This Saturday, Sept. 30, Lafayette Parish residents will cast one of the most important votes influencing the future of our community by choosing the leaders of our public education system. This year, four of the school board's current members have decided not to seek re-election, ensuring that next year's board will have several new faces. Two of the board's new members, Hunter Beasley in District 8 and Rae Trahan in District 9, are running unopposed. But in Districts 1, 3 and 6, voters will be deciding between a number of capable and qualified candidates promising quality education for Lafayette's public school students.

Candidates noted with asterisks earned endorsements from the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators, the parish's largest teacher union. Each candidate also supplied a home or office phone number for voters to contact them with questions before the election.

DISTRICT 1

*RUSSELL MEYER,age 51, Republican
Six years ago, Russell Meyer's career dramatically shifted gears when he went from being principal at St. Cecilia School ('92''99) in Broussard to buying and managing his own mom-and-pop corner store, Romero's Grocery in Ossun. "I didn't want to get to a point where someone told me it was time to retire [from the school]," Meyer says. "Owning your own business, it's everyone's dream. And I've always enjoyed dealing with the public."

The well-liked, easygoing Meyer was encouraged to run by several people in the district after longtime school board member John Earl Guidry indicated he would not seek another term on the board. "Education has been good to me," Meyer says. "And this is, in a small way, trying to give back."

Originally from Illinois, Meyer brings a total of 22 years experience as a schoolteacher, coach, and administrator, mostly in the New Iberia Catholic school system. He served a brief stint as assistant principal at Catholic High in New Iberia.

Meyer says one of the key issues facing the school board in coming years will be how to maintain facilities and quality education as Lafayette is experiencing rapid growth. "We need to work with the community on this," Meyer says, "whether it's parents or the city council. Our parish is growing and one of the first things that people moving in look at is the schools. Local government shouldn't work separately on this. I think it's important that the school board and the city council work together continuously."

For more info, call 322-2707.

MARY MORRISON,age 45, Democrat
As both a mother of three and a teacher, Mary Morrison has become very attuned to the educational needs and challenges facing today's students. Morrison, a native of Erath who has lived in Scott for the past 26 years, has worked for the past three years as a business instructor with the Louisiana Technical College. The soft-spoken candidate is involved with a laundry list of organizations and community activities, including serving as a Student Government Association advisor with LTC and as a Work Place Literacy instructor.

"I think the school board needs to adapt to the students of today," she says. "In my day-to-day job, I know what I'm seeing with my students. There's so many more things out there that influence them."

To keep kids focused, Morrison says the key for any successful school system is making sure parents and elder community members stay actively involved. "I see that as the key for our student performance as well as solving discipline problems in the schools," she says.

Morrison says that if elected, she'd like to explore ways of improving parent-teacher conferences and will push to have school board meetings broadcast live on Acadiana Open Channel for parents and other concerned citizens to watch.

Morrison also wants to work more with the parish's state and federal delegation to ensure the system utilizes all its funding opportunities.

For more info, call 234-3031.

DISTRICT 3

ELROY BROUSSARD, age 54, Democrat
While Elroy Broussard may not have quite the same political name recognition as the other two candidates in District 3, he's no stranger to voters. A father of four and grandfather of seven children, Broussard has been involved in the community through his active role with the Knights of Peter Claver, his current position as a member of the Lafayette Parish Board of Zoning Adjustments, his work with kids through St. Anthony's Catholic Church and as a coach and organizer with the Brown Park Youth League Association.

Broussard, who helps sell oilfield chemicals and lubricants with Oil Center Research, is making a run for school board because of the concerns he's heard from both kids and parents. He says the school board has been a disappointment over the past several years in a number of areas, from declining facilities and grades to transportation fiascos. He says District 3 students were on the "short end" of desegregation case-related changes in the school system, which resulted in the closure of both J. Wallace James and St. Antoine elementary schools. (Some students in District 3 are now bussed to Ossun and Prairie elementary schools.)

Broussard wants to find ways to get kids in his district in schools closer to home and to guard against efforts to privatize the school bus drivers. He also vows to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars, fighting against undue expenses on reports and studies. "All we do is [spend money on] feasibility studies that tell us to do the same thing we started to do in the first place," he says.

For more info, call 232-9134.

RAPHAEL "DOC" BARANCO, age 74, Democrat
It's been 16 years since Doc Baranco last sat on the Lafayette Parish School Board. But the local dentist, who moved to Lafayette in 1968 after friends and family encouraged him to open his private practice here, is upbeat and confident.

