Topeka — Education Commissioner Bob Corkins is likely to lose his job after new state school board members take office next year, but his opponents aren't sure about the timing of his dismissal.
The Kansas State Board of Education's 6-4 conservative Republican majority will end Jan. 8. That's when moderate Republicans Sally Cauble, of Liberal, and Jana Shaver, of Independence, take their seats alongside two other GOP moderates and two Democrats who opposed Corkins' hiring in October 2005.
Some legislators, many educators and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius criticized Corkins' appointment by the board because he was Kansas' first top school administrator in more than 80 years not to have served as a local superintendent first.
There's little doubt the four veteran board members who opposed hiring Corkins will move to oust him. Janet Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat, said Tuesday that his removal could be the first business after electing a new chairman and approving an agenda.
"I assume that we will go into an executive session immediately," she said.
But Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat who hopes to become chairman in January, wouldn't predict Corkins' immediate removal, saying Cauble and Shaver might need some time to get oriented before the new majority moves against the commissioner.
"One would expect that to happen sooner or later," Wagnon said.
Sue Gamble, a moderate Republican from Shawnee, said, "There is some chance that the man would decide to resign prior to January."
Corkins expressed some frustration with the speculation about his future, saying he plans to meet with Cauble and Shaver to discuss their views on various issues.
"I've been under the microscope for close to 400 days," Corkins said. "I don't know what the future holds."
The 10-member board began appointing commissioners in 1969 to run the Kansas State Department of Education, and Corkins' predecessors had backgrounds in public education. That also was largely true before 1969, when Kansans elected a superintendent of public instruction.
Corkins previously operated two small think tanks, lobbied against large increases in education funding and championed school voucher programs.
He has since spearheaded a reorganization of the department, creating a School Innovation Division, and has continued to support increasing the number of charter schools, which are freed from some state regulations to encourage innovation.
But he wasn't successful in starting a discussion about giving parents of some students with special needs tax vouchers and allowing them to choose where their children went to school.
Sebelius said Tuesday that the commissioner needs to have credibility with the department's staff plus teachers, principals and superintendents. She said Corkins' predecessor, Andy Tompkins, was "revered" and seen as a "superstar" nationally.
"We have a situation where he was replaced by somebody who doesn't command nearly that kind of respect," she said.
Sebelius also said of Corkins, "His philosophy seemed to be a bit out of step with where the Legislature is going, with where I'm going."
But board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican who supported Corkins' hiring, said Corkins' departure will be caused by politics. Willard said the chances are "probably not too good" that the new board would keep Corkins.
"They didn't give him a chance before he even put his feet on the ground, so I wouldn't expect them to give him a chance now," Willard said.
Shaver said she was concerned about Corkins' hiring, given his background, but she wouldn't commit publicly Tuesday to seeking his departure, saying she's "gathering information and trying to be prepared to make a good decision."
"I'm reluctant to make a statement about what I will or will not do, being the new kid on the block," Shaver said.