Vereta Lee and Daniel Banguel, East Baton Rouge Parish School Board District 2 November election candidates, have fundamental differences about the role of board members in the day-to-day operations of schools.
The election is on Nov. 4. Early voting is Oct. 21 through Oct. 28.
Lee sees her role as a two-term, going for three, School B oard member who can listen to what’s going on in the schools and bring forward any concerns without the person raising the issue having to come forward, especially those who fear retaliation.
Banguel sees the role of the school board member as hiring a good superintendent who runs the day-to-day operations of the school system and then stays out of the business of trying to micromanage those tasks.
“I decided to run because there’s not enough leadership being shown in District 2,” Banguel said. “The School Board is in a gridlock where they simply don’t want to work together.”
Currently, he said, there are members who feel it is their duty to get involved or make issues out of day-to-day operations of individual schools. That leads to overly long board meetings of four, five or six hours in debates on matters the superintendent, not the School Board, should be addressing.
Lee said she decided to run again because of unfinished work she’d like to see completed, including the new Lee High School. She also would like to see the school system advance from a C school system to a state-designated B or A.
“We’re already on that road,” she said. “We don’t have time to train someone new.”
Both candidates agree that one of the keys to advancing the school system and individual schools is to recruit and retain highly qualified teaching staff while improving community and parental involvement.
Lee said there aren’t as many students getting a teaching degree anymore, especially since a law passed by the Legislature a few years ago that let charter schools hire teachers who have other types of college degrees. Getting qualified teachers for the public schools means being able to pay those teachers well.
“If you pay well, you’re going to attract people here,” Lee said. “Rely on human resources to go out and recruit people and then pay them for what they’re worth.”
Banguel agreed that recruiting and keeping good teachers is key to making the school system successful.
Banguel also proposes a teacher-swap training program where for a year, maybe two, an experienced teacher from a high-performing school would switch places with a new teacher. The experienced teacher would be a resource at the underperforming school and would mentor the younger teachers. At the same time, the new teacher would get to have experience at a high-performing school.
Financial incentives would be needed for the experienced teachers to make the temporary shift, but the entire school system would benefit, he said.
“Right now, we’re giving too much freedom to the teachers to decide which school to go to,” Banguel said.
He said experienced teachers should volunteer for the program, but it may take a reminder that the teachers work for the district, not for an individual school.
In the coming years, Banguel said, challenges include getting a School Board that can work together, hiring a superintendent who has a record of success and improving community involvement in the schools.
For Lee, the challenges include keeping good teachers and continuing the improvements the school system already has made. In addition, the possibility of a new break-away district for a proposed city of St. George in south East Baton Rouge Parish could pose new problems.
“They say we’re failing children, but that’s not the case,” she said, referring to St. George organizers. “They haven’t given a good reason for wanting to break away.”
Banguel said he’s not surprised there are people trying to form a breakaway school district because everyone wants a better education for their children. However, he said, forming another school system isn’t the answer.
“I think we’re stronger together,” he said. “If you have a board that doesn’t want to work together, then you’ll have these groups trying to form other school systems.”
Both agree that the state takeover of public schools has done little to nothing to improve education for students, with some schools doing worse than when under the East Baton Rouge school system.
“I feel as though those charter schools are taking away money from the (school) system,” Banguel said. “I don’t agree that’s how that should go.”
Lee said it’s been hard to see the state take over schools and then leave them empty or as office space while the students who remain in the system move into cramped quarters in the remaining schools. Other school systems have been able to get schools returned, but not East Baton Rouge.
“It’s just like they want to punish us,” Lee said. “I just wish people would come into the schools to see what’s going on.”
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.