Dennis gets State Board’s support; Wagle calls for investigative audit of KSDE

The State Board of Education on Friday rejected a request by legislative leaders to suspend Kansas’ lead official in school finance. Instead, the State Board voted to “fully support the continued employment” of Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis and his staff.

The 9-1 decision sparked applause from more than 100 education leaders from throughout Kansas who attended the emergency State Board hearing to show support for Dennis, a 50-year employee of the Kansas State Department of Education who has been the go-to state official on the issue of school funding for decades.

Earlier in the week, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita and House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, wrote a letter to State Board Chairman Jim Porter, calling for suspending with pay Dennis and any staff responsible for what they said was the misallocation of school transportation funding.

Wagle and Ryckman said the alleged misallocation could have potentially been more than $400 million over decades, citing a legislative audit that said Dennis had increased funding for population-dense districts without specific legal authorization.

Dennis said the allocation formula was made with the agreement of legislators, a state audit indicated there was evidence to support the extra funding to the high-density districts to transport students safely and legislation has been filed to codify the practice.

Here is a link to a Facebook Live discussion by KASB leaders on the issue. 

State Board Chairman Porter said education officials were aware of the funding practice, it was well understood and Dennis never tried to hide it. He said he had absolute confidence “that things were done in an appropriate manner.” Several other board members expressed similar sentiments.

The accusations by Wagle and Ryckman galvanized support among education officials across the state who praised Dennis as a tireless advocate for Kansas students and schools with many posting on Twitter using the hashtag #IsupportDale.

KASB, along with other major school organizations, issued a statement earlier in the week in support of Dennis. Four former governors — Republicans Mike Hayden and Bill Graves and Democrats John Carlin and Kathleen Sebelius — also weighed in supporting Dennis.

In the State Board’s 9-1 vote to continue Dennis’ employment, the lone dissenter was John Bacon, a Republican from Olathe. During the discussion on the motion, Bacon did not say why he voted no.

After the vote, Wagle said she would continue to call for an investigative audit of KSDE, describing the method of transportation funding as “misappropriation of millions in unapproved funds.”

Wagle said, “You can stand with bureaucrats who’ve spent millions of unauthorized dollars or you can stand with the taxpayers. I will always stand with the Kansas taxpayers.”

State Board member Janet Waugh said with all the great things going on in Kansas schools it was “sad” that the board had to spend time responding to the attack from Wagle and Ryckman.

The State Board also voted 10-0 to have Education Commissioner Randy Watson propose by March processes to ensure transparency and accuracy at KSDE.

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