The two candidates running for the Zachary School Board District 6 seat in the Dec. 6 election both want to maintain and expand programs that define Louisiana’s top performing schools. They recognize, however, that a tight budget could mean that extracurricular activities end up cut on their watch.

Attorney Heidi Vessel and LSU instructor Elecia “Lisa” Lathon finished only 11 votes apart in the Nov. 4 election. Lee Russell, who came in third, has endorsed Vessel.

The winner of the runoff will replace incumbent Jannie Rogers, who did not seek re-election, in the seat that represents residents of the central part of the city.

Lathon, 44, teaches education courses at LSU and supervises student-teachers. She said Zachary teachers are highly qualified, but it is important to provide professional development, like workshops, so they can keep up with current research-based practices.

“We can’t teach children as if it’s yesterday because we rob them of tomorrow,” Lathon said.

But Lathon said she recognized that paying for workshops is difficult when dealing with a tight budget, as is maintenance of school buildings, retirements and extracurricular programs. While the school district isn’t in a budget deficit, Zachary residents are concerned about possible cuts, she said.

“Many of the children thrive and really do well in the performing arts program that’s in place in Zachary,” Lathon said.

The School Board earlier this month voted to place a 1-cent sales tax increase on the March 2015 ballot. Lathon said she may support the tax but first wants to look at the budget line by line to identify cuts that “will not impact the educational process.”

Vessel, 45, said top-notch schools have helped Zachary attract new residents and businesses in recent years. Along with low crime rates, good schools are “water and sun to the crop,” she said.

“Everybody’s property values are higher because they pay taxes to fund schools, and the schools are really good, so the property values went up,” Vessel said. “And when people relocate to Louisiana for jobs, they look for where their kids can get the best education. That causes the community to grow.”

Vessel said Zachary schools do a good job of individualizing education. Students need ways to explore their interests as they get older, whether they are on track to attend college or become a welder, she said.

Tailoring education to each child comes at a price, however. The School Board needs to be creative amid decreased state funding, Vessel said, so it doesn’t have to cut programs or increase class sizes.

“I want to make sure finances don’t become a factor, doesn’t alter the way we handle education here,” she said, adding that Zachary schools rival the quality of private schools.