Voters in the Broadmoor-centered District 1 of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will decide on Dec. 6 whether a Republican insurance executive or a Democratic deputy director of a statewide teachers association will represent them on the board.
Mark Bellue was 189 votes short of victory in the Nov. 4 election, while Jennifer Andrews earned 31 percent of the vote, sending the two to the December runoff election.
Losing out was incumbent Mary Lynch, who earned just shy of 20 percent of the vote.
Only in office for six months following the untimely April 16 death of Randy Lamana, Lynch, who works as a part-time office assistant at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, actively campaigned and had many contributors to her campaign. Still, Lynch, who is not registered with a political party, lacked the partisan advantage of party identification her opponents enjoyed.
Lynch’s loss means District 1 is the only one certain to have a new face when the new nine-member School Board takes office in January. Six incumbents already have won. The other two Dec. 6 runoffs, in districts 5 and 8, each feature incumbents.
Lynch said last week that she has met with Andrews since Nov. 4 but is still deciding whether to endorse her.
Andrews’ strong showing was somewhat of a surprise. She provided the funding for her campaign initially, and by her own admission, she got off to a late start. A couple of weeks before the election, she received a total of $4,000 from two sources connected to Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby, which paid for a pre-election mailer.
Andrews had interviewed with representatives of the Grigsby-founded Better Schools for Better Futures in hopes of earning an endorsement from the group, but Bellue got the nod instead, as well as a $2,500 contribution. Andrews said she was surprised by the late help but said she hasn’t heard anything from the group since then.
Much of Bellue’s war chest comes from groups and individuals connected with Grigsby.
The population of District 1 is 56 percent white versus 36 percent black, and among registered voters, the breakdown is 64 percent white to 30 percent black. According to an analysis by JMC Analytics and Polling of Baton Rouge, the precincts in District 1 voted 58 percent for Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.
Bellue, an assistant vice president of governmental affairs for LUBA Workers’ Comp, said his campaign has taken a break since Nov. 4, but he plans to make one last push to let people know they still have another election.
“I am just reminding people that there’s a runoff,” Bellue said. “A lot of people thought I’d already won. Even people I know.”
Andrews, a former teacher and school administrator, has spent the last couple of years as deputy director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, or A+PEL, a group that is to the political right in the school world. It disavows collective bargaining, and a past president, Polly Broussard, was a political conservative, serving for a time on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Andrews is tacking to the left somewhat during the runoff.
At a forum Thursday held by the group Leaders With Vision, Andrews said she is openly seeking to raise taxes to support public education, including teacher pay raises and building new schools. She attacked Bellue for sending his two children to Catholic school while Andrews sends her three kids to East Baton Rouge Parish public schools. She also raised doubts about whether Bellue will make decisions based on the needs of his financial supporters if elected.
“Are you making these decisions based on your constituents, or are you making these decisions based on those who may be pulling strings for you?” Andrews asked.
She also questioned the academic performance of Baton Rouge-area charter schools, public schools run by private groups via contracts, and urged families to consider traditional schools first. In the past when asked about charter schools, Andrews focused on the need for traditional schools to improve in order to compete.
Bellue did not attend Thursday’s forum, but he and Andrews are scheduled to address the right-leaning Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge at noon Tuesday at Cafe Americain, 7521 Jefferson Highway. The group’s president and CEO is Woody Jenkins.
Bellue, a graduate of Belaire High, said he has met with Andrews and considers her knowledgeable but said that as a citizen he has many reasons to want to see public education flourish and doesn’t see his family’s choice to send their children to private schools as an issue.
“I think that’s one mentality we need to get away from that the school system is a private concern and you need to be a member of it to understand,” Bellue said.
Bellue said he is a friend of David Tatman, the president of the board, and has received financial help from him as well. When those who were approached could not be persuaded to run for District 1, Bellue said he decided to run himself.
Bellue said people should not read too much into the financial support he’s received from local business leaders.
“They are just like other people in our community who want to see improvement in our school system,” he said. “These are people who are willing to step up and do something about it.”
“Certainly we’re not going to agree on every single issue,” he added.
One issue that Bellue and Andrews agree on is that teachers need more respect and more support.
“They are our best bet to improving outcomes in the system, and we need to give them as much support as possible to actually teach and reach kids,” Bellue said.
Andrews said people aren’t seeking jobs and teachers are leaving early in East Baton Rouge Parish because of a combination of the paperwork demands as well as student discipline problems. As a former assistant principal, she said she knows that sometimes teachers will opt too quickly to refer a student for discipline, but she said if elected, she plans to do something about reports she’s been hearing of administrators ignoring referrals.
“Ignoring the referrals is the wrong thing to do,” she said. “We have to dig down and find what would address that problem.”