When Tom Luna performed a political about-face on Jan. 27 — announcing that he would not seek a third term as state superintendent — he immediately fielded a question about his next move.
Luna clicked off a few options, committing to none. Luna, who turns 56 in November, floated the idea of going on a church mission — sooner, not later. He talked about going back to Scales Unlimited, his Nampa-based measurement sciences company; he had worked there before entering the political and education arena, but that was 12 years ago.
And like so many elected officials on their way out of the political spotlight, Luna discussed spending more time with his family.
“I’m not necessarily in need of employment,” Luna said at a news conference.
Nonetheless, there had never been any shortage of scuttlebutt that Luna would leave public office for a job in education’s private sector. And on Tuesday, that speculation was realized.
Not right away, of course. Now, as in January, Luna is still planning on serving out his term — and one of his final jobs will be to write a 2015-16 budget blueprint for the next state superintendent, the governor and the Legislature to consider.
But come 2015, as the new state superintendent prepares for her first session dealing with the Legislature, Luna will take a vice president’s position with Project Lead The Way. The Indianapolis nonprofit vendor provides K-12 services in the “STEM” disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; its customer base encompasses some 6,000 schools across the nation, and includes a half dozen school districts and one charter school in Idaho.
The announcement, and the reactions, were prototypical of the Luna years.
When the news broke Tuesday, Luna touched on two recurring themes from his eight years as state schools superintendent — preparing Idaho students for college and jobs in the high-tech sector. And Luna touted his employer-to-be as a valuable partner in helping the education system improve. “Project Lead The Way’s tremendous growth in recent years is evidence of the important role STEM plays in keeping the U.S. competitive in the global economy,” Luna said in a news release.
Not surprisingly, Luna’s pending move to the private sector was greeted with a fresh round of skepticism from his adversaries. For critics who have opposed Luna’s reform agenda, and have disliked his ties to outside education groups, it was a day to invoke a certain “I-told-you-so” tone.
“Everyone who’s surprised by this, please poke out your right eye,” said Kuna Democrat and former legislative candidate Sharon Fisher, commenting at Eye on Boise, the blog written by Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.
It is only fitting, after eight turbulent years in office, that Luna’s pending departure would also prove controversial.