Superintendent-elect Sherri Ybarra is not speaking publicly about her transition to office while lawmakers say she has a tough job ahead of her.
Ybarra, a federal programs director with the Mountain Home School District, defeated Democratic challenger Jana Jones in last month’s election.
Shortly after Ybarra is sworn in next month, lawmakers will convene in Boise for the 2015 legislative session – setting off a roughly 90-day whirlwind period of crafting the K-12 education budget and debating education policy.
“I think she does have her work cut out for her,” Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, said. “There is a lot going on in education right now to be able to step into that job and get brought up to speed. I hope she uses a lot of us here at Legislature who have been working on education issues.”
Democratic Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a member of the Senate Education Committee and a former educator, agreed.
“She’s got a huge learning curve — anybody would coming in,” Ward-Engelking said. “It’s just one of those things where you hit the floor running.”
Ward-Engelking and VanOrden both said Ybarra’s experience as an educator and school administrator should help prepare her for the task ahead.
“Somebody just coming out of the classroom, or out of our local schools, will be able to understand what is needed at the State Department of Education,” VanOrden said. “Especially coming out of the field right now, because there has been so much change in education over the last little while, and on the horizon, a lot of changes are coming.”
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said she will watch closely how Ybarra staffs her office and collaborates with education stakeholders and lawmakers.
“I hope she surrounds herself with good people – experts who understand education like she does,” Horman said. ”I’ve been around long enough to learn how valuable collaboration is to find common ground for the benefit of our children.”
Ybarra attended Thursday’s organizational session of the Legislature at the Statehouse, but declined an interview request from Idaho Ed News.
Idaho Ed News has requested an interview with Ybarra multiple times each week since her Nov. 4 election, but her campaign and transition spokeswoman, Melinda Nothern, has not returned phone calls.
On Thursday, Ybarra referred an interview request back to Nothern.
Despite her reluctance to speak publicly, Ybarra has been preparing for the job. She has assembled a transition team and has accepted outgoing Superintendent Tom Luna’s offer to work with his team to begin preparing to take office, State Department of Education spokesman Brady Moore confirmed.
Ybarra has also met with education stakeholders, including the Idaho Education Association teachers union.
“As far as the IEA is concerned, we talked with her about some of our issues and concerns and also welcomed her to her new office,” IEA President Penni Cyr said. “We let her know we want to work with her as best we can and look forward to developing a great relationship with the State Department of Education.”
On Thursday, former state Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, confirmed that he will play a role in Ybarra’s administration. Corder, who was on Ybarra’s campaign team, declined to say what position he will take and also declined an interview request.
The Spokesman-Review reported that Corder is “probably going to be special assistant to the superintendent,” a full-time position.
Last month, Ybarra’s camp said she would not reveal staffing decisions early. Ybarra has also yet to disclose – at least publicly – whether dozens of current Idaho State Department of Education staffers will continue to be employed after she takes office in January.
“Sherri hasn’t hired a chief of staff and won’t be announcing new hires/positions until after she is sworn into office in January,” Nothern wrote in a Nov. 20 email to Idaho Ed News.
On Thursday, retiring Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said the state’s constitutional officers – which include Ybarra – will likely be sworn in during private ceremonies Jan. 5. Public events for elected officials are being planned for Jan. 9-11, Ysursa said.