District 3 race opens second front in fight for control of state board
De Soto voters will have another decision to make regarding education Nov. 7 on the Kansas State School Board.
Republican incumbent John Bacon is facing Democrat Don Weiss in the District No. 3 race, which represents Olathe, De Soto and parts of Linn, Miami, Franklin and Anderson counties. Bacon, known for his conservative stance on issues, easily defeated two other moderate Republican opponents in the primary elections. Candidate Harry McDonald threw his support across party lines to Weiss.
The Kansas State School Board received national attention for changing the state science standards to be critical of evolution. Moderate candidates have also criticized the board's decision to hire an education commissioner with no teaching experience and changing the sexual education policy to "opt-in" rather than "opt-out."
Bacon, who supported the above measures, said his decisions were made with Kansas schools in mind.
"There are issues that we have taken up in the last year-and-a-half that have been controversial to some," he said. "We took a little bit of a different approach than had been. In my view, we weren't reckless with those issues. We listened to experts and made the best decision we could in keeping kids' interests a top priority."
Bacon said the science standards, for example, require curriculum to be critical of the Origin of Life theories. They do not teach intelligent design or creationism.
Both Bacon and Weiss say they're "cautiously optimistic" for a win in next week's elections.
"I think the key is going to be voter turnout," Weiss said. "Most of the people I talked to have been very supporting. I think that people in Kansas are ready for a change. They're ready for someone to truly represent their district."
Weiss racked up several endorsements, including Kansas Alliance for Education, the MAINstream Coalition, Kansas Families United for Public Education and many others. Weiss said he was concerned with the reputation of Kansas education after the current state board's decisions.
"The thing I believe has caused so much damage has been the hiring of Bob Corkins," he said. "We need to find somebody that actually has educational experience and experience running a large organization -- someone who truly supports education."
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is also facing an election, said last month that she planned to push for a constitutional amendment in the state Legislature to strip the state board of its powers.
Bacon and Weiss both disagreed with any motion to take away the state board's power.
"The truth is that if you've got a governor who thinks they can do a better job than the electorate of Kansas, that's kind of a degrading thing to say," Bacon said.
Weiss urged voters not to give up on the state board. He said if Bacon were re-elected to the Kansas State Board of Education, he would no longer be part of a conservative majority. Two conservative Republicans lost their seat in the primary elections last August, which will give the moderate candidates a majority.
Weiss said he cared about addressing the statewide teacher shortage and the "No Child Left Behind Law."
"I believe very much that the state board has to be a strong advocate to the U.S. Congress to make changes to NCLB, so that when schools are on improvement, we actually support them in making the needed changes, rather than punish them," Weiss said.
He also said that if elected, he and other moderate board members would consider changing the state science standards back.
Bacon said any board member initiated debate on the state science standards would be an inappropriate function of the board, since there are many other functions required.
"They will take that issue outside of its normal review process and throw the board into a controversy that it doesn't need to be in," he said. "It's standard for a five-year review. If they choose to pick that controversial issue up, it's just not necessary."
Board member John Bacon may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Candidate Don Weiss may be reached via his Web site, www.donweiss.org.