Meeting fuels Corkins speculation

A notice about a special state school board meeting set for Wednesday is continuing to fuel speculation that Education Commissioner Bob Corkins is on his way out the door.

However, none of the members of the Kansas State Board of Education contacted Monday night could say whether Corkins will lose his job at the meeting – or whether someone else will be hired to replace him before the new moderate majority takes control on Jan. 8.

Corkins, who was appointed by the board’s conservative majority in October 2005, has been criticized by some legislators, many educators and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. That’s because he was Kansas’ first top school administrator in more than 80 years not to have served as a local superintendent first.

Corkins previously operated two small think tanks, lobbied against large increases in education funding and championed school voucher programs.

As commissioner, he led 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.

The special meeting, which will be done via telephone conference call, is being called to have a nonpublic executive session “to discuss nonelected personnel.”

The call will originate at 3:30 p.m. in the board room of the State Education Building in Topeka.

Several board members who have discussed replacing Corkins said they had been calling each other to find out whether Corkins is the topic.

Janet Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat, said she had spoken with Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat, and Sue Gamble, a moderate Republican from Shawnee, but none of them knew the nature of the executive session.

“I’ve gotten a call saying there is going to be one regarding nonelected personnel. But I don’t have a clue,” Waugh said.

Waugh said she hadn’t been over to Corkins’ office and thought he was still in his office Monday working on the board’s December meeting agenda.

However, Waugh said that last week, after the board meeting, she had been told that Corkins’ schedule had changed.

“It’s my understanding that his appointments have been canceled and his law degree is down from the wall,” Waugh said. “That was hanging on the wall, behind his desk.”

Wagnon said he had no knowledge whether Corkins was moving out of his office, although he had heard “rumors to that effect.”

Attempts to reach Corkins at his Lawrence home were unsuccessful Monday night.

Steve Abrams, the board’s conservative Republican chair, also could not be reached.

And the board’s vice chair, John Bacon, an Olathe conservative Republican, was tight-lipped about the nature of the executive session or whether it had anything to do with Corkins.

Bacon said he didn’t know whether there would be a motion coming out of the executive session, where a formal vote could be taken.

Action could be taken if there were at least six members present and all would vote in the affirmative. It takes six votes on the 10-member board to approve a motion, Bacon said.

When asked whether Corkins had moved out of his office, Bacon dismissed it as hearsay.

He didn’t know whether Corkins would be at the meeting.

“A lot of times, executive sessions are just the board members, or whoever we ask to be in the meeting,” Bacon said.

Two conservatives on the board, Iris Van Meter, a Thayer Republican, and Connie Morris, a Republican from St. Francis, both said they had no knowledge about the nature of the executive session.

“We’ll have to wait until the meeting Wednesday,” Morris said.