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Put to the Test 

Following a contentious summer, all seven seats for Orleans Parish School Board are now up for grabs.

You remember those five days in June, the secret meetings and temporary restraining orders, while the legislature worked on a new law giving Orleans Parish superintendent of schools Anthony Amato more power. The aftershock from that event is one reason voter dissatisfaction with school board incumbents is at record high levels, according to polls.

New board members will face significant challenges. The district estimates that 40 of its 120 schools need to be rebuilt for students to enjoy an adequate environment for learning. A bond issue for even basic repairs will go nowhere until the system can sort out its finances and build public trust. That will require rooting out cronyism, patronage, corruption and incompetence. Plus, Amato's contract expires Dec. 31, 2006, opening the very real possibility that the district could endure another search for a superintendent in the not-too-distant future.

• District One. Incumbent and current board president Cheryl Mills, a professor at Southern University's School of Social Work, was among those who attacked Amato and allegedly tried to fire him in June. Her strongest challenger in the election is Heidi Lovett Daniels, a McMain graduate and assistant professor of Education at Dillard University with a master's degree in Mathematics from Xavier University. Also challenging Mills is Teresa Longley Williams, a certified special needs teacher.

• District Two. The most familiar candidate for the seat held since 1985 by Gail Glapion (who is stepping down) is publisher and former board member Dr. Dwight McKenna, who served from 1998 until 1992, when his term was cut short by a federal conviction for tax evasion. Also running is retired NOPS principal and Title 1 administrator H. Kenneth Johnston; tax consultant Roland Barthé; Xavier University administrator Alden Reine; parent Cynthia Cade; and Deninah Webb-Goodwin, a senior pastor of Zion Christian Ministries

• District Three. Incumbent James "Jimmy" Fahrenholtz joined with Una Anderson to sue fellow board members and ultimately block them from firing Amato without cause or notice in June. A Fortier graduate and an attorney, Fahrenholtz faces outspoken challenger Sandra Wheeler Hester, best known for her cable access show The Hester Report. Other challengers are restaurant owner and former Anheuser-Busch executive Richard "Dickie" Unangst, the lone Republican in the race, and Charles Francis "Chip" Wusthoff III, an independent.

• District Four. A retired teacher, principal and central office administrator with 42 years in New Orleans education, Ellenese Brooks-Simms cast the deciding vote to hire Amato in 2002, but produced a booklet outlining Amato's failings in June. Opposing Brooks-Simms are Camacia Smith-Ross, an assistant professor of education at Southern University at New Orleans and a former NOPS teacher and Title 1 coordinator; Lourdes Moran, a business accountant and mother of two students at Benjamin Franklin Senior High; and Ernest Marcelle Jr., a postal worker and assistant pastor who has served on the board of the New Orleans Public Schools' Scholarship Foundation.

• District Five. Incumbent Carolyn Green-Ford resigned early in the campaign, clearing the field for contenders Phyllis Landrieu, Christopher Kohl and Karl J. Connor. Landrieu, who has the advantage of having a U.S. Senator as a niece and the Lt. Governor as a nephew, has a master's degree in education and pledges to help create an environment of respect. Connor, a former assistant U.S. Attorney, touts his civic experience as a tutor and mentor in the New Orleans system for the last 10 years. Kohl, a musician, professes no connection to the school system.

• District Six. Incumbent Una Anderson's role, with Jimmy Fahrenholtz, in preventing any sudden firing of Amato in June made her a hero to some and an obstructionist to others. Since helping recruit Amato, her mantra has been to maintain stability by retaining the superintendent until the end of his contract and giving his reforms a chance to work. Challenging her are LaToya Cantrell, a financial manager for the Greater New Orleans Education Foundation; John L. McKnight Jr., a public school teacher; and Joy Wigfall, a retired psychiatrist and assistant pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Slidell. · District Seven. Incumbent Elliot Willard says LEAP is unfair to kids and frequently bemoans poor parenting. He briefly stood with the faction aligned against Amato before denying any intention of firing the superintendent. The power contender is the Rev. Torin Sanders, pastor of Sixth Baptist Church and a young and dynamic social worker with extensive credentials in the community. Social worker-turned-Shell technician Glenn Wilson is taking a third run at the board. Earl Dunbar, a second-grade teacher at Coghill Elementary School, is also running.

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