NAMPA – State superintendent’s hopefuls Sherri Ybarra and Jana Jones were at odds from the outset Wednesday night, in easily their most colorful debate of the season.
The most obvious differences surrounded the budget.
Jones, an Idaho Falls Democrat, said educators statewide are clamoring for restoring operations funding to pre-recession, 2009 levels. In 2008-09, schools received $25,696 per classroom in so-called “discretionary” funding; this year’s payment was $22,884.
“It is absolutely critical,” Jones said of restoring operations funding. “We also then need to give (educators) the opportunity to make decisions through local school districts.”
Ybarra, a Mountain Home Republican, pledged a conservative approach, and said it “is just not realistic” to restore operations funding to 2009 levels.
“Until I know exactly where every dime is going, it makes no sense to ask for more (funding),” Ybarra said.
Moments later, she said she would go to the Legislature to advocate for outgoing state superintendent Tom Luna’s latest budget proposal, which calls for a 6.9 percent increase in K-12 spending.
“What I would do is less earmarking, giving local control back to those school districts,” Ybarra said.
Ybarra and Jones also differed on the possible transition to the superintendent’s post.
Ybarra said she would accept Luna’s offer to begin working with him and his staff after the election, to gear up for the new job and get familiar with the budget.
“I will have my own team I will be working with,” she said. “Moving forward I will not follow in his footstep or down the path he paved.”
From the earliest moments, the candidates exchanged political jabs.
Ybarra, a Mountain Home school administrator, again said she is in the “prime of her career.” She described Jones, a former deputy state superintendent now working as a consultant, as out of touch.
“What Idaho does not need is a rehash of old ideas that are nearly a decade old,” Ybarra said. “What my opponent is telling you is exactly the opposite of what Idaho needs.”
Moments later, Jones challenged Ybarra’s assertion that she works as a chief financial officer in the Mountain Home district. Without naming him, Jones pointed out that the district employs Cliff Ogborn as its director of fiscal operations and business manager.
“I think it is misleading when you say chief financial officer and that is not your title,” Jones said.
Ybarra called the challenge “disrespectful to federal programs directors throughout Idaho” who work with large budgets.
“It’s disrespectful to the people on the front lines who are doing the work for us,” Ybarra said.
Debate panelist and Boise State University professor emeritus Jim Weatherby pressed Ybarra on her failure to vote in 15 of the last 17 statewide elections.
Ybarra said the story “was not new news” and hoped to repay Idahoans for being “sporadic with my voting history” by doing a good job as superintendent.
Weatherby asked Ybarra whether she misled the audience at a Sept 26 City Club of Boise forum when she said, “We have all missed an election or two in our lifetime.”
“I put that out there from day one,” Ybarra said.
However, Idaho Education News first reported in April that Ybarra failed to vote in November 2012, when Idahoans rejected Luna’s Propositions 1, 2 and 3. On Tuesday, Idaho Education News first reported that Ybarra has never voted in a November election in her 17 years in Mountain Home.
The hour-long debate, held at the Northwest Nazarene University campus in Nampa, was broadcast live throughout the Treasure Valley and Magic Valley on KTVB and KTFT.
More reading: More about the Ybarra voting record story, on Kevin Richert’s blog.