Ybarra, district mum about campaign leave of absence

Sherri Ybarra has taken some leave of absence from the Mountain Home School District to run for state schools superintendent.

It’s unclear how much time Ybarra has taken off, whether the leave is paid or unpaid and whether the campaigning has affected her work as the district’s federal programs director. The campaign isn’t answering specific questions, and neither is the school district.

Sherri Ybarra
Sherri Ybarra has been the Mountain Home School District’s federal programs and curriculum director since 2013.

The fact that Ybarra is taking time off to wage a statewide campaign may not be surprising. But throughout the campaign, Ybarra has touted her current, on-the-ground administrative experience as an edge over Democratic rival Jana Jones, a former deputy state superintendent now working as an education consultant. After her win in the May 20 Republican primary, Ybarra said she would remain on the job in Mountain Home, and campaign after hours.

The district has approved leave of absence for Ybarra, so she can attend campaign events during the day, campaign spokeswoman Melinda Nothern said in an email.

“Sherri is still performing her duties in the Mountain Home School District,” Nothern said. “Much of her campaign-related activities have and do continue to occur in the evening so she is juggling both.”

Nothern declined to provide details — and has not responded to a request for additional information. She referred those questions to the district.

The district, meanwhile, is saying even less.

Responding to a public records request from Idaho Education News, the district said it does not have documents that spell out the terms of Ybarra’s leave of absence — and, even if these documents existed, the district says they would be exempt from public disclosure.

Under Idaho law, all public documents are presumed open unless covered by a specific exemption. The district is citing a public records exemption that covers “all personnel records of a current or former public official other than the public official’s public service or employment history, classification, pay grade and step, longevity, gross salary and salary history, status, workplace and employing agency.”

On Tuesday, the district did provide a copy of Ybarra’s 2014-15 contract. It calls for Ybarra to work 213 days between Aug. 1 and June 19, 2015, for a salary of $73,838. The one-page agreement does not specify terms for a leave of absence.

The contract was dated June 3, two weeks after Ybarra captured the GOP nomination.

Idaho Education News filed the public records request Friday, after repeated messages to Superintendent Tim McMurtrey were not returned. McMurtrey was one of Ybarra’s earliest campaign donors. In a May 6 Idaho Education News profile, McMurtrey called Ybarra a “fireball.”

“She’s done a lot for us this year,” he said. “She’s a very hard worker.”

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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