, R-Lindsborg, who has proposed a constitutional amendment that would reduce the number of board members to nine and make the board appointed by the governor.
Comments under fire
Also on Tuesday, new board member Morris was criticized by several people who spoke during a public comment period. Morris has said that she didn't believe taxpayers should pay for the public school education of the children of illegal immigrants.
"How these children came to be here is beside the point," Kathy Cook of Shawnee, and president of Kansas Families United for Public Education, said. "They are here, and as children residing in the state of Kansas, they deserve the best education we can offer, as does every child in the state of Kansas."
Morris declined to respond to the comments.