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Candidates Vie for State Chief, Board Seats

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Voters in North Carolina, Montana, and Washington will pick new state school superintendents next week, while Indianans will decide whether to give the incumbent chief another four-year term.

In addition, candidates in 10 states and the District of Columbia are running for a total of 51 seats on state boards of education, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education.

The most noteworthy state-board election will occur in Texas, which is switching back to an elected board after a four-year period in which members were appointed by the governor. Only five current members are seeking election, thus guaranteeing at least 10 new members on the 15-seat panel.

Political Influence

Texas had a 27-member elected board until 1984, when lawmakers passed HB 72, the state's landmark school-reform measure. A section of the law replaced the panel with a 15-member appointed body for four years in an effort to shield the new reform program from political pressures.

Last year, Texans defeated a referendum that would have preserved the appointed board.

Nine of the appointees chose not to seek election. One incumbent was defeated in a primary, two are running unopposed, and three are waging battles to retain their posts.

Backers of the reform effort, including Lieut. Gov. Bill Hobby and the Dallas tycoon H. Ross Perot, have formed a political-action committee named Texans for Education Excellence and Schools, or texas, to support eight candidates in the race. The group has raised $5,000 for each of the campaigns and has hired a political consultant to help engineer the races, said June Carp, a texas official.

"Mr. Hobby's concern was that the quality [of board members] remain high," she said, adding that "we want to make people aware of the gigantic role the state board now plays."

Public Awareness

Ms. Carp and others noted that raising Texans' awareness about the board election was important because the candidates' names will appear near the middle of the lengthy state ballot. Education advocates say they fear that because this is also a Presidential-election year, many voters will not pay close attention to the board races and instead will simply vote for a straight party-line ticket.

"The school-board race depends on how Texas goes in the Presidential election," said Ermalee Boice, assistant executive director of the Texas State Teachers Association.

Ms. Boice said it was difficult to predict how education policy would shift under the new board, given the guaranteed change in its composition. Returning members, said board member Geraldine Miller, who is unopposed, will have to take a more active leadership role "so we make sure we stay the course and try to keep the reforms in place, yet be reasonable and be willing to modify where we need to."

State Chiefs

Meanwhile, elections for state superintendent of education are being held in the following states:

Indiana. The Republican incumbent, H. Dean Evans, is being opposed by Mary Petterson, a science teacher at Morton High School in Hammond and a four-term Democratic veteran of the state House.

North Carolina. A. Craig Phillips, who has served as state school chief for 20 years, is retiring. The post is being sought by State Representative Bob Etheridge, a Democrat, and Tom Rogers, a Republican who teaches at a state correctional school.

Montana. The current chief, Ed Argenbright, has decided to retire after holding the post for eight years. The Republican candidate is Barbara Foster, a retired teacher from Townsend. Her Democratic opponent is Nancy Keenan, a special-education teacher from Anaconda.

Washington. The incumbent superintendent, Frank Brouillet, has stepped down to run for the state House. The nonpartisan position is being sought by Dennis Heck, who served four terms in the legislature, and Judith Billings, who has served as an aide to Mr. Brouillet for nine years.--nm & tm

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