ST. FRANCISVILLE — Only one of the seven seats on the West Feliciana Parish School Board will be contested during the Nov. 4 primary election, with incumbent Kelly O’Brien picking up a challenger in Democrat Irma Bendily.
Incumbents Sara Wilson-Rogers, Amanda McKinney, President Kevin Beauchamp, James White and Vice President Milton Coats were unopposed at qualifying and elected automatically. David Cornette Sr., the incumbent in District 4, withdrew from the race, essentially handing the seat to Republican challenger Nancy “Beth” Tycer.
O’Brien and Bendily, both vying for the District 6 seat, agree that budgetary challenges will be the main challenge facing the School Board over the next few years.
Last May, almost 57 percent of West Feliciana voters rejected a proposal to levy an additional property tax to increase funding for the district, mostly geared toward teacher recruitment, updating facilities and increasing course offerings.
School Board President Kevin Beauchamp said the tax rejection sent a clear message: The board must make do with its current amount of money.
“I believe the public feels we are doing the best with what we have. I think everybody thinks the board is trying to do the right things and what’s in the best interest of the kids,” he said.
O’Brien, a Republican, and Bendily agree that another tax increase proposal should not be pursued. O’Brien is currently in her first full elective term on the School Board, after being appointed in November 2008 to fill the final two years of Conville Lemoine’s term.
She and her husband, Cary, have lived in St. Francisville since August 2002, and they have two children in West Feliciana schools.
O’Brien said the School Board needs to do a better job of getting parish voters to understand what the district’s needs are in order to improve schools. She said the administration is doing a good job of that, particularly by aggressively pursuing grants.
“Funding is our biggest issue,” said O’Brien, a licensed real estate agent with Remax First. “We’ve received increased mandates and demands from the state, but the funding has not been available to go with that.”
O’Brien said the school district needs to become more “proactive” about needed maintenance at school facilities, instead of merely “playing catchup to resolve ongoing issues.”
Like her opponent, Bendily believes school funding is the top priority, emphasizing that she believes the board can’t ask for more taxes.
“The public has said enough is enough to more taxes and the School Board has to live within its financial constraints,” she said.
Bendily also touted her experience in the educational trenches. She has worked as an administrative assistant with the East Feliciana Parish superintendent and 12-member School Board for almost 25 years.
She is a certified professional secretary, paralegal and notary public.
This is Bendily’s first time to run for public office, and she said, if elected, her focus would be the needs of the children in the school system and the need to get control of the district’s finances.
Bendily and her husband, Jody, live off La. 421 in St. Francisville. They have two adult children who attended parish schools.