Elections

Ybarra narrowly holds seat in Idaho superintendent race

Flanked by great-nieces Kamree Dean, 12, left, and Lexie Dean, 14, Cindy Wilson, Democratic candidate for superintendent, greets supporters at the Democratic election night party at the Grove Hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2018.
Flanked by great-nieces Kamree Dean, 12, left, and Lexie Dean, 14, Cindy Wilson, Democratic candidate for superintendent, greets supporters at the Democratic election night party at the Grove Hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2018. kjones@idahostatesman.com

It was expected to be a close race, and it was. It took about 12 hours for a winner to emerge in the race for Idaho superintendent of public instruction.

Democratic challenger Cindy Wilson’s initial lead on Republican incumbent Sherri Ybarra shrank throughout Tuesday night. By the time 81 percent of precincts had reported their results, the pair were at a 50-50 split — separated by only about 500 votes.

But Ybarra triumphed, with 51.4 percent of the vote by the time almost all precincts had reported Wednesday morning. Wilson took 48.6 percent of the vote.

“It was a late night punctuated by edge-of-your-seat anticipation, culminating with grateful relief in the early morning hours as the final counties began reporting their election results,” Ybarra wrote in a statement on her Facebook campaign page Wednesday afternoon.

“Sometime after 3am it became clear the voters of our great state had entrusted me with another term as Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. I felt humble, thankful and honored,” she wrote.

Sherri Ybarra, the incumbent for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction, shares a message with voters.

The race was between two educators.

Ybarra was a Mountain Home school administrator who won the seat in 2014 by a 1 percent margin. Wilson is a recently retired public school teacher from Meridian who has taught all over the state in the past 33 years.

Ybarra, who grew up in West Virginia, started her teaching career in her home state. She earned advanced degrees from the University of Idaho and rose in the education ranks to become vice principal and principal, and federal programs director.

Wilson offered concession remarks in a press release Wednesday afternoon, congratulating Ybarra and sending well-wishes.

I’m heartened at the phenomenal turnout in this election. My career has been spent advocating for participation in the democratic process and I’ve been proud of the interest Idahoans--so many of them my former students--have taken in their democracy this year,” Wilson wrote in the press release.

It’s not clear what’s next for Wilson. Her son and spokesman Will Hussman told the Statesman in a phone interview Wednesday that Wilson is “taking some time to process the loss. Her life has been dedicated to civil service” and she’ll likely continue to serve in some way, he said.

Ybarra told the Statesman’s editorial board in October that her two major priorities have been teacher pay and school safety.

“[If] you took a look at my public schools budget, we invested more in the career ladder than it was originally scheduled because we understand that the career ladder did give a lot of the increases to the early novice teachers,” she said then. “And I want to be clear that I respect all teachers, I was an early novice teacher myself at one time, but we are noticing that we are not able to keep our veterans.”

Wilson grew up in Idaho and taught at rural and Treasure Valley schools. She retired in May from Capital High School in Boise. She estimates she has taught 4,000 Idaho public school students in her career, according to IdahoEdNews.org.

“You can get full-day kindergarten at some districts across the state, but so many don’t have it because it’s only funded half-time through the state,” Wilson told the Statesman editorial board in October. “I’m excited about what we can do in a public-private partnership with that.”

Wilson also told the Statesman then that she believes preschool is the area most in need of additional public education funding.

Nicole Blanchard contributed.
Audrey Dutton: (208) 377-6448, @audreydutton
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