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State Schools Race Attracts Large Field

Choice may or may not be coming to Washington’s public schools, but choices abound for voters picking a new state schools chief.

Six of the candidates vying to replace outgoing State Schools Superintendent Judith Billings were in Spokane on Sunday, addressing a convention of school principals and administrators.

The candidates range from a Guatemalan-born college instructor to a cattle-raising developer. Each brings a different theme and approach to the campaign.

Ron Taber, who served as state youth director under then-Gov. Dan Evans, is now a West Side developer. He’s the only candidate who supports giving parents an education voucher to enroll their children in either public or private schools. Religious schools would not qualify.

Taber said vouchers would hold schools accountable to taxpayers through greater parental involvement. “If parents choose the schools, they are more likely to get involved,” he said.

Terry Bergeson, who narrowly lost to Billings four years ago, spoke of her passion for kids and public schools. “That’s why I’m running,” she said.

A former classroom teacher and union president, Bergeson thinks schools are being asked to do too much, losing their focus on fundamentals.

King County Councilman Chris Vance recounted his son’s chaotic first day at kindergarten in Kent, Wash., and said he’s running as a “typical suburban middle-class parent.”

Vance served as a state representative as a Republican from 1991-93, and helped draft various education-reform measures.

As an outsider, Vance sees “a growing cynicism and disconnectedness” between communities and schools that needs to be addressed.

Gloria Guzman Johannssen cited her academic and professional credentials, including a doctorate in education.

The Guatemalan native said she’s an American by choice, stressing her patriotism and advocacy on behalf of students with special needs.

Johannssen wants to make sure the office is run by public servants rather than bureaucrats. She proposes a statewide advisory panel of parents.

Raul de la Rosa heads the state’s instructional services division and has supervised migrant worker education efforts.

He supports competency testing and opposes the 60 percent “super-majority” required for passage of school levies, saying a simple majority should decide.

Dan Leahy, a teacher at Evergreen State College, served as director of the college’s Labor and Research Center.

Leahy said the next schools chief must mobilize support for public education and focus on the task of creating good citizens.

“Schools need to prepare students not just for a job but for Democratic decision-making,” he said.

At least two other candidates are seeking the schools chief post.

They are: Jed Brown, a Rolling Bay, Wash., education consultant; and Nancy Hidden-Dodson, a teacher and counselor in Hansville, Wash.

, DataTimes

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