When Janet Waugh joins the Kansas State Board of Education conference call this afternoon, she's not sure who the "nonelected personnel" is the board will discuss in a private executive session.
But she does have a good guess that it's about Education Commissioner Bob Corkins.
"From all the rumors I've heard - and I've heard all the rumors you've heard - possibly, maybe, it's the commissioner," Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat, said Tuesday.
Waugh, whose district includes eastern Douglas County and parts of Lawrence north of Sixth Street, will join other members of the board in a special conference call meeting that will begin at 3:30 p.m. today. The call will originate in the board room of the State Education Building in Topeka.
John Bacon, board vice chairman, has said the 10-member board could take action during the conference call after the executive session ends and the board reconvenes into a public meeting. According to the Kansas Open Meetings Act, telephone conference calls are allowed for meetings as long as there is advance notice and free access to the public.
Bacon, an Olathe Republican who is one of the six conservative members on the board, would not say whether Corkins is the topic.
Bacon also did not shed any light on rumblings that conservatives might be trying an 11th-hour maneuver to replace Corkins with their own pick before moderates take control of the board Jan. 8.
There had been some speculation among moderate board members that Corkins might have already left his position.
However, on Tuesday at Corkins' Topeka office his secretary, Penny Rice, said Corkins wasn't in and was on vacation. Rice indicated Corkins would be back in the office next week and available for appointments.
Attempts to contact Corkins at his home west of Lawrence were unsuccessful.
Despite what happens today, Corkins is expected to be removed from his post sometime early next year.
The state board's conservative Republican majority will end when moderate Republicans Sally Cauble, of Liberal, and Jana Shaver, of Independence, take their seats, giving the moderates a 6-4 majority.
Waugh and fellow Democrat Bill Wagnon, Topeka, both voted against hiring Corkins in October 2005, and have both indicated they were ready to replace him.
"I tried to be fair. I tried to allow him to be commissioner to see what goals he would pursue and what objectives he would have," Waugh said.
Corkins' major focus has been on pushing for school vouchers and charter schools, she said.
"We don't have an easy fix through vouchers and charters," she said. "I think he frankly does not have a knowledge of education and what is needed."
Corkins, an attorney, is Kansas' first top school administrator in more than 80 years not to have served as a local superintendent first.
He 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.
Waugh said that with Corkins, "who is basically anti-schools," at the helm, the public image of the state's public education system has been hurt.
"I think we've become the laughingstock, not only of the state, but frankly of the nation and even the world in science standards," Waugh said.
Like other board members contacted Monday and Tuesday, Carol Rupe, a moderate Republican from Wichita, could shed no light on the subject of the executive session.
"Your guess is as good as mine about what this special meeting executive session is going to be about," Rupe said. "But I would say that your guess is the same as mine about what it's going to be about. So I guess we'll all just have to find out at the time."
More on the Board of Education
- 6News Video: Are Bob Corkin's days numbered?
- Kansas Open Meetings Act
- Chat about the Kansas Board of Education with member Janet Waugh (11-21-06)
- Corkins' future uncertain under new board (11-15-06)
- Board of education races set moderates' control (11-08-06)
- Sebelius' ed board remarks attacked (10-12-06)