IDAHO FALLS – A group of Idaho Falls students managed to pinpoint some differences between Sherri Ybarra and Jana Jones during the final debate of the season Thursday.
Ybarra, a Mountain Home Republican, and Jones, an Idaho Falls Democrat, faced some of the most specific questions of the race, courtesy of Compass Academy English and government students who organized and ran the entire debate.
Perhaps the biggest difference revealed Thursday between the two candidates involves the proposed tiered licensure certification plan before the State Board of Education.
The proposal has drawn fire from hundreds of teachers who attended a series of public meetings around the state this month. Since September, both candidates have urged state officials handle the proposal cautiously, with Ybarra saying, “The issue is complex and we should slow down and be sure we get it right the first time…”
Ybarra repeated a campaign refrain Thursday, calling tiered licensure “a step in the right direction.”
But she went farther than she has in other debates by saying tiered licensure will move forward.
“It is part of the governor’s task force recommendations, and we are going to go in that direction,” Ybarra said. “I know the taxpayers and teachers wanted this, but the focus is on how to do it.”
Ybarra said she would support some changes or tweaks to the plan, including basing teacher advancement or accountability “on a point system where you earn points as you walk up the ladder.”
Meanwhile, Jones continued to assert there are problems with the proposal, that “communication broke down” while the plan was developed and that too many teachers and parents are confused or angered by the proposal.
“If people don’t understand clearly what the recommendations are, we need to stop, slow down, bring everybody back to the table and start over,” Jones said.
Thursday’s one-hour debate looked and felt a little different than the candidates’ numerous previous debates.
For starters, there were no rehearsed opening or closing statements. Students asked each candidate the same 10 questions, and there were no opportunities for the candidates to rebut each other.
After the debate, Jones and Ybarra mingled with voters in the school’s lobby.
The campaign event was also one of the best-attended of the race, with more than 200 people attending.
The candidates were mostly respectful, but one exchange turned lively.
“The way you can check and see during a campaign if someone has integrity is how they run the campaign and how they act as a person who is running for office,” Jones said. “That demonstrates to the public what kind of person you can expect.”
Jones did not name Ybarra during the exchange, but Ybarra responded immediately saying finger-pointing and accusing an opponent of mistakes “is not nice.”
“I’m not here to finger-point,” Ybarra said. “I’m not here to be negative. I’m not here to say ‘look what somebody did wrong.’”
Students also asked about the education budget, Common Core standards and testing, leadership qualities and teacher morale.
The debate was not broadcast live, but Compass Academy students will post video of the complete debate on their classroom website.