The Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) annual convention kicks off this weekend, but newly-elected school board candidates need permission from the current board to attend.  And that does not bode well for students and parents.

Billed as the largest gathering of elected school board members and district leaders in the state, the annual conference features breakout sessions that allow networking and learning opportunities for those who serve on school boards.

There’s a gatekeeper element this year potentially preventing those who won school board elections last night from attending.

School board members-elect can only attend the annual conference if their district is willing to sponsor and register them for the event. 

“The district will determine if the candidate will be sponsored and if so whether they will be asked to reimburse the district registration fees,” the KASB event website reads.

KASB says it represents current boards

Mark Tallman, executive director for KASB, said existing boards are its members.

“Newly elected board members are not yet in that position. However, they are certainly welcome to attend if approved by the current board,” Tallman said in an email.

Existing boards are preparing for an onslaught of new members. Several first-time candidates cruised to victory in last night’s election, spurred in part by parents upset about low student achievement, COVID-related school closures, mask mandates, and critical race theory in schools. Three of four conservative candidates won in Wichita. Newcomers and self-proclaimed conservatives swept seats in Olathe. Gardner-Edgerton and Lansing each have three new members and a conservative majority,  Two newly-elected board members in Blue Valley won. Derby (Sedgwick County) and Seaman (Shawnee County) elected two conservatives, and one new conservative won in Dodge City and Hutchinson.  There are likely others across Kansas.

One breakout session suggests KASB saw the writing on the wall. It was scheduled before election officials tallied a single ballot. Gary Sechrist and Sue Givens, KASB Leadership Field Specialists, will present a session at this weekend’s conference entitled, “Developing a New Board Team During Difficult Times.”

The session will include a discussion about dealing with board “outliers” and will provide conference attendees with ideas to coalesce their new teams.

KASB says new board members could create ‘chaos’

“Campaigns have focused on controversial issues and criticism of existing boards,” details for the session read. “In many cases, the changes in board membership will disrupt the balance of local governance.”

It warns that the disruption in “board culture could result in chaos at the highest level of school district operations — the board of education.”

Dave Trabert, CEO of Kansas Policy Institute, says the policy forces newly elected board members to request a permission slip from the existing bureaucracy. (KPI owns The Sentinel.)

“KASB doesn’t want student-focused influences at their conference,” he said.  

According to Tallman, the goal of the policy is to protect districts and candidates from potential financial liability related to the cost of attending.

“By asking candidates and not yet seated board members to work with their school district, we hope to foster better lines of communication among all parties,” Tallman said.

Trabert says that excuse is laughable and is an insult to newly-elected board members and the voters who elected them.

“KASB is funded by taxpayer dollars given to school districts.  Using taxpayer money to exclude duly-elected officials is an affront to society and shows their alleged commitment to diversity is political lip service. Diversity of thought is ‘chaos’ according to KASB and their member districts.”

Sessions feature gender bias, diversity, equity, inclusion

The KASB annual convention is set for Nov. 5 through Nov. 7 in Overland Park. Other breakout sessions include “Resetting the Mindset for SEL as a Board Member.” SEL stands for social-emotional learning. Another session explores the “Types and Importance of DEI Training.” DEI stands for Diversity, equity, and inclusion. And in another breakout, attendees will learn to recognize and address unconscious gender bias.

“Each of us, whether male or female, have unconscious bias resulting from culture, media, upbringing, and our need to find patterns that help us navigate an increasingly complicated world,” the brochure for the conference reads. “…This session will provide a startling overview of research on unconscious gender bias: what it looks like, how it occurs and what we can do to prevent unintended stereotyping from creating a negative influence on district culture or facing legal issues resulting from honest intention.”

Meanwhile, the new state assessment results show a continued decline in student achievement.  Almost half of all high school students are below grade level in math and about a third are below grade level in English language arts.  Only 20% are on track for college and career in math and just 27% in ELA.

It is probably not a coincidence that already-low student achievement went downhill as schools put more emphasis on critical race theory (aka, diversity), gender, and social-emotional learning.

Student achievement results for each district is available at KansasOpenGov.org.

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