besevote0133.033017 bf

As Louisiana State Education Superintendent John White watches, right, BESE President Gary Jones, left, asks a question as the board hears testimony on a plan to revamp public schools Wednesday March 29, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.

At least five of the eight elected members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education plan to seek another term, and all three of Gov. John Bel Edwards' appointees hope to return as well.

Only two elected members serving on BESE — Gary Jones and Kathy Edmonston —say they won't run again.

Jones, who lives near Alexandria and is finishing his first term, has been an educator for 48 years and president of the board for the past three years."It does not hurt to have some new blood come on," he said. 

Edmonston, who lives in Gonzales, is a critic of the Common Core academic standards. She said she was driven to run in 2015 in part by the controversy over Common Core and those benchmarks are mostly settled now.

Jada Lewis, who lives in Baton Rouge, said she has not yet made a final decision on seeking re-election.

BESE sets policies for nearly 720,000 public school students statewide.

One key issue for the new board will be whether to extend the contract of state Superintendent of Education John White, the longest continually-serving superintendent in the nation at seven years on the job.

White, who is paid $275,000 per year, works on a month-to-month contract because BESE has been unable to reach agreement on an extension.

Filing for the Oct. 12 primary election is Aug. 6-8.

Those who say they plan to seek re-election are Jim Garvey, an attorney who lives in Metairie; Kira Orange Jones, New Orleans; Sandy Holloway, Thibodaux; Tony Davis, Natchitoches; and Holly Boffy, who lives in Youngsville.

All five generally favor public school changes backed by business groups and others over traditional public school options pushed by teacher unions, school board leaders and superintendents.

Only Boffy, vice president of BESE, has drawn an opponent so far, although challengers have also been mentioned for Jones and Davis.

If Gov. John Bel Edwards wins a second term — he is also on the Oct. 12 ballot — he gets to name three members to the board.

All three of his current appointees say they would serve again if asked.

The most outspoken is veteran St. Bernard Parish Schools Superintendent Doris Voitier, who is active in board debates and often reflects the governor's skepticism about efforts to overhaul public schools.

"If the governor feels that I am doing a good job, I would be very receptive," Voitier said when asked about serving a second four-year term.

The governor's other appointees, Thomas Roque, who lives in Alexandria, and Lurie Thomason, of Monroe, keep lower profiles on BESE.

Roque is the unofficial Catholic representative on the board.

BESE members do not receive a salary, insurance or retirement benefits. They get $164 per day for attending committee and board meetings, and up to 36 days of the same daily allowance for other board business.

Candidates are lining up for the two open seats.

Republican Ronnie Morris, an Exxon employee for the past 23 years, said he will run for the post being vacated by Edmonston. Morris, who was at BESE last week visiting with members, said that while the state is making gains in education "there is still a lot of opportunity out there."

Ciara Hart, a Baton Rouge schoolteacher, said she too plans to file for the post now held by Edmonston. "As a public school teacher on the front lines I know first-hand the challenges our kids and families are facing," said Hart, a Democrat.

Jones' BESE seat is drawing interest from Bill Wilson, the president of the Monroe City School Board, and Stephen Chapman, a dentist in Alexandria. Both said they are seriously considering running for the post.

Wilson is president of Century Next Bank in Ouachita Parish. His wife Marion has been a teacher for 20 years.

Chapman said his decision has been slowed recently because he is on the search committee for a new superintendent in Rapides Parish.

Boffy is expected to be challenged by Timala "Timmie" Melancon, who taught English, debate, theater and public speaking at Kaplan High School in Vermilion Parish for 30 years.

Melancon said reforms launched by BESE are not working. "They have been in place for almost a decade and we are still 50th in the nation," she said of the state's education rankings.

Melancon, a member of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said charter schools need more oversight. "Basically what they are is publicly funded and privately operated," she said.

About 80,000 students in Louisiana attend charter schools, which are run by private boards and are supposed to promote innovative teaching methods.

In 2015 Davis narrowly defeated Shreveport elementary school principal Mary Harris, who has been mentioned as a possible contender for the job again. Harris could not be reached for comment.

St. Helena Parish Superintendent Kelli Joseph has been mentioned as a possible challenger for Jones. Joseph did not respond to an email asking about her plans.


Email Will Sentell @wsentell@theadvocate.com.