The race for the 9th District seat on the Kansas Board of Education in 2010 could be less about what students are being taught and more about how classes and teachers will be paid for.

The race for the 9th District seat on the Kansas Board of Education in 2010 could be less about what students are being taught and more about how classes and teachers will be paid for.

Candidates challenging for seats on the November ballot say the issue is how districts spend their money and the role the 10-member state board plays in directing resources. Jana Shaver, the district’s Republican incumbent from Independence, and her opponent, Pittsburg Democrat Robert Medford, faced off Monday night at a candidate forum in Pittsburg State University’s Yates Hall to hash out their views for an audience of area teachers and students.

The candidates, both former teachers, agreed on several issues. Neither supported altering the state’s current science standards, and said the role of the state board is to adopt standards that are set by credible professionals. Both also were critical of the federal No Child Left Behind program.

The debate became contentious, though, over the issues of local control and the state board’s role in governing individual school districts and how they spend their money. Shaver contends that districts are being asked to do more with less after funding was cut by the Legislature, and that districts are capable of

But Medford disagrees, and described the board as being in a state of “benign neglect.” He said the board is not paying enough attention to how the state’s 293 districts are spending taxpayer dollars. Medford thinks setting curriculum standards is important, but also thinks the board should give itself the same authority to guide local districts.

That’s also a way the state can save some money. Citing statistics from the Kansas State Department of Education, Medford said the state’s districts are sitting on nearly $500 million in funds that they transfer at the end of each fiscal year into capital outlay funds. He said it is not realistic for districts to continue to ask for more finances when they’re more flush than they admit.

“They’re sitting on all this money, but they keep coming back to the state every asking for more,” Medford said, adding that if the board can impose its will on education standards, it should be able to have the same authority over district finances. “That money’s just sitting in banks.”

Shaver said that money is being saved by districts because they have to be frugal in the face of funding reductions that have come as districts face increasing demands for student achievement. She doesn’t think it’s the board’s place to tell districts where to spend their money, but that funding should be distributed evenly.

“That money is saved by districts to stay flush for a rainy day,” Shaver said, adding that it is used to pay teachers when state money is not delivered on time. “The state Constitution says (local districts) should handle their finances.”

Medford said he does not advocate a board that micro-manages every district in the state and dictates how they spend their money. He does, however, think the board has “abdicated its responsibility” and should give itself a greater role “guiding” districts.

“It’s too easy for the board to say ‘we only have these areas to discuss,” he said.

On the testing front, Shaver said she advocates a “growth model” for testing, in which students are tested at the beginning of each year and measured by how far they advance their knowledge by the end of the spring semester. No Child Left Behind, both candidates contend, is unfair and ineffective because a single subgroup of students can place an entire school on “improvement.”

“It’s a much more realistic version,” Shaver said. “We can’t do away with assessments, but we can find out where we are in reading and math, then compare that with the next year. Any teacher will say ‘yes, that’s what we need.’”

Medford agreed, saying NCLB is politically motivated and “puts the burden on the victims.

“We have no need for those kind of programs,” Medford.

Five seats are currently open on this ballot, with three Republican incumbents unopposed. Getting through are John Bacon of Olathe in the 3rd District, Sally Cauble of Liberal in the 5th District and Ken Willard of Hutchinson in the 7th District.

Democrat Janet Waugh, chairwoman of the board from Kansas City in the 1st District, is the other current member facing opposition along with Shaver. Waugh faces Bonner Springs Republican Willie Dove, who has previously run for the Kansas House.

The remaining five board members will face re-election in 2012.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.