A Baton Rouge area seat on Louisiana’s top school board produced one of the biggest surprises of Saturday’s primary election.
The slot is District 8 on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The board sets policies for public school students statewide.
Earlier this year state lawmakers, who were redrawing boundaries, took pains to make sure minorities composed a majority of the district — 61.1 percent.
Yet the Nov. 19 runoff features Jim Guillory, a former Avoyelles Parish school board member who is white, against Carolyn Hill, a certified social worker who is black.
Two other contenders, Domoine Rutledge and Russell Armstrong, fell out of the running. Both are black and live in Baton Rouge.
“I am surprised,” said Linda Johnson of Plaquemine, who has held the District 8 seat since 1999 and who is black.
Don Whittinghill, a consultant for the Louisiana School Boards Association, said he thought Guillory had little chance of surviving the primary in light of the district’s makeup.
“It really gets down to the fact that Guillory defied all the odds,” Whittinghill said.
“It surprised all of us,” he said of the runoff pairing.
Before the primary, the conventional wisdom was that Rutledge was the favorite and was likely to make any runoff.
Rutledge, who is general counsel for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, was also endorsed by Johnson.
But Hill led Saturday’s voting with 34,149 votes, or 29 percent, to 32,937 for Guillory, or 28 percent.
Guillory, 68, said on Tuesday that, while he was aware minorities make up 61 percent of the BESE district, he worked hard to communicate with superintendents, sheriffs and others.
“It was an uphill battle,” he said.
While Hill is a Democrat, Guillory has no party affiliation.
“I am nobody’s candidate,” Guillory said. “I want to be independent.”
Hill, 29, did not return a call seeking comment.
District 8 touches on 14 parishes including parts of East Baton Rouge and Ascension as well as West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, East Feliciana, St. Helena and Avoyelles parishes.
Guillory lives in Plaucheville. Hill lives in Baton Rouge.
District 8 is one of two BESE districts that are called majority-minority districts.
That means it is a district where black people, who make up a minority of residents in Louisiana, comprise a majority of residents in the BESE district.
The other one is District 2, which includes much of New Orleans and features a runoff between incumbent Louella Givens and Kira Orange Jones.
Both are Democrats and both are black.
Guillory led in six parishes and captured 64 percent of the vote in Avoyelles Parish, where he served on the school board for eight years.
Hill led in six other parishes.
Johnsons said she thinks Hill will win the runoff.
“It is a minority district and the other person running is not a minority,” she said.