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Silber's Gubernatorial Primary Win Stuns Mass. Educators

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Stunned by the upset victories in last week's gubernatorial primaries in Massachusetts, members of the education community say they cannot predict how education would fare under the administration of either candidate.

Proving the pollsters wrong, John R. Silber, the maverick Democrat who is on leave as president of Boston University, and William F. Weld, a Republican and former federal prosecutor, soundly defeated the front-runners in their respective party primaries.

The two will vie in November for the seat being vacated by Michael S. Dukakis, whose popularity over the past couple years has plummeted along with the state's economy.

Although Mr. Weld came from behind to clinch the gop spot on the ballot, it was Mr. Silber who erased a 20-point deficit in the polls to trounce his opponent.

"If I were a pollster, I wouldn't operate in Massachusetts anymore," quipped Paul H. Gordon, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. "The polls for the most part were totally wrong."

Also muddying the education picture in the state was the primary loss of Nick Paleologos. Chairman of the House Education Committee, Mr. Paleologos had given up his seat in the legislature to run for lieutenant governor.

'Problematic' Candidates?

Leaders of education groups indicated in interviews last week that the education establishment was unlikely to embrace either Mr. Silber or Mr. Weld.

"I think they are both really problematic," said Paula Georges, executive director of the Citywide Educational Coalition in Boston.

Added Ed Doherty, president of the Boston Teachers Union, "I don't know whether the education groups will endorse either of these candidates for governor."

In all likelihood, Mr. Doherty said, his union's energies will be devoted instead to working to defeat Question 3, a citizens' initiative to roll back taxes. Critics of the initiative claim its passage would be disastrous for education, which has already endured deep financial cuts in each of the past two years.

During primary season, Mr. Weld expressed his support for the tax-cutting initiative.

Expressing opposition to Question 3, Mr. Silber said he could reduce government spending without the ballot measure.

"We're more concerned at this point with what either one would do if it passed," Mr. Gordon said.

'A Mixed Package'

At first blush, it would seem that Mr. Silber would be a strong advocate for education. Under his administration, Boston University took over the beleaguered Chelsea school district, instituting an array of reforms.

But education and union leaders say his positions are somewhat difficult to gauge.

"I think John Silber is a mixed package," said Stephen K. Wollmer, director of communications for the Massachusetts Teachers Association. "Some of the things he said are very interesting, very exciting. Some are not."

Mr. Silber, for instance, favors more money for early-childhood-education programs. But, Ms. Georges said, his position includes calls for making language-minority children fluent in English before they reach elementary school, thereby obliterating their culture and the need for bilingual education.

"It's elitist where John Silber is coming from," she said.

He has also indicated support for raising tuition for higher education, Mr. Wollmer said, noting that state spending on colleges and universities has been cut $120 million during the past three years.

"We're in a situation now where a lot of kids can't afford to go," he added. Mr. Silber's position "does not bode well for the future of the public sector."

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