With Common Core and other issues hanging in the balance, as many as seven of the eight elected members of Louisiana’s top school board will be on the Oct. 24 primary ballot.
The biggest question mark is Chas Roemer, who is president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and is a leading backer of the controversial Common Core standards in reading, writing and math.
“I have just not decided yet,” said Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge and holds the District 6 seat on BESE.
Two other hopefuls say they plan to run for Roemer’s spot.
Jay Guillot, who lives in Ruston, is the lone elected board member who has said he is not running again. He represents District 5.
Qualifying for the eight seats is Sept. 8-10. Runoffs, if needed, will be Nov. 21.
BESE has 11 members, with three named by the governor and eight chosen by voters. It sets policies for about 720,000 public school students statewide.
Those expected to run are:
Carolyn Hill, of Baton Rouge, who holds the District 8 slot and is expected to get opposition.
Lottie Beebe, who lives in Breaux Bridge and holds the District 3 seat.
Holly Boffy, a Youngsville resident who already has an opponent for the District 7 post.
Jim Garvey, a Metairie lawyer who will be opposed in District 1 by Lee Barrios, who has run before and lost.
Kira Orange Jones, who lives in New Orleans and holds the District 2 post.
Mary Harris, principal of a top-rated elementary school in Shreveport, who is seeking her first full term in the District 4 slot. At least two others are expected to challenge her.
BESE has endorsed Common Core twice, but that sentiment may change depending on how the eight races come out.
The new academic benchmarks could be a defining issue in at least four of eight contests — for the seats now held by Roemer, Hill, Boffy and Garvey.
“Over the past two years, the whole issue of standards has exploded,” said Barry Erwin, president of the pro-Common Core group Council for a Better Louisiana.
“Now you have people who are definitely recruiting candidates to get into the race on that issue, on both sides of it,” Erwin said.
The new board will take office in January, barely two months before BESE has to finish revisions to Common Core.
Like four years ago, the contests are expected to be expensive and heated, with business interests on one side and teachers unions and other traditional public school groups on the other.
Baton Rouge contractor Lane Grigsby said his 2011 Alliance for Better Classrooms political action committee will be back as well as a new one — Empower Louisiana.
“If we don’t improve the system, we have no future,” said Grigsby, who has pushed for tax credits, school choice and other steps usually opposed by public school groups.
The election outcomes also will help determine whether state Superintendent of Education John White retains his post.
Ironically, four years ago, Gov. Bobby Jindal, then a White ally, got heavily involved in the BESE races to ensure that White would be named superintendent.
White — now at odds with Jindal over Common Core — says he hopes to keep his job after a new board and governor take office in January.
One expected contender for Roemer’s slot is Kathy Edmonston, a 21-year veteran of the Ascension Parish school district, where she serves as a mediator between parents and students and the district.
Edmonston said that, unlike Roemer, she opposes Common Core. “I think we are going completely the wrong direction on education,” she said. “I think our students are tested entirely too much.”
Another likely contender in that district is Jason France, who has testified before BESE on student data privacy issues.
In District 8, Hill is a Common Core opponent who is often aligned with traditional public school groups. She did not respond to emails and phone calls about the election.
Another possible candidate in that district is Jada Lewis, assistant dean of diversity initiatives at the LSU College of Engineering.
In District 3, Beebe, who is superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system, opposes Common Core.
She often clashes with White and regularly wins applause from the Louisiana School Boards Association, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and Louisiana Association of Educators.
No opponent for Beebe has surfaced, but business interests hope to find one.
In District 7, Boffy, a former state Teacher of the Year, is a Common Core backer whose district includes heavy anti-Common Core sentiment, especially in the Lake Charles area.
She said she has raised more than $100,000 in her bid for a second term.
She is being challenged by Mike Kreamer, a Lafayette resident and a veteran of 32 years in education.
He said one of his priorities would be to reduce classroom stress “caused by overtesting and high-stakes accountability.”
In District 1, Garvey, who backs Common Core, said he wants to make the standards unique to Louisiana through revisions, not starting over.
“Our teachers have been through too much over the past three years to start from scratch,” he said.
Barrios, a former teacher in St. Tammany Parish, lost to Garvey in 2011.
In District 2, Jones is a Common Core backer. Executive director of Teach for America in New Orleans, she often backs White.
She said BESE and the state Department of Education have “established a strong foundation over the last four years, but we must protect that foundation and build on it.”
In District 4, Harris, an educator for 25 years, is seeking a full term for the post formerly held by Walter Lee, who resigned after he was indicted on charges of malfeasance in office and other accusations.
“I just feel that educators need a voice on the board,” Harris said. “I know how every decision that it makes affects students.”
Harris, a Common Core critic, faces opposition from Victor Mainiero, an administrator in the Caddo Parish school system, and Glynis Johnston, an elementary school teacher in Shreveport.
In District 5, the sole contender so far to succeed Guillot in the northeast Louisiana seat is Johnny Fatheree, a retired equine specialist and Common Core critic, according to the Monroe News-Star.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/