EBR police and fire briefs for Aug. 22, 2014 _lowres

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board office.

Buried under an avalanche of outside spending in the days leading up to Election Day, voters on Tuesday issued a mixed verdict on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board as they returned two incumbents to office but sent three packing.

Four races went to runoffs, with one newcomer managed to win outright the open seat she was seeking.

Incumbent Mark Bellue barely escaped defeat. He won by just 21 votes over first-time candidate Kimberly Bainguel, earning a third term on the board representing District 1, according to complete, but unofficial results.

East Baton Rouge Parish clerks did not report early voting numbers until about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning amid worries whether all of them were in order. The number of early ballots scanned did not match the number that election workers expected and clerks opted to run the numbers again.

In the most surprising result of the night, voters in District 8 gave embattled representative Connie Bernard, who has held the seat since 2010, another chance to keep her job. She made it into a Dec. 10 runoff, even though she announced in September that she was ending her reelection campaign.

Bernard, the lone Republican in the race, will face Katie Kennison, the lone Democrat . Bernard was only 98 votes ahead of Kennison. Bernard has reported spending $3 since she called of her campaign while Kennison has reported spending $0.

Elbowed out of the runoff was Joseph Britt, who is registered Independent, who spent almost $21,000 of money he raised. Another $41,000 and counting was spend on his behalf by outside interest groups.

Bernard has courted controversy throughout her 12-year tenure on the board. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after an August 2018 altercation with a teenager. In 2020, she was the target of a failed recall attempt after she shopped online during a controversial meeting at which the board voted to rename Lee High to Liberty High to remove any continued attachment to the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Veteran board members Jill Dyason and Evelyn Ware-Jackson will not be back for 2023.

Dyason lost the District 6 seat she's held for 21 years, losing to challenger Nathan Rust. Ware-Jackson went to down defeat in District 5, losing to Cliff Lewis in a rematch of their 2018 race. Unlike then, Lewis came out on top this time.

Dadrius Lanus is the incumbent who fared best Tuesday, winning by a two-to-one margin He easily defeated Vereta Lee in a rematch of their 2018 race. That year, Lanus ousted Lee, who had held the District 2 seat for 12 years.

The only three-way race decided Tuesday was District 3, where first-time candidate Carla Powell won her race outright, handily defeating fellow candidates Jamie Robinson and Bernadette Thomas.

In District 4, an open seat, Shashonnie Steward led the voting, but fell short of 50%. She will face another first-time candidate for public office, Monique Wicks Robinson. The third candidate in the race, Tebbe Jackson, trailed Steward and Robinson.

In District 7, Cathy Carmichael led the field and will face incumbent Mike Gaudet, who joined the board in 2017, in a runoff. Gloria Wall, who had strong outside backing, came in third place.

In District 9, incumbent David Tatman saw his 12-year tenure on the board come to an end after failing to make a runoff. Instead, the runoff will pit his two challengers against each other. Patrick Martin V led the voting Tuesday, followed by Pamela Taylor Johnson, who retired in 2019 after 24 years as a juvenile court judge.

All nine seats on the board were contested Tuesday. You have to go back to 1994 to find an election when so many School Board seats were in play; even then, one candidate was unopposed.

There were 243,713 registered voters eligible to vote in the nine races. They encompass the whole parish except Baker, Central and Zachary, which held their own school board elections Tuesday.

More than $1.4 million and counting has been spent so far this year on these nine East Baton Rouge Parish School Board races, with more than $800,000 in their collective war chest. About 80% of the spending is coming not from the campaigns themselves, but from a handful of outside groups that are all loosely aligned in their support for charters.

Those groups in terms are fueled by rich out-of-state donors. A couple of them are known, such as former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has contributed $150,000.

Most, however, are unknown, coming from entities that either don't disclose their donors or just disclose top donors.

The two biggest such groups are The City Fund, which has contributed $650,000 so far, and Stand For Children, which is close behind, spending about $648,000 so far.

The City Fund was formed in 2018 with large donations from a private foundation of Houston hedge fund manager John Arnold and his wife, Laura, as well as from the Hastings Fund, a philanthropic organization created by Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings.

Stand For Children, based in Portland, has had active parent chapters in Baton Rouge and New Orleans for years. In its 2021 annual report, it listed three big donors: a charity associated with Bloomberg; a charity formed by Connie and Steve Ballmer, the chief executive officer of Microsoft from 2000-14; and an arm of The City Fund.

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is home to more than 40,600 children attending 84 schools. About 80% of its schoolchildren qualify for public assistance. In terms of race/ethnicity, 70% are Black, 13% are Hispanic, 10% are White and 4% are Asian.

Fourteen of the 84 schools are charter schools. They collectively enroll almost 7,000 children, or 17% of the students in the school district. Over the past four years, enrollment in the school system’s traditional schools has declined by about 10% while enrollment in its charter schools has nearly doubled.

Tuesday’s election is the first School Board election since the coronavirus pandemic began in spring 2020, shutting down schools for months and prompting widespread learning loss among children.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.