- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Sherri Ybarra says she’s staying mum on all things budget, policy and staffing until she’s sworn into office Jan. 5.

The recently elected Republican is in the middle of transitioning to become Idaho’s next superintendent of public instruction. Ybarra narrowly defeated Democratic opponent Jana Jones in the November election.

Ybarra told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it would be inappropriate to discuss changes she’s considering, because current state Superintendent Tom Luna is still in office.

“We are going to move forward. I understand that people want something different,” said Ybarra, who is a school administrator and former teacher from Mountain Home. “My administration will be different.”

Ybarra declined to answer, however, what the differences would be.

Despite facing an increase of attention due to her political inexperience, Ybarra has given only a handful of media interviews since winning in November’s election. On Wednesday, she gave interviews to The Associated Press and Idaho Education News. Before that, Ybarra said, she’s given two media interviews since being elected.

Ybarra defended her low-profile by stressing that she’s on a “silent tour” and focusing on gathering input from lawmakers and staffers. She also collected a 16-member transition team made up of legislatures and educators led by former Republican Superintendent Jerry Evans.

“I did a lot of talking on the campaign,” she said. “Now it’s time to listen.”

Along the campaign trail, Ybarra repeated she wouldn’t make authoritative decisions about the state’s public education budget -which makes up more than 60 percent of Idaho’s general fund- until she was in office and had time to review it herself.

On Jan. 28 Ybarra must present her budget proposal to Idaho’s Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, considered one of the most powerful committees in the Statehouse.

Back in September, Luna submitted a budget outline calling for a 6.4 percent boost in spending, his largest requested increase. The spending proposal bumped the education budget to $1.46 billion, with more than $31 million more for teacher salaries and benefits and $9 million for classroom technology.

Ybarra declined to answer if she would change Luna’s budget or present her own.

“It’s not that she wants to keep it a secret, she wants to do things right the first time,” said former GOP state Sen. Tim Corder, who is serving in Ybarra’s administration as special assistant to the superintendent. “She is working hard and gathering more information.”

Corder also served on Ybarra’s campaign team.

Ybarra secured a surprise victory in Idaho’s Republican primary against three other candidates who all had more campaign funding and political experience. She then led a tumultuous campaign on her way to the general election, facing criticism over her lack of voting record, educational resume, incorrectly listing an endorsement from one of her former opponents and accusations that she plagiarized sections of her website.

Ybarra described the negativity surrounding her campaign as misconceptions. But when asked how she would address misconceptions as superintendent, Ybarra responded that the issue was in the past.

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