BOISE – Controversial Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna will not seek re-election, he announced this morning, saying he wants to take politics out of the process of putting into effect bipartisan school reforms recommended by a state task force this year.
“I know it’s the right decision for me, for my family, and I know it’s the right decision for the children of Idaho,” Luna said. “I’ve never avoided a fight. I’ve always done what I thought was right.”
Luna, whose sweeping “Students Come First” school reform laws were repealed by voters last year, maintained that the proposals, which called for a new focus on online learning, a laptop computer for every high school student and rolling back teachers’ collective bargaining rights, were the “disruptive force” that enabled Idaho to finally move to a bipartisan approach to school reforms.
This year, 20 sweeping recommendations from a task force appointed by Gov. Butch Otter have gained widespread support, though it’s not clear how the state will fund the $350 million in changes, including a pricey new pay system for teachers, over the next five years.
“I think Students Come First got us to where we are, and if there’s any political fallout, I’m comfortable with it,” declared Luna, 55.
Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the Senate Education Committee chairman, said he would have supported Luna for re-election, but he understands his decision. “I agree that certainly his efforts so far this legislative session have been characterized as an attempt to enhance his re-electability,” Goedde said.
Now, Goedde said, “I think the superintendent is in a position that he can be more forceful in trying to see those recommendations move forward.”
Luna has served two terms as state superintendent, the first non-educator ever to be elected to the post.
He said he has no particular plans for after he leaves office. “I’ve got a business I can go back to,” he said. “I’m not making this decision today because I know what I’m going to do 11 months from now.”
Two other Republican candidates, Randy Jensen, a middle school principal from American Falls and John Eynon, a music teacher from Cottonwood, already have announced their candidacies in the GOP primary for superintendent; Democrat Jana Jones, whom Luna narrowly defeated in 2006, former chief deputy state superintendent, also is running.
Luna said he’s not yet endorsing anyone for the post. “I will tell you that the person I will support is the person who stands up and boldly proclaims their support for all 20 recommendations of the task force and their commitment to get them implemented,” he said.
Luna was joined for his announcement by House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, along with House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt and Goedde, all Republicans, and Luna’s wife Cindy.
Luna said, “I’m going to be working hard for the next 11 months, not being distracted with a campaign and everything that goes into that.”
He said it was “obvious to me that bipartisan support is fragile,” and people might think anything he does to support the task force recommendations is meant to “give me a leg up in the election. … So I wanted to take that off the table.”
Said Luna, “You won’t see me on a ballot anywhere in Idaho in this upcoming election.”