Gov. John Bel Edwards recently announced his selection of three appointees to the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) this month, including a new at-large selection and the reappointment of two members currently serving on the panel.
And we have to question why is it that not one of them is from Orleans Parish or at least residents of BESE District 2, which also includes Jefferson Parish and the River parishes. We wonder this particularly because New Orleans has the most charter schools in the state and has the only locally elected board whose hands have effectively been tied by the very legislation that was supposed to return schools to “local” control.
Oh, and did we mention that it is because of African-American turnout in Orleans Parish and other urban centers in Louisiana that Bel Edwards is serving another four-term. Adding a voice on BESE that understands the challenges faced by Orleans Parish parents, students and taxpayers, and voters while also serving as an at-large BESE member would have been a nice way to say “thanks” and would have gone a long way in indicating that he (Gov. Edwards) also really understands those challenges.
And there were options, indeed.
In our opinion, at least one of those seats should have gone to either of the 2019 BESE District 2 candidates, educator Ashonta Wyatt or attorney and former educator Shawon Bernard, who lost their bids against well-funded TFA executive Kira Orange Jones. Heck, we wold have been happy to see retired teacher and public education advocate Lee Barrios, who ran unsuccessfully for District 1 (which also includes a portion of Orleans Parish) against incumbent James Garvey (another BESE member backed by lots of dark money from the reform movement) get appointed.
Each of these women understands the challenges Orleans Parish faces in public education — challenges that have the potential to spread across the state unless and until the corporate-backed reform movement is wrangled.
Instead, Edwards reappointed to two current at-large members and added one new one.
Belinda Davis, a professor of public policy at Louisiana State University, will serve as an at-large member of the board. The good news is that Davis, a former candidate for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board who ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature last year, is a vocal opponent of education reform. We are happy to know that. Her 2017 School Board candidacy vociferously opposed by Stand for Children Louisiana, one of the many vehicles used to push so-called reform across the state.
Davis is likely to vote against extending the contract for Louisiana state school superintendent John White, which expires this month. Gov. Edwards has publicly stated his desire to remove White from his role as the head of public education in the state.
Doris Voitier, a Chalmette resident and superintendent of schools in St. Bernard Parish, has been reappointed to one of the board’s at-large posts. Thomas Roque of Natchitoches Parish has also been reappointed to the state body as an at-large member. Roque is the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Alexandria.
Our contention is not that Davis, Voiter and Roque won’t serve well. It is, however, that Gov. Edwards had other options that we know would have vigorously represented our community. And we have to wonder why he did not avail himself of any of them.