Topeka The State Board of Education will begin a national search in January to replace Bob Corkins, who resigned as education commissioner effective Wednesday.
"I want someone who can return the department to a high degree of professionalism," said Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat who is expected to be elected chairman of the state board when moderates take control of the board on Jan. 8.
"I want someone who has a proven track record with improving schools and who understands schools, can manage and lead a large state bureaucracy and can get along with the board members," Wagnon said Wednesday after a special meeting of the state board.
Steve Abrams, state board chairman, told reporters he received a letter of resignation from Corkins on Monday and then called Wednesday's meeting to deal with the matter in a nonpublic executive session.
Abrams, of Arkansas City, and John Bacon, of Olathe, a fellow conservative Republican on the board, were the only two board members physically at the meeting at the State Education Building in Topeka. Wagnon and the seven other board members took part via a telephone conference call.
After going into closed session for about 15 minutes, Abrams opened the meeting back up to the public and read Corkins' resignation letter, which stated that he would leave his position effective at the end of the business day Wednesday.
Corkins wrote, "My gratitude for the opportunity you've given me this past year is profound.
"I have approached every day with a solemn respect for the duties of this role. Many substantial decisions were required during my term and I have not had a moment's regret over any. Much of my confidence has been due to sound counsel from my colleagues at the agency and to the positive influence of Chairman Abrams' wisdom. I sincerely wish everyone well."
On a 7-3 vote, the board accepted Corkins' resignation and gave him a 30-day severance package that Abrams estimated to be about $11,000.
His annual salary had been about $140,000.
Corkins led an agency with more than 200 employees and a $3 billion budget, mostly aid to local school districts. He was among five finalists for the job that included Alexa Posny, deputy education commissioner who left to become director of the federal Office for Special Education Programs.
Those voting "no" on his resignation and severance were Janet Waugh, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan., Carol Rupe, a Wichita moderate Republican, and Connie Morris, a conservative Republican from St. Francis.
As part of that vote, the board appointed Dale Dennis as interim education commissioner. Dennis, who is deputy education commissioner for finance, has been with the Department of Education for about four decades and is highly regarded, Wagnon said.
The state board's conservative Republican majority, which hired Corkins in October 2005, will end when moderate Republicans Sally Cauble, of Liberal, and Jana Shaver, of Independence, take their seats Jan. 8, giving the moderates a 6-4 majority.
Waugh, Wagnon and Rupe, all moderates, congratulated Abrams, a conservative, on how he handled Corkins' resignation.
"I believe we need to work in a genteel manner," said Kathy Martin, a conservative Republican from Clay Center.
Abrams told reporters after the meeting that Corkins had cleared out his office earlier this week. Corkins was not at the meeting and could not be reached at his home.
Corkins received criticism from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and many legislators and educators across the state.
That's partly because of his push for vouchers and for charter schools, which would be freed from some of the regulations imposed on other public schools, and partly because of his lack of experience.
A lawyer from Lawrence, Corkins is Kansas' first top school administrator in 80 years who has not previously served as a superintendent. He had operated two small think tanks, lobbied against increases in education funding and championed school voucher programs.
Under the board's conservative majority, Corkins led a reorganization of the department.
Abrams said he did not ask for Corkins' resignation.
"I like what he's done for education. I like what he's done within the department. I think he's done a great job. He's been a very good manager," Abrams said.
Wagnon, who had voted against hiring Corkins in 2005, said, "I'm looking for a different kind of commissioner than the kind of commissioner that Bob Corkins exhibited."
Wagnon said other members of the state board have told him they would like a comprehensive national search. He said they would work very closely with Brenda Welburn, who is the executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education.
Reaction from Lawrence public schools officials was swift following Corkins' resignation.
Rich Minder, a Lawrence school board member, said he wasn't surprised.
"The poor guy was in a tough spot, at the mercy of the board and the electorate," Minder said. "As I'm sure you know, I would have preferred the board hire someone who advocated more positively for funding public schools and someone who had more educational experience in the first place."
Another Lawrence school board member, Craig Grant, said: "I'm pleased that he saw the writing on the wall. His decision can get board members started looking for a new commissioner. It's a positive as far as I'm concerned."
Lawrence Superintendent Randy Weseman said: "I'm assuming he saw the writing on the wall. It was probably a prudent move on his part."
6News reporter Deanna Richards and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
More on the Board of Education
- KTKA News Video: Controversial Education Commissioner resigns
- Read Corkins' letter of resignation
- Board ready to heed call (11-22-06)
- No rush on new science standards (11-22-06)
- 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)