Mike Gaudet, who has been attacked by teacher unions and celebrated by charter school groups, was selected Thursday night without opposition by his peers to serve as president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.

The board, however, deadlocked on picking a vice president, unable to choose between its most veteran member, Jill Dyason, in her 18th year on the board, and its newest member, Dadrius Lanus, who was elected Dec. 8, 2018.

The vote split over whether to reward Dyason’s long experience or whether board leadership should reflect that it educates predominantly African-American students by picking Lanus, who is black. Dyason is white.

After three consecutive 4-4 votes, the board agreed to put off the matter and try again when the board holds its regular meeting Jan. 17.

Dawn Collins was not present for the special board meeting Thursday, but is expected to be present on Jan. 17 and able to break a tie if the entire board shows up.

Here’s how Thursday's vote broke down:

  • For Dyason: Board members Mark Bellue, Connie Bernard, Dyason and David Tatman.
  • For Lanus: Board members Tramelle Howard, Gaudet, Lanus and Evelyn Ware Jackson.

Bernard spoke of Dyason, who is starting a seventh term in office, and her deep experience.

“She has served under seven superintendents and she has weathered many changes,” Bernard said.

Ware-Jackson said she was deeply torn between personal loyalty to Dyason and the need to make a change in leadership as many voters were seeking in the elections last fall.

“I can’t ignore all the voices I’ve heard,” she said, before casting her vote for Lanus.

Lanus, who has taught in a handful of independent charter schools in Baton Rouge, is just 30 years old. He entered the public spotlight in spring 2018 when he urged voters in an unsuccessful bid to defeat a portion of a 1-cent sales tax because it did not direct sufficient money to repair and upgrade Glen Oaks High.

His supporters said racial diversity in board leadership is important in a district with such a high concentration of black students.

“I do think representation matters,” said Raymond Allmon, a longtime board watcher and campaign treasurer for Howard.

Dyason and Lanus are vying to fill a seat left vacant after Howard defeated Kenyetta Nelson-Smith’s re-election bid. Nelson-Smith spent her last four months in office as vice president.

The nine board members took their oaths of office Tuesday to start four-year terms overseeing the second-largest public school district in Louisiana.

Seven are re-elected incumbents, while two, Howard and Lanus, who defeated Vereta Lee in the Dec. 8 runoff, are newcomers.

By contrast, Gaudet's road to the board presidency was less dramatic. He's replacing current board President David Tatman, who threw his support behind Gaudet.

Gaudet said the board has a lot of issues to tackle this year, including likely deep budget cuts and a search for a new superintendent. After spending decades as an executive with Albemarle, Gaudet said, he has a strong background in finance and working in large organizations but will lean heavily on the strengths of his colleagues.

Gaudet replaced Barbara Freiberg after she was elected to the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council. Gaudet won a special election in fall 2017 for the District 7 seat and was re-elected on the Nov. 6, 2018, primary for a four-year term.

The charter-school friendly group Stand For Children spent heavily to support him both times, allowing him to far outspend his opponents. The group did the same in supporting Howard and Lanus’ campaigns, as well as Ware-Jackson's. Like-minded education reform groups also spent heavily.


Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.