SBR: Candidates square off in contested State Board races

By Scott Rothschild

Most voters who live in the eastern half of Kansas will select candidates for State Board of Education during the Nov. 6 election.

And while the State Board has in the not-so-distant-past been the focal point of controversy over science standards and other issues, the board in recent years has coalesced around the Kansans Can mission of focusing on the success of all students.

Given this period of stability, the 10-member board will receive at least three new members after the election.

Every two years, half of the State Board seats are on the ballot with this year being the odd-numbered districts.

Of those five odd-numbered districts, three have contested elections this fall. Those contested races are in Districts 1, 3 and 7.

In District 5, which covers nearly the entire western half of Kansas, Sally Cauble, R-Dodge City, did not seek re-election and will be replaced by Jean Clifford, R-Garden City, who did not draw any opposition. In District 9, which covers southeast Kansas, State Board Chairman Jim Potter, R-Fredonia, drew no opposition and will return for a second four-year term.

Of the contested races, District 1 features incumbent Janet Waugh, a Democrat from Kansas City, facing Michael Powell, a Republican from Leavenworth.

Waugh has served on the State Board since 1999 including two stints as chair. She is a former member of the Turner USD 202 Board of Education for 15 years, including eight as president and has held state and regional offices for the PTA and KASB. She is retired from a family-owned used car business.

Powell is a training analyst/curriculum developer, contracting with the U.S. Army. A retired Army colonel, he has previously served as a classroom instructor and adjunct teacher for faculty development at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. District 1 Includes all or parts of the following counties: Leavenworth, Douglas, Johnson and Wyandotte,

The District 3 ballot includes Michelle Dombrosky, a Republican from Olathe, and Ruth Goff, a Democrat from Spring Hill. Dombrosky works in customer service at Prairie Life Fitness Center. Goff has 30 years experience teaching in Shawnee Mission USD 512.

District 3 covers parts of Johnson and Miami counties and has been represented since 1999 by John Bacon, who did not seek re-election.

The remaining contested election for State Board is in District 7. Republican Ben Jones, of Sterling, and Democrat James Hannon, of Emporia, are seeking to win the seat being vacated by Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, who did not seek re-election after serving for 15 years.

Jones is self-employed and serves as music director for several community theaters, vice president of the Rice County History Society and has been an assistant debate and forensics coach at Sterling High School for 10 years. Hannon taught students at Emporia High School for 39 years; primarily social studies and served as the department chair for 20 years.

The district includes all of part of the following counties: Chase, Dickinson, Ellsworth, Geary, Harvey, Kingman, Lyon, McPherson, Marion, Morris, Pottawatomie, Reno, Rice, Sedgwick and Wabaunsee.


Michael Powell (R)

If elected to the State Board, what is your top goal?

To close the student success gap for at-risk (poverty) students and work to develop a school system that is informed by current and emerging technologies and research that more effectively prepares all students for future challenges to achieving post-secondary success. This will be hard work and it will require the State Board members to work more closely and complementary with local school boards and administrations than ever before if we are to make a difference. I am prepared to work however long and hard as is necessary to make this a reality.

What is your opinion about the State Board’s Kansans Can effort?

I fully support the vision and the processes reflected in the Kansans Can effort. I think it is long overdue and welcome. While I have a number of concerns that I will discuss later, I believe we are at a seminal moment in Kansas history that may not come again in our lifetime. We are at an intersection of culture and technology that is placing demands on our children that our current system was never designed to address. But we have a fleeting opportunity where both resources and research can enable us to fundamentally reimagine and redesign opportunities for our kids. We would be morally negligent if we didn’t address the emerging challenges to educating our kids for success. Having managed a number of programs that required organizations to embrace change, I recognize the difficulties involved. The most significant being to get the right people engineering the change and then the right people to accept the change. Kansans Can is on a path towards powerful change.

What should the State Board do on the issue of school funding?

The State Board should fulfill its statutory responsibilities and take action as necessary related to funding in order to fulfill the constitutional responsibility for supervision of public schools, educational institutions and as it affects the educational interests of the state.

Janet Waugh (D)

If elected to the State Board of Education, what is your top goal?

I want to ensure that the Kansans Can vision is seen in every school district. We started a new vision three years ago and set forth a ten-year plan to get it accomplished. I want to continue to work to see that all Kansas school districts have the opportunity to continue to help all students become successful.

What is your opinion about the State Board’s Kansans Can effort?

This is my highest priority and it is for the entire Board. I am proud of the work we have done to give school districts a guided path and freedom to use their creativity and skills to provide a world class education for each student. Our redesign efforts are exciting! We now have 47 school districts who have volunteered (in two years) to completely redesign their school system to meet the needs of students and families. I am excited to see this work in action.

What should the State Board do on the issue of school funding?

The issue of school funding is a constitutional issue for the Legislature. Our role on the State Board of Education is to recommend a budget to the Governor and Legislature every two years. We have done that and just completed a budget recommendation this past summer. I support the efforts of the Legislature to provide a school funding plan over the next five years and am confident that they will respond to the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision this summer to add an inflationary amount to their totals.


