Voters were the big winners Monday, as major differences between the four Republican state superintendent candidates emerged during a City Club of Boise campaign forum.
Cottonwood teacher and Grangeville resident John Eynon, American Falls principal Randy Jensen, Melba superintendent Andy Grover and Mountain Home federal programs director Sherri Ybarra weighed in on a range of issues, from the voter-repealed Propositions 1, 2 and 3, to Common Core standards, testing and funding concerns.
Moderator Jim Weatherby, a longtime Idaho political pundit, teed things off by pointing out the “long list of challenges” the next schools chief faces. Here’s a look at where the candidates stand on a few key points.
Task Force implementation
Last August, Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education – a bipartisan group of educators and stakeholders, state officials and business leaders – toured the state before developing a near-unanimous list of reform recommendations.
Jensen said it is vital the state generate the funding to implement the career ladder and tiered licensure recommendations – which are designed to increase teacher pay based on professional licenses they obtain.
“The bottom line is, we will not be able to retain or recruit the best teachers possible without funding,” Jensen said.
Grover, a member of a committee working to implement the career ladder and licensure model, also backed the recommendations. He emphasized the state needs to continue to provide money for teacher training and professional development – also recommended by the task force.
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“We need to make sure teachers have the tools they need to match the rigorous standards,” Grover said. “They are a different set of standards and a different way of looking at how students are learning.”
Ybarra backed Common Core and positioned herself as a champion of teachers as well. She said budget initiatives and proposals are just that – initiatives – until crucial funding is used fairly.
“(We need to) focus on how get that money down to classroom, where it counts most,” Ybarra said. “(I) support teacher in training initiative items and support Common Core and getting down to the classroom.”
Eynon offered a different approach. He opposed several task force recommendations and the way the statewide panel conducted its business. He called Common Core standards, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test and the statewide longitudinal data system “just more big government.”
“The people spoke and, yet, the governor’s task force on education flagrantly ignored the voice of the people in the recommendations they come up with,” Eynon said. “We need to reconvene the education task force. “
Props 1, 2 and 3
Grover was the only candidate to back the voter-repealed propositions.
“Look at the pieces that came out of Props 1,2 and 3 and also found themselves in governor’s task force’s 20 recommendations,” Grover said. “Those recommendations, created by Idahoans, are the direction we need to move in.”
Ybarra said she would not have supported Tom Luna’s reform package, but she did not vote in the November 2012 election when the props were defeated.
“As a responsible Republican, I accept responsibility for that failed judgment (in not voting),” she said.
Jensen also opposed the props.
“I am not afraid to answer that I feel there were some good parts in each one of those,” Jensen said. “All in all, I felt the propositions were not created in a collaborative way, which is one of the reasons I didn’t support them.”
Eynon opposed the props for similar reasons.
“Teachers, in essence, were taken out of the process,” Eynon said. “They were targeted as the reason our schools are failing, and nothing could be further from the truth.”
About 200 people attended Monday’s forum, including a host of Treasure Valley business leaders, Meridian Joint School District Superintendent Linda Clark, leaders of the Idaho Education Association and Idaho School Boards Association and former and current lawmakers.
The hour-long forum was different from similar events in that the questions were generated, anonymously, from audience members. The event will will be rebroadcast on Boise State Public Radio.
The candidates will square off next at 8 p.m. Thursday night, during a debate broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television.
Read more: John Eynon makes a case to his base. Kevin Richert’s blog.