Does political savvy grease education?

Most of the GOP candidates for state superintendent say it's vital to success.

broberts@idahostatesman.comApril 30, 2014 


    Idaho's four Republican superintendent candidates will meet in a televised debate on KIVI, Channel 6, at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

    The On Your Side Republican State Superintendent Debate will air live and also be carried on KSAW in Twin Falls and the Wood River Valley. The debate can be watched live online at

    Catch a replay at 4:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox 9.

    Idaho Statesman education reporter Bill Roberts will be on the panel quizzing the candidates.

Three of the four Republican candidates for superintendent of public instruction are working to build relationships with lawmakers who hold the purse strings for how much money Idaho's schools could get.

Not Sherri Ybarra.

"I don't believe Idaho is looking for a politician," she told the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board on Tuesday.

"I am guilty of working with students and I am out campaigning, but I will not do anything that looks like my opponents."

Politics, however, seems to be turning into a part of the job description for state schools chief.

Tom Luna's eight-year run as superintendent elevated politics in the office. His persuasive skills got him $22 million for financially strapped Idaho schools from the state's Land Board in the height of the recession.

His skills also helped persuade the Legislature to adopt his Students Come First program, although it was later overturned by Idaho voters. He is not seeking a third term.

His predecessor, Democrat Marilyn Howard, saw her eight years as superintendent bedeviled by a Republican-dominated Legislature and State Board of Education that often stood in her way.

Says Ybarra, curriculum and federal programs director at Mountain Home School District: "I am a different kind of leader and will always approach everything differently. I am an instructional leader that releases the potential."

Andy Grover, Melba School District superintendent, said legislative relationships are important to the advancement of education in Idaho.

"You present a budget (to the Legislature) and then you have no control over whether that budget is accepted or not accepted," he said.

Grover says he has the backing of both state Sen. John Goedde, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and state Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, who heads the House Education Committee.

He said his work with legislators goes back four years, to his beginning as Melba's superintendent.

"Many of my local legislators already call me on every education issue before they vote, to get my input," he said.

John Eynon, the Cottonwood School District music teacher running in opposition to Idaho Core Standards, is also working with lawmakers.

His list includes state Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, an outspoken opponent of the state standards based on Common Core, a uniform set of learning goals adopted by 44 states and Washington, D.C.

"There are many legislators I have spoken with (who) would like to get greater control and autonomy back to our local schools," Eynon said.

Randy Jensen, an American Falls middle school principal, said he has met with several groups and lawmakers since he announced his candidacy earlier this year.

"We should elect the person who can most effectively work with the Legislature to make sure we secure the necessary funding," he said.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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