The two candidates in the Oct. 22 rematch for Louisiana House District 67 disagree on how to handle improving public schools.
In 2007, incumbent Pat Smith beat Lorri Burgess in a runoff by 522 votes out of 5,064 cast.
The candidates once again have staked out stands on a variety of issues. But in 2011, the issue on which they hold the most divergent views is pre-K to 12th-grade education.
Burgess supports vouchers and eliminating teacher tenure. Smith does not.
After three years on the job, public-school teachers win “tenure,” which makes it difficult to fire them.
Burgess says tenure protects bad teachers.
Smith counters that the protection keeps good teachers from seeking better paying employment elsewhere. She said most bad teachers are weeded out before tenure becomes a factor.
“I don’t see where doing away with that protection benefits the system. There is no record, no evidence that shows that it improves education,” Smith said, who served on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.
“I believe good teachers should be rewarded. But we should hold teachers accountable,” said Burgess, who served for 12 years as a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council.
If asked to vote as a legislator on eliminating the job protection, Burgess said, “I would probably be one against tenure.”
Burgess said she understands the focus on higher education, since LSU, Southern University and Baton Rouge Community College are all in Baton Rouge. “But in this particular community, if we don’t figure out how to make pre-K to 12th grade better,” she said, “then higher education is a moot point.”
Smith is the chairman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus and led efforts to sidetrack measures that would have merged Southern University New Orleans with the University of New Orleans.
Smith complains about the lack of transparency involving economic development projects that requires legislators to prod state officials to disclose information.
“Once we have given the dollars, we ought to have immediate answers to our questions,” Smith said.
Smith had raised $55,139 in campaign contributions between the beginning of the year and Sept. 12, according to the latest financial records disclosed to the Louisiana Board of Ethics. Most of her money came from the political action committees of labor unions and health care providers. Lobbyists and fellow politicians, such as former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, also wrote large checks.
Burgess raised $27,085 during the same time period, with about a third of her money coming from home builders and construction firms.
The district includes the headquarters of most state government agencies, large law firm offices and the local outposts of major international corporations.
Fifty-two percent of the district’s 41,585 residents are black and 55 percent of the registered voters are under the age of 45. Unlike much of the state, more than half the district voters backed Democratic candidates Walter Boasso and Foster Campbell in the 2007 gubernatorial election.
Democrat, Baton Rouge.
65, retired public affairs executive.
EDUCATION: B.S., Kent State University.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: East Baton Rouge Parish School Board District 6.
Democrat, Baton Rouge.
48, executive director sickle cell anemia foundation.
EDUCATION: B.S., LSU; paralegal certification, LSU.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: East Baton Rouge Parish Metro councilwoman.
WHERE TO VOTE
Ward/Precinct and location
East Baton Rouge Parish
1-1 Fire Station No. 12
1-3 South Boulevard FLAIM
1-4 New St. John Missionary Baptist Church
1-5 Alaska Street Recreation Center
1-6 Greater New Bethel Baptist Church
1-10 Park Elementary
1-13 City-Parish Office Building
1-15 Greater New Guide Baptist Church
1-16 Community School for Apprenticeship Learning
1-18 Community School for Apprenticeship Learning
1-19 Wyandotte Elementary
1-21 Rosenwalk Adult Education Center
1-22 Evangeline Fire Station No. 3
1-38 Dufrocq Elementary
1-45 Polk Elementary
1-46 University Terrace Elementary
1-51 Dr. Leo S. Butler Community Center
1-67 St. Francis Xavier School
1-68 Buchanan Elementary
1-102 Brightside Fire Station
3-50 Louisiana School for the Deaf