Ybarra vs. Dillon. Round One.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra revealed she’s launching a red tape committee to cut down on paperwork for administrators, and says she has a “free, read my lips, free” plan to bring early childhood education to all Idaho children.

Wilder superintendent Jeff Dillon said Idaho lacks — and therefore needs — a comprehensive statewide education plan that includes expectations for our children and our communities.

Ybarra and Dillon, her Republican opponent, squared off in their first public appearance together on Wednesday afternoon during the Idaho School Boards Association’s annual convention in Coeur d’Alene. More than 100 school leaders gathered to challenge the candidates on issues ranging from education funding to teacher shortages and leadership.

Here are highlights from the 90-minute question-and-answer session:

What would you recommend for the school funding formula?

Dillon: Look at what is working currently and find something that could be tweaked. Be careful of jumping too far, too quick. It should be a very slow process and we need to be careful of impacting the budget.

Ybarra: I’m not burying my head in the sand, I realize levies are at an all-time high. We need to adopt a set of strategies that’s a wedding cake approach. The first layer is a hybrid of attendance and enrollment. The next layer provides for children with special needs and in poverty. The next layer phases that in over four to five years. Flexibility in line items is another layer in the wedding cake.

How will you address the teacher shortage?

Ybarra: We have a public service announcement to raise the profession. I’m supportive of alternate routes to (teacher) certification. I am strengthening our relationships with ABCTE, Troops for Teachers and Teach For America. I will never let (the teacher shortage) leave the minds of our legislators. Mentoring is huge.

Dillon: We don’t have good data to make the decisions we need to make. Without data, it’s hard to get direction. How many teachers are we going to be short? We don’t know. We need that data and we need it really soon.

Should the state support school vouchers (or tax credits)?  

Ybarra: No, no, no, no, no. I’m supportive of school choice but I cannot support vouchers.

Dillon: Homeschoolers I’ve talked to are not in favor of vouchers because they don’t want government intrusion. I strongly support effective public schools.

How will you provide leadership and vision?

Dillon: We’re riding the tail end of the task force recommendations and we don’t have another plan in place. We need a comprehensive statewide plan with expectations for our children and our communities.

Ybarra: I’m sorry, my opponent has not done his homework. We have worked on our standards and we’re staying the course because we’re beginning to see gains. We do have a vision. We do have a plan. And we know we can always do better.

How can we reduce the paperwork demands facing school administrators?

Ybarra: We’ve already started working on that, we’re creating a red tape committee to address that. It is not uncommon to have a governance structure but we can reduce the bureaucracy.

Dillon: We’re duplicating our time and efforts to meet the needs of the state department. We need to put the trust back into the hands of districts and school boards.

Are there things you would like to change around teacher evaluations?

Dillon: Evaluations are important for the teachers. We need to look at where (teachers) want to be at the end of the year, and ask them what do they need from me. We need to have a good comprehensive plan for Idaho to give us better direction.

Ybarra: Educators have spoken and they are not interested in changing the evaluation system. The department needs to be in less of a managerial position and more of a supportive position.

What do you propose to do about early childhood education?

Ybarra: We are going to have stakeholder groups coming together at the end of the month (to look at a program that is) free, read my lips, free to the state and for all Idaho kids. Extend summer opportunities.

Dillon: A test never solved the problem, great teachers do. Our teachers know what’s going on. The need for preschool and early literacy, we need to address this and it needs to be flexible. Use our money wisely.

We don’t fund a full day of kindergarten or require it. Shouldn’t we address that first?

Dillon: We need both for districts that need both, but we should not force a full-day kindergarten on districts that don’t need it.

Ybarra: Ninety-eight percent of Idahoans take advantage of (kindergarten). Or let’s say over 90 percent are taking advantage of kindergarten opportunities. If you make it mandatory, where are we going to put them? We need to look at early education instead of kindergarten.

What options would you support for building schools (besides local property taxes)?

Ybarra: We have a great opportunity with the funding formula committee and I would look at getting a little more help from the feds — send us money for that but stay out of our business when it comes to standards and testing.

Dillon: I won’t look to the federal government for help. I’d get the business leaders in the state together and have a conversation. It should not be coming from the funding formula but from outside-the-box thinking.

What is the role of the SDE (or superintendent) in working with stakeholders when it comes to crafting legislation?

Dillon: The state department needs to be a leader and not a follower.

Ybarra: Support schools and students to achieve — it is not to come in and give directives but to educate and communicate. This should be less of a managerial job and more of a supportive job. Pay attention to the legislation that’s going to do damage and don’t be a politician.


Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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