On teaching of evolution, at least, local state school board candidates can agree

Cindy Neighbor and Steve Roberts at the candidate forum.

Although the battle between evolution and creationism have caused a stir at the Kansas State Board of Education in recent years, the candidates vying to represent northeast Johnson County on the board don’t appear interested in causing further tumult.

Both candidates for the state board of education seat in district 2, Cindy Neighbor and Steve Roberts, said at a forum Monday that they back teaching evolution in the science curriculum in Kansas schools.

“Evolution should remain as part of the curriculum,” Neighbor said.

Roberts told the audience that “evolution makes sense. Intelligent design is not science. If a local school wanted to teach creationism or intelligent design, I would be against it.”

Roberts is a Republican who ran for the same seat four years ago as an Independent and Neighbor is a Democrat who has spent time in the state legislature as both a Republican and a Democrat.

On adequate school funding, Neighbor said state support is too low. For Roberts it depends on where you are.

“Where I live schools are not underfunded.” But, he said, it is harder to teach in a “hardscrabble” school and many are underfunded.

Roberts said schools “should not pay teachers just on seniority,” and said teachers should be evaluated and students should have a say the evaluation. He often referred to his goal of helping less affluent schools and students and suggested poor neighborhoods are hurt by requirements for teaching licensure.

“The more training we give a teacher, the better they are going to be,” is the conventional wisdom, Roberts said, but that is not necessarily correct.

Neighbor countered that the goal is to have the very best teachers and pointed to programs that already allow experts to move from the workforce to teaching. But, “the best and the brightest may not know how to teach, ” she said, that is why they are required to get education credits at the same time. Students are different, she said, and “we want teachers with the ability to teach a wide variety” of students.

Roberts is a math teacher who is trained as an engineer and has taught in a number of schools and institutions. Neighbor worked for Shawnee Mission schools in support roles for a number of years, and served 16 years on the district’s school board and six years in the state legislature.

Both candidates oppose voucher programs that channel public money to private and parochial schools and both referenced the limited role of the state board in school funding.

Roberts assertion that the free and reduced lunch program is 40 percent waste generated questions about his data source. Roberts said, “we should make food available to all kids,” but Neighbor suggested that would lead to funding cuts elsewhere.

The forum at the Antioch branch of the Johnson County Library was sponsored by Kansas Citizens for Science, Kansas Families for Education and the MainStream Coalition.