BOISE – Controversial Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna will not seek re-election, he announced Monday.
That decision will help take politics out of the process of implementing school reforms recommended by a bipartisan state task force this year, he said.
“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. He added, “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Luna, whose sweeping Students Come First school reform laws were repealed by voters last year, maintained that the proposals were the “disruptive force” that enabled Idaho to finally move to a bipartisan approach to school reforms. Those proposals called for a new focus on online learning, a laptop computer for every high school student and rolling back teachers’ collective bargaining rights.
This year, 20 recommendations from a task force appointed by Gov. Butch Otter have gained widespread support. It’s still not clear, however, how the state will fund the $350 million in changes, including a pricey new pay system for teachers, over the next five years.
Luna said 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.”
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, 55, has served two terms as state superintendent, the first non-educator to be elected to the post.
He said he has no plans after he leaves office. “I’ve got a business I can go back to,” he said. He also said he’d like to spend more time with family and mentioned possible missionary work with his wife, Cindy.
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, a former chief deputy state superintendent whom Luna narrowly defeated in 2006, 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 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.”