Lafayette Board Accepts Charges Against Cooper; Hearing Within 30 Days
Superintendent Pat Cooper will remain in office until the investigation against him by the Lafayette Parish School Board culminates in a hearing within the next 30 days.
The board voted 6-3 on a resolution accepting five charges against Cooper, and it voted the same to appoint an attorney to preside over the hearing — the date of which is to be determined.
The same six board members who voted to accept the charges voted to appoint Jam Downs of the Rapides Parish District Attorney’s office to preside over the hearing. Board counsel Jon Guice recommended Downs, saying he has experience with teacher and superintendent personnel hearings.
There’s a power much higher than a few members of this school board that will determine my fate.
Shelton Cobb, District 3; Kermit Bouillion, District 5; and Mark Cockerham, District 7, voted against accepting the charges and appointment. Those are the same three board members that have been supporting the superintendent throughout this debacle.
As for the charges against Cooper, two stem from the contentious Thad Welch situation that involved Cooper hiring a special assistant who didn’t have the high school diploma required for the job. Cooper continued to employ Welch even after the board eliminated funding for his position. Another charge involves Cooper hiring principals at a higher salary than was initially posted, and another involves his hiring of attorney Lane Roy to defend him against the board before the board filed former charges.
The fifth charge relates to a stipulation of Cooper's contract that allows the board to terminate the superintendent if he receives a poor evaluation. Cooper received a 3.54 out of 8 from the board earlier this year.
Special board-hired attorney Dennis Blunt — who's been handling the investigation — says all of those instances involve misuse of public funds without board approval in violation of the law. On the other hand, Cooper’s attorney, Lane Roy, says he’s covered under Act 1. That’s the 2012 law that transfers powers from school boards to the superintendent, and a lot of it has to do with the same kinds of personnel issues with which the board is taking issue.
Roy referenced the federal lawsuit against filed by Cajundome Director Greg Davis, which alleges documented bias against Cooper from Mark Allen Babineaux, District 1, and Tehmi Chassion, District 4. Roy asked that the two recuse themselves from voting in personnel matters dealing with Cooper. The two voted regardless.
Meanwhile, some board members are questioning where they can review evidence before the hearing. Guice said the evidence against Cooper will be presented at the hearing, and again, that date is to be determined.
Cooper maintains that he'll be vindicated through the process.
“There’s a power much higher than a few members of this school board that will determine my fate," Cooper told the board, "and I’m gonna put my faith in him."