Michelle Dombrosky (R)

If elected to the State Board of Education, what is your top goal?

The Kansas Board of Education is primarily chartered to license teachers and accredit schools. My primary objective would be to make sure the criteria established for licensing and accreditation are meaningful in the sense that they promote an increasing academic productivity in the classroom for student and teacher.

What is your opinion about the State Board’s Kansans Can effort?

I commend the effort and hope that I might be able to contribute to an effective program that actually tracks the success of each student after graduation. I am excited about the potential when everyone involved in the educational process is measured and focused on how effective we are preparing students to be successful in life.

What should the State Board do on the issue of school funding?

I believe the role of the board is to make sure that public funding of the schools is accountable and productive for students, teachers and taxpayers. The amount of the funding is constitutionally up to the legislature to decide how much. During the last decade, precedence has allowed the courts to decide if it is enough.

Ruth Goff (D)

If elected to the State Board, what is your top goal?

Our students in Kansas continue to lead the nation in achievement. While there’s always room for improvement, and addressing current issues that challenge students, slashing standards and gutting minimum teacher qualifications is not the way to increase students’ academic attainment. I will never support de-licensing the profession of teaching, or cutting standards in an academic race to the bottom. Kansans have always supported high quality public schools, and so do I! As a State Board member a top goal would be developing relationships with other State Board members and the communities and school boards in the eleven school districts represented in District 3. Relationship building leads to being able to have important conversations.

What is your opinion about the State Board’s Kansans Can effort?

The State Board’s Kansans Can effort is an example of opportunities to “Redesign” Kansas schools. The needs of our communities, our changing cultures and the reorganizing of our schools are emphasized in this “Redesign.” As an educator, I am supportive of efforts to allow for changes, reflection and improvement in meeting our students needs. I am supportive of the Kansans Can Vision and look forward to following its journey. Public education in Kansas is under threat, and I oppose efforts to hollow out critical learning and hire unqualified teachers just to save a little money in the short term. Our children will never get a chance to make up for missed lessons once they enter the next grade. Our schools in Kansas are some of the best in the world, and I want to keep them that way! I plan on advocating each day for what’s best for our kids, the same way I always have as a teacher.

What should the State Board do on the issue of school funding?

The State Board should continue to recommend to the Legislature that adequate funding of our Kansas Schools is a priority. As an educator I witnessed budget cuts to my program, increased class size, loss of paraeducators and custodial staff. This affects our Kansas Kids! I am committed to make sure our Kansas Schools receive the resources necessary to maintain the great public schools in Kansas.


James Hannon (R)

If elected to the State Board, what is your top goal?

If elected to the State Board my primary goal would be to defend our system of universal public education against the growing encroachment of privatization and demands for tax dollars from private schools.

What is your opinion about the State Board of Education’s Kansans Can effort?

Kansans Can is an incredibly bold vision that reflects the commitment of the State Board of Education to a future-based education. It is founded on a rapidly growing body of evidence that today’s students need to develop skills and dispositions necessary for successful, sustained employment in the future. In general, I support the vision with its very lofty desired outcomes. I do have some reservations about the practicality and cost of its suggested delivery. I will question the potential increased demands on staff and likely on the increase in staff itself. I am not a proponent of alternatively licensed teachers and I fear that increased demands of this program on teachers will lead us to seek even more alternatively licensed teachers. I cannot support that. I question whether it is realistic to expect that even most parents will become active participants in IPS conferences twice a year. History suggests they will not. I truly believe that the teaching of the skills and dispositions required for successful sustained employment can be accomplished within the existing delivery system. These can and should be embedded in virtually all courses. I will keep an open mind, but with the potential costs and increased demands on staff, I can’t help but consider the possibility of alternative delivery to accrue essentially the same positive results.

What should the State Board do on the issue of school funding?

The State Board should ensure that funding for state mandated programs are justified by the desired outcomes of the programs. Second, the State Board should keep Kansans adequately informed of educational goals, progress toward goal achievement and justification for needed programs. The Board should be responsive to the needs of local school districts and support the fulfillment of those needs. The State Board of Education has no real legislative authority to determine the amount of state funding but it can and should use its influence to ensure adequate funding for education.

Ben Jones (D)

If elected to the State Board, what is your top goal?

My top goal is to ensure that we lift some of the regulatory burdens placed upon our CTE Pathways that will eliminate the ability of our schools to offer opportunities to our Kansas kids.

What is your opinion about the State Board’s Kansans Can effort?

I support the Kansans Can effort. It emphasizes the need to look at our kids holistically rather than just a test score. It allows us to make sure we are readying our kiddos for kindergarten. It is important we look at the effectiveness and see that our kids are prepared for what comes post-high school.

What should the State Board do on the issue of school funding?

School funding is a legislative issue. However, the Taylor study found that we average 96 percent efficiency which is very good. We should strive to spend our tax dollars as wisely as we can and make sure we don’t allow waste to creep into our spending.

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