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Veteran Administrator Wins Chief's Race in Wisconsin

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After a heated campaign that focused on the issue of private school choice, John T. Benson, a veteran school administrator, was elected last week to be Wisconsin's state superintendent of public instruction.

Unofficial results showed Mr. Benson winning 53 percent of the vote against Linda Cross, a high school teacher who had campaigned on a platform that called for state aid to students to attend private schools.

Mr. Benson, a former assistant state superintendent who currently serves as the superintendent of the Marshall school district, will replace Herbert J. Grover, who is retiring after 12 years as state schools chief.

The contest drew national attention as a battleground over choice, with prominent conservatives endorsing Ms. Cross. Observers predicted that her election would have bolstered Gov. Tommy G. Thompson's education agenda, which includes expansion of the state's current tuition-voucher program for poor students in Milwaukee.

Mr. Benson, who favors choice only among public schools, also saw national implications in the result.

"As far as I'm concerned, that national political issue was not enhanced by this election,'' Mr. Benson told the Associated Press.

"They wanted to send a message that we were going to start using the public treasury to fund two systems, and that failed,'' he said after the vote.

State lawmakers and educators said they could not recall a more rancorous campaign for state superintendent. (See Education Week, March 31, 1993.)

Ms. Cross accused Mr. Benson of being in the pocket of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, while Mr. Benson portrayed Ms. Cross as a right-wing extemist who would uphold censorship in the schools. Both candidates denied the accusations.

The teachers' union, a powerful force in state electoral politics, aired a series of television commercials on behalf of Mr. Benson.

But the key to victory for Mr. Benson, according to political strategists, was the broader labor vote.

Ms. Cross crossed a picket line in Hortonville 19 years ago, generating the lasting enmity of labor leaders. She still teaches English at Hortonville High School.

Each year at its representative assembly, WEAC considers a proposal to sanction a union local for the district. Reflecting the continuing anger over the incident, delegates have defeated it annually.--K.D.

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