To inform voters and provide a broad platform for candidate debate, The Lens and our partners at WWNO-FM are presenting conversations with candidates in the Orleans Parish School Board races. Lens reporter Jessica Williams is hosting the events, which are airing on WWNO for the three Sunday nights before the election, at 9 p.m. The Lens is also providing the unedited video for these forums.

The first two of six candidate conversations, which aired this Sunday, are here.

District 4

Challenger Leslie Ellison and incumbent Lourdes Moran and were both invited, but Ellison declined to participate in the forum after The Lens refused to sign a contract provided by Ellison that outlined her interview terms, and refused to send questions to her before the event.

Moving forward, Moran envisions the Orleans Parish School Board being what she calls a “resource center” for charter schools – meaning that the board would exist to provide schools with what they need to best educate kids, and continue to grant them the autonomy to do so. She touts the board’s success in the past few years in lifting their financial “high-risk” designation, moving the district out of bankruptcy and gaining a strong bond rating, and as well as the district’s academic improvements.

She also addresses the board’s divisiveness this year, which has led to heated arguments between board members at public meetings over everything from the appointment of the interim superintendent, Stan Smith, to the budget of district’s disadvantaged-business-enterprise program. Though board members Ira Thomas and Cynthia Cade, part of the board’s voting minority, have said that the arguments are hinged along racial lines, Moran touts her own Hispanic heritage to dispel such claims. Listen at the 14:35 mark for more on that topic.

District 7

Long-time photographer Nolan Marshall Jr., local attorney and School Board President Thomas Robichaux, and substitute teacher Kwame Smith took different stances on key issues during their forum. In responding to whether School Board members should be elected or appointed, both Smith and Robichaux touted the success of the elected process, with Robichaux emphasizing that an elected board was the only way to keep the process democratic. Marshall, however, took a different tact – he feels that Mayor Mitch Landrieu should appoint at least two seats. Those appointees should have some education expertise, he says, to balance the board. Listen at the 5:00 mark for more on that topic.

When speaking of the School Board’s strengths and weaknesses over the past four years, Smith acknowledged that the board has shown financial improvement, but said that academic achievement is “relative” — the same high-performing schools that are under the board’s purview were also high performing before Hurricane Katrina, he said. Robichaux responded that the district has one of the highest academic improvement rates in the state, and that even after the Recovery School District took over most of the board’s failing schools shortly after Katrina, they were ranked 25th for academic achievement (Before the takeover, they were ranked second to last.) They’ve since been ranked second, something that was “no accident,” he said.

Marshall said that overall, the board needs to do a better job of hiring its superintendent, and that the focus on career and college preparatory skills is good, but kids should also be prepped to give back to their communities. Listen at the 10:20 mark for more on that.

Next week, we’ll talk with candidates from districts 3 and 6.

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her...