When the new moderate State Board of Education meets Tuesday in Topeka, there will be a major absence in the room.
Bob L. Corkins, the controversial education commissioner installed by conservatives on the board in 2005, is gone, having resigned after the election.
That means one of the first orders of business will be to replace Corkins, a Douglas County resident whose ideas to promote vouchers and charter schools were criticized by public education advocates, legislators and the governor.
Several area officials say they would like to turn the job over to someone with a background in education who is a champion of education.
"I think I want Superman," State board member Janet Waugh said Friday, laughing. "Well, Superman, with a mixture of Andy Tompkins."
Tompkins, a former superintendent of schools who served as education commissioner for nine years, left in 2005 for a teaching position at Kansas University.
Waugh, a Democrat whose district includes part of Douglas County, said the new board is expected to elect a new chairman Tuesday and begin the procedure to replace Corkins.
After a two-year reign by conservatives, moderates will resume control of the board with a 6-4 majority. Bill Wagnon, a moderate Democrat on the board whose district includes Lawrence, is likely to be named as the new chairman, Waugh said.
Wagnon has said he would like to see someone in the education commissioner's job who has a proven track record of improving schools.
A national search is expected to get under way for the position, which leads an agency with more than 200 employees and a $3 billion budget.
Corkins, who was paid $140,000, was among five finalists for the job that included Alexa Posny, former deputy education commissioner who left to become director of the federal Office for Special Education Programs.
Waugh and Wagnon said they expected to get some help in the new search from the National Association of State Boards of Education.
"I would like someone with a vision. I don't want someone with a narrow agenda," Waugh said. "I felt our previous commissioner had a narrow agenda."
Waugh said she also would prefer to have someone with a background in education.
Corkins was the state's first top school administrator in 80 years who hadn't served as a superintendent. He had operated two small think tanks, lobbied against increases in education funding and championed school voucher programs.
Waugh said she would like to have a commissioner whose goal would be to make Kansas rank No. 1 in the nation in terms of education.
"We had some outstanding people apply in previous searches," she said. "I'm confident there are people who could come in here and be another Andy Tompkins."
Experience and advocacy
Experience and education advocacy are two essential attributes needed by the next education commissioner, according to some local school officials.
"In addition to that, the person needs considerable management skills," said Sue Morgan, Lawrence school board president. "They're clearly running a very large organization. And they need skills in working with policymaking bodies."
Adele Solis, president of the Lawrence Education Association, said experience is "of paramount importance."
"I'd like to see someone who is looking to make what we have work, or tweak it to make it work better versus automatically going to the idea of putting forth vouchers or charter schools or things that, in my view, take away what's happening in the public school arena," Solis said.
Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, said it would be good to have a commissioner who could work with legislators more constructively than Corkins did.
"I think there were some other candidates that would have perhaps been less controversial that could have filled that position," Pine said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, who represents part of Douglas County, said Corkins had been "a poor choice" because he was not an advocate for public schools.
"That was what was so disturbing and disappointing about Corkins is he had spent most of his life, his adult life, lobbying against schools," Hensley said. "He was the antithesis of what you wanted to have in that role."