Democratic state superintendent’s candidate Jana Jones on Monday called for creating a coalition of educators to help her implement policy.
Jones addressed the Idaho Association of School Administrators’ Summer Leadership Conference in Boise on Monday. The IASA invited both superintendent candidates to speak; Republican nominee Sherri Ybarra declined to participate. Ybarra defended her decision in a press release saying she had already committed to a superintendents meeting later in the week that was hosted by the State Department of Education. Ybarra was a participant and did not address superintendents.
In order to facilitate working with a Republican-controlled Legislature, Jones modeled her coalition slightly after Gov. Butch Otter’s bipartisan Task Force for Improving Education. She pledged to review policy issues with educators, administrators, business leaders and city and county representatives statewide, before making joint recommendations inside the Statehouse.
Jones devoted herself to three main goals: fostering safe schools, placing high-quality teachers who are respected and supported in classrooms and transforming the State Department of Education.
She also backed Common Core standards and fully funding recommendations from Otter’s education task force. But first, she said, school funding levels should be restored to pre-recession levels.
“We need get the base back,” Jones said. “We need to make sure we have funding moving forward then talk about doing other things.”
Boise district Superintendent Don Coberly asked Jones how she would handle staffing decisions at the state department.
Jones acknowledged it could be difficult to fill out the staff during the middle of a school year, but several retired educators have talked with her about filling openings in the interim. From there, she pledged to hire as many educators as possible, and called on administrators to grant flexibility if any of their trusted staffers want to come work for her.
“I will focus on finding the best educators possible to put in positions to make sure you all feel very comfortable with the folks we put in there,” she said.
Bonneville district Superintendent Chuck Shackett asked about the role her department would take interacting with districts.
“My goal is we become a service and support entity, not a compliance entity where we’re tying everything going on to rules and regulations,” she said.
Jones also voiced support for the Idaho Digital Learning Academy and the alternative school budget put forth earlier this year by retired state economist Mike Ferguson.
On funding, Jones said the state should consider putting less money into rainy-day funds, reviewing tax exemptions and taking a look at the entire tax base to see if taxes need to be raised “in some way” to boost education.
Shackett, who will be honored as the IASA’s Superintendent of the Year Tuesday, announced that he is endorsing Jones. Shackett said Jones appears to have the most knowledge of education issues and represents “the greatest hope for our future.”
Ybarra, a Mountain Home federal programs director who won May’s four-person Republican primary election, was in the same downtown Boise neighborhood Monday morning having coffee while the IASA conference was taking place. Ybarra said she was waiting to meet with a Republican legislator and her schedule was too busy to attend the IASA conference, attended by 460 administrators.
Jones noted Ybarra’s absence, and later said it was “critical” for her to attend the conference.
“The only way to know what the issues are and what we’re facing is to have an opportunity to hear (from educators) their questions and hear their concerns,” Jones said. “How hard you work on the campaign is indicative of how hard you are going to work as state superintendent.”
Disclosure: Idaho Education News sponsored a morning breakfast during the Idaho Association of School Administrators’ conference.