While other candidates for the Tangipahoa Parish School Board are pushing through the final stretches of their campaigns, Eric Dangerfield is scheduled to be explaining to a judge why his bond should not be revoked for failure to pay $3.5 million in restitution and fines for theft and tax evasion.
Dangerfield resigned from the District G seat July 15 as part of his agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office after pleading guilty in 19th Judicial District Court in May to six counts of misdemeanor theft and two counts of misdemeanor tax evasion.
Dangerfield and his wife, Cassandra, owned 1st Thessalonians Community Programs, a personal care business in Hammond through which they filed numerous false claims for state Medicaid reimbursement. The Dangerfields used the funds to pay their salaries, buy property and luxury vehicles, pay college tuition for their adult sons and fund Eric Dangerfield’s previous School Board campaign, then filed false tax returns to hide the income, the Attorney General’s Office said.
Eric Dangerfield received a four-year suspended sentence, but the Attorney General’s Office is asking a state court judge to revoke the suspension because the Dangerfields have paid only about $200 combined of their total restitution, fines and costs. The revocation hearing is set for Friday.
Dangerfield, 61 and a Democrat, said he is seeking election to the same Hammond-area School Board seat he vacated in July because his constituents asked him to run again. The plea agreement did not forbid his seeking re-election.
Dangerfield joined all the School Board candidates in saying the parish’s desegregation case is the district’s biggest challenge moving forward.
“I think the community is ready for the case to end, and I think the best shot of ending it is offering fairness and equality to all,” he said. “Desegregation is more than just counting the number of blacks and whites in the schools. It’s about knowing that all kids have the same opportunities.”
Dangerfield’s only opponent, Tara Hudgins, said she is running “because I think there’s a need in Hammond and in my district for someone with character, integrity and expertise in speaking up for kids.”
Hudgins, 34 and a mother of two boys who attend Hammond schools, said she has experience advocating for children and adults with special needs, noting that one of her sons is on the autism spectrum.
With a background in accounting and business administration, Hudgins said she intends to focus on ending the desegregation case so the district’s funds can be rechanneled back to education and student needs.
Three Democratic candidates are vying for the seat being vacated by Ann Smith, who chose not to seek re-election.
Jimmy Richardson, 65, Roseland, a former three-term School Board member and critic of the administration, represented District A before losing to Smith in the tumultuous 2006 elections leading up to the reopening of the district’s desegregation case.
Richardson said he is seeking election again because, “I want to be the guy on the board making sure we do it right this time so we can finally reach unitary status.”
Walter Daniels, 63, a transportation department supervisor in the school system and former Amite city councilman, said he is open to any plan that will bring an end to the desegregation case.
“I want to see it basically back to normal for the kids instead of everything going toward attorney fees,” Daniels said.
Eric Brumfield, 40, a motivational speaker and community advocate from Kentwood, said most of the things students need for access to a better education are already in place.
“I want to be an advocate on the board to fight for them and not play politics with their education,” he said.
Dudley Settoon, of Amite, is challenging incumbent Gail Pittman-McDaniel, of Kentwood. Both are Republicans.
McDaniel, 69 and a retired educator elected to the board in 2010, said she is seeking re-election “only because I care about the students and the schools,” and because she wants to see the desegregation case come to an end.
“It just makes no sense to be in this position,” she said of the ongoing litigation.
Settoon, 68 and owner of a lumber company and a dry cleaning service, said he feels strongly that there needs to be changes on the School Board.
Settoon said he’s only one voice with one vote, but he’s “willing to put my two cents in.”
Mark Camelo, of Tickfaw, and Therese Domiano, of Hammond, are seeking election to the seat being vacated by Al Link.
Camelo, 50, a Democrat and retired 22-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, said his 25 years of experience in the school system’s transportation department have taught him that “forced busing out of a student’s home area to another, just to create a certain ratio for children to solve the sins of the past,” is not the answer.
“It puts hardship on the parents when it’s hard enough to get parental involvement as it is,” he said.
Domiano, 57 and not affiliated with a political party, said her 30 years of experience working in the school system as a teacher and administrator gave her an understanding of how abstract policies play out in the real lives of students and educators.
She also noted that, having raised five children, she understands how to spend without waste.
Republicans Mike Whitlow and Joyce Young are seeking the seat being vacated by Christina “Chris” Cohea, who decided to withdraw from the race.
Young, an ordained Hammond minister with a bachelor’s degree in business management and 20 years of office administration experience, said she hails from a long line of educators and is sensitive to the concerns and challenges of educating the parish’s young people.
Young said she will join the board in seeking a progressive resolution to the desegregation case as well as a curriculum to enhance literacy and aptitude for math and science.
Whitlow, 50, a Ponchatoula owner of two Mack and Volvo truck dealerships, said the school system should expand its vocational-technical education opportunities and seek ways to get the business community involved.
“Not every child is college material, or even wants to go to college, but they all have the right to a good education, a good paying job and career,” he said.
Roy Hutchinson, of Robert, is challenging incumbent Sandra Bailey-Simmons, of Loranger, for this seat. Both are Republicans.
Simmons, 74, a retired educator who has served on the board since 2001, when her late husband and 28-year board member Enos F. “Jake” Bailey died, said she voted against both the current court-ordered desegregation plan and the modified plan headed for court approval. Both would cause too much disruption to neighborhood schools, particularly in her district, she said.
“It seems that whenever compromise comes up, there’s not much of it, and I think that’s why we’re still in the mess we’re in today,” she said.
Hutchinson, 53 whose wife is a teacher and curriculum coach at Midway Elementary, decried the amount of paperwork teachers face.
“Teachers ought to have less paperwork and spend more time teaching so children don’t have as much homework at night,” he said. “Time with family at home is just as important as school. We have things to teach our children, too.”
Beth Davis is going head-to-head for a second time against two-term incumbent Rose Dominguez, after losing to Dominguez by only 51 votes out of 1,881 cast in 2010. Both are Republicans from Ponchatoula.
Dominguez, 56, who worked 15 years as a substitute teacher in the district, said although her primary focus will be on ending the desegregation case without raising taxes, other goals include increasing parental involvement, reducing drop-out rates and seeking funding for employee raises.
“This will also include working directly with state legislators and state officials, as I have throughout my time on the board, to ensure that education funding has the highest priority,” she said.?Davis, 56 and a station manager for WSTY in Hammond, said Tangipahoa Parish schools used to rank higher among state public systems and can again if board members are unified and focus on ending the desegregation case.
“Because the focus has been on it, and it needs to be back on the classroom and the teachers who are pouring their hearts and souls into our children,” Davis said.
Board members Andy Anderson and Brett Duncan were re-elected without opposition in Districts C and E, respectively.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.