Archive for Thursday, May 25, 2006

State board of ed race attracts full field

May 25, 2006

With the deadline for the August primary election three weeks away, one race already has a full slate of candidates.

Four candidates have filed for the Kansas State School Board District No. 3. The hopefuls include three candidates running in the Republican primary --incumbent John Bacon, Harry McDonald and David Oliphant -- and Democrat Don Weiss. The deadline to file is June 12.

Bacon, known for his conservative support to change the state science standards and give more parental control over sex education, filed for his seat on May 9.

"I feel like I'm doing a good job of representing the people in my district and was encouraged to serve in this capacity by several people," he said.

Bacon, a certified public accountant from Olathe, has served on the state board for eight years, or two terms. In addition to his views on sex education and science standards, Bacon said he also advocated a different payment system for teachers.

"I would like, at some point, to discuss or explore pay-for-performance for teachers," he said. "If you're putting in the extra effort and getting kids to perform at a higher level, you're getting compensated for that."

Bacon said similar reward systems were used in a few other states. He said teachers would be paid based on several factors, such as evaluations and student achievement.

"There would be several factors, not just whether or not they've completed national teacher certification, but you actually see the benefits through student performance," Bacon said.

Republican Harry McDonald said he had a much different view. The former science teacher has been at every state school board meeting since January to prepare his campaign.

"The science standards are the tip of the iceberg," he said. "It's the symptomatic approach the board is taking -- the pursuit of personal agenda with the exclusion of paying attention to data and expert testimony."

McDonald taught in the Blue Valley school district for 30 years before retiring. He currently works with Greenbush, a long-distance education organization. In 1999 when the Kansas State School Board first proposed limiting the teaching of evolution on the science standards, McDonald helped form Kansas Citizens for Science.

"I've been active in the science issue, but I'm not a one-issue candidate," he said. "During my 32 years in teaching, I came to the realization that my ability to deliver a quality product in the classroom depended tremendously on other factors outside the school."

McDonald said he believed local school districts and not the state board should have control over how sex education was taught in schools. That way, he said, parents can approach their local board members to change policies as they wish.

"The traditional role of the state board of education is making sure that the Department of Education is functioning in a supportive way of local school districts, and that's what they're getting away from," he said. "The state board shouldn't require them to change their local policy. That's none of the state board's business."

David Oliphant said he agreed with McDonald on many issues. He spent 15 years in the restaurant business before going back to college to become an architect at Wilson Johnson Embers. He currently has children in school and one infant grandchild.

"The school board really is set up for politicians," he said. "I don't believe there are regular citizens on the board right now, so that's why I decided to run."

Oliphant said voters should pay careful attention to the State Board of Education candidates, since this year the races are all being hotly contested. Each school board seat up for election has at least two candidates in the running.

"I think people are really concerned about the science standards," he said. "It's going to be an interesting race. It's much higher profile, especially if you have children in school."

Oliphant said one issue that concerned him was the book bans suggested at Blue Valley. Bacon made a public comment that parents should be allowed to ban books in that district.

"My position is that really needs to be decided at the local level," Oliphant said. "The state school board should not be in the business of banning books."

Weiss, currently the only Democrat, would run against the winner of the primary election in November.

"I think the board right now is very dysfunctional," Weiss said. "We need to get back to dealing with important issues, like how do we hire a sufficient number of math and science teachers, how do we keep Kansas schools amongst the highest in the nation?"

Weiss said he also disagreed with many of Bacon's views.

"I don't believe his (Bacon's) views accurately reflect the majority of Kansans," he said.

Weiss said one of his biggest issues was the hiring of Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins, who had no experience working for a school district.

"The commissioner should be able to run the Department of Education in flowing with the overall philosophy of the state board of education," he said. "He is currently doing that, but I think the state board of education is definitely headed in the wrong direction and the current education commissioner reflects that."

Weiss cited the scholarship and voucher programs as examples.

"I'm opposed to any programs that are designed to drain money out of the public school system into private school systems that do not meet the same standards as public schools."

For more information on the candidates, visit electharrymcdonald.org for Harry McDonald or donweiss.org or Don Weiss.

For Board Member John Bacon's site on the Kansas Department of Education's Web site, visit www.ksde.org/commiss/ksbe3.

Candidate John Oliphant does not yet have a Web site.

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