Editor’s note: This is part of a series on the Lafayette Parish School Board district races.
LAFAYETTE — Lafayette Parish School Board District 2 incumbent Tommy Angelle faces two challengers in the upcoming election — James Chavis and Simon Mahan.
All three candidates said an emphasis on improving facilities in their district is a priority for them. Other concerns voiced by the candidates included expanding early childhood education programs, improving academic achievement in the district’s schools, restoring trust in the board and focusing more attention on students trapped in poverty who may be struggling academically.
Angelle, longtime former mayor of Carencro, narrowly won his seat on the board in 2010 by four votes.
Angelle said he wants to continue his role as a board member to push initiatives he supports, such as expansion of early childhood education programs.
“I’d like to see pre-K in all of our elementary schools,” he said.
Angelle said he thinks a review of the current programs in the district and the elimination of ineffective initiatives could free up funding to expand early childhood classes.
“I would like to see if there are places where we could cut spending that do not have to do with classroom management and funnel that money to early childhood,” Angelle said. “Then, and only then, if it’s still not enough, I’d be in favor of asking the taxpayer to belly up.”
He said he thinks the board should work together to ensure all board members “are on the same page,” and will work toward that end if he’s re-elected.
“I would like to see the policy set forth by the board enforced. That would be my top priority. I think if we can get that straight, we can move on to the other programs like early childhood and the various different programs that we have,” he said.
Angelle said he’s been an advocate for employees and plans to continue that role.
Mahan, who works for a nonprofit organization that promotes wind energy, said one of his priorities is improving school facilities and finding cost-savings to provide resources for facility needs.
“One of the big things I plan to push is an energy efficiency upgrade for a lot of the schools,” Mahan said. “We can save money by improving the facilities — not only that, but we can make the school environment more conducive to learning.”
Mahan, a Missouri native, and his family moved to Lafayette three years ago from Washington, D.C. He said he hopes voters will value the fresh outlook he could offer as a new board member.
“I think by having an outside perspective and a new generation of leadership that we can really start to think about our side of the parish in a new light and step away from some of the petty politics that we’ve had in the past,” Mahan said.
He said he decided to run to provide voters better governance and research-based decisions.
Mahan said he views improving academic achievement in his district as his top priority.
“Seven out of eight schools that predominantly serve my side of the parish are D schools. The eighth is a C school,” Mahan said. “We have to do better. That is priority one.”
Better use of existing resources is needed as the board makes efforts to restore its credibility with the public before considering a new tax, Mahan said.
“I think we need to weigh what the voters want first. Elections cost a lot of money. If you go into an election that voters are against already, you’ve wasted a lot of money. You have to regain voters’ trust. Right now, the board has little credibility and no respect,” Mahan said.
Restoring trust takes showing up for board meetings on time and “making sure that the board members do their homework before they get to the meetings — not having six 10-hour meetings, getting down to business and focusing on the kids,” Mahan said.
Chavis is a retired educator with more than 30 years of experience in the classroom. He said he decided to seek a seat on the School Board to be a voice for the “poor and ignored.”
“I’m a sharecropper’s son and I identify strongly with the poor and ignored,” Chavis said. “I want to reach back and help those children who are living in poverty.”
In his role as a board member, Chavis said he would push for research-based programs designed to address the needs of struggling students.
“There’s a need for unity among the board and the superintendent for support of our main mission — to support students and teachers and improve the achievement gap to move our schools forward,” Chavis said.
The school system currently has a six-year plan for district-wide improvement, known as the turnaround plan. Chavis said he supports the plan “in concept,” but thinks that the plan needs review.
“We need to be analyzing what’s working and not working,”Chavis said. “What’s the next phase to make it more effective?”
Chavis said he wouldn’t support bringing a tax to voters at this time and that he plans to focus on effective use of available funds.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.