Erase the Board

In my opinion, Saturday’s Orleans Parish School Board election results have statewide significance. The equation is simple: improving schools will make New Orleans more attractive to business, which will create jobs, and expand opportunity all around. If you’ve missed the Times-Picayune’s superb coverage of our grossly derelict School Board, then I would just say that in recent years the Board has presided over unconscionable levels of fraud, fiscal buffoonery and scholastic disgrace . Worse, the Board attempted to oust the new Superintendant who had begun the arduous process of cleaning this thing up. The whole mess has cheated everyone in the community, but most directly our city’s urban youth. It’s been an unmitigated disaster, an obscene squandering of human potential… To say that New Orleans’ urban (mostly black) youth are “educationally underserved” is like saying the Saints performed “imperfectly” against Seattle: a huge understatement. In short, the time has come (again) to “erase the board”, save for perhaps the two members who worked to retain Superintendant Amato.

Given the scores of failing schools in Orleans, and the opportunity cost of reelecting Board members who are either incompetent or corrupt, I believe the stakes for the city and state couldn’t be higher.

Here is a brief run-down of my impressions from the Alliance for Good Government’s Candidate Forum that took place several weeks ago. Curiously, the Times-Picayune didn’t cover it, though the forum involved candidates from the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Districts. Instead, the T-P chose to focus separately on individual districts, profiling each in depth. They deserve a tremendous amount of credit for emphasizing the importance of these elections, and have useful videos of candidate interviews at nola.com. They missed an interesting night, though, at Axel’s reception hall on dreary Tulane Avenue.

First I want to describe a promising phenomenon that was evident at the forum. It’s the emergence of what I will term “Naginites”– successful, black, (often bald) businessmen like Mayor Ray Nagin, who became so frustrated at the recurring problems holding New Orleans back that they decided to fix them via elective office. I love this development and hope to see more of it. There are two Naginites running for the School Board this year. One of them, Glenn Wilson (Dist 7), recalled being in the conference room when a company explained that they wouldn’t relocate to New Orleans solely because of the horrendous school system. The incentives were fine, the business climate acceptable, but relocating would necessitate expensive private school tuitions, and that was the deal-killer. Five hundred well-paying jobs went elswhere because of the awful public schools. I shudder to think how many times New Orleans has been passed over like this. For perspective, recall that when Governor Blanco lured a manufacturer (bringing 800 new jobs) to Alexandria this year, the news of this economic coup made the front page of nearly every newspaper in the state. Imagine monthly articles trumpeting such successes… Rebuilding Orleans Parish public schools is the first step.

I wish I could report that all of the challengers were both highly prepared and politically gifted, but they simply weren’t. Far from it, in fact. (If you’re a young Carville wannabe eager to cut your teeth, you could easily get in with a School Board candidate. It would be a good experience, and isn’t as small time as it sounds.) Anyways, the 4th district is a real problem since the Board member most deserving of defeat (Brooks-Simms) has the most politically inexperienced competition. (You can read “politically” to mean: saying and doing the things that will win an election.)

I live in the fifth district, where the current Board member is wisely retiring. There are two outstanding candidates, Karl Connor, the other Naginite, and Phyllis Landrieu. Both were knowledgable and high-toned at the forum, but clearly Mrs Landrieu has the most political talent. Of course, she should, given that her niece is a Senator and her nephew is the Lieutenant Governor. Actually, Mitch Landrieu stopped by that night to see his aunt speak. I chatted briefly with him during an intermission and he pretended to recognize from an event earlier this year. He was charming, totally at ease, working the room like a champ… Despite making her first foray into politics, Phyllis Landrieu was by far the most polished candidate, and she’ll win the fifth district easily. I mean, how could voters turn down the connections she brings to the table? The real pity of it is that her opponent, Connor, is probably the second most desirable candidate in the entire field. It’s a shame only one of them can be elected.

One of the standard questions by the moderator was: “How many schools are in your district, and how many have you visited?” I swear, laughably, tragically, almost EVERY CANDIDATE, in every district, gave different answers. They’d say “There are 19 schools in my district and I’ve visited every one of them” Then the next candidate (same district) would say “There are sixteen schools in the district and I’ve visited them all twice.” And the next one would give even another answer. Heaven help us! One bit of news might have been made when Harvard alumn, and true Amato suppporter Una Anderson said there were 12 schools in her district. Ms Latoya Cantrell, who effectively (and rightly) expressed her disappointment with the Board, “corrected” her and said there are 13. With all of the the openings/closings/mergers, I have no idea what the actual number is, but if Ms. Anderson (an incumbent) was wrong, that would be news.

For what it’s worth, here’s my recommendations for the School Board elections:

District 4: Camacia Smith-Ross received the Gambit’s endorsement, though Lourdes Moran got most others. I was definitely most impressed with Ross at the forum. Moran was not ready for prime time at all. (I spoke with Smith-Ross in Axel’s parking lot afterwards. Her political skills could use some tweaking, but on the plus side she’s attractive and drives a clean silver BMW 3 series. [ed: Sit down, Waldo!])

District 5: Phyllis Landrieu (She’ll probably roll with over 60% in a 3 way race). I just wish Karl Connor lived in another district.

District 6: Una Anderson. She’s behind Amato, and helped save his job. Also, she’s a Harvard alumn and former state track star. If you can’t stomach re-electing someone to this Board– which is totally understandable, then pick Cantrell or McKnight.

District 7: Anyone but Dr. Willard. He put on such a rabid and bizarre performance at the forum, yelling and shaking his fist in hopes of creating crowd enthusiasm. But he’d emphasize the wrong words, and make every excuse for his sorry record. Quite frankly, the man appeared unstable. I like all of his opponents equally, though Torin Sanders is collecting most of the endorsements.

Please remember to vote. And if in doubt, throw ’em out.

3 Comments so far

  1. Mike Hoffman (unregistered) on September 17th, 2004 @ 3:19 pm

    The businesses in New Orleans don’t bother taking advantage of the already developed class of higher education in New Orleans — I think that while improving education in the city will help diminish the crime and proverty in the long run, there are serious underlying issues of corruption that have to be addressed along side.


  2. vioxx (unregistered) on August 4th, 2005 @ 12:52 pm
  3. 3 way (unregistered) on November 15th, 2005 @ 12:27 am

    This is nuts



Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.