State school board member Janet Waugh is a Democrat and was speaking to a group of Democrats on Saturday, but her message also should be heeded by Republicans here and across the state.
The Kansas State Board of Education has swung between conservative and moderate control several times in the last decade and it easily could do it again in 2008, she told members of the Douglas County Democratic Party. Following the 2006 election, moderate members have a 6-4 majority on the board and already have begun undoing some of the previous board's most noteworthy actions, including science standards that de-emphasized evolution and requiring parents to give specific permission for their children to be included in sex education classes.
But, Waugh warned, at lease two moderate members of the board probably won't seek re-election in 2008, leaving the board vulnerable to yet another philosophical swing. One of those members is Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat whose district includes most of Lawrence, and Waugh urged local Democrats to start working now to recruit a candidate to take Wagnon's place.
There hasn't been a Lawrence or Douglas County resident on the state board in recent memory, and it certainly seems that the county could easily yield a highly qualified candidate for the state board. Whether that candidate is a Democrat or Republican, however, is less important than his or her knowledge of education issues and dedication to a professionally run education department that represents mainstream Kansas views.
Waugh's comments assume that the moderate majority on the current board more accurately reflects the wishes of Kansas voters. The outcome of last November's election tends to confirm that view. The only way really to confirm that stand, however, is for Kansas voters to closely monitor the actions of the state board and continue to elect board members who are doing the job the way they, the voters, want it done.
Whether that person is a Republican or Democrat doesn't really matter much; the current six-member majority includes members of both parties. What's important is that Kansas voters not let their attention to the affairs of the state school board lapse in the next two years. Only the voters can ensure a stable long-term direction for the board that plays such a vital role in the education of Kansas youngsters.