Lafayette SB landscape may change with fall elections

At least eight challengers plan to seek a seat on the Lafayette Parish School Board with some possibly taking on incumbents.

The full extent of the political battles won’t be known until candidates qualify. Qualifying is Wednesday through Friday for the Nov. 4 primary. The runoff election is Dec. 6.

Some of the challengers announced their intentions to run months ago and have been in regular attendance at School Board meetings.

Since January, six incumbents — Hunter Beasley, Shelton Cobb, Mark Cockerham, Tommy Angelle, Kermit Bouillion and Tehmi Chassion — have said they plan to seek re-election. Beasley, Cobb and Chassion each have challengers.

Beasley, the board president, said Friday he has gathered enough signatures from registered voters in his district to waive his qualifying fees. School Board members must collect at least 100 signatures on a nominating petition to waive the fees that range from $115 to $230, depending upon the candidate’s party affiliation.

Another unknown in the political landscape is what effect the board’s battles with Superintendent Pat Cooper will have with the electorate.

Relations between the School Board and Cooper have been strained, particularly in recent months as the board attempted to balance the general fund budget to offset a $23.5 million shortfall. A majority of six board members has repeatedly rejected Cooper’s budget recommendations in favor of identifying reductions on their own.

Last year, the board reprimanded Cooper and hired an attorney to investigate the superintendent as a way to find cause for a termination hearing. The investigation is still pending.

The balance of power on the nine-member board has shifted in the past year and a half, from five voting in support of Cooper’s recommendations to now only three consistently backing Cooper. Those three — Cobb, Bouillion and Cockerham — also did not support a majority of the board’s decisions to reprimand Cooper and start an investigation.

Some incumbents may skate back into office without opposition.

As of Friday, only three board members did not have announced challengers: Cockerham, Bouillion and Angelle.

Four years ago, three incumbents — Cobb, Mark Babineaux and Rae Trahan —were re-elected without opposition.

That year, 2010, Angelle narrowly won his seat on the board by four votes in a race against Cajundome director Greg Davis. Davis recently filed a federal lawsuit against the board over its handling of its 2014-15 budget and also asked the court to intervene in any future termination proceedings against Cooper. Davis said last week he does not plan to run for a seat on the School Board this year.

Those elected to the nine-member board will serve a five-year term instead of four years due to legislation passed in the recent session that moves the board’s election cycle to the gubernatorial election date effective in the year 2019. The legislation, proposed by state Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, sought to improve voter turnout.

Here’s a run-down of the early bird candidates:

DISTRICT 1: Mary Morrison, an academic counselor at South Louisiana Community College who served a one-year appointment on the City-Parish Council to replace her husband, Purvis, after he was elected mayor of Scott. The incumbent, Babineaux, has not announced whether he’ll seek re-election, though he is considering a run for a district court judge seat.

DISTRICT 2: Angelle, the incumbent, doesn’t have any challengers yet.

DISTRICT 3: Cobb, the incumbent, will face Elroy Broussard, who ran against him in a special election in 2008 to fill the District 3 seat vacated when Rickey Hardy was elected state representative.

DISTRICT 4: Joshua Broussard, an admissions coordinator for a local nursing home and former Lafayette chapter NAACP president, plans to take on incumbent Chassion.

DISTRICT 5: Incumbent Bouillion so far has no announced challenger.

DISTRICT 6: Incumbent Greg Awbrey has not publicly announced his decision yet. There are two challengers for the seat, Kathleen Espinoza, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette geology instructor, and Justin Centanni, an assistant vice president database analyst for IberiaBank.

DISTRICT 7: Cockerham, the incumbent, currently has no challengers.

DISTRICT 8: Beasley, the incumbent, faces a challenge from businessman Erick Knezek, co-founder and managing partner of Truston Technologies, a marine services company.

DISTRICT 9: Incumbent Trahan hasn’t made any announcements about her re-election plans, although there are already two contenders for her seat: Jeremy Hidalgo, a financial services representative for MetLife and owner of Southern Sport Nets, and Brian West, an informatics program instructor at UL-Lafayette.