BESE vote (copy)

Louisiana's top school board, the Board of Elementary & Secondary meets in May 2019. 

Business-backed candidates are sitting on the fattest campaign bank accounts in six of seven races for Louisiana's top school board ahead of the Oct. 12 primary, finance reports made available Thursday show.

Even in the seventh contest – District 1 in the New Orleans area – incumbent Jim Garvey, of Metairie, trails two challengers but loaned himself $40,000 last month for advertising and other expenses, boosting his chances for another term.

The seven races represent more than half of the 11-member state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

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

At stake in the Oct. 12 primary and the Nov. 16 runoff is the direction of public schools for the next four years, and whether self-styled reformers will continue to dominate the board.

The new panel will also decide whether state Superintendent of Education John White, who has held the job since 2012, gets a long-term contract.

All six contenders who hold leads in "cash on hand" just ahead of the primary are backed by the powerful Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which donates heavily to BESE contests.

LABI generally backs candidates who favor sweeping changes in public schools, including charter schools, school vouchers and public school letter grades.

The group has donated about $75,000 to BESE contenders through its political action committees.

Other active players in BESE races, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, called LFT, and Louisiana Association of Educators, or LAE, generally support candidates who favor traditional public schools, and who oftentimes support efforts to roll back school overhaul efforts from recent years.

The two groups are spending nearly $50,000 combined on BESE races.

"We don't have funds for direct mail or TV or anything like that," said Shane Riddle, legislative and political director for the LAE. "Most of our work is digital work."

Here are the latest campaign finance snapshots as spelled out in reports due Oct. 2 – 10 days before the primary:

District 1: Garvey, a Republican backed by LABI and the longest serving member of BESE, reported $2,959 in cash on hand.

Lee Price-Barrios, an Abita Springs Republican, reported having $15,842 and independent Marion Bonura, of Metairie, said he has $4,490.

Bonura is backed by the LFT and LAE.

District 2: Incumbent Kira Orange Jones, of New Orleans, is backed by LABI and reported having $50,998.

Ashonta Wyatt, of New Orleans, said she has $5,174 and Shawon Bernard, also of New Orleans, reported having $1,634.

All three contenders are Democrats. Wyatt and Bernard are backed by the LFT and LAE.

District 3: Incumbent Sandy Holloway, of Thibodaux, is supported by LABI and said she has $24,009.

Holloway is a Republican.

Janice Perea, of Houma, is a Republican backed by the LFT and LAE and reported having $772.

District 5: In the race for an open seat, LABI-backed Ashley Ellis, of Monroe, reported having $19,028 to $2,000 for Stephen Chapman, of Alexandria.

Both contenders are Republicans. 

Chapman is backed by the LFT and LAE.

District 6: In another open seat, Ronnie Morris, of Baton Rouge, reported having $51,855 in the bank and is backed by LABI.

Gregory Spiers, of Springfield, reported having $4,747. 

Spiers is supported by both teacher unions.

Ciara Hart, of Baton Rouge, reported having $3,678.

No report was available for Vickie Auguste, of Prairiville.

Morris and Spiers are Republicans. Hart is a Democrat and Auguste has no party affiliation.

District 7: Incumbent Holly Boffy, of Lafayette, reported having $18,528 and is backed by LABI.

Timala Melancon, of Gueydan, said she has $4,226.

Melancon is backed by the LFT and LAE. Boffy is a Republican and Melancon has no party affiliation.

Boffy said advertising will consume the bulk of the money, including TV, radio, digital and newspaper.

"And getting voters in a nine-parish area to know who I am and get familiar with my message," she said. "Most of it hasn't hit yet because we wait until closer to the election."

District 8:  In the third open seat, LABI-backed Preston Castille said he has $6,186 in the bank.

Vereta Lee, who is backed by both teacher unions, reported having $1,266 compared to $361 for Jonathan Loveall, of Clinton, and $2,850 for Chakesha Webb Scott, of Zachary.

All four candidates are Democrats.

One elected BESE member, Tony Davis, of Natchitoches, won a second term when no one filed against him.

Three panel members are named by the governor.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.