Meet the candidates for Board of Elementary and Secondary Education District 7

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 11:38 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - We caught up with the candidates running for BESE District 7 ahead of the Oct. 14 election.

District 7 covers all of Southwest Louisiana. Incumbent Holly Boffy (R) has served on the board since 2012.

Three Republicans are running for her term-limited seat, Dr. Cathy Banks, Dr. Erick Knezek and Kevin Berken.

Berken is a farmer and business owner who has served on various boards ranging from agriculture to hospice.

Knezek has experience on the Lafayette Parish School Board and is a business owner and a former US Naval officer.

Like the other candidates, Banks is a business owner but is also the campus director of Life Christian University and has founded several nonprofits.

We asked each candidate a few questions about issues facing our state’s education system.

Louisiana’s literacy rate ranks among the lowest in the nation. How will you work to improve it?

Berken: “Day one, test and see where the class is, and then see how they progress throughout the whole school year. Four or five tests of a similar nature, and that way we see if the class is growing, and it will also tell us if the teacher is getting across the things they need to get across.”

Knezek: “Early childhood education, K through 5, making sure that kids that are 5-year-olds are actually ready, so that’s going to require continued investment by the state to make sure these kids are actually ready.”

Banks: “We need to have what we had when we were coming up in school. They used to focus on reading, writing and arithmetic. We need to bring some of these back into our school system so our children can learn to read, write and spell, and it would help them get further ahead.”

What is the main issue you feel you could help with on BESE?

For Berken, he wants more kids to stay in school.

Berken: “We need to get to them sooner with things like shop class in the seventh and eighth because that’s where we start to lose those types of things in those classes, so we need to do a better job in preparing them for the next step. College, vocational, tech schools or the workforce.”

School security remains a top concern for Knezek.

Knezek: “Parents are concerned about the safety of their children. Not only about the safety of their children from an armed assailant, like a school threat, but also just the safety of their children from bullies, discipline issues and just making sure they have a safe environment to learn.”

Banks understands that Louisiana’s education system is struggling and said to make improvements we need to look at the root of the problem.

Banks: “We have to look at the weakest link, and we have to start improving our school scores. We have to start improving our rankings. In order to do that we have to prepare for our students to be better prepared for our testing.”

What other issues are important to you?

Berken: “We rank eighth in the nation on the amount of money we spend per child, our teachers rank 35th in the nation on what they’re getting paid. It’s not terrible, but it should be better. But what it tells me is there is a lot of bureaucracy between eight and 35, we’re also ranked 46th in the nation on the outcomes of our scores. We have to do better all the way through. We shouldn’t be spending as much money as we do. Our teachers could be getting paid more and our students should be doing better.”

Knezek: “Autonomy back to the classroom. I can tell you teachers feel like they are restricted to a scripted curriculum, here’s the script here’s the curriculum, and here’s where expect you to be at a certain time. So returning that autonomy back to the classroom.”

Banks: “Get aid for our teachers. Our teachers are working very hard. We need to have a paraprofessional in every classroom. The teachers cannot teach in a classroom with 20 kids, especially if you have special needs children and non-special needs children in the class.”

Early voting begins Sept 30. For more information about the gubernatorial primary election, CLICK HERE.