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Advocate file photo of school desks.

Business-backed candidates won six of seven contested seats for Louisiana's top school board, which means the push to overhaul public schools will likely continue for another four years.

All the winners were backed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the state's top business lobby, over rival contenders backed by the two teachers unions — the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators.

Both teachers groups have opposed the growth of charter schools, vouchers and other classroom changes and backed candidates who hoped to slow or even roll back efforts to rework the education landscape.

"I think it was pretty decisive," LABI Senior Vice President Camille Conaway said of Saturday's contests.

"I think parents and voters are obviously happy with the direction we are headed," she said.

A seventh candidate backed by LABI, Ronnie Morris, nearly won the open Baton Rouge-area District 6 slot Saturday when he captured 49% of the primary vote.

Morris will face Gregory Spiers, who won 22% of the vote and is backed by the teachers unions, in the Nov. 16 runoff.

Morris lives in Baton Rouge and Spiers is from Springfield.

The tallies mean that business-backed members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education who favor sweeping changes in public schools will likely control eight of the panel's 11 seats in January.

Tony Davis, another business-supported BESE member who lives in Natchitoches, was reelected in August when no one filed against him.

Three panel members are named by the governor.

The new lineup could also boost chances that state Superintendent of Education John White will win a contract extension.

White, who has held the post since 2012, is working on a month-to-month contract because of an impasse on the board.

Resolving that issue is expected to be a BESE priority early next year.

"It is not fair to him, to the board or even the community, the citizens of Louisiana," Sandy Holloway, who lives in Thibodaux and won with 77% of the vote, said of White's contract status.

"We need to move forward and make some resolutions there," Holloway said.

Leaders of the teachers unions could not be reached for comment.

Janice Perea, a Houma school teacher backed by both unions, said she plans to run again in 2023 and said she was the target of "dirty campaign tricks."

"It is very disheartening that statewide voters were not better informed about the role BESE has with our education system," Perea said in an email.

"It is also very concerning that millions of dollars were spent by out-of-state organizations to ensure the incumbents would be more visible than their opposition," she said.

Perea lost to Holloway.

Most of Saturday's winners enjoyed fatter campaign war chests than their opponents, in part because of financial support from LABI, which includes nearly 2,500 businesses.

Aside from Holloway, three other incumbents won lopsided victories Saturday: Jim Garvey, of Metairie; Kira Orange Jones, of New Orleans; and Holly Boffy, of Lafayette.

"One of the questions that I got asked a lot during the campaign was what you plan to do if you win," Garvey said.

"My reply was doing what we have been doing. The accountability system that we put in place is measuring how schools are doing. ... The transparency of letter grades are clearly telling parents how the schools are doing."

Boffy said she would describe Saturday's winners as student-focused rather than business-backed. "People want students to have opportunities in our state," Boffy said.

The other winners were Preston Castille, who won 52% of the vote in the open District 8 seat in the Baton Rouge area, and Ashley Ellis in the central Louisiana, District 5 post.

Castille's seat was previously held by Jada Lewis.

Ellis, who lives in Monroe, will succeed BESE President Gary Jones, who lives near Alexandria.

Candidates who failed in their bids Saturday, including some backed by the teachers unions, criticized sweeping changes in public schools enacted by the Legislature in 2012, said test scores prove public school "reforms" have failed and that charter schools need more accountability.

Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards.

Vouchers are state aid for students from low-income families attending troubled public schools to attend private schools.

The political arm of the Louisiana Federation for Children, the state's top pro-voucher group, said the tally showed voters back pro-educational choice candidates.

The group spent $2.3 million for BESE and legislative races, including support for Boffy, Ellis, Garvey, Holloway and Morris.

Brigitte Nieland, government affairs director for Stand for Children, said Saturday's results were decisive.

"I think it is a signal that voters are educated, that they want quality public schools for their children and they want options," Nieland said.

"They want more options than the opponents were willing to give them," Nieland said. "They were wanting to serve up the same old union talking points. Nobody is buying that."

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.