LaPESC announces school board candidate forums

by Patrick Flanagan

With the qualifying deadline for Lafayette Parish School Board elections quickly approaching, a series of candidate forums have been announced by the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council.

With the qualifying deadline for Lafayette Parish School Board elections quickly approaching, a series of candidate forums have been announced by the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council (LaPESC).

The elections aren't until Nov. 4, yet throughout much of this year, a number of new faces - and some familiar - have stepped forward to challenge the board's incumbent members with campaign announcements, and more are expected in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 22 qualifying deadline.

In a press release issued Tuesday, the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council announced it will be hosting a series of three candidate forums in late September.

Of the school board's nine members, only six have confirmed they'll be defending their seats come November, including Tommy Angelle (District 2), Shelton Cobb (District 3), Tehmi Chassion (District 4), Kermit Bouillion (District 5), Mark Cockerham (District 7) and board president Hunter Beasley (District 8).

The board's undecided include Mark Allen Babineaux (District 1) - word is he'll be leaving the board to run for a district judgeship - Greg Awbrey (District 6) and Rae Trahan (District 9).

Awbrey, in a Jan. 26 article from the Acadiana Advocate, says his decision will be based on who steps up to run for his seat:

I told people if there's someone I would want to represent me, I wouldn't run. I'm not in this to be on the School Board. I'm in this to make sure that the job gets done. We'll just have to see who signs up.

So far, the only challenger to announce in Awbrey's district is Kathleen Schott Espinoza - a UL professor and vocal anti-charter school advocate who has ties, through her husband, to one of the local teacher's unions. Yet, it remains unclear whether Awbrey considers Espinoza an appropriate replacement and reason enough to forego his reelection bid.

Two-term board member Rae Trahan - she ran unopposed her second time around - also has yet to announce whether she'll seek a third term, saying she too is undecided. If Trahan plans on defending her seat, she'd be wise to make a decision soon, because not only will she have to brush the rust off her campaigning skills (considering the only requirement for her last election was to qualify), she'll also be facing two challengers who have been on the campaign trail for some time now, with Jeremy Hidalgo announcing his bid as far back as September last year, followed by an announcement from Brian West in January.

Other first-time candidates include Erick Knezek, Joshua Broussard and Mary Morrison. Knezek will face off against board president Hunter Beasley (a two-term board member), while Broussard is set to challenge first-term board member Tehmi Chassion for his District 4 seat. The only candidate to have announced a bid for the District 1 seat held by Mark Allen Babineaux is Mary Morrison, so unless Babineaux has a change of heart or another candidate steps forward, she could very well walk into that seat unopposed.

That also could prove to be the case for three incumbent board members, including second-term board member Mark Cockerham, along with Kermit Bouillion and Tommy Angelle, who are both serving their first term. All three of their districts have yet to produce a challenger.

Two-term District 3 board member Shelton Cobb (also a former board president) won't have that luxury, as he'll be defending his seat against a familiar face come November. In a campaign announcement released earlier this month, Elroy Broussard - a three term candidate who's last defeat came against Cobb in a 2008 special election - says he'll have another go at the district 3 seat.

The LaPESC candidate forums will be split into three events, with three of the nine school board districts represented at each event.

The first forum will include districts one, two and three, and will be held Tuesday, Sep. 23. The second forum will follow on Wednesday, Sep. 24 and will include candidates vying for districts four, five and six. The final forum is set for Thursday, Sep. 25, and will consist of candidates from districts seven, eight and nine. Each of the three forums are open to the public and will be held from 6-8 p.m. A location for the events has yet to be determined.

Click here for more information on LaPESC, or for questions on the candidate forums email LaPESC Chairman Stephen Bartley at [email protected]