To inform voters and provide a broad platform for debate, The Lens and our partners at WWNO-FM are presenting conversations with candidates in Orleans Parish School Board races.
The interviews aired on WWNO-FM for the three Sunday nights before the election. The Lens is also publishing the unedited video for these forums.
- Ira Thomas, Southern University at New Orleans police chief (incumbent, Democrat)
- Heidi Lovett Daniels, former school board member from 2004 to 2008 (Democrat)
Thomas began by bringing up Daniels’ departure from the board in 2008. Sitting Orleans Parish School Board members have worked together, he said, to ensure that the district is successful. Each member has run for re-election – unlike Daniels’ board, in which five members “walked away from the board of education in this city, at a very critical time in the rebuilding process.” He also brought up the previous school board’s debt and its low academic performance.
Daniels said that she didn’t seek re-election because of family reasons. She also said the board went to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to apply for charters to reopen schools after Hurricane Katrina. “There wouldn’t be anything to brag about today if we had not done that,” she said. (This discussion begins at 1:56 in the video below.)
Thomas also blamed Daniels for the omission of a high school in the Lower 9th Ward in the original master plan for rebuilding schools damaged by Katrina. “My opponent is directly responsible for that,” he said. He said he fought to get money appropriated for the new Dr. Martin Luther King High School.
Thomas’ claim isn’t exactly correct. The original 2008 school facilities master plan did call for a high school to be built in the Lower 9th Ward. However, that high school was slated for Phase 2, meaning that it would be open after 2013, and it was planned as an addition to Martin Luther King Elementary. Daniels actually voted against the plan that called for waiting to build a high school in the Lower 9th Ward.
Daniels responded that King elementary was not allowed to reopen under the Orleans Parish School Board’s governance after Katrina because of low performance. But she said her board went to BESE to advocate that the school be reopened, and that King was open as an Recovery School District charter before she left the board. “History speaks for itself,” she said. (Watch at the 7:20 mark for Thomas’ claim and at 34:00 for Daniels’ response.)
- Cynthia Cade, childcare center director (incumbent, Democrat)
- Durrell Laurent, insurance and real-estate agent (Democrat)
- Dwight McKenna, physician (Democrat)
Although The Lens invited all three candidates, McKenna said the day of taping that he would not participate in any discussion that Cade was part of. Laurent did not show up.
Cade said the board had worked in the students’ best interest in the past eight years, authorizing charter schools so that kids could get back into classrooms as quickly as possible after Katrina.
One of the weaknesses of the Orleans Parish School Board, she said, has been the five new board members’ struggle to get acclimated. She also said that other candidates have made promises they can’t keep because board members are supposed “to set policies. We are not to micromanage,” she said.
Cade also spoke to the board’s divisiveness over the last year. She and Thomas, who are joined at times by Brett Bonin, have been part of a voting minority that has opposed the rest of the board. One of the sources of disagreement was the implementation of its disadvantaged business enterprise program, which she supported.
During public meetings, board president Thomas Robichaux and vice president Lourdes Moran have opposed language in the program’s policy, saying it could conflict with state public bid laws. Cade contended in the interview that her fellow board members may not have wanted to approve the disadvantaged business enterprise program because they were beholden to“big contractors” that contribute to their campaigns. (Watch at the 8:20 mark for more.)
Cade also said that she opposed the board’s appointment of the interim superintendent, Stan Smith, because she believed other administrators were more qualified.
Board members will have heated discussions because “we’re seven different board members, with seven different personalities,” she said. “I don’t think the public would expect us to sit down totally at every board meeting and just kumbaya, and rubber-stamp everything.” (Watch at the 10:58 mark for more.)