Archive for Thursday, April 6, 2006

6 months in, Corkins still under fire

Commissioner defends tenure, while board of education member says ‘wheels are coming off’

April 6, 2006


— Sometimes when Bob Corkins speaks to a group of people, his first order of business is to try to persuade them he doesn't want to wreck the public school system.

Seems like an odd task for the top public school official in Kansas.

But given Corkins' background, it isn't surprising that six months after being appointed education commissioner, he still faces folded arms and disbelieving looks.

The Kansas political scene erupted in October when the 6-4 majority on the Kansas State Board of Education appointed Corkins and agreed to pay him $140,000 per year.

Corkins, of Lawrence, came to the job with no background in education as either a teacher or administrator, and little experience as a manager of employees.

Before his appointment, he operated single-man think tanks that criticized public schools and worked against increased funding for schools in legal fights that have reached the Kansas Supreme Court. Before that, he had been a lobbyist for what is now the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Opposing groups emerge

Coupled with a drawn-out fight over science standards that criticize evolution, the hiring of Corkins has rallied groups to try to alter the 6-4 majority on the Education Board through either the August primary election or the November general election.

"There were several issues last fall that kind of energized folks," said Don Hineman, a Dighton rancher who is chairman of the recently formed Kansas Alliance for Education.

"The hiring of Corkins was one of those issues. He came in with a pre-existing bias against public education, and some of his activities since then have demonstrated that he still holds those opinions," Hineman said.

But Education Board Chairman Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, who was one of the leading proponents of hiring Corkins, said he was doing a good job.

"There's a learning curve with any commissioner that would come on board," Abrams said.

"The biggest challenge he has had is from the schools and convincing them that he isn't trying to destroy public education."

Push for vouchers

But right off the bat, many school groups saw him as a threat.

On visits in western Kansas, Corkins touted charter schools and vouchers before the board even had discussed the issues. Corkins pushed for the board to recommend legislative approval of vouchers - using tax dollars to pay for students to go to private schools - and for a measure that would have allowed groups to start charter schools even if the local school district was opposed to the charter.

He also told legislators that they didn't need to abide by an education cost study even before the study was completed. The study has been cited by the Kansas Supreme Court as a necessary guide for lawmakers to fund public schools.

Corkins also was criticized when he hired a consultant to help him with his transition.

Since his appointment, several top-level employees at the state education department have announced that they are leaving the agency, including Alexa Posny, who applied for the education commissioner job but was passed over. She now is going to a leading job with the U.S. Department of Education.

"The wheels are coming off the wagon," said Education Board member Bill Wagnon. Wagnon, a Democrat from Topeka, whose district includes Lawrence, was one of the four members who voted against hiring Corkins.

"He is driving all professional staff out of the department, and he embarked on a fool's errand to expand charter schools and exempt them from accountability," Wagnon said.

Corkins cites accomplishments

For his part, Corkins defends his performance and cites as major accomplishments the board's unanimous decision to endorse proposals to establish all-day kindergarten statewide and start a database project aimed at better tracking individual student progress.

"I came into this position expecting a huge challenge, and it has been exactly that. It's been six months of pretty intense work," he said.

He said he has spent much of his time talking to staff, developing contacts in the field and instituting a restructuring at the department.

Of the constant battling between the boards' two factions, Corkins said: "It's a democratic process just like the Legislature or any governmental entity made up of elected officials. It will be rare when you have unanimous opinion on any given issue."

Abrams said Corkins has diffused much of the early criticism of his appointment.

"A lot of that has been calmed down," he said.

John Morton, superintendent of the Newton school district, said Corkins has made an effort to meet people in the field.

But Morton added: "The issues are so complex, it's tough to get up to speed on a lot of them. He certainly has a continuing task ahead of him in terms of that."

Morton has led an advisory committee of superintendents that was formed after the Education Board received numerous complaints about Corkins' proposals.

Many superintendents were taken aback by Corkins when he pushed for vouchers and charters because Morton said those proposals don't address Kansas problems.

"The jury is still out," Morton said of Corkins.

Some in the education community have suggested that if there is a change in the board's makeup after the elections, Corkins will be replaced.

But Corkins said he's not concerned about the elections.

"I'm here to do the best job I can in whatever time is available," he said.


coldandhot 12 years, 2 months ago

This article is typical Journal World. Bash the conservative man and keep bashing him. They use silly Wagnon's comment to leade the story. Of course top officials are going to leave...they were going to be replaced otherwise...Any leader is going to place his own folks in positions. Wagnon is a joke. I can't believe people elect a guy like that.

BDub 12 years, 2 months ago

The department has had some major problems since long before Corkins got there, but he's the worst possible thing that could have happened to the agency. Like throwing gas on a fire.

