Luna will focus on reforms for Idaho schools during final months in office

The state superintendent says his 2011 laws were a ‘disruptive force’ that sparked today’s bipartisan plan.

STATESMAN WIRE REPORTSJanuary 28, 2014 

Tom Luna said he will spend his final 11 months in office pushing for the 20 recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force. The 55-year-old said there is “fragile” bipartisan support for the $350 million to $400 million in reforms that he didn’t want to see fall prey to election-year politics.

“It seems like lately, everything I do, every action, every speech, every request, is looked at through the lens of re-election,” Luna said Monday, announcing he would not run for re-election as state superintendent. “I want to take that off the table.”

Luna’s decision instantly changed the dynamics in the race for the schools chief job.

For the first time since 1998, Republicans will nominate a superintendent candidate other than Luna. He first ran in 2002, losing to incumbent Marilyn Howard. He won in 2006, narrowly defeating Jana Jones, a top aide to Howard. Luna was re-elected in 2010, defeating former Boise Superintendent Stan Olson.

EDUCATION ‘MALAISE’

Luna said it’s premature for him to endorse 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.

Last year, a task force appointed by Otter recommended, among other things, overhauling the system that governs how educators are compensated.

It could cost $253 million while abandoning the existing system of paying teachers based on their duration of service.

The strategy could take about six years to implement, and Luna’s proposed budget this year has set aside $23 million to start.

Luna became a lightning rod following the 2011 Students Come First laws, a sweeping plan to require online classes, computers for high school students and other changes to modernize Idaho’s classrooms.

In 2012, voters rejected the overhaul at the polls. In its wake, Otter set up the education task force.

Luna said the failure of Students Come First didn’t factor into his decision to leave office.

“Those who have known me since 2002 know I’ve never avoided difficult things,” he said. “I’ve never avoided a fight.”

Dubbed by critics as the “Luna laws,” the package was a “disruptive force” that enabled Idaho education to get out of a “malaise” and move to a bipartisan approach to reform.

“I think Students Come First got us to where we are, and if there’s any political fallout, I’m comfortable with it,” Luna said.

‘MORE FORCEFUL’

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the Senate Education Committee chairman, said he would have supported Luna for re-election, but understands his decision.

“I think the superintendent is in a position that he can be more forceful in trying to see those recommendations move forward,” said Goedde, who joined Luna for the Monday announcement along with Luna’s wife, Cindy, House Speaker Scott Bedke, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill and House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt.

Luna deflected a question that suggested he might have been vulnerable in a re-election campaign. “I think every time I’ve run for this office I’ve been vulnerable,” he said. Luna said his campaign had conducted no polling on his re-election prospects.

Luna said he was keeping his post-superintendent options open. He has no job lined up, and might explore missionary work or returning to his family’s business, he said.

“I’m not necessarily in need of employment,” he said.

Associated Press reporter John Miller, Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell and Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed.

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