Dadrius Lanus has joined his friend Tramelle Howard as the newest and youngest members of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, a board filled with incumbents responsible for the public school system they’ve spent the past few months challenging.
Vereta Lee, who was seeking a fourth term, had won District 2 three times before by wide margins. But this time, the magic quit working.
Lee, who like Lanus is a Democrat, earned just 32 percent in the Nov. 6 primary to Lanus’ 47 percent. On Saturday, she improved only to 39 percent, losing all but three of 34 precincts. Lanus, on the other hand, dominated with 61 percent.
Dadrius Lanus defeated three-term District 2 incumbent Vereta Lee in a runoff Saturday, vaulting the 30-year-old educator onto the East Baton …
A month after beating District 3 incumbent Kenyetta Nelson-Smith, Howard joined Lanus at his victory party. The twosome celebrated by popping open a champagne bottle while jumping up and down, a scene caught on a short video and posted online.
On Monday, Lanus told The Advocate the celebrating is over.
“I slept it all off, and now I’m back to business,” he said.
Over the course of their campaigns, Lanus, 30, and Howard, 26, blasted the current leadership of the school district, including Superintendent Warren Drake. The two promised, if elected, to bring accountability to a system with many low-performing schools and thousands of children who fail to graduate high school.
Lanus, a teacher in local charter schools who now works as an educational consultant, said he plans to visit for the first time with the veteran superintendent Tuesday morning as well as members of Drake’s top staff. Lanus said he’s particularly interested in hearing what Drake and company have planned to turn around district schools that have received D and F letter grades from the state.
“I want to know what are his plans and goals for the upcoming new year to move the schools forward,” Lanus said. “I’m not for the status quo. I’m not for doing the same things over and over again.”
The parish School Board oversees the second-largest public school district in Louisiana. Prior to Saturday, seven incumbents had already been re-elected. Lee and Nelson-Smith, two of the most strident defenders of traditional public schools on the board, were the only incumbents defeated.
Lee, 60, and Nelson-Smith, 38, had steadfast support from teacher unions, and they were often critical of charter schools as well as the state’s school accountability system.
A handful of out-of-state billionaires pushing for charter schools and other "education reforms" have spent a sliver of their fortunes on East…
Outside groups that support charter schools and are funded mostly by contributions from out-of-state billionaires saturated districts 2 and 3 with mailers and digital ads, trying to defeat Lee and Nelson-Smith. Stand for Children Louisiana initially opted to support Howard not Lanus, but endorsed and spent money on Lanus after he made the runoff.
At last count, these groups spent $300,000 on just on these two races. More than $170,000 was spent to help Lanus. By contrast, Lanus has reported spending only about $12,000 on his own race, while Lee has reported spending only about $20,000.
East Baton Rouge Parish has 29 charter schools, second only to Orleans Parish.
Lanus said the outside money helped, but said the deciding factors were the hard work of his own campaign and the message they crafted. Lanus said he worked to meet all 26,000-plus voters in District 2 and wore out four pairs of shoes in the process.
“When I tell you I walked over 75 miles over the last six months, I walked over 75 miles, knocking on every door,” he said.
Lanus also trumpeted his background, growing up in north Baton Rouge, graduating from Glen Oaks High and Southern University, where he earned advanced degrees.
“I came from the same area, I came from the same background, and I understand the issues they were facing,” he said.
In her 12 years on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, Vereta Lee has engaged many political fights, but she is in perhaps her toughest …
The new School Board will be seated in January.
Four the past eight years, board has been led by a business-backed majority, currently at six members. Lanus and Howard’s victory will increase that majority to eight. Only Dawn Collins, who handily won re-election in District 4, is not part of that group.
In the past, this business-backed majority have had their internal conflicts. And despite being in the minority, Collins, Lee and Nelson-Smith have found ways to maintain influence and forge the occasional alliance. Indeed, Board President David Tatman contributed $2,000 each to Lee and Nelson-Smith’s unsuccessful re-election campaigns.
Also, the School Board has generally supported Drake’s initiatives and given him generally good evaluations. The board unanimously renewed his contract through June 2020.
Lanus acknowledge that tough votes are ahead. Drake has a team trying to identify $30 million to $40 million worth of budget savings. Meanwhile, Lanus and other School Board members pledged in their campaigns to try to find money to increase employee pay and expand early childhood education.
“I know we’re going to have unique difficulties,” Lanus said.