This is the second installment in a three-part series profiling Orleans Parish School Board district races. Read our profiles of Districts 1 and 2 and Districts 5, 6 and 7.
District 3: Mid-City, Lakeview, Gentilly
Olin Parker and Phil Brickman are the two candidates hoping to win Sarah Usdin’s District 3 seat, which covers parts of Mid-City, Lakeview and Gentilly. Usdin, who has held the seat for eight years, is not seeking reelection.
Brickman is a lawyer and the sole Republican candidate in the OPSB races. He said his experience as an attorney would be beneficial.
“I’m a lawyer. I think that’s a positive. I think the school board is a managerial position. Teaching and curriculum are great things to do but that’s not what the school board does,” Brickman said. “You have to be an advocate and work with six different people who have different points of view and that’s something I do every day.”
Brickman said his priorities would include budget oversight, holding schools accountable and he would incentivize high-performing schools to expand so more students could attend them.
“We need to find a way to have more choices for everyone to go to,” he said. “You can say that’s a no-brainer but that really hasn’t happened, and we’re 15 years out from Hurricane Katrina.”
Brickman has raised just over $6,000, including a $2,000 campaign loan from himself. At the beginning of the month, he had about $1,400 cash on hand.
Olin Parker is a former teacher, Teach for America staff member and Louisiana Department of Education employee. Parker is the only candidate to receive financial support from all four of this year’s top OPSB campaign contributors — Democrats for Education Reform, Leadership for Educational Equity, Stephen Rosenthal and Usdin’s campaign, who together contributed $9,500 to his campaign. Parker’s campaign raised about $40,000 in total cash contributions as of the beginning of the month. Overall, he said, his backing comes from smaller, individual donors.
“Over 70 current and former teachers have donated,” he said. “I’m guessing I have more educators supporting my campaign than any other candidate.”
He said he would focus on expanding “opportunity for every child” including mental health services and technical and career education. He wants to see a racial equity plan for the district that includes equitable funding, a strong Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program and requires training for district staff.
Another of his top three priorities is having “an A-rated school in your neighborhood,” he said and ensuring they serve all students. “Making school not just teaching reading and math, but music and art and robotics and chess.”
District 4: West Bank, Bywater, French Quarter
In District 4, two-term incumbent Leslie Ellison is facing two challengers: educators J.C. Romero and Winston “Boom” Whitten Jr.
Romero did not respond to an interview request. But according to his campaign website, he’s running to ensure students have equal access to technology and to expand high-rated schools in the district.
“We must break down the school-to-prison pipeline,” his campaign website site says. “Criminal justice reform and education reform are inextricably linked.”
He also wants to ensure schools are equipped to handle all students “from students with different learning abilities to gifted students, New Orleans kids need to have the tools to be appropriately challenged and successful,” his site states.
Romero has raised over $21,000 and had just over $6,000 left on hand at the beginning of the month.
One piece of Romero’s platform pits him squarely against Ellison. His website says “Schools must foster self confidence and safety of students of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities.”
Ellison has openly opposed adding specific protections into state education policies and charter contracts for LGBTQ students. At a heated meeting last year where board leadership positions were up for renewal, several people spoke out against her stance. She was ultimately re-elected vice president of the school board.
Ellison’s proud of work she’s done to increase DBE participation in contracts, help procure teacher raises passed by the Governor and raises to other school employees, along with several school renovations and new builds in her district, according to her campaign website.
Ellison was also instrumental in the board’s push to limit charter schools to a 6:05 a.m. bus pick-up time at the earliest. She’s also supported fundings shifts in the district’s system-wide needs fund to provide teacher training and mentoring along with mental health services for students.
Ellison has raised just over $11,000, including a $5,000 campaign loan. She had about $4,400 on hand at the beginning of the month.
Winston “Boom” Whitten Jr. is a 20-year educator and advocate of community schools. He said the district’s decentralized nature creates inherent disconnect and complicates life for families.
“They are disconnected from the communities they serve and disconnected in that there is no centralized governance,” he said.
“If I am a single parent with three children at different schools that means different calendars and report card conferences are on three different nights. Three different fall breaks,” he said.
He also wants to improve teacher turnover by offering protections to teachers.
“We cannot build a culture, we cannot build a family because there is such a high turnover rate,” Whitten said. “That creates no stability for our students. It also is a disservice to the professional because it doesn’t allow the teacher to build within the year. With the high turnover rate our teachers are starting from scratch year after year after year.”
Whitten has raised $800 and spent about $1,600 leaving him with a negative cash balance at the beginning of the month.
The campaign finance data tables published in this story have been updated to include new campaign finance reports that were released on Oct. 26, 2020.