The eight races on the Oct. 24 primary ballot for Louisiana’s top school board feature candidates with sharply contrasting views on Common Core, state Superintendent of Education John White and other topics.
A total of 21 contenders filed for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education during the three-day qualifying period that ended Thursday.
Two incumbents are stepping down, including BESE President Chas Roemer.
Virtually every contest has contenders who generally back the recent push for sweeping changes in public schools, regardless of political party, and others who contend the overhaul has gone too far.
Amy Lemoine, a Lafayette mother of three, is the spokeswoman for a group called Flip BESE that has made an endorsement in all eight races. The group wants White replaced, views public school letter grades as “bogus” and generally opposes the new reading, writing and math standards that make up Common Core.
Lemoine said the backers of overhauling public schools “are running scared. They see that we have good people in each of those races ready to run.”
Meanwhile, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which has pushed or backed many of the school changes since 2012, is endorsing or leaning toward a different slate of candidates.
“I am counting on getting eight out of eight,” said Brigitte Nieland, who follows public school issues for LABI.
Candidates endorsed by the group can collect up to $40,000 in donations for the campaign.
The contests are crucial because the future of a wide array of school changes depends on the makeup of BESE. That list includes whether Common Core undergoes big changes, White’s future and teacher evaluations.
Three other BESE members will be named by the next governor.
The race for Roemer’s District 6 seat in the Baton Rouge area points up the range of options voters will have statewide.
Libertarian Jason France, a Baton Rouge data analyst backed by Flip BESE and a former employee at the state Department of Education, opposes Common Core.
So does Republican Kathy Edmonston, a 21-year veteran of the Ascension Parish school district who lives in Gonzales.
But Republican Laree Taylor, who is the principal of Duvall Middle School in Port Allen, is backed by pro-Common Core member Roemer and possibly by LABI. Taylor said she favors rigorous standards for students.
Etta Licciardi, a Republican who lives in Loranger and spent 10 years on the Jefferson Parish School Board, said there has been too much talk about Common Core. “I believe that children should have a defined, rigorous curriculum that they follow,” she said.
The fifth candidate in the race — Republican Jason Engen, of Baton Rouge — could not be reached for comment.
The same sort of divisions are evident in the New Orleans-area District 1 contest.
Republican Lee Barrios, who was a teacher for 17 years and lives in Abita Springs, is challenging BESE Vice President Jim Garvey, another Republican who lives in Metairie.
Barrios, who often testifies at BESE meetings, said she differs with Garvey on Common Core, standardized testing, school privatization and other issues. “Every single policy issue, we disagree on,” Barrios said.
Garvey, who backed Common Core throughout months of debate but who says the review of it now underway is beneficial, said voters will benefit from the contrasting views. “If I have to run against someone, I would like it to be a clear choice for the public,” he said.
Democrat Carolyn Hill, a Common Core critic who lives in Baton Rouge, is backed by Flip BESE in her bid for a second term in District 8.
Democrat Jada Lewis, who works at LSU, has been endorsed by LABI.
District 7 incumbent Holly Boffy, a Republican who lives in Youngsville and backs Common Core, is backed by LABI.
Her challenger, Republican Mike Kreamer, of Lafayette, is backed by Flip BESE.
Jay Guillot, who lives in Ruston and is a Common Core backer, is the other BESE incumbent who is stepping down.
One of the candidates to replace him, Republican Johnny Fatheree, of Downsville, opposes Common Core.
Fatheree will face fellow Republican Gary Jones, a 44-year educator and former superintendent of the Rapides and Claiborne parishes school districts.
Jones may be backed by the pro-Common Core LABI. Fatheree has been endorsed by Flip BESE.
In District 2, LABI backs Democrat Kira Orange Jones’ bid for re-election.
Jones, who lives in New Orleans and backs Common Core, is being challenged by Democrat Kara Tamara Washington, who lives in Ama.
Washington has been endorsed by Flip BESE.
The other candidate, also a Democrat, is Gwendolyn Bordenave, of New Orleans.
In District 3, incumbent Republican Lottie Beebe, a Common Core critic, is being challenged by Republican Sandy Holloway, a 30-year educator in Lafourche Parish who runs a charter school.
Beebe, of Breaux Bridge, is superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system and is backed by Flip BESE.
Holloway lives in Thibodaux and is supported by LABI.
In northwest Louisiana, incumbent Republican Mary Harris, a Common Core critic, is being challenged by Republican Tony Davis, of Natchitoches, who may get LABI’s backing.
Also running is Glynis Johnston, a Shreveport teacher and a Republican.