Jeff Dillon says he is running for state schools superintendent to help create a “climate of possibility.”
But first, the Wilder School District superintendent says he needs to raise money and elevate his statewide profile as he challenges a sitting incumbent. And that’s why he submitted his paperwork Friday to launch his campaign.
”For me it’s a lot about name recognition,” Dillon told Idaho Education News in a telephone interview Tuesday. “People don’t know who I am.”
Dillon will run as a Republican, challenging Sherri Ybarra in the May 2018 primary. Herself a political unknown three years ago, Ybarra won a four-way Republican primary and a narrow general election in November 2014. Ybarra has said she plans to seek re-election in 2018 — but in all of 2017, she received only one campaign contribution, and ended the year with a meager $92.78 in her campaign treasury.
Dillon declined to comment on Ybarra’s record in office — or the relationship between Ybarra’s State Department of Education and district superintendents.
“I’ll let you assess that,” he said.
Throughout her three years in office, Ybarra has said the SDE should provide support to local districts, downplaying the state agency’s enforcement or regulatory role. She has tried to reduce the districts’ data reporting burden. However, the SDE and districts have found themselves at odds over the data that the state does collect — in areas such as teacher evaluations and teacher leadership premiums.
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Dillon, 51, is a Wilder native who has worked for his hometown school district for 10 years. Dillon has been superintendent since December 2012, and like many rural superintendents, he performs multiple roles. He doubles as principal of the elementary school.
As superintendent in Wilder, Dillon heads a district wrestling with unique demographic and economic challenges. Wilder has one of the state’s highest poverty rates, and has sometimes struggled to pass supplemental property tax levies to bolster funding. Under his watch, Dillon has worked with Apple to equip Wilder’s students with iPads — a one-to-one technology initiative that has drawn the notice of Gov. Butch Otter and other Idaho Republicans.
Dillon declined to spell out campaign priorities Tuesday, saying they will emerge as the race unfolds. However, he stressed his experience as a district superintendent, saying it gives him the skill set to collaborate with other education leaders.
“I believe we can really chart Idaho’s future and its economy through education,” he said.
Dillon’s filing sets the stage for a contested Republican primary, the field is by no means set. Several other Republicans are potential candidates — including state Rep. Wendy Horman of Idaho Falls and former Gooding district Superintendent Heather Williams. Both declined comment Monday.
No Democrat has announced for the race. And superintendent of public instruction is the last statewide race won by Democrats — in 2002.