BAKER — All five incumbent members of the Baker School Board face opposition in the Nov. 4 election, pitting veterans who say they are seeing key improvements across the district against political newcomers who contend the schools need a revamp.
They all want to oversee a small, struggling district that first took over schools in 2003 and is facing stiff competition from independent charter schools the state has approved within the Baker city limits.
Elaine Davis, who was first elected to the board in its inaugural election in 1998, faces Willie Williams Jr. in District 1. Davis served on the board until losing the 2006 election, but won the seat back in 2010.
In District 2, Charles Harris III is challenging board President Dana Carpenter, who also took office in 1999.
Rosatina Johnson and Jarrett Landor are challenging District 3 incumbent Troy Watson, who was elected in 2010.
Shona Boxie, of District 4, faces Chequita Hilliard and Jerrie Davenport Williams, the lone Republican candidate for Baker School Board. Boxie is a lawyer and was elected in 2010.
Vanessa Parker is running against two-term incumbent Doris Alexander in District 5.
Davis said she wants to help continue progress being made in school performance scores and facility improvements. During her tenure, the board has done “innovative things,” she said, such as opening the K-8 Park Ridge Academic Magnet School this year.
Davis, 69, is a retired speech pathologist with the East Baton Rouge Parish public schools and administrator for the state Department of Education’s Special School District. She is the wife of ex-Baker Mayor Leroy Davis.
Davis and her opponent Willie Williams Jr., a 61-year-old papermaker at Georgia Pacific, share one goal — increasing parent involvement in education.
“Parents and teachers don’t need to be strangers,” Williams said. “They need to work together, and parents need to know what their kids are doing in school.”
In contrast to Davis, Williams criticized the trajectory of the Baker school system, saying it has been on the decline. He said the current board hasn’t taken opportunities to turn things around.
Carpenter, 69, believes his experience can help sustain improvements being made across Baker schools.
Under his leadership, he said, the board has been able to renovate all five schools in the district.
“I have a good idea of what it takes to build good academic skills for our students,” said Carpenter, who is the director of Southern’s dual enrollment program for high school students.
Harris, a financial services provider, said he is running because his two children attend Baker schools. He said the current administration resists change and doesn’t allocate money efficiently.
“My background is coaching, so I look at this like I want to make the team so we can call some better plays,” Harris said.
Harris, 41, coached high school basketball while working on a master’s degree in sports administration at St. Thomas University in Miami.
Watson said her priorities for a second term include creating programs such as ACT prep courses to improve academic performance and college preparation.
Watson, a 51-year-old administrative assistant at Southern University, also said constituents have told her they don’t feel welcome when they visit schools, which could be driving students out of Baker.
“Everyone in Baker should be able to send their kids to the district school,” Watson said.
Landor, 42, said he’s gone to board meetings where parents seem nervous about asking questions. Landor, who teaches statistics and educational leadership at Southern University, said the school district needs to be run more like a business and provide better customer service, especially as parents now have more choices about where to send their kids to school.
“Accountability is more than just high stakes testing — it’s, hey, we’re responsible to you,” he said.
Johnson did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Jerrie Davenport Williams, 55, a family advocate for people with disabilities and whose son attends Baker High School, said she would like to consolidate Bakerfield Elementary and Baker Heights Elementary. Both schools could handle about 400 students, she said, but one has about 150 students and the other about 250.
Whichever school is left vacant should be turned into a school for alternative students, said Williams, whose son attends Baker High. She said she is also worried about bullying and high teacher turnover.
Hilliard, a registered nurse, shares those concerns.
She said all four of her children have attended Baker schools, including her daughter, who “went through two or three principals and four subs in her classroom in one semester” at Baker Middle School last year. Hilliard said Baker teachers aren’t paid enough and don’t have the resources they need.
Boxie, the incumbent, could not be reached for comment.
Alexander, a two-term veteran of the Baker board, said she’d like to help bring schools up to standards set by the state Department of Education.
“Every morning, about 423 students leave Baker going to private, charter or other schools,” she said. “The parents send their kids to schools that meet higher standards.”
Alexander, 71, said she supports parents’ right to do that because Baker schools have fallen in rankings since the 1970s. Teacher pay is low, so schools cannot attract good teachers, she said.
Alexander is a retired union representative whose grandchildren attend Baker schools.
Parker did not return phone calls seeking comment.