Lafayette board approves budget that Cooper claims is illegal _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper speaks at a budget adoption meeting in September..

A day after a state judge’s finding that the parish School Board followed state law in adopting its budget, Superintendent Pat Cooper said Thursday he won’t follow the spending plan until he receives clarification from his own attorney.

The school district has been operating at 50 percent of last year’s budget — a provision allowed by state law when public bodies such as school boards don’t adopt a budget by timeliness set by the state.

The Lafayette Parish School Board adopted a budget on Sept. 15, which was the deadline. However, Cooper refused to implement it and submitted an uncertified copy of the budget to the Louisiana Department of Education, along with a letter outlining his objections to the board’s adopted budget.

Bob Hammonds, an attorney for the board, said in an email Thursday that Cooper is obligated by law to submit a certified copy of the adopted budget to the Louisiana Department of Education.

“It is also important to note that the superintendent serves as the board’s treasurer by law and is personally liable for expenditures which do not comply with the adopted budget,” Hammonds wrote.

Hammonds added that Cooper’s failure to implement the adopted budget could also subject Cooper — and possibly the School Board — to a lawsuit for injunctive relief for failure to comply with the adopted spending plan.

Louisiana Education Superintendent John White issued a memo to Cooper on Monday saying that he had not yet received a certified copy of the school system’s general fund budget, nor certification that the board had followed the steps required under state law in the preparation and adoption of the budget.

Late Wednesday, in response to Cooper’s request for court intervention in the budget battle, district Judge Durwood Conque wrote that the board followed state law and the budget was legally adopted.

Cooper had sought a court order forcing the board to continue operations at 50 percent of the 2013-14 budget until a new board takes office in January. Cooper argued that the board’s adoption was illegal because the spending plan it approved was never advertised or vetted in a public hearing.

Cooper issued a statement via email to news reporters Thursday that said, “I respect the ruling handed down by Judge Conque yesterday. As we unfold the ramifications of the ruling we will continue the business of educating children and nothing will change at this time.”

Cooper confirmed in another email to The Advocate that the district will continue following last year’s budget until he gets clarification from his legal counsel “on other issues of illegality that are related to Act 1.”

Act 1 is a state law enacted in July 2012 that created state education policy changes, including transferring personnel powers from school boards to superintendents. The policy changes in Act 1 also relate to teacher pay and evaluations.

Differing interpretations of the state law have been at the heart of multiple and ongoing verbal scrapes between Cooper and a majority of the nine-member board.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.

* The headline and other parts of this article were edited after publication to clarify what the judge’s decision stated.