(TNS) — Lynn Rogers' journey to political prominence started at Riverside Elementary School.

More than 20 years ago, when Rogers' children attended the three-story brick school in their central Wichita neighborhood, some parents talked about organizing an auction to raise money for the school.

"I said, 'I could do that,'" Rogers recalls.

The annual event, which continues today, raised enough to fund new playground equipment. Rogers later joined a committee that helped plan and push for a $285 million bond issue in 2000, which air-conditioned and improved Wichita schools.

A year later he ran for Wichita school board and won, and he kept the seat for more than 16 years, including while he served in the Kansas Senate.

As Rogers, 60, prepares for a new role as lieutenant governor, he says his experience as a parent, volunteer and school board member — as well as his 30-year career in agricultural finance — will guide him as he tries to steer a new course for Kansas.

"We have a lot of work to do to kind of rebuild the state and the capacity to govern," Rogers said. "Two of the major reasons (Gov.-elect) Laura Kelly asked me to serve were my experience on the school board and my background in ag business and finance."

Kelly, who beat out Republican Kris Kobach with promises of moderation and stability, said she put Rogers on her ticket because "he knows education issues through and through."

Most importantly, she said, he spent 30 years traveling the state as an agricultural banker for Farm Credit Leasing, learning about issues facing rural communities. She plans to create an office of rural prosperity, which Rogers will lead as lieutenant governor.

Rogers, who grew up on a hog farm in rural Nebraska, said he relishes the challenge.

"I've always thought we had a lot in common — urban and rural communities," he said. "Both places have poverty and language issues. ... Urban people should be concerned about what's going on in rural Kansas, because it affects a lot of jobs in Wichita."

The lieutenant governor of Kansas, similar to a vice president, is the second-ranking member of the state's executive branch and serves as acting governor if the governor is incapacitated or absent.

Gov. Jeff Colyer, a doctor, spent much of his two terms as Sam Brownback's lieutenant governor lobbying for and then designing KanCare, the state's privatized Medicaid program.

Rogers will ascend to his office with a deep background in local education, having served four terms on the board of the state's largest school district.

During his time on the Wichita board, Rogers strongly supported the district's legal battle with the state over school funding. He also pushed for a $370 million bond issue in 2008 that built new schools, storm shelters, classrooms and athletic facilities.

He was part of the board that appointed former superintendent John Allison and current superintendent Alicia Thompson. He voted to redraw boundaries and close schools, and he witnessed a decade of budget battles during which the district cut jobs, froze teacher pay, eliminated programs and shortened the school year.

"We've spent the last four or five years just trying to keep the doors open," Rogers said recently during a tour of Northwest High School in Wichita.

"This last year, schools have been able to dream again and start thinking about how do we really improve? How do we get students engaged?"

As a state lawmaker, Rogers raised questions about a Koch-funded private school that leased space on the Wichita State University campus, saying universities should be subject to the same requirements as school boards or city councils regarding the sale or lease of public property.

Rogers said he wants to "bring school districts and educators back to the table" in Topeka, and to keep education front-of-mind whenever the state considers budgets, programs, rules or regulations.

"The next step is really: How do we bring respect back to the teaching profession? How do we encourage more people to teach? How do we build our vocational and technical education (programs) and invest in early childhood?"

Growing up in Arlington, Neb., Rogers' grandfather and father served on their local school boards. His mother and grandmother were teachers, and so was his wife, Kris. His middle child, Kelsey, teaches science in Lee's Summit, Mo.

"I'm a true product of public education, and ... I see schools as an economic driver, not a drain," he said.

"And that's how I see my role: How do we help build the state? How do we grow the state? How do we make Kansas the best it can be? ... I want to make sure that we continue to do the maximum for education, not the minimum."

 

Jonathan Shorman of The Eagle contributed to this story.