Two-term Orleans Parish School Board member Leslie Ellison was defeated by educator J.C. Romero in Saturday’s run-off election and four additional board members were elected in closer races. 

Ellison faced Romero in District 4, representing the West Bank, Bywater and French Quarter. She narrowly missed an outright win in November, securing 49.86 percent of the vote. But her previous anti-LGBTQ comments and actions drew intense criticism during the race. On Saturday, Romero earned 55 percent of the vote to Ellison’s 45 percent.

In an interview Saturday night, Romero said he is ready to get to work. 

“I am humbled and honored and excited to get to work. It is clear to me that District 4 was ready for change and I’m so excited to be the educator to be able to work to bring about that change,” he said. “I’m looking forward to engaging with colleagues on how to continue being better advocates for our students and teachers amid COVID-19 especially as we see those numbers to continue to rise.”

Ellison did not immediately return a call Saturday night. District 4 was one of five Orleans Parish School Board seats still undecided going into Saturday’s run-off election. Only two of the seven board seats were decided in November.

The election was the first since formerly state-run Recovery School District charter schools reunified under NOLA Public Schools and OPSB oversight. Four elected incumbents were running for reelection, but only one — John Brown, Sr. — secured a majority of district votes on Election Day

All seven seats had competitive races, a major contrast from the 2016 election, when candidates ran unopposed in four out of seven OPSB races. In the open District 3 seat, Olin Parker won outright against Phil Brickman. Interim board member Grisela Jackson, who was appointed to a vacant seat in June, did not make the runoff in District 5. 

Now, incumbents Ethan Ashley and Nolan Marshall Jr. will remain in their District 2 and District 7 seats respectively. In District 5 newcomer Katie Baudouin won an open seat, as did Carlos Zervigon in District 6.

The race pitted well-known supporters of New Orleans’ decentralized school system against newcomers, some who wanted to see a more hands on approach from the Orleans Parish School Board. Under the current framework, OPSB oversees district policies, the annual budget and hires the superintendent but has a drastically reduced role in managing schools.

After reunification, charter contracts are managed almost entirely by NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. and his administration. The board has the ability to override his decisions on charter renewals or closures only with a supermajority vote.

Nearly all candidates wanted to see increased mental health services for students and equity as major issues in their campaign. Several differed in how centralized those services should be and to what degree the elected school board should be involved in charter contract decisions. Others wanted district-run schools to be an option for families. The district currently operates one school directly.

National donors and organizations also played a large role in the race. 

District breakdown

In District 2, covering the Upper 9th Ward, eastern New Orleans, and Gentilly, newcomer Chanel Payne beat out three additional challengers to face incumbent and board president Ethan Ashley in Saturday’s race. 

In November, Ashley received 36 percent of the vote while Payne earned 27 percent. On Saturday, Ashley secured 55 percent of the vote. 

In District 5, which covers a wide swath of Uptown and Central City, Katie Baudouin and Antoinette Williams squared off. In November, Baudouin and Williams beat out District 5 interim board member Grisela Jackson to make the run-off in a close race. Baudouin captured 41 percent of the vote to Williams’ 38 percent. On Saturday, Baudouin secured 54 percent of the vote. 

Baudouin is a city council staffer and previously worked with Medicaid programs at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. Williams, a recent McDonogh 35 alum and current Xavier University student, was running to be a voice for students. 

“It is hard to celebrate on any night when a majority of our parents, students, teachers and school leaders continue to have high levels of anxiety about the joyful task of learning because of a COVID pandemic,” Baudouin said in a statement on Saturday. “But tonight I hope I can tell them, and all the members of this community that despite that anxiety, which I share as a parent of a public school student, I have great hope,” she wrote. “Our city has elected a slew of new leaders since November, and I am honored you have made me one of those.”

In District 6, which covers the remainder of Uptown, Carrollton and Hollygrove, Erica Martinez and Carlos Zervigon squared off. Martinez works in mental health. Zervigon is an artist and former teacher and charter school board member.

In November, Zervigon earned 42 percent of the vote while Martinez narrowly beat out a third candidate to face Zervigon in the runoff. Zervigon won Saturday with 61 percent of the vote.

Zervigon said he was thankful for his supporters and looks forward to working with the new board members. 

“I want to thank the voters of District 6 for giving me the opportunity to serve the students and families of New Orleans to move the schools forward,” he said. 

In District 7, which spans the Mississippi River, covering Algiers, Gentilly, Treme, and the 7th Ward, Kayonna Armstrong challenged two-term incumbent Nolan Marshall. Marshall is a former educator. Armstrong is a teacher, paraprofessional and parent advocate. In November, Marshall and Armstrong, earned 44 percent and 42 percent of the vote, respectively.

On Saturday, Marshall had a convincing win with 57 percent of the votes. 

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...