(Editor’s note: This is part of a series on the Lafayette Parish School Board district races.)
LAFAYETTE — The two candidates for the Lafayette Parish School Board District 3 race have shared the ballot before, with Shelton Cobb emerging as the victor in that contest.
Cobb and his challenger, Elroy Broussard first vied for the position in 2008 in a special election to fill the seat vacated when Rickey Hardy resigned following his election to the Legislature in 2007. Cobb won the 2008 special election by 243 votes against Broussard, who came in second in a three-man race.
Broussard is Cobb’s first challenger since he was re-elected to the seat in 2010 without opposition.
Cobb said he wants to remain on the board to ensure the district’s turnaround plan receives the financial support it needs for implementation. The plan, which was created during the first months of Superintendent Pat Cooper’s tenure in 2012, outlines programs and initiatives to improve the district’s performance over a six-year period.
“The board at first had joined in with the community in supporting the turnaround plan, and for some reason or another we got derailed, and we’re more concerned about personalities and individual things and not about the kids,” Cobb said.
Broussard said he supports the plan but wants to see the board review the six-year guide for relevancy.
“We can take a look at it, critique it to what we need tomorrow because yesterday is gone,” Broussard said.
Cobb criticized some members of the current board for not supporting the plan by backing it with funding.
Cobb said he’d like to see the new board use resources that are on hand and available — including the system’s rainy day fund — to help support educational programs. The current board has been reluctant to touch the account, which includes money set aside to cover at least three months of operating expenses in cases of financial emergencies.
“Let’s use it when we don’t have the money we need to run the system as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Cobb said of the rainy day fund.
Cobb said another option is asking voters to approve a 15-mill tax that expired a few years ago.
Last year, a community education plan committee suggested that the board consider some type of new tax — such as a combination of a property tax and sunset sales tax — to fund facilities and educational programming needs.
Broussard served on the committee and says while it would be a challenge to pass a school board tax without restoring the public’s trust in the School Board, he thinks it’s needed.
“T-a-x is a difficult word,” Broussard said. “Nobody wants to say we need one, but I’m the first one to say I don’t want to pay a tax, but it’s needed. We’ve got to face reality.”
He said a tax tied to education and facilities could win the support of voters. But, he said, the board has to show the public it is sincere and is getting the best value for the tax dollars it spends.
Cobb agreed the board should at least ask the public to consider a new tax.
“I’m not going to say that I’m going to force anybody to pay taxes, but we can ask,” Cobb said. “They told us they want an A system. If they want it, we should ask them to put in.”
Broussard said his current leadership roles in the community have prepared him to serve on the School Board.
He’s chairman of the Lafayette Board of Zoning Adjustment and is a member of the Lafayette Parish Executive Committee. He’s also a founding member of the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council, a public education advocacy group.
Cobb is a retired educator who has held administrative positions at the state level and as regional director of the area’s technical colleges.
Cobb has served as president of the School Board during his tenure, and he remains one of two current board members who have supported Cooper. A third board member who has been a supporter of the embattled superintenent, Mark Cockerham, resigned from the board this week after an assistant district attorney determined that Cockerham vacated the seat when he moved out of his district.
Cooper has been under fire from a board majority and faces potential disciplinary action related to budgetary and personnel decisions he’s made in the past two years.
The school system is operating at 50 percent of last year’s budget because Cooper and the board are at odds over the 2014-15 budget. The state Department of Education’s general counsel recently informed Cooper that the board didn’t legally adopt the budget.
Cooper recently filed a lawsuit asking a judge to force the board to continue to use last year’s budget and to allow the new board to make decisions about the 2014-15 budget.
Broussard said he thinks the current board should finalize the 2014-15 budget.
“The sitting board and Dr. Cooper should decide on what’s needed,” he said. “To ask a new board to come in and approve a budget they know too little about is asking too much of them.”
Cobb voted in support of Cooper’s proposed budget and opposed cuts made by a majority of the current School Board.
“What this board has decided to do is manage the budget line by line and item by item. That is not their responsibility,” Cobb said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.