Almost from the moment the State Department of Education announced the appointment Monday of former Caldwell School District Superintendent Roger Quarles as a chief deputy superintendent to schools chief Tom Luna, the buzz began.
Quarles, 51, is highly regarded in the education community and has a record of raising academic improvement in the Caldwell district. Was he being primed to run for Luna's job in 2014 should Luna leave?
Well, Luna isn't thinking about retiring.
"I've made it clear I intend to run for re-election," Luna told the Idaho Statesman Monday. "I am already raising money. I've made it clear that I think we are on the right track."
Quarles isn't talking about his political future. But he's not slamming the door on it, either.
"The reason I took this job was to be Tom's deputy for the remainder of his term, at least minimally," Quarles said.
Is Quarles interest in running for state superintendent of public instruction?
"No, not at this time."
Quarles said he took the job as Luna's No. 2 to get his ideas for education reform on a bigger stage than the 63 school districts he's been working with as part of the Idaho Leads Project housed at Boise State University and funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. "I think I can do more good for kids," Quarles said. "I can take all of the resources and philosophies that we worked into there and apply it in a statewide conversation."
Quarles said he's not ready to discuss what specific ideas he might bring to that conversation.
If Luna's re-election bid is unsuccessful, Quarles would have had just 17 months to try to bring his brand of reform to Idaho's classrooms before Luna leaves office.
"I think I can make a difference on the first day. I can listen. I can listen to the concerns and the issues in the districts and help them understand the priorities of getting better," Quarles said.
Quarles is tagged as an education reformer - a mantle Luna also claims for himself. And Quarles comes with credentials as an educator, something that Luna critics often point to as Luna's weakness.
Luna also goes into the 2014 campaign with some Idahoans still unhappy about his 2011 Students Come First laws, which voters overturned at the polls last fall. And, more recently, he's been criticized by some lawmakers for his handling of a statewide WiFi contract that went to a company that supported Luna politically, even though Luna said the contract decision was handled by an independent panel.
Quarles will earn $120,000, down slightly from what he made at the Boise State Leads project but about $13,000 more than his predecessor, Nick Smith, made before becoming a principal at the Boise School District.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts