As if the Caddo Parish School Board (CPSB) did not have enough PR problems, the 6 black board members have further dug their popularity grave deeper with the voters of District 11 which encompasses most of Southern Hills. In what can only be classified as a major surprise, if not shock, the CPSB selected Shalanda Swift-Watkins to the District 11 seat until the fall elections. The back story on this board selection is just as interesting as the politic dynamics that resulted in the selection of a black lady to represent an overwhelmingly white district. (Voter registration is District 11 is 73% white, 24% black and 3% other.)
Kirschvinck, known to most as Kaycee Hargrove, unseated 2 term incumbent Ginger Armstrong in last fall’s primary election; Parker Ward was a distance third. Kaycee received substantial campaign funds from a then new formed education PAC that successfully supported 4 other challengers to incumbent board members. The motivation of the education PAC became quite obvious at the first meeting of the newly elected Board in January of this year when the ill fated $108 million bond package was unanimously approved for the May ballot. Later disclosures revealed that the new elected board members had been lobbied after the election before taking office in January; many political observers believe that voting for the bond package was a condition of the PAC funding.
At the first board meeting after the bond defeat, Kacee put on a crying resignation performance that was over the top. She expressed her undying love and affection for Shreveport and Caddo Parish as she advised the Board, through many sobs and tears, that she was jumping ship and moving her family to Baton Rouge for a high dollar PR job. She failed to mention that this job did not just fall from the sky and that she had first interviewed for it before the October primary and had aggressively pursued this career opportunity after her election win. Seemingly the other board members bought into her charade—many probably wished that they could bolt the parish after getting egg in their face on their bond proposal.
To make matters worse, Kacee had the audacity to name her neighbor Jim Hewlett as the best choice to fill her seat on an interim basis. Presumably Hewlett, a retired AEP manager, had been vetted by her sugar daddy education PAC. Evidently Kacee and Hewlett, who was in attendance at the meeting, believed it was a done deal and he would replace Kacee on an interim basis.
Hewlett did submit an application, along with the former candidate Ward and political newcomer Swift-Watkins before the noon May 27 deadline for the May 29 meeting. Ward’s handwritten note just asked for consideration with no resume or syrupy cover letter; presumably he assumed that the board members knew of his October election effort and his background. Hewlett attached an impressive vita; his cover letter referenced his three grandkids as Caddo students. Swift-Watkins touted herself as the “perfect candidate” in her cover letter; her resume was unimpressive but it did state that she had held the position of president since 2009 of her brother’s foundation. (The Facebook page of the foundation does not include any activity since June 2011.)
The presentations by each applicant to the Board before the actual vote on May 11 followed the expected “select me” scripts—with one glaring (and false) exception. Swift-Watkins touted a $5000 gift by the (Stromile) Swift Foundation as her “credentials” along with being a frequent volunteer at her 5th grade child’s school. She failed to mention that this non-profit foundation was not in good standing with the Louisiana Secretary of State or that CPSB member Dottie Bell was a director; not surprisingly Bell did not recuse herself from voting for Swift-Watkins. A public records request to the CPSB revealed that the only gifts by the Foundation was a $500 check to the CPSB and $1000 to Fair Park High School in July 2009, both presented by Stromile Swift.
The first vote was a 5-5 tie between Hewlett and Swift-Watkins; not surprisingly the votes were along racial lines with black board member Margaret Brown not voting. The second vote was 6-5 black white vote for Swift-Watkins; it was quite apparent that Brown was leaned on by the other black members to vote for the black candidate Swift-Watkins. Interestingly enough Parker Ward, a former candidate who had lobbied members after submitting his application, received no votes period—perhaps the 11 board members feared he would be joining them after the upcoming fall election (?). Watkins was sworn in after the vote and her first board meeting was a June 2 work session.
So what’s the reason story on the black block vote for Swift-Watkins, other than the customary “best qualified” ya ya which was spouted after the election by the board’s black block? The facts do not support that theory especially with the false statement about a $5000 donation. Some observers have questioned if this is the basis for criminal charges against both Swift-Watkins and/or the board members who voted for her on the basis of a “payoff” for the alleged gift.
Another justifiable reason, not expressed but maybe a factor, was to not give an advantage to any serious candidate in the fall election. Board members filling interim seats can run in the special election and can campaign with a school board member “tag”. The reality is that Swift-Watkins chances of success in this overwhelmingly white district are less than the proverbial snow ball.
In reality there are two reasons for the vote, which will probably never be admitted. The first is an “in your face” push back against the education PAC which was funded by downtown white power brokers; the PAC did not support any black candidates in the 2015 election. And the other is of course to have a first time black majority on the Board. Future votes by the now majority black block between now and the fall elections will be important to watch and analyze. If the selection of Swift-Watkins is any indication of future votes, the Board is not off to a good start to say the least – but what else is new?