School board candidates share their visions

From left, moderator Melissa Fox, Jonathan Guthrie, Jeri O’Neal, Fred Evans, Jana Watson and Phillip Smart.

By Paige Nash

Webster Parish School Board candidates had the opportunity to share their vision for education in the parish Monday.

While they had differentiating opinions on most that was addressed, they all agreed having a school system that is competitive with neighboring parishes is imperative and that a sense of pride in the education the students are receiving is crucial in invigorating the local economy and guaranteeing a high quality of life in the future for our parish.  

Candidates with opposition seeking to fill a seat on the Webster Parish School Board attended the 2022 Political Forum presented by the Greater Minden Chamber of Commerce Monday evening (October 10). 

Jonathan “Goose” Guthrie and incumbent Jeri “JJ” O’Neal were there for District 4 along with current board member for District 6, Fred Evans and political hopeful, Jana Watson. Phillip Smart was in attendance seeking to take the District 8 seat from the reigning Glenda Broughton, who was not present. 

The forum began with a meaty three-part question, which in part included asking the candidates, “What makes them the best candidate?” 

District 4 hopeful Guthrie said, “Helping people has always been my passion. I believe it is a calling. I believe I have the energy, the motivation, and the desire to work hard.” 

Incumbent O’Neal said, “The fact that I felt like the board wasn’t hearing the people’s voice, they weren’t hearing the students, the teachers, and the parents. I had two girls in the system, so I felt like I had investment in it. I was in tune with what the outside needed, and I wanted to be able to communicate that with the board itself.” 

Representing District 6 Fred Evens said, “I have the experience. A lot of the time I can draw some things up with the policies that others can’t.” 

Candidate for District 6 Watson said, “I taught 21 years in our schools, and I don’t want our students going to other parishes, I don’t want our very talented teachers going to other parishes either.” 

District 8 candidate Smart said,” Experience means nothing if you only have experience in doing nothing. I’m not scared to go out there and make changes, I’m not scared to create waves, I’m not scared to ask questions and I’m not scared to fight for our children.” 

Another question allowed the candidates to voice their varying opinions of what they believed was the biggest problem currently in the K-12 education system. 

District 6 incumbent, Fred Evans said, “I think that one of the biggest problems we have is overcoming Covid-19, especially the younger children. It’s not anyone’s fault other than Covid-19. Covid is something that has really set schools back.” 

Watson said, “We have had some problems recently with aggressive behavior and the leaders are limited on what they can do and how they can react. I think we need to work with the teachers and give them other options.” 

District 8 candidate Smart said, “The average salary for a public teacher is $42,000 for the state of Louisiana, the national average is $65,000. So, we definitely have to increase our teacher’s salary to make them want to be here. You have some teachers who do it just because they have it in their heart and they want to help out, but they need help, as well.” 

District 4 candidate Guthrie said, “When I worked as a juvenile officer between 1995-2001, I saw that we started losing a lot of our children about the 7th or 8th grade and a lot of the times it wasn’t because of bad parents, sometimes it was a single parent home, and they were having to work, and the children were being left unattended. They got into situations to where they got themselves into criminal trouble. They ended up in the criminal justice system because unfortunately there were not a lot of things that were offered at that particular time for after school programs.” 

Incumbent for District 4 O’Neal said, “I think depending on where you live, there are different pockets. There may be a different problem in the north part of the parish than the southAq part of the parish, so I think we really need to individualize our schools. What does each individual school need in order to overcome the problems those kids are facing?” 

Each candidate for every represented district agreed on what their roles and responsibilities are as a school board member. Every candidate mentioned being a voice, ears and a liaison between the teachers, parents, children and the board with education being top priority. 

If you are interested in learning more about the candidates’ platforms and plans and were not able to attend this forum or watch the live stream, you can still find it on the Greater Minden Chamber Facebook page 

The Greater Minden Chamber will be holding their final round of questions for the candidates running for Minden City Council and Chief of Police on next Monday, October 17 at the Northwest Louisiana Technical Community College at 6 p.m.