Baton Rouge business PAC endorses 6 school board candidates, including 4 incumbents / The Times Picayune

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s FuturePAC announced Tuesday it is endorsing six candidates in the race for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System’s board.

Four of the candidates the political action committee is endorsing are incumbents, and two of those are running unopposed. The PAC is endorsing Barbara Freiberg, who is running against challenger Anthony Nelson.

It’s also taking a position in the board’s most noteworthy race, which pits two incumbents — Evelyn Ware-Jackson and Jerry Arbour — against each other and two other challengers, including former board member W.T. Winfield. In that race, the PAC is endorsing Ware-Jackson over Arbour — not a surprise, considering the PAC actively campaigned against both Arbour and Winfield in the 2010 election.

The PAC also endorsed Jill Dyason and board president David Tatman, who are running unopposed.

The challengers the PAC is endorsing are Mark Bellue, who is running against board member Mary Lynch, and Chris Bailey, who is running against incumbent Connie Bernard. Lynch is a relative newcomer herself, having replaced the late Randy Lamana only this year.

The PAC is giving $5,000 to the endorsed candidates who are facing opposition in their races.

The group is looking for “meaningful improvement” in public education, and candidates who have “demonstrated the desire and willingness to bring about change and improvement,” Pat Felder, chair of the FuturePAC board of directors said in a statement.

Perhaps most surprising, considering BRAC’s push during this year’s legislative session to shrink and reform the school board, is the small number of challengers being endorsed. In the 2010 election, the PAC backed nine newcomers and only one incumbent. But now that the board has been reduced from 11 members to nine, a majority is only five members — and the PAC is already aligned with four incumbents.

BRAC’s legislative efforts to shrink the board from 11 to 9 members failed, but the board itself narrowly ended up voting to reduce its size. The move was controversial, and spurred a lawsuit from the NAACP and local residents. Critics said shrinking the board was a play by business interests to control the majority on the board. The size reduction and reapportionment are the reasons Arbour has to face another incumbent in this election.

Another PAC with business ties involved the race is “Better Schools for Better Futures,” which is backed by businessman Lane Grigsby and also has had input from BRAC and others. That PAC has endorsed eight candidates, including the same six backed by BRAC’s FuturePAC.

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