Ybarra praises lawmakers as she prepares for post-legislative roadshow

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra praised the Legislature Thursday, and suggested she has grown more comfortable as a politician in her own right.

During a 25-minute interview in her Boise office, Ybarra heaped praise on lawmakers for making public schools a priority. She specifically singled out the 2017-18 public school budgets, which increase spending by about $100 million, or 6.3 percent.

“It was great, and it just keeps getting better,” Ybarra said. “As for some of the highlights, we saw legislators were very education-friendly this year — not that they haven’t been in the past. This was a great year for flexibility.”

Ybarra was especially pleased that lawmakers earmarked nearly $62 million for the third year of the teacher career ladder. Ybarra, much like Gov. Butch Otter and legislative leaders, pushed for the pay raises during the weeks and months leading up to the legislative session. The raises help satisfy one goal Ybarra outlined in the State Department of Education’s strategic plan — attracting and retaining great teachers and leaders.

“I don’t think there was one group that I talked to that didn’t say that was their No. 1 priority,” said Ybarra, recalling her pre-session meetings with superintendents and education groups.

Ybarra attributes much of the success to teamwork and relationship building. During the House Education Committee’s first meeting of the year, Ybarra pledged to work closely with lawmakers — and says she worked hard to keep that pledge.

Now in her third year in office, Ybarra said she is much more comfortable as a politician. She joked that she knew she was more successful because she knows where all the Statehouse bathrooms are and her phone is now filled with more lawmakers’ cell phone numbers.

In a more serious vein, Ybarra pointed to her relationship with first-year House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie VanOrden. Ybarra called VanOrden “a great champion of education” and said the two Republicans share mutual respect and enjoy open lines of communication.

Ybarra did not succeed on every goal. For the second straight year, she watched her rural schools support center proposal die after the Senate Education Committee declined to consider it. Ybarra sought $300,000 to launch a pilot program to help rural schools enter cooperative resources agreements — something she has long called a top legislative priority.

The House again backed the rural schools center. However, some lawmakers said they haven’t seen enough details and wonder if it amounts to another layer of bureaucracy, since state law already allows school districts to enter into cooperative agreements.

Despite the setback, Ybarra said she will bring the proposal back anew in 2018 with a different strategy. Part of that strategy will involve bringing rural schools leaders or stakeholders to the Statehouse to demonstrate grassroots support for the initiative, she said.

What’s next: annual roadshow, public hearings, teacher evaluations training

Now that the 80-day legislative session is complete, Ybarra is about to embark on SDE’s six-city legislative roadshow tour. Ybarra said this year’s roadshow will be more hands-on and focus on two areas where educators are seeking more information.

One topic of emphasis will be the temporary new science standards, which lawmakers approved after deleting five references to human impact on the environment and climate change.

“Ninety-five percent of the standards remain intact, and (standards represent) the minimum requirement,” Ybarra said. “Folks can go above and beyond.”

Ybarra urged anyone interested in the standards to attend one of six public hearings on the standards. The evening hearings are scheduled to coincide with the all-day roadshow meetings. State officials are also accepting public comment online.

The other area of emphasis will be teacher evaluations. The Legislature set aside $1 million for training administrators in the area of evaluations — with an eye to improving validity. Ybarra said the $1 million won’t be available until after July 1, and she will work with other State Board of Education members to develop an implementation strategy.

2017 legislative roadshow schedule (all events run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. local time)

  • April 11, Twin Falls, CSI Herrett Center, 315 Falls Ave.
  • April 12, Fort Hall, Shoshone-Bannock Hotel Event Center, 80 Simplot Road.
  • April 13, Idaho Falls, Hilton Garden Inn, 700 Lindsay Blvd.
  • April 18, Boise, Red Lion Downtowner, 1800 W. Fairview Ave.
  • April 19, Lewiston, Lewis-Clark State College, 500 Eighth Ave.
  • April 20, Coeur d’Alene, Coeur d’Alene Resort, 115 S. Second St.