Second super debate heats up late

CALDWELL — Fast forward 45 minutes into Thursday’s state superintendent debate, and things started to really get interesting.

Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones spent the first three-fourths of the debate going over stump speeches and rehearsed answers.

  • They both support Idaho Core Standards.
  • Both have concerns about the ISAT by SBAC tests.
  • Both oppose bullying and pledge to foster safe and secure schools.
  • Both worry about college go-on and graduation rates.
  • Both want appropriate levels of funding for K-12.
  • Both say they will be the No. 1 advocate for students and education.

In the second debate in three days (click here to read our coverage of Tuesday’s debate in Twin Falls), a pattern of agreement and familiarity tempered by nuanced distinctions threatened to emerge.

Caldwell Debate Jones Ybarra
Jana Jones, left, and Sherri Ybarra participate in the second state superintendent debate Thursday in Caldwell.

Then moderator Jasper LiCalzi, a College of Idaho professor, ran out of questions. Someone from the audience passed him a question about the $271,000 in staff bonuses awarded this year by outgoing State Superintendent Tom Luna.

The tone changed that instant. An engaging, lively forum played out for the next 20 or so minutes.

Jones seized a chance to score points at the expense of Luna, who defeated her in the 2006 election.

“It was really, really difficult for our teachers and educators, for anybody working in public schools, to see the size of the bonuses that were given and to say they were retention bonuses,” Jones said. “It almost was a slap in the face to say these people can have $10,000 bonuses and our teachers can’t get a slight raise to go forward.”

Ybarra struck next.

“I don’t think our current leader asked my permission before going in and giving out bonuses,” Ybarra said. “It was not my job to judge what our current leader is doing and what he thinks he needs to do for education. I also don’t think it is good public policy to give out bonuses as people are leaving the department.”

After the Luna question, the candidates took a few jabs at each other.

Jones took aim at one of Ybarra’s campaign mantras: educating the whole child.

“I see teachers addressing the whole child every single day,” Jones said. “It’s part of our culture, and something we have been doing for a long, long time.”

Ybarra called out Jones for working as a vice president with a national education company.

“I have been on the ground for nearly the past 20 years, with my sleeves rolled up, alongside the teammates doing job, not watching from the balcony,” Ybarra said. “Not being critical of the people before us for not being a part of education, then doing the same thing.”

Jones’ response: “On the sidelines is not part of my vocabulary.” She said the work allowed her to work with a variety of schools in more than a dozen states.

About 60 people attended Thursday’s debate — including former State Superintendent Marilyn Howard, Jones’ campaign treasurer; and former State Sen. Tim Corder, who is working on Ybarra’s campaign. Other political players in attendance included Republican state Rep. Brandon Hixon and his Democratic opponent, Travis Manning.

The candidates met again Friday for a City Club of Boise candidate forum, their third showdown of the week. The candidates will debate on Oct. 21 on Idaho Public Television.

FACT CHECKING THE CANDIDATES:

Early in the debate, Ybarra repeated an error that she made in the first debate Tuesday in Twin Falls. She asserted that “over 60 percent of the general fund” is devoted to public schools.

Verdict: False. The portion of the budget dedicated to public schools has been 47 percent each of the past two years.

Later, in answering the Luna question, Jones stated that it was unfair to award bonuses to Education Department staffers “when our teachers have not had an increase in their salary for years.”

Verdict: False. While some teachers may make less than they did in 2009, due to state funding cuts, furloughs and local district decisions, the Legislature provided a 1 percent raise to teachers this year through House Bill 638 and raised the minimum teacher salary from $31,000 to $31,750. Lawmakers also provided $15.8 million in leadership premiums – pay for teachers who meet certain standards for leadership or take hard-to-fill positions.

Regardless, it is important to keep in mind each school district negotiates and sets its own teacher salaries every year.

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