TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Gov. Sam Brownback appointed a school administrator Wednesday to the last open spot on a new commission charged with improving efficiency within the Kansas public school system but seen by the state’s largest teachers union as having an anti-public education agenda.
Brownback named Meg Wilson, the principal of Hoisington High School, to the nine-member K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission. He previously appointed two superintendents, Bev Mortimer, of Concordia, and Jim Hinson, of the Shawnee Mission district in Johnson County.
The group also will include two former state senators, a Wichita high school principal and the former chairman of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said it was important to the governor to have commission members with classroom and administrative experience.
“The makeup of the commission reflects the diverse communities found in Kansas,” she said.
Legislators created the commission this year, tying it to a proposal increasing aid to poor school districts by $129 million for the coming school year to meet a Kansas Supreme Court mandate in an education funding lawsuit filed in 2010.
Two appointments by Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, a conservative Stillwell Republican, have drawn the most comment. Merrick named former Speaker Mike O’Neal, now the Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s CEO, and Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank.
Both O’Neal and Trabert are strong supporters of personal income tax cuts championed by Brownback as a way to stimulate the economy and they have been skeptical of educators’ calls for big increases in aid to public schools. Trabert’s institute also has backed school-choice initiatives.
The 23,000-member Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, has accused the two of having a bias against public schools.
“It makes it very clear what the agenda is,” KNEA spokesman Marcus Baltzell said.
Trabert said his group is not anti-education and that he doesn’t expect the new commission to examine school-choice proposals because that’s not part of its charge. Instead, he said he hopes the commission will draft strong proposals for saving money, so that more money can get into classrooms.
“How do we get the same or better outcomes at a better price for taxpayers?” Trabert said. “What is in the best interest of the student? That has to be the guide point for all of these discussions.”
Brownback’s appointment of Wilson also is notable because she’s running for the State Board of Education, challenging incumbent Sally Cauble, of Liberal, in the Aug. 5 Republican primary.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican, appointed Ken Thiessen, Wichita East High School’s principal, and Sam Williams, a retired partner in an advertising and public relations firm and former Wichita chamber chairman.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, appointed former Sen. Janis Lee, a Kensington Democrat. House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, appointed former Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican. Educators viewed both Lee and Vratil as strong public-school advocates.
“It’s a pretty balanced group,” said Mark Tallman, a Kansas Association of School Boards lobbyist.
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