Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Michael Brown for Kansas Education Commissioner?

Ever since Kansas Education Commissioner Andy Tompkins resigned earlier this year, the Kansas State Board of Education has had trouble finding a qualified candidate to fill the position. We guess that's because of the board's meddling in affairs best handled by the professional staff -- well, that and their penchant for teaching pseudoscience to school children.

RSR hears that Michael "Brownie" Brown is available, now. He's not overburdened with experience -- something the board seems especially leery of -- and he seems to have the kind of political qualifications the board is looking for.

It's just something to consider while you read the latest:

An e-mail circulating among supporters of education in Kansas reports that “the consulting firm [the National Association of State Boards of Education , RSR] that was hired to find applicants has dropped out because of criticism by the conservative board members. The consulting firm "weighted" candidates based on certain skills, and the conservatives didn't like this method and developed its own ranking system for applicants. Moderate board members have said that the conservatives have undermined the quality of the process by altering the work of the consulting firm. So anyway, even though Dr. Little is not a candidate anymore, filling the Commissioner of Ed. position and the manner in which it is being handled continue to be issues and of concern to all of Kansas.”

Here’s the take on the situation according to an editorial in the Lawrence Journal-World on hiring a new commissioner of education:

It would seem that the most important qualification for the state's new commissioner of education would be experience in the field of education.

Apparently not, according to some members of the Kansas State Board of Education.

Six members of the board expressed displeasure Wednesday with the criteria established by the National Association of State Boards of Education, which the Kansas board hired to help them find a replacement for Andy Tompkins, who resigned as commissioner of education earlier this year. The consultants had evaluated the applicants according to certain skills. The problem? A group of board members said they believed too much weight had been given to candidates' experience in the field of education.

Although a minority of the board argued that education experience should be the top priority and the consultant's evaluation scale was sound, the six-member conservative majority of the board voted to change the criteria and presumably set the evaluation process back to square one.

Connie Morris, an outspoken conservative member of the board, complained, "Education expertise may have been given five times the weight of anything else." She added that too few points had been allocated for business, civic and political skills.

Some might say there is entirely too much politics on the state board already.

The board interviewed four candidates in June, but couldn't agree on a commissioner and decided to restart the hiring process. That wasn't a bad move if board members didn't believe they had found a satisfactory candidate. However, it's September now, and almost no progress appears to be made.

According to Board Chairman Steve Abrams, the board has "a bunch" of applicants for the job, but the work the consultant has done so far apparently was largely wasted because it didn't meet with the approval of a majority of the board. After a four-hour meeting in and out of closed session Wednesday, Abrams announced, "We're done, and there's no action." ... What, if any, progress can be made ... remains to be seen.

... Hiring a new commissioner of education is arguably the most important current piece of business facing the State Board of Education. It's disappointing to see the process mired in political bickering.


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