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News >  Idaho

Idaho schools chief rivals spar over Luna legacy

Jana Jones, left, and Sherri Ybarra, right, debate on Idaho Public Television on Tuesday night (Idaho Public TV / Aaron Kunz)
Jana Jones, left, and Sherri Ybarra, right, debate on Idaho Public Television on Tuesday night (Idaho Public TV / Aaron Kunz)
BOISE – Idaho’s current state superintendent of schools – the first non-educator ever to hold the position – loomed large in the debate Tuesday night between the two educators vying to succeed him. “If you liked Tom Luna, you’re going to love Sherri Ybarra,” Democratic candidate Jana Jones said of her GOP opponent. “We can’t afford to have another four years of a superintendent who is well-intended but ill-prepared.” Ybarra also made some comments critical of Luna, a Republican who proposed a controversial set of school-reform laws that voters rejected in 2012. “Right now, I think that teachers are feeling very disrespected,” Ybarra said, “and I think they feel that the public does not support them and their leader does not support them. It’s important to remember that being on the front lines, I do support them.” But she also said she’d “take the opportunity that our current leader has given me to transition in and spend two months closely studying” the school budget and the job. Jones said, “She has said that she will carry on and move forward Tom Luna’s recommended budget, as well as move into the office right next door to him right after the election so he could train her on how to do the job.” Asked about funding for schools, Ybarra said, “I am very aware of that state budget, and I have been studying it very closely, and I am going to be the state superintendent who does not ask for more until she understands that every single dollar has been stretched to the max.” “Do I think we’re spread dangerously thin? Mmm, probably,” Ybarra said. “But … as long as I know that everything in that budget gives back local control to the school districts, I know that every dollar has been stretched, then I will discuss with the legislators any sort of increase in funding.” Jones, who was chief deputy state superintendent under former state Superintendent Marilyn Howard, said, “I understand the public school budget currently, and I understand where the dollars are flowing to. … We don’t have time to wait a year for somebody to study and figure out where things are going before those decisions are made. We need a superintendent that can get in there right now and go right to work.” She said school districts are telling her that they don’t have the resources they need now. Ybarra, asked about her statement in an earlier debate that she’d support Luna’s proposed budget for schools for next year, which calls for a 6.9 percent increase, said, “That was Mr. Luna’s budget. … I know and understand that I can amend that at any time.” She also echoed Luna’s frequently used expression about finding funding for schools, saying, “It is my job if elected as the next superintendent of public instruction to shake every tree and turn over every rock and explore every avenue for funding.” But, she added, “You must know first what you have and you must first know if it’s being used effectively.” Ybarra said she has the support of the majority of legislators and the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee supports her, but Jones said there are lots of members on JFAC and Ybarra hasn’t talked to all of them. “To say that she has the support of JFAC, to me it’s inappropriate,” Jones said. Ybarra responded, “I’m sorry that my opponent is misinformed, and she’s been gone so long that she doesn’t know who JFAC is, but they are listed on my website and they most certainly do support me.” Ybarra’s campaign website was down on Tuesday; while she has in the past listed a few lawmakers among her supporters there, JFAC has 20 members from both parties. Just two have been listed as supporters on Ybarra’s site. “I do know what JFAC is, I’ve actually testified in front of JFAC several times,” Jones told Ybarra, “and not every member of JFAC is on your website.” Ybarra also repeated her pitch – first offered in an earlier televised debate – that by serving as state superintendent, she can repay Idaho for her lapses in not having voted in a single general election since she moved to the state in 1996. “That’s a civic duty,” Ybarra said, “and if elected, this will be a civic duty that I will repay Idaho through for my lack of having a consistent voting history. And I would be honored to do that.”
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