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Originally published Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 6:55 PM

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Washington voters elect new schools chief

Washington voters have chosen a new superintendent of public instruction. Randy Dorn has defeated three-term incumbent Terry Bergeson in a tight race that some called a referendum on the state's high stakes graduation test.

Associated Press Writer

SEATTLE —

Washington voters have chosen a new superintendent of public instruction. Randy Dorn has defeated three-term incumbent Terry Bergeson in a tight race that some called a referendum on the state's high stakes graduation test.

Dorn, a former legislator, teacher and principal who is executive director of the Public School Employees of Washington, said Thursday he is ecstatic and ready to move forward.

"I think it (the election) was decided on people talking to people about what's best for kids and that's what really turned the tide," Dorn said.

During the campaign, he promised to replace the Washington Assessment of Student Learning with another achievement test, and fire the education department's upper management if he were elected.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who won re-election this week, has stood by the WASL and has fought previous attempts to get rid of the statewide graduation test.

The state Legislature holds the fate of the WASL in its hands; Dorn would not be able to replace the test without legislative approval and the governor's signature.

Dorn said his first job will be putting together a transition team and making plans to do some reorganization at the education department in Olympia.

The most pressing issue for the new superintendent will be school finance reform. The state will be defending itself in court next March if the Legislature doesn't approve a new plan for paying for education.

A committee of lawmakers, government officials and other citizens spent this past spring and summer studying the issue and hearing various proposals. Committee members plan to start paring down their choices next Monday.

While serving in the Legislature, Dorn was a sponsor of the state's major school reform act that started Washington on its path toward higher standards and high stakes testing in 1993. House Bill 1209 did not provide any new cash to pay for the work aimed at reaching higher standards.

He said during the campaign that one of the reasons he was running was to address that unfunded mandate.

Dorn said he had a great conversation with Bergeson about how they can move education forward and she offered him space at the superintendent of public instruction headquarters to do his transition work.

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"Terry's going to be very supportive," he said.

Bergeson said she decided to concede Thursday afternoon after seeing the latest vote count from King County. She called Dorn to congratulate him.

As of Thursday afternoon, with some votes still to be counted, Dorn was leading Bergeson 51 percent to 49 percent in the statewide vote.

"This has been the biggest joy of my life to be in this job," Bergeson said. "I've been honored to serve the children. There's nothing more important than this work."

Bergeson said she would do whatever she can to help Dorn.

"I want to help him have the best transition possible. There's a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure there can be a smooth handoff," she said.

Bergeson, 66, does not plan to retire after finishing her work as Washington schools chief. She said she was inspired by Tuesday's national election and expects President-elect Barack Obama to accomplish a lot to help children across the nation.

"Somehow I'm going to find a way to keep helping kids," she said.

Mary Lindquist, president of the state teachers union, called Dorn's victory a referendum on the WASL and an expression of concern about a lack of leadership from the state school chief's office.

"I think we all share the understanding that we need to have high standards for our kids," Lindquist said, but added there has been too much emphasis on high stakes testing.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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