Editor’s note: This is the first in a series on the Lafayette Parish School Board district candidates.
LAFAYETTE — The two candidates seeking to represent District 9 on the Lafayette Parish School Board threw their names in the election hat nearly a year ahead of qualifying for the Nov. 4 race.
Candidate Jeremy Hidalgo announced his plans to run in September 2013, and candidate Brian West announced in January.
One of them will replace outgoing board member Rae Trahan, who opted not to seek re-election to a third term.
District 9 encompasses Youngsville, a city in the southern part of the parish that continues to grow as developers transform what was once farmland into neighborhoods to meet demand for family housing outside of Lafayette.
The southern part of the parish needs a new school, and other facilities across the district need attention, too, said West, who teaches in the informatics program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
West said other major issues he’d like to help the board tackle if he’s elected include upgrading technology and developing a strategy to find financial resources to pay for district needs. He said one major investment the district should make is in early childhood education.
“The earlier we can get a child learning, it will help in the long run,” he said. “I know it’s expensive, but I know if it’s going to come out in the end. That’s why I call it an investment.”
Hidalgo agreed that facilities should be a priority for the board, as well as improving the district’s graduation rate.
About 30 percent of the district’s students don’t graduate.
“I want my children to graduate. I want everyone’s children to graduate,” Hidalgo said. “It’s not just best for the children, their families or the school system, but the community.”
Hidalgo said he thinks his background in business — he’s a financial services representative and also owns his own business — has prepared him for service on the board.
“It’s plain to me that the fix with the problem with the School Board is an easy one — you need level-headed, common-sense leaders,” he said. “Within the School Board, you’ve got to get rid of hotheads and personal, petty politics. I have exhibited and will continue to exhibit common-sense leadership.”
A majority on the board has had a rocky relationship with Superintendent Pat Cooper. The board is considering formal charges against Cooper, and if the charges are accepted, it is expected to proceed with scheduling a termination hearing.
The board also has not approved a budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year that began July 1. School started Aug. 12, and the board has repeatedly deferred staff requests for more than $2 million in instructional materials and textbooks.
Both candidates frequently attend School Board meetings, including hourslong budget meetings where Cooper and some board members have locked horns over recommendations.
Both said the dysfunction has strengthened their resolve to seek office.
West said he thinks the relationship between Cooper and the current board is irreparable. He said board members have a responsibility is to ask questions but that he thinks the members also should defer to the judgment and experience of educational professionals.
“I don’t rubber stamp things, but I’ve got to defer to someone who knows more,” West said.
Some have criticized the current board to micromanagement, and Hidalgo noted that there are clearly defined roles for both the board and superintendent.
“A board member — whether they agree or disagree — should be able to get along and make decisions based on information and not emotion,” Hidalgo said. “Board members should set policy. They set budget, procedure. Board members answer to their constituents, and the superintendent’s job is to follow through on all of the above, as well as use his or her expertise to produce the best school system possible.”
West agreed: “Otherwise, you’ve got 10 superintendents — nine board members and one superintendent.”