Frank Smith 12 years, 2 months ago

Steve Abrams seems to be a practicioner of what Rev. Sun Myung Moon encouraged as "heavenly deception." While claiming to be a Christian, he has a reckless disregard to the truth when it involves himself and his fundamentalist majority on the State Board.

usaschools 12 years, 2 months ago

The Board's decision to make a COMPLETELY political appointment of an unqualified candidate to the highest education position in the State of Kansas is indefensible. The Board showed they are more interested in politics than the welfare of the students of Kansas. There is no reasonable rationale for the hiring of Corkins.

Corkins seeks to take credit for allp-day kindergarten. He had nothing to do with this, it is an issue that has come to the attention of the board through a grass-roots movement of teachers and concerned parents. He played little to no direct role. Every intitiative he introduced was not only a failure, but inappropriate to start with.

Corkins may be a very nice fellow, but he is unqualified for his position. A rational board would never have even considered his application. A few months in office will not make him qualified. He should be fired now.

road_to_nowhere 12 years, 2 months ago

So in 6 months, Corky takes credit for TWO things that were started long before he ever came to the State Department of Education. Even worse, is that both initiatives were spearheaded within the department by Dr. Posny who is now taking a "leading job with the U.S. Department of Education." Apparently Corky is also restructuring the department, but 6 months later NOT ONE restructuring change has been made. Maybe Corky should create another committee to look at this.

Even worse, is that for the last 6 months the conservatives on the board have done all they can to get rid of Dr. Posny. With her appointment as Director of OSEP, they have effectively done this. For even more added irony, this appointment as director of OSEP is done by these conservatives' hero, a Mr. George W. Bush.

As for a learning curve, I remember reading a LJW article about 4 months ago that asked former commissioner Andy Tompkins how long it took him to settle in as commissioner. Mr. Tompkins had replied that on the first day in the new job he had gotten to work, and done so without the use of a taxpayer funded transition team. After 6 months, Corky should have complete understanding of his job and his responsibilites, and his excuse that he's "new" no longer applies.

Obviously Corky has made no plans to fill the many open jobs within the department, but to give him credit, he's simply trying to save himself the embarassment that would come when NO respected education official would want to work with Corky.

It's time for the board to admit they made a mistake with Corky and replace him with someone qualified, saving KSDE, and possibly their reelection hopes as well. Obviously the board will never do this, and sadly, it's the children of Kansas who will have to suffer instead.

rhd99 12 years, 2 months ago

I wish there was a way to recall CORKINS. Corkins claims he's "new" smells as bad if not worse than a red herring. My bad, the whole CONSERVATIVE population on this board of education of Kansas is a smelly red herring. No wonder our education system as is in Kansas STINKS! I have heard it before, if it ain't broke don't fix it, well the system's broke, & CORKY, MORRIS & ABRAMS are all reasons why education is not funded. It's time to FIRE CORKY & vote out ABRAMS & MORRIS!

Sandman 12 years, 2 months ago

I think this is the first Corkins article where the reporter didn't use the word "conservative" to describe Corkins or his supporters.

Kudos LJW! You let the reader decide!

Bill Woodard 12 years, 2 months ago

Indeed. Using the "conservative" label to describe Corkins and Co. should be an affront to any true conservative, as their agenda is anything but conservative when it comes to Kansas public schools.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 2 months ago

Thursday, April 06, 2006 SPECIAL SECTION: Bob Corkins Education Commissioner for Kansas Kansans Respond to the Political/Media Establishment

Bob Corkins is an excellent choice as the next commissioner for education in Kansas. He is one of the top experts on school finance in this state with excellent legislative contacts and he has his own children in public schools. A dirty little secret is that some of the government school officials children are attending or have attended private schools.

The government school establishment, the left wing Kansas press, the left wing elected officials have all responded with outrage to his appointment. The vile, hateful, and wildly inaccurate statements from tax 'n spend legislators like Sen. John Vratil, Sen. Tony Hensley, Sen. Jean Schodorf, state school board member Bill Wagnon, and editorials in newspapers like the Wichita Eagle, the Lawrence Journal World, and the rest of the left-wing press in this state demonstrate their commitment to the state school monopoly.

The political Left in Kansas endorses big, bureaucratic government that provides a state monopoly and perpetual demands for tax dollars for the public schools. This education is often strong on indoctrination and weak on learning to read, write, and computing numbers without a calculator. Sadly, state monopoly performs poorly for many Kansas children and then their families must struggle to either fund an alternative education at home or in a non public school. Bob Corkins will be working with the majority of the Kansas state board of education to improve education in Kansas. His appointment is a breath of fresh air for Kansas education.

Karl Peterjohn

This is what the name Karl Peterjohn will bring up:

james bush 12 years, 2 months ago

Corkin always gets libs upset. So what's new!

Richard Heckler 12 years, 2 months ago

Corkins is simply not qualified for the job which alsdo indicates those who hired him are no more qualified than Corkins. Would you hire any of the those who supported an unqualified person to manage a business? Connie Morris tried to pull off a bit of fraud on the this good judgement?

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