LAFAYETTE — College adviser Mary Morrison won the Lafayette Parish School Board District 1 race Saturday, winning 59 percent of the vote over her challenger, retired high school wrestling coach Don Gagnard.
Morrison, a Democrat from Scott, received 2,804 votes to edge out Gagnard, no party and also of Scott, who received 1,948 votes or 41 percent of the vote.
“I’m looking forward to serving on the School Board, working with our School Board members and communicating with our schools, teachers and principals to bring their concerns to the table,” Morrison said Saturday night.
She said she’ll work to bring attention about the good work going on in schools in her district.
“There’s a lot of positive things going on in our school system and it’s not just about a letter grade,” she said.
Morrison replaces Mark Babineaux, an attorney who decided not to seek re-election so he could run for judge. Babineaux lost to his challenger, Michelle Meaux Breaux for the state district judge seat in Saturday’s runoff.
For Morrison, the win is the fulfillment of a goal that she sought in 2006 when she first ran for the seat but lost to Russel Meyer, who resigned months into his term after he got an out-of-state job.
In the past eight years, she said she’s prepared herself for the role of school board member and has volunteered in the schools in her community.
In 2011, she also represented District 1 on the Lafayette City-Parish Council, serving out the final year of the term of her husband, Purvis Morrison, after he was elected mayor of Scott. In that role, she said, she gained skills related to working with budgets and learned more about the needs within the district.
Morrison, a college student success adviser at South Louisiana Community College, is completing a master’s degree in education.
Both candidates edged out a third challenger in the Nov. 4 general election, Redell Comeaux “Mama” Miller, D-Scott.
Morrison joins a newcomer-majority board that takes office in January. Of the six incumbents who sought reelection, two will return for another four years — Tommy Angelle and Tehmi Chassion. The six other newcomers are: Elroy Broussard, Britt Latiolais, Justin Centanni, Dawn Morris, Erick Knezek and Jeremy Hidalgo.
Several candidates cited the dysfunction among the board and former Superintendent Pat Cooper as their reasons for seeking a seat on the board. For the first time in recent election cycles, all nine district races fielded candidates and drew a total of 20 candidates.
Tensions between Cooper and the board led to an investigation of Cooper and his eventual termination effective Nov. 6. Cooper has filed an appeal of the board’s firing decision in state district court claiming wrongful termination. In turn, the School Board voted on Dec. 3 to file a counter claim, demanding that Cooper pay the school district back for any expenses he authorized during the time he refused to implement the 2014-15 budget the board adopted in September.
The board will take on serious challenges in the coming year, starting with spring budget planning and an expected deficit and a potential search for a new superintendent in the coming months.
Morrison said she’ll work during the upcoming budget planning process to protect the classroom and early education programs from cuts.
The District 1 race had controversy of its own. In the weeks prior to the runoff, Gagnard found himself defending his character in defense of derogatory comments attributed to him on Facebook.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.