By BOB ANEZ AP Political Writer
HELENA - Four candidates with more than 100 years of combined experience in education are running for state superintendent of public instruction, and all say their backgrounds make them ideal for the job.
In the June 8 primary, the Republican battle is between John Fuller, a teacher at Flathead High School, and Bob Anderson, school superintendent and principal at Fort Benton schools. On the Democratic side, political unknown and retired teacher Clarence Kimm Sr. of Bozeman is challenging Linda McCulloch in her bid for a second term as Montana's top school official.
Anderson said he has broader credentials than Fuller as teacher, school superintendent, principal, legislator, executive director for the Montana School Boards Association and assistant state superintendent.
From being in the Legislature for two terms, he said he understands the relationship between Democrats and Republicans. His sponsorship of school funding measures puts him in a good position to help lawmakers deal with results of a lawsuit challenging the state's method of financing schools, Anderson said.
''Whatever decision comes out will be a legislative decision, and we need someone who understands that process and can work in harmony with that branch of government,'' he said.
Anderson, 61, said he envisions changes in Montana's education system to meet the evolving needs of students. Curricula in elementary and high schools should be upgraded, and additions such as all-day kindergarten are needed to give students an earlier start, he said.
''We're moving more toward a world-class educational system that will prepare students for tests they are going to have to meet way beyond our borders,'' he said. ''We have to be competitive with other nations.''
Fuller, 57, said he has three times the teaching experience of Anderson and his nearly four years on the state Board of Public Education has exposed him to important policy-making issues.
''He may call himself an administrator,'' he said of Anderson, ''but I call myself coach. Coaches motivate, administrate, dictate. I have faith in my leadership style.''
Still, Fuller reserves his real criticism for McCulloch and scolds her for running an office that he sees as a partisan Democratic stronghold. He said McCulloch should not have allowed her communications director, Joe Lamson, to serve on the commission that redrew legislative districts to the advantage of Democrats.
''It destroyed the credibility of the office,'' he said.
Fuller said he will repair that problem, improve relations between the agency and the governor's office and Legislature, do more for rural schools and promote greater use of state-owned lands as a member of the Land Board. He said the Democratic Party has resisted development of natural resources, although Fuller could cite no instances where McCulloch has done so on the board.
McCulloch said Lamson was free to get involved in redistricting on his own time and she had no authority to stop him. She said his work did not involve the Office of Public Instruction.
''It's odd that I have to defend a state employees' right to do things on his personal time, it doesn't matter whether its political or religious activities,'' she said.
McCulloch said her relations with Gov. Judy Martz and lawmakers is just fine and called Fuller's allegations regarding use of state lands ''ridiculous.'' She recalled that she and other Democrats supported a bill in 2003 that increased the timber harvest on state lands.
McCulloch, a former legislator and teacher, faces little real competition from Kimm, a political novice who has run a quiet campaign and done no fund-raising.
''I had one woman give me $10, but I didn't get her name and address so I had to give it to charity,'' Kimm said.
He believes his 12 years of teaching in Michigan before moving to Montana in 1975, his master's degree in education, a short stint on the Belgrade School Board and his four National Honor Society children make him suited to be superintendent.
''I understand education thoroughly well,'' said Kimm, 67. ''I feel I can turn education around.''
Asked to contrast himself with McCulloch, he declined.
''I have nothing against Linda,'' he said. ''It's just that I want her job and she can have it back after I'm done with it.''
McCulloch, 49, cites her 20 years as a teacher, six years as a state representative and one term as state school chief as qualifications. ''My broad background allows me to look at different views of education. I know it from teaching and from the legislative perspective.''
She considers herself well-versed on the effects of the new federal law putting requirements on schools and effective in conveying concerns to officials able to fine tune the law. ''We need someone who broadly understands Montana schools and can advocate at the federal level,'' McCulloch said.
She said her top priority will be continued emphasis on reading. Students unable to read at grade level by the third grade have a difficult time every catching up and are more likely to drop out of school later on, she said.
''It's so absolutely vital that every child should be able to read at their grade level in order to achieve in other areas,'' said McCulloch, who worked as a school librarian.
She said her office helped obtain $33 million in a pair of federal grants for reading programs in Montana, and will seek additional federal aid to develop programs for keeping American Indian students in school.