Burnell LeJeune, the interim superintendent of the Lafayette Parish school system, announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of July.
LeJeune said his decision isn’t a reflection of the board or his new role as superintendent. When he accepted the interim appointment, he said, he understood the board would start a search early this year and it would take at least five or six months.
LeJeune said he’s appreciated the “tremendous amount of support” in the community for a “quality educational system” and thanked the board for the opportunity to work in the role as superintendent.
LeJeune was appointed interim superintendent in November, days after the School Board voted to fire Pat Cooper.
That contentious firing led to mounting legal bills , leading the board to vote 7-2 Wednesday to add $152,000 to its legal services budget.
The majority of the legal costs are related to Cooper, who still has a lawsuit pending that challenges the board’s decision to fire him.
The board’s budget for legal services was $183,000; however, the board has received invoices totaling more than $220,000 for services through November.
Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry proposed a $200,000 increase to pay legal bills through the end of June. The $152,000 likely will cover expenses through the end of March, Guidry said.
Adding to the expenses was the School Board’s decision last year to hire Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice as its general counsel after ending the free general counsel services provided by the District Attorney’s Office.
Board member Justin Centanni proposed the $152,000 amount rather than the full $200,000 and suggested the board reconvene a search committee to identify permanent general counsel.
Board Vice President Dawn Morris and member Tehmi Chassion voted against the budget adjustment.
Adding to the legal bills is money the board owes The Daily Advertiser for court costs and attorney fees in the newspaper’s successful public records lawsuit against the School Board.
So far, the board has spent about $16,000 for its own legal representation in the matter. The newspaper sued the School Board last fall when then-board President Hunter Beasley refused to release a copy of an investigative report of Cooper.
The board met in executive session Wednesday to discuss the lawsuit, but took no public action.
In a change in how the School Board conducts its business, the board on Wednesday swiftly moved through the introduction items on the agenda with a quick read and no discussion. Board President Tommy Angelle explained that the board will defer discussion until the items are on the next meeting’s action agenda.
Chassion questioned the change because in the past board members had the opportunity to discuss introduction items and ask staff questions during the meeting.
“Is it the intent not to ask these questions on the board floor? I’m trying to understand because this is the first time I’m hearing no questions on the board floor,” Chassion said.
Angelle told Chassion that board members have the opportunity to direct questions to staff and request information prior to board meetings and also can defer action on an item, if more information is needed.
Morris said a committee will review the board’s agenda processes.
Also during the meeting, the board voted 6-1 to restart the selection process for an Internet service provider. Board member Erick Knezek suggested the board restart the process, saying the advertisement for requests for services was inadequate and didn’t promote competition. He also said the evaluation process could be improved.
Knezek said the school system followed guidelines in the process, but “we can do a better job.”
Knezek, Morris, Centanni, Elroy Broussard, Britt Latiolais and Jeremy Hidalgo