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Randy Dorn listens to a question from the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday in Olympia. (Associated Press)
Randy Dorn listens to a question from the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday in Olympia. (Associated Press)

Gregoire seeks to eliminate public instruction superintendent

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire made the pitch to unify Washington’s school systems from preschool to graduate degrees under her office, even if it means getting rid of the state’s elected schools chief.

“This is not about one governor. … This is about having one system,” Gregoire said in support of a bill that would allow her to appoint a cabinet-level secretary of education and create a department that encompasses all learning prorgrams in state schools and colleges.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn made the pitch to keep an elected education leader. “We need to do more. But I won’t sit here and say the system is broke.”

The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee is considering several bills that would make major changes in school systems, including Gregoire’s plan to consolidate all education under a gubernatorial appointee, and a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the office of SPI.

Some members of the Senate panel seemed critical of Gregoire’s plan, wondering if it would create another big agency like the Department of Social and Health Services. Not so, the governor said: DSHS has about 18,000 people and the education department she’s proposing would have about 700.

Other members were critical of the current system. People complain the SPI’s office “is like a dinosaur that can’t be moved,” Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines said, while the dropout rates get worse and the achievement gap broadens.

Things need to be fixed, Dorn conceded, but the Legislature needs to accept some of the responsibility for the current problems. “We are cutting education,” he said.

But it’s not solely about money, Chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, countered. The state has spent more on various programs over the years, but “there are many pieces that are still broken.”

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