Topeka The controversy started before the news conference, and it increased afterward.
Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins on Wednesday announced hiring two new deputy commissioners - one of whom was recently fired from his last job - as part of a reorganization plan.
Earlier hints of that plan were already causing heartburn among some state education board members.
But Corkins defended his proposal.
"We are not reinventing the wheel. We are just making it more efficient," he said.
Corkins introduced Thomas Foster as deputy commissioner for the Learning Services Division and Larry Allen Englebrick as deputy commissioner for a new group called the School Innovation Division.
Foster will replace Alexa Posny, who took a high-ranking job with the federal education agency. Foster has worked at the state education department since 2004 and before that served as an administrator, principal and teacher at several school districts.
Englebrick has served in various teaching and administrative functions at the Kansas City, Kan., school district. He was involved with the "First Things First" program in Kansas City, which has been recognized for raising student performance.
Both appointees hold doctorate degrees in education from Kansas University.
But State Board of Education members Bill Wagnon and Sue Gamble, who are often at odds with Corkins, said a new division for innovation was unneeded, and they resented Corkins' announcing his decision before getting the required board approval for the hires.
"In my 35 years of being on an elective board, I have never known an executive to take this kind of action," said Gamble, a Republican from Shawnee.
"It is absolutely not standard operating procedure," she said.
But Corkins said it was traditional for the commissioner to name the appointees before board approval. The board, which hired Corkins on a 6-4 vote last year, will consider the appointees next week, and Corkins appeared confident they would be accepted.
Wagnon, a Democrat from Topeka, whose district includes Lawrence, said establishing a division for innovation would add to the bureaucracy.
"I'm afraid that it will have the consequences of creating a new silo in the department at a time when we need to have all the departments talking to one another," he said.
But Corkins said the new division would look for programs that work well in schools and see if they can be applied to other districts.
Former KCK official
During the news conference, no mention was made that Englebrick, who was picked to lead the new innovation division, was released in March as an assistant superintendent for the Kansas City, Kan., school district.
When asked about that later, Corkins said Englebrick had glowing references.
Corkins said last year when the superintendent job opened in Kansas City, Kan., both Englebrick and Jill Shackelford applied for the job.
Shackelford got it and later relieved Englebrick of his duties, he said.
"I guess the town wasn't big enough for the two of them," Corkins said. But the sacking had no bearing on Englebrick's abilities, he said.
Carroll Macke, a spokesman for the district, said, "He was up for superintendent, and so was she, and I'm not going to go beyond that."
Macke said it was simply a personnel issue.
"We respect his years of service and dedication to the distinct and what he has accomplished," Macke said.
Englebrick, who had gone to school in the district and worked there as a teacher, principal and administrator for 28 years, said Shackelford wanted a different person in his position.
In a telephone interview after the news conference, he described his relationship with Shackelford as "sometimes very good and sometimes not as good."
He said he was still on contract when relieved of his duties, and now he and the district are negotiating how to resolve those contract issues.
Despite the parting, he said, he will be able to work well with the Kansas City district.
"I want nothing but the district to do well," he said, noting his roots in the community.
Wagnon said he had not known about Englebrick's dismissal, but he said when a new superintendent comes on board "sometimes that happens."
As far as creating a new division, Gamble also said she had concerns about the funds needed to hire an additional deputy commissioner and realign the staff.
Corkins said the changes could be made within existing revenues in the department. He declined to release the salaries of the two new deputies, saying that information was confidential until the board approved the positions.
Corkins also denied the new division would be used to back his agenda.
When first hired, Corkins had come out in favor of private school vouchers. After many public school officials came out in opposition, the board put the brakes on the voucher plan.