Tom Luna and Stan Olson
Tom Luna and Stan Olson

BOISE — The battle for Idaho’s top elected education post has pitted a longtime educator and academic against a businessman with nearly four years of experience in the position.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and former Boise School District superintendent Stan Olson have found plenty wrong with each other’s records.

Olson, a Democrat who retired to run for the state schools chief post, chides Luna, a Republican, for not having a long-term plan to guide districts through one of Idaho public education’s darkest financial chapters.

During a debate televised statewide, Olson held up a copy of a pamphlet that Luna has provided as proof there is a vision for public schools. Olson said the plan has not been put to use in the state schools.

“You ought to pick up a copy,” Olson said. “Excuse the typos.”

Luna, meanwhile, rebukes Olson for taking home a $175,000 yearly salary as the Boise schools’ top administrator while he has taken a pay cut in his state post.

“Is an advocate somebody like me who transfers $5 million from my own department budget to the public schools budget. Or somebody who on top of his $175,000 salary also drove a car that was provided and paid for by the schools and even had his Rotary Club dues paid for by the schools?” Luna said during the debate.

Luna and Olson agree on one point: The winner will have his work cut out for him.

Public schools are taking a $128 million hit this fiscal year, and teacher morale was shaken after lawmakers opened the door for districts to negotiate lower pay to help offset the cuts — even though Idaho law assures them they will make at least as much as they did in the previous year.

Luna, Olson have divergent views

BOISE — The Idaho teachers union has rallied behind Democrat Stan Olson for state superintendent of public instruction and is running a separate, grass-roots campaign on his behalf.

Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood says teachers are outraged at GOP incumbent Tom Luna, who was at the helm while lawmakers cut total spending on public education for what they believe is the first time in Idaho history.

Wood also lodges the complaint that Luna’s critics have touched on since he first ran for the office.

He is not an educator, Wood says.

Luna was the president of an industrial truck scale company in Nampa when he defeated Democrat Jana Jones in the November 2006 election. He received his college degree online and defends his lack of traditional college by saying, “A pilot does not run United Airlines.” Olson has been a teacher, adjunct professor and superintendent.

Luna reveled in the contrast at the state GOP convention in Idaho Falls earlier this year.

“It drives academia crazy that I’m holding this position,” Luna told the crowd.

Luna says his business background helps him make smart financial decisions. He reminds voters that he convinced the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners to dip into an endowment reserve fund and give schools an additional $22 million.

“I fought that battle and in many ways, I fought it alone,” said Luna, who also calls attention to his pay cut.

Olson also takes Luna to task for using statewide test scores to show students are making academic gains.

Luna contends the tests are not a low bar. A quarter of Idaho schools were making adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law three years ago, he says, and now 62 percent of schools are reaching these goals.

It’s not good enough, according to Olson, who has compared the public education system to a “rudderless ship” and called Luna’s programs, such as the Idaho Math Initiative, “silver bullet operations.”

Luna’s view on pay cut

Lawmakers rejected Republican state schools chief Tom Luna’s request this year to let Idaho’s six constitutional officers turn down pay raises, fearing Luna was trying to turn public servant salaries into a political football.

Instead, lawmakers cut the constitutional office salaries that includes Luna’s pay. The salary levels will start to rise again in 2012.

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