Candidates lining up for Lafayette school board seats

Qualifying for the Lafayette Parish School Board’s fall election is months away, but so far, two early birds have formally announced their plans to campaign for board member Rae Trahan’s District 9 seat.

Jeremy Hidalgo, a businessman, announced his candidacy in September. Last week, Brian West, an informatics program instructor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s School of Computing and Informatics, announced that he also plans to run for Trahan’s seat on the School Board.

Trahan said Thursday she has not determined whether she’ll seek re-election. She was first elected to the board in 2006 and in 2010 faced no opposition to retain her seat on the board.

“I’m still considering it. We’ll see how it goes,” Trahan said.

Several board members have already said they plan to seek re-election. They include board members Shelton Cobb, Kermit Bouillion, Mark Cockerham, Tommy Angelle and Tehmi Chassion.

Two other board members, Greg Awbrey and Mark Allen Babineaux, like Trahan, said they were undecided.

The board’s newly elected president, Hunter Beasley said it’s likely he’ll seek re-election but he’ll take the next few months to consider his decision.

There’s plenty of time because qualifying for the October election isn’t until late August.

Jason El Koubi, executive director of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, said more challengers are expected this campaign season because of dissatisfaction with the board’s performance in the past year.

“There is a whole lot of interest in the school board election,” El Koubi said. “I think the community recognizes that the current dysfunction in the school board is not working. It’s not working for the kids.”

He said awareness is “attracting candidates who want to be part of the solution, who want to embrace a common vision around progress for our schools and around progress for our children.”

The chamber is expected to lobby for its choice candidates and provide them with support via the chamber’s Empower Political Action Committee.

El Koubi said the chamber doesn’t recruit candidates but plans to support those who are aligned with its vision for the public education system.

Over the next few months, El Koubi said, the chamber’s members will work out a comprehensive business agenda that incorporates public education issues, including initiatives in the district’s educational turnaround plan known as 100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out.

The chamber’s political action committee will evaluate candidates based on their ability and commitment to advance the business agenda, he said.

“We would be a key partner over the next four years in helping those school board members and the entire system advance their efforts to advance student achievement based on a common vision,” El Koubi said.

In the 2010 School Board elections, the Empower PAC gave $500 contributions to Chassion, Awbrey and Beasley, as well as to four candidates who didn’t win in their elections. The chamber-backed candidates included: Greg Davis, who was defeated by Angelle; Dudley LaBauve III, who lost to Awbrey; Tom Brown, who was defeated by Cockerham; and Arlecia Hill, who was defeated by Beasley.

Board members Chassion, Bouillion and Angelle are serving in their first terms. It’s the second term for the other six serving on the board, although Cobb, Cockerham and Babineaux were elected to their first terms in special elections. Based on board policy, they are limited to three terms in office because they were elected after January 2007.

Lafayette Parish voters in 2006 approved a referendum that allowed the board to place term limits of three consecutive terms. The term limit affects those board members elected after January 2007, so it does not impact Beasley, Trahan and Awbrey, all of whom were elected in fall 2006.

Bouillion and Cockerham said their support for Superintendent Pat Cooper factored into their decisions to run again.

“The job is far from finished,” Bouillion said. “We’re not an A district yet. I want to continue to work with Dr. Cooper and make sure that we finish what we started.”

Cobb and Chassion voiced similar sentiments of wanting to complete the job of improving the district’s performance.

“I think there’s a lot of work to be done,” Cobb said. “The schools are improving — not at a pace that I would like to see — but I think everything takes time to develop and plans are in place to increase that development.”

Awbrey said his decision on whether to run again will likely depend on who else wants to represent his district.

“I told people if there’s someone I would want to represent me, I wouldn’t run,” Awbrey said. “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.”