OPELOUSAS — The St. Landry Parish School Board on Thursday agreed to pay $800,000 in attorney fees to an Opelousas lawyer who had requested a federal court award him $9.8 million for representing the plaintiffs in a federal desegregation lawsuit filed 47 years ago.
Board attorney Gerard Caswell told the board that a mediation agreement in federal court between attorney Marion Overton White and the school district calls for payments to White to be spread over a five-year period, beginning with a $75,000 payment due by Dec. 31.
Other payments will be made in between 2012 and 2016, Caswell told the board.
White was not at Thursday’s meeting.
Board member Scott Richard cast the only vote against the agreement. Richard did not give a reason for his vote.
Caswell told the board White and school district officials negotiated the agreement during a day-long appearance before court-appointed mediator Michael Hill.
“An agreement between the (school district) and Mr. White was placed on the record in open court and what we needed (on Thursday) is (the board’s) approval in the matter,” Caswell said.
Caswell said the district is saving money by White’s consent to have to payments dispersed over time rather than in a single payment.
The school district admitted in June that it is preparing for possible financial difficulties, by filing a financial exigency plan with the state.
Caswell said the district’s general fund budget won’t be impacted as severely if payments to White are made over a long period of time.
U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon signed an order earlier this year that indicates St. Landry addressed all the necessary concerns in student assignment, racial makeup among faculty and administration, transportation and facilities to satisfy the issues set forth in the desegregation suit.
All that remained to be resolved was the amount of attorney’s fees owed to White, Caswell told the board several months ago.
Caswell would not say why White agreed to an amount which is significantly lower than the $9.8 million he originally requested.
NEW BUILDINGS: The board also approved a Building, Lands And Sites Committee recommendation to spend $1.17 million for 12 classes at Park Vista Elementary in Opelousas.
In addition, the board approved the committee’s recommendation to seek bids for a 12-classroom modular building for Port Barre Elementary and a 10-classroom building at Grolee Elementary in Opelousas.
Caswell said the buildings at all three campuses are necessary to comply with Melancon’s order which requires the elimination of portable buildings at all school sites.