Control of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will hinge on a handful of competitive races Nov. 4 that feature candidates backed by business leaders, others with connections to the school system as well about half who are running for office for the first time.
It’s a more complicated picture than in 2010 when the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and other business leaders pushed for a clean slate, backing newcomers in nine out of 11 races. They supported only one incumbent then, Jill Dyason, who joined the board in 2001 and is its longest-serving member.
This time, many of the business-backed candidates are incumbents, running for re-election to second terms.
Only one of those, David Tatman, the board’s president, learned Friday he will retain his seat for the next term after he drew no opposition during qualifying last week, which ended Friday. His new term starts Jan. 1.
The rest will have opponents, in some cases several of them, enough perhaps to force as many as four runoffs on Dec. 6. In all, 22 candidates will be vying for eight seats.
Tatman will take over the newly drawn District 9. That district is the culmination of a monthslong successful effort, also backed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, to shrink the size of the board from 11 members to nine.
Those new maps, approved in a close, bitter 6-5 vote on July 24, have so far withstood court challenge. They are bigger districts than the 11 they replace, with an average of nearly 42,000 residents in each.
Of the eight competitive races, four feature incumbents who supported shrinking the size of the board: Evelyn Ware-Jackson, District 5; Dyason, District 6; Barbara Freiberg, District 7; and Connie Bernard, District 8.
If all of them win again, along with Tatman, they once again will form a narrow majority.
The six-member majority of the past four years, which besides the five above also included Craig Freeman, who is moving to Oklahoma, often faced off with a five-member opposition, led by veteran board members embittered by political attacks in 2010 that sought to oust them from office.
The majority voting bloc sometimes fell apart, especially under Superintendent Bernard Taylor, who lost support from both wings of the board during his tenure, which ends in June when his three-year contract expires.
Tatman is keeping his seat on the board after Jerry Arbour, also an incumbent, switched at the last minute. Arbour opted to run instead in the newly drawn District 5 and challenge incumbent Evelyn Ware-Jackson.
Also opposing Ware-Jackson are former schoolteacher Patty Merrick and W.T. Winfield, who served on the board from 2008 to 2010. Arbour and Winfield were allies on the board and often voted together but became targets of business leaders in 2010.
Neither Arbour nor Winfield live in the district, but both say they will move into District 5 if successful.
At least one other candidate, Eugene Collins Weatherspoon, who most people know as Eugene Collins, plans to do the same in District 3.
Weatherspoon, STD/HIV regional coordinator for the Baton Rouge Public Health System, lives just south of Jefferson Highway near the Ascension Parish line — which is across the parish from District 3 where he plans to take on incumbent Kenyetta Nelson-Smith. District 3 stretches from downtown Baton Rouge north to the edge of Baker.
Weatherspoon said he got a legal opinion saying it was OK for him to run, and he is hoping to change his residence to District 3 in the coming weeks.
State law requires candidates for School Board to be “domiciled” in the district they are seeking for at least a year prior to qualifying.
The law, however, makes an exception for candidates who run after a reapportionment, like the one the board approved July 24. After a reapportionment, candidates who live outside the newly created districts can still qualify to run as long as they’ve lived for a year in “any district created in whole or in part from a district existing prior to reapportionment.”
Three more newcomers — Daniel Banguel and Rachel Allmon, taking on Vereta Lee in District 2; and Robert Maxie Sr., opposing Tarvald Smith in District 4 — don’t list a residence at all, opting instead to use a post office box as their addresses.
Three other candidates, all incumbents — Lee, District 2; Tarvald Smith, District 4; and Ware-Jackson, District 5 — also are listing a P.O. box, but they have previously declared residences that are located in their new districts.
A few of the newcomers have apparent connections to the pro-charter school parent group Stand For Children, though that group has yet to say who it is endorsing in the election. The clearest is Rachel Allmon, sister of Raymond Allmon, the Baton Rouge city director for Stand For Children. Allmon has spoken for years about trying to get people to run for School Board.
Weatherspoon said he has spoken to Raymond Allmon and may accept support from Stand For Children as well as other groups but said he decided independently to run and wasn’t recruited by anyone. He said he wants to improve the system because he is a father with two children and also because of his background in public health.
“If you look at any of the health trends, it all points back to public education,” he said.
Raymond Allmon, who opted not to run this year, ran for School Board in 2010 with the backing of business leaders but lost to Randy Lamana. When Lamana died on April 16, Allmon pressed the board to appoint him to finish Lamana’s unexpired term, but the board selected Mary Lynch instead.
Lynch is one of three candidates running in the new District 1, and this is her first run for elective office. She voted against shrinking the size of the board, something Lamana had fiercely opposed before he died.
Candidates running for School Board in the Nov. 4 election are:
Jennifer Andrews, D
Mark Bellue, R
Mary Lynch, N
Rachel Allmon, D
Daniel Banguel, D
Vereta Lee, D
Kenyetta Nelson-Smith, D
Eugene Weatherspoon, D
Robert Maxie Sr., D
Tarvald Smith, D
Jerry Arbour, R
Patty Merrick, D
Evelyn Ware-Jackson, D
W.T. Winfield, D
Jill Dyason, R
Tiffany Perkins, R
Barbara Freiberg, R
Anthony Nelson, D
Christopher Bailey, R
Connie Bernard, R
Charles “Obie” O’Brien, R
Joan Wallyn, R
4David Tatman, R