Six chairs were set out at Drusilla Seafood on Thursday for a luncheon debate forum for East Baton Rouge School Board candidates who have advanced to the Dec. 6 runoff election. But only three people showed up to fill them, making it a one-sided affair.
Jean Armstrong, president of Leaders With Vision and former president of the Louisiana League of Women Voters in Baton Rouge, said two of the no-shows, Evelyn Ware-Jackson in District 5 and Chris Bailey in District 8, had confirmed the week before they would come. A third, Mark Bellue in District 1, said he might, Armstrong said.
“If the candidates won’t answer to the voters during the campaign what makes you think they will answer to them after they are elected?” Armstrong asked.
The three candidates who skipped the luncheon are all endorsed and have received substantial money from the political arm of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and groups and individuals connected with Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby. Ware-Jackson is an incumbent seeking a second term; Bailey and Bellue are newcomers.
The three who showed are Jennifer Andrews in District 1, Jerry Arbour in District 5, and Connie Bernard in District 8. Andrews is a newcomer, while Arbour and Bernard are incumbents seeking re-election.
The panelists were Billy Arcement, former president of the Louisiana School Boards Association; Michael Faulk, superintendent of Central public schools; Jocelyn Harrison, chair of Southern University’s Education Theory, Policy and Practice department; and Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, a liberal think tank based in Baton Rouge.
The most awkward moment came when it came time for the candidates to question their missing opponents at the forum.
“Why is it you are willing to serve on the School Board and yet you are not willing to send your own kid to the school system?” Andrews asked the missing Bellue.
“I would have asked why my opponent voted to reapportion and reduce the size of the School Board from 11 to nine members knowing full well it would take the voice from a lot of people,” Arbour said to the missing Ware-Jackson.
“How are the residents of Baton Rouge and District 8 to trust you when you spread lies about another candidate?” Bernard asked the missing Bailey.
Leaders With Vision have posted a video of the forum here.
Library board wants to give director pay raise but …
The issue of giving Library Director Spencer Watts a pay raise has become a hurdle two years into his tenure. Watts currently makes $100,202 a year, and some board members say they think he deserves to be paid more.
Board members gave Watts a glowing performance evaluation at their Thursday night meeting. Library Board President Tanya Freeman said the one downside is that the board lacks the ability to give him a pay raise.
Watts started at the top of the pay scale, so the Library Board would have to secure Metro Council approval for Watts to bring home larger paychecks, which the council has not necessarily favored in the past.
Before Watts was hired, the Metro Council shot down the Library Board’s request to increase the library director’s pay range.
The board wanted to increase the library director’s salary cap to attract a top-notch candidate for the job. But council members said then that the board should first hire someone and later worry about their salary, Freeman said.
Since that time, Freeman said, they have not had another opportunity to revisit the salary increase. Timing is especially important, she said, because the Metro Council is concerned right now about raises for underpaid city-parish workers.
Still, Freeman and other board members maintain that Watts deserves a pay raise soon. They touted his accomplishments, as he oversees more than 500 employees, 14 libraries and has pushed the system on the path toward expansion.
“We do want keep Spencer [Watts], and it’s hard for someone to manage this large of an area,” Freeman said.
Marco Rubio in Louisiana to campaign for Cassidy
Possible 2016 presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., will take part in two campaign rallies for U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy on Saturday in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas, marking the start of early voting for the U.S. Senate runoff Dec. 6.
Cassidy is challenging three-term incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Rubio will be with Cassidy at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center near Gonzales from 12:30 to 2 p.m., then at The Crossing in Kenner at 3:30 p.m.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is scheduled to be at both events, said John Cummins, Cassidy’s Senate campaign spokesman. Republican Garret Graves, who is running against former Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards for Cassidy’s 6th Congressional District, will also be at the rally in Gonzales. Gonzales is in the 6th District.
Each event Saturday has been dubbed an “Early Voting Victory Rally,” but Cassidy does not plan to early vote himself until Tuesday morning at the Louisiana State Archives in Baton Rouge.
He will then attend rallies Tuesday with Texas Gov. Rick Perry at Celtic Media Centre, Stage 2 in Baton Rouge and at events in Lafayette and Covington, the Cassidy campaign said.
Perry will make the fifth Republican eyeing the presidency in 2016 to campaign with Cassidy this month.
Advocate staff writers Charles Lussier, Andrea Gallo and David Mitchell contributed to this article.