Education department spokesman leaves job

Cites family situation, political atmosphere as reasons for change

? David Awbrey, hired six months ago as spokesman for the Kansas Department of Education, is leaving.

“I’m just not suited to the political climate, the animosity,” said Awbrey, a former newspaperman and Lawrence resident. He will return to Missouri to teach middle school social studies.

Awbrey said his main reason for changing jobs was to be with his wife, a college professor, and young daughter, who have remained in Springfield, Mo.

“It has nothing to do with the job; it’s the family situation,” he said.

On board in November, Awbrey was new Education Commissioner Bob Corkins’ first big hire.

Awbrey is a Kansas University graduate, serving as student body president there in 1969-70.

He became a journalist and rose to editorial page editor for the Wichita Eagle. He then moved to Vermont in 2001 to become editorial page editor of The Burlington Free Press.

After that he returned to the Midwest, moving to Missouri to get his teacher’s certification. But then Corkins hired him at $76,000 per year.

Awbrey said the tone of politics had changed in the five years he spent away from Kansas.

“It’s vicious,” he said, blaming both the right and left for the problem. “The State Board of Education has become a captive of the culture wars.”

The board has battled over evolution, sex education and the hiring of Corkins, who had previously worked as an advocate opposing increases in school funding.

Last month, Awbrey caught heat for saying he thought evolution proponents were practicing a religion.

Awbrey said his last day on the job would be June 23. He said he is taking a big pay cut, down to about $33,000 per year.

Other developments Wednesday:

¢ The state board adopted a new policy on human sexuality courses.

The new policy says school districts shall have complete programs of “abstinence until marriage,” but those programs also will provide information about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases.

It’s not clear how influential the new policy will be. It will become part of guidelines on health education, but districts don’t face penalties if they don’t follow them. The Lawrence district has said it will continue with its current program.

Board member Kathy Martin, a Clay Center Republican who initially pushed for an abstinence-only mandate, said the new policy will send local districts and students a consistent message.

“It is the Christian message, after all, of what we want young people to do,” she said.

¢ On a 6-4 vote, the board approved the appointments by Corkins of Thomas Foster as deputy commissioner for Learning Services, and Larry Allen Englebrick as deputy commissioner for a new group called School Innovation.

Several board members resented Corkins announcing the appointments before the board considered them, saying there was no reason to start a new division.

Board member Bill Wagnon, a Democrat from Topeka whose district includes Lawrence, was one of the four opposed to the restructuring.