In The News › Finances, Union Concern Candidates

Sep 24, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Schools

Finances, Union Concern Candidates

Finances, union concern candidates
Incumbent leaving Orleans School Board
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
By Darran Simon
Staff writer

Three of the four candidates for the 3rd District Orleans Parish School Board seat agree that finding ways to settle the board’s half-billion-dollar debt is a priority for the district.
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They differ, however, in their support of the United Teachers of New Orleans and collective bargaining, another key issue as they battle for the open seat. Incumbent Jimmy Fahrenholtz is not seeking a third four-year term representing the district that encompasses parts of Mid-City and Lakeview.

The candidates are C. Davin Boldissar and Brett A. Bonin, both attorneys; Pat-Sheila Brewer-Felix, who runs a youth-outreach nonprofit; and Amy Lafont, a construction and development consultant.

The board has only five schools and 2,600 students — a more than 90 percent reduction from its pre-Katrina enrollment — but faces challenges including a shrinking pool of federal dollars and increasing competition for students and resources.

—- C. Davin Boldissar —-

Boldissar, 33, a former legal analyst with the Bureau of Governmental Research, touts his proficiency in working on complex government matters and in handling debt restructuring and bankruptcy issues involving large companies and nonprofits.

“I am somebody who can come up to speed on complicated issues very quickly,” he said.

Boldissar said the district’s debt ultimately need to be restructured and evenly divided between the restructured school systems.

Boldissar said teachers need representation and he supports the “union generally.”

“We need to strike a balance here,” he said. “The union has engaged in some activity in the past that’s not desirable. I’m talking about protecting some teachers that, maybe, shouldn’t have been protected.” But Boldissar said he favors entering into a contract with the union and collective bargaining.

Boldissar suggests working with Bureau of Governmental Research, the Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, parents, teachers and others to develop a long-term governance plan before the state decides to return state-run schools to board control.

—- Brett A. Bonin —-

Bonin, 36, said he does “pledge to listen” to the union, but doesn’t favor extending the union a collective bargaining deal.

“Collective bargaining, at this time, has the potential to financially cripple the Orleans Parish school system,” Bonin said. He suggests working with state and federal leaders to help retire or forgive the debt. The board should also tap the volunteer help of community experts such as think tanks, universities and financial experts to do independent audits and probe aspects of the system, he said.

“We need to show that not only can we run the best schools in the parish but that we have the ability to run and improve the poorer-performing schools,” he said.

Bonin said that he supports charters, but that charters should not the “end-all-be-all” to improve education.

He said there is room for more charters but there must be a balance of open-enrollment and selective-admission schools.

—- Pat-Sheila Brewer-Felix —-

Brewer-Felix, 38, said her work with students who’ve led challenging lives and her time teaching at Bridge City Correctional Center in Bridge City give her an edge

“I know exactly what teachers need and, also, how to approach these kids,” she said.

Brewer-Felix said being a parent of school-age child also makes her empathetic to parents’ needs.

She said the board needs more transparency, including in its communication with the public.

“In the past, a lot of decisions were being made and the community was not aware,” she said.

Brewer-Felix said she wants to work with the city’s systems of schools to increase efficiency. She said she will advocate for more technology in classrooms, new textbooks and getting adequate dollars to implement mental health and special education services.

—- Amy Lafont —-

Lafont, 33, is active in several education organizations. She is involved in the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization Education Committee, the Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association Education Committee and various parent and community groups.

“I’m the only candidate for District 3 that has direct experience with public schools. I’ve been continuously vigilant and active in the schools,” said Lafont, who completed two terms of service as an AmeriCorps member and taught in the school system in the 1990s.

Lafont, who is endorsed by the union, said UTNO has exhibited an “invigorated energy toward reform overall.”

Lafont would like to see the board meet with community members monthly and no less than quarterly with state officials to ensure progress in developing a governance plan to operate schools if the state returns local control to the board

“The first thing I always hear when talking about education in New Orleans, is the confusion and lack of cohesion of the multiple systems, as well as the financial costs in maintaining these systems,” Lafont said.

Lafont said she would look for ways to get the debt forgiven and use the expertise of volunteer local financial advisers to help restructure the debt and improve finances.

Darran Simon can be reached at dsimon@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3386.

Sep 24, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Schools

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