Incumbent schools chief Sherri Ybarra and challenger Cindy Wilson each went on the offensive during their final debate Monday in Nampa.
Within minutes of their opening statements, both candidates attacked each other. Responding to a question by the moderator, Wilson said she would give Ybarra a grade “in the ‘D’ range” for Ybarra’s first term as state superintendent. Wilson said “it is a well-known fact across the state” that there is a lack of engagement and a lack of hard work from Ybarra.
Ybarra declined to rate Wilson as a candidate, saying she wanted to move beyond grades in both political campaigns and in education, making reference to the state’s fledgling mastery-based education system.
Ybarra then landed a few punches of her own.
Ybarra said it is unfortunate that Wilson gets her information from the media, a reference to Wilson citing Idaho Education News’ reporting about Ybarra’s engagement with the Legislature.
During a dispute over high school graduation rates, Ybarra continued to press Wilson, who pointed out that graduation rates are essentially flat.
Officially, the state’s graduation rate was 79.66 percent in 2016. In 2017, it was reported at 79.67 percent, a difference of two students out of a class of 20,000 students.
“I am saddened by the fact my opponent calls herself an educator,” Ybarra said, arguing that educators should celebrate and be commended for any improvement at all.
(In reality, both Ybarra and Wilson are educators. Ybarra has served as a teacher, principal and federal programs director in Mountain Home. Wilson just retired after a 33-year career teaching in Orofino, Pierce, Shelley, West Ada and Boise.)
When it comes to top priorities, Ybarra said she would focus on the teaching shortage and re-writing Idaho’s school funding formula.
For Wilson, her top priorities are improving student achievement, teacher retention and recruitment and early childhood education.
At least one moment during the debate caused an initial stir on social media. In the final third of the debate, both candidates were asked how they would vote in the contentious governor’s race. Ybarra backed Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little, while Wilson hesitated in silence for several seconds before declining to say.
“Quite frankly, I’m still deciding on that one,” Wilson said.
Moments later, Wilson criticized Ybarra for declining to say how she would vote on propositions one and two. Wilson said she would oppose Proposition One (instant horse racing) and support Proposition Two (Medicaid expansion).
“I’m in a position of authority,” Ybarra responded. “It’s not appropriate to use my position to sway voters.”
This marked the third debate between the state superintendent candidates. In August, the two participated in a private forum during the Idaho Association of School Administrators conference. Then, earlier this month, Ybarra and Wilson mixed it up during a lively debate broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television.
Monday’s hour-long debate took place at Northwest Nazarene University’s campus and was moderated by KTVB anchor Dee Sarton. KTVB anchors Kim Fields, Doug Petcash and Mark Johnson served on the panel asking questions.
Election Day is next week, on Nov. 6. In addition to the superintendent’s race, Idahoans will elect a new governor, vote in congressional races and vote for every seat in the Idaho Legislature.