Idaho schools superintendent candidates not far apart on issues

Political experience and campaign funding divide Ybarra and Jones.


Developing good readers is essential, said Sherri Ybarra. Adults talk to children about practicing for sports, but “we don’t often talk to kids about practicing reading,” she said.


After 156 voicemails, countless emails and one nomination that surprised many political observers, Sherri Ybarra is turning her attention to her next campaign.

The Republican nominee for state schools superintendent is sorting through offers of help for her general election campaign.

After winning her party's nomination on a shoestring budget, she sounds prepared to be more aggressive raising money the second time around.

But the Mountain Home school administrator says she will maintain the grassroots focus and independent approach that she says was key to her May 20 primary victory.

"I took a different approach and I got a different result," Ybarra told Idaho Education News

She will face Democrat Jana Jones, who comes with statewide name recognition from her unsuccessful 2006 race against schools superintendent Tom Luna, who is retiring after this year.

She already significantly has outraised and outspent her Republican contender.

Jones has raised $52,000 to Ybarra's $3,000.

Jones has roughly $18,000 on hand. Ybarra less than $400.

While Jones is the more seasoned candidate, the two women share a strong support for the 20 recommendations designed to reform Idaho's education system by Gov. Butch Otter's Task Force for Improving Education.

They have both voiced support for Idaho Core Standards, the state's latest education standards that set the bar on what students should learn in English and math. And both have raised concerns over the test that is based on the standards

Whoever wins the general election will not have to present a new blueprint on how to improve Idaho's schools, said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the state's budget committee.

"When they get in a debate, I don't know what they'll disagree on," she said.

What differentiates the candidates is political experience, Bell said.

Ybarra may be welcome in a Republican Legislature, but she will face a steep learning curve understanding how to produce an education budget that competes with the governor's.

She'll also have to learn to lobby lawmakers to support education policies, oversee a substantially larger staff and serve on the Idaho Land Board, which manages state lands to receive the maximum returns possible for public schools.

Jones, who served as deputy superintendent under Marilyn Howard, will face opposition against a Republican-dominated voting base, said Jerry Evans, who served as a Republican state superintendent for 16 years until 1994.

But Jones' education background could serve as an advantage.

"Kids don't go to school with D's and R's on their foreheads," Evans said. "These are parents voting and they all want the same thing, the best for their children.

"But when you compare these two candidates, you have one with minority-party experience and the other with majority-party inexperience."

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