Attorney General Approves Lafayette Superintendent Investigation
Louisiana's attorney general has approved an ongoing investigation against Lafayette Parish schools Superintendent Pat Cooper, despite some board members' concerns that the investigation is proceeding without any specific allegations being made public.
Board Members Mark Cockerham, Kermit Bouillion and Shelton Cobb specifically asked for detailed explanations about why the investigation is moving forward.
“There are some board members here that are completely in the dark when it comes to this investigation,” Cockerham said. “We’re being held accountable for this, so why aren’t we being told any information?”
This (money) is gonna come straight out of our education — out of the classroom.
But Board Attorney Jon Guice — after informing the body that the attorney general's office has approved the investigation — said at the Wednesday meeting that only once board-hired Baton Rouge firm Phelps Dunbar discovers possible charges against Cooper can the superintendent make those charges public.
“As there are no (formal) charges against the superintendent, there’s nothing to make public," Guice said, "and it’s not in the board’s interests to publicly discuss personnel issues."
The board is looking at adding $100,000 to its legal budget next year to pay for the special counsel as the district faces an $18 million shortfall.
“This (money) is gonna come straight out of our education — out of the classroom,” Cockerham said.
Also Wednesday began a survey process called "Project Involve," an initiative sponsored by the Louisiana Public Education Stakeholders Council — a public-education advocacy organization to which the Lafayette Parish School System belongs.
Representatives from LaPESC presented information about an online and on-paper questionnaire for community members who watch or attend board meetings.
The process involves filling out a survey after watching a board meeting — either in-person or on the Acadiana Open Channel — that will give feedback on how school board meetings are operated.
“It’s our hope that Project Involve will push the conversation and push school board members to lead good governance,” said Valerie Boles, a LaPESC representative.
Boles said the questions were derived from conversations LaPESC had with the board in 2011 concerning "good governance."
Board Member Rae Trahan questioned the district's membership with LaPESC, which was first sanctioned under former Superintendent Burnell Lemoine when the organization was established. The LPSS withdrew from the group during Lemoine's tenure, fearing it held political influence.
“It was deemed that we needed to pull out of that organization, because it was obvious that they were using the organization to steer outcomes in the political elections of the school system," Trahan said.
Superintendent Pat Cooper later rejoined LaPESC, so the board is now requesting documentation about when the district again joined the organization.