Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers says he plans to keep his school board seat while serving in the Kansas Legislature.
Rogers was elected to the Kansas Senate last month. His seat on the school board, which he has held since 2001, expires in January 2018.
Rogers said he made his decision after talking with other state lawmakers who continued holding offices at local levels while serving in the Legislature.
He said the coming year could mean more cuts to school district budgets, and he did not want a newly appointed board member to have to face that.
“It’s not that I’m that important,” Rogers said. “It’s just that with putting a new person on the board – having to learn the job as well as jumping right into cuts and those kinds of things – that could be really tough.”
Following his election to the 25th District Senate seat, Rogers had said he was leaning toward relinquishing his school board seat, in part because “My wife probably would kill me if I tried to do both.”
Rogers said he plans to finish his term on the school board but not to run for re-election.
State law allows people elected to state office to continue serving on local boards, and it looks as if Rogers won’t be the only one doing so.
▪ Tim Hodge, a Newton school board member who defeated Rep. Marc Rhoades for a seat in the Kansas House, said he plans to continue serving on the Newton board until it completes its strategic planning process sometime next year.
“I’m waiting for our strategic planning to be done, just so the new person doesn’t have to come in in the middle of that,” Hodge said Tuesday. He said he plans to resign the school board seat before it expires in January 2020.
▪ Cindy Neighbor, a longtime member of the Shawnee Mission school board, has retained her board seat while previously serving in the Legislature. Last month, she was elected as the representative for Kansas House District 18.
▪ Debbie Deere, who was elected to the Kansas House in the 40th District, announced recently that she plans to remain on the Lansing Board of Education.
▪ In Wichita in the past, former school board member Jean Schodorf kept her school board seat while serving in the Kansas Senate in 2001.
Mark Tallman, spokesman for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said it’s “not uncommon” for school board members, administrators and others with ties to education to continue serving on local boards while serving in the Legislature.
“What it often comes down to is whether the travel allows it,” he said. “The individual has to decide if they can logistically make it work.
“Then I guess it’s really just up to the voters if they have any concerns about it, and that doesn’t seem to have been a problem in recent years.”
As a member of the Senate, Rogers likely will vote on state budgets that include funding for public schools.
Wichita is one of four districts that sued the state in 2010 after Kansas cut funding for schools while facing a budget shortfall. A ruling in that lawsuit is expected from the Kansas Supreme Court sometime before or during the next legislative session.
Tallman said any question of conflict “is really up to the individual to determine.” Because school board members are unpaid, Rogers would not stand to benefit financially from decisions on school funding, he added.
“I don’t think you could make any kind of argument that, ‘Well, I’m voting on school finance, and so that’s going to affect my salary,’ because there isn’t any salary,” Tallman said. “There’d be no personal gain involved.
“It is ultimately a question: Do the voters see a potential conflict?” he said. “It’s really hard to see how that would be any different than any other legislator, whether you’re a teacher or a city commissioner or anything else.”
Rogers said he doesn’t think serving as both a member of the Legislature and the school board will create a conflict of interest. He said he considered how his actions could affect both groups of constituents.
“If it’s beneficial for (USD) 259, it’s going to be beneficial for District 25. That was part of my decision,” Rogers said.
“We need legislators who have ties to a local community, whether that be a local elected official or a nonprofit board or a business,” he said. “We need more people that … understand when we pass a law in Topeka, how it actually affects the local constituency, whether that’s the school district or anything else.”
from the Wichita Eagle, December 13, 2016, Suzanne Perez Tobias