Baranco, along with Tony Chaisson, served as one of the first African-American members of the Lafayette Parish School Board when he was first elected in 1972. During the time he served on the board, which lasted through 1989, Baranco helped institute school vocational programs and career day. Today, he sees the school system's Schools of Choice and Academy programs as a natural extension of that philosophy and hopes to see them expanded. "You have a waiting list of students trying to get into [certain] schools," he says. "And not being able to accommodate them is not in the best interest of the school system."

Baranco, who had a failed run for city-parish council in 1992, has stayed actively involved with school board issues through the years. He was part of a committee that helped interview finalists for the superintendent job in 2000, when James Easton was hired. And he also has worked with the Chamber of Commerce and the NAACP to help the school system work through its desegregation case.

If elected to serve again, Baranco says he would make closing the achievement gap among Lafayette Parish students a top priority. "This is very important," Baranco says. "It's the picture Lafayette presents to the rest of the country."

Baranco would also like to explore year-round schooling, which he says several studies have shown can be extremely beneficial to low-achieving students.

For more info, call 232-8397

RICKEY HARDY, age 46, Democrat
As the incumbent of the past 12 years, Rickey Hardy is the odds-on favorite in District 3.

Hardy has been one of the most outspoken voices on the school board ' a distinction that has earned him both praise and criticism. In 2002, he marched at a rally protesting the school system's handling of desegregation case orders with a sign that read, "Don't trust the school board with our future." Last year, he fumed about the school system's reluctance to privatize its transportation department and called the school board's handling of the issue "chickenshit."

Never one to shy away from controversy, Hardy has bold ideas for improving the school system. He wants to sell off the property and assets of the parish's two closed elementary schools, J. Wallace James and St. Antoine, to fund a new school to handle growth in the Youngsville area. He's also pledging to work to raise the minimum grade point average for student-athletes from 1.5 to 2.0 and to continue to seek reform of the school system's transportation department.

But Hardy could be distracted by future political ambitions. The veteran school board member is widely rumored to be eyeing a run for the state legislature, possibly as early as next year. Hardy would not unequivocally confirm nor deny the speculation. "It's a premature question," he says. "Those are rumors. Right now I'm focusing on getting elected to the school board."

For more info, call 269-9346.

DISTRICT 6

*GREG AWBREY, age 43, Republican
Greg Awbrey is rarely at a loss for words on the issues he finds important with the school board. Originally from the Seattle area, Awbrey came to Lafayette 10 years ago when he traded in his military career for a job as an offshore helicopter pilot with PHI. He took an active interest in the school board in 2004 when he and his wife Heidi, who is a local substitute teacher, rallied with other parents against a proposal to dilute Lafayette's French Immersion program by folding it with other language study programs.

"It was too important to let it go, so we started going to school board meetings," Awbrey says. "I have four children in the public school system, and all of them went through French Immersion."

While attending meetings, Awbrey says his eyes were opened to other problems on the school board, mainly concerning budget priorities. He pulls out a graph showing how transportation department costs have skyrocketed $9 million over the last 15 years ' an amount he says is unacceptable and could be reduced by going back to the old system of having three bell times for the start of school. He also feels the central office budget is bloated. "All the data shows the focus of our school system is going away from the classroom and into administration," he says.

Awbrey's top priority is to get Kindergarten through third grade class sizes down to about 17 students per teacher (they're currently at about 20). He says this, and other tough budget issues, will require a bolder school board. "The current school board will not buck the Superintendent [on budget issues]," he says. "They don't have the votes."

For more info, visit www.gregawbrey.com or call 981-6955.

ALBERT KARRE, JR., age 50, Democrat
Politics may run in his blood, but Al Karre says he doesn't see himself as being partisan or very political.

"I like to tell people my family is kind of split evenly down the middle between the Republicans and Democrats," he says. "And I don't see the school board as being a partisan, political thing."

Karre's father, Albert Karre, Sr., is a former Lafayette city prosecutor. His mother is Inez Boustany, and local Republican Rep. Charles Boustany is his cousin. Through marriage, the Boustany family also is related to the families of Edwin Edwards and Ted Kennedy.

Born and raised in Lafayette, Karre graduated from UL Lafayette in journalism and began his career as a sports reporter with The Daily Advertiser. He then moved on to teach English and coach track and basketball at Our Lady of Fatima and Teurlings High School. After seven years of working in schools, Karre decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and earned a law degree from Southern University.

A lawyer and avid reader, Karre says he's followed issues with city government and the school board for a number of years. He's not running on any one signature issue but would like to see the school board better utilize the expertise of the community in making decisions.

"I'm looking for input from everybody," Karre says. "And I'm going into everything with an open mind. I'm not a reactionary."

"I'm not doing this for a paycheck," he adds. "I'm not doing it for glory. I'll be quite happy to be the quiet, deliberate member of the board. I just like efficiency and want to see government run well."

For more info, call 235-5704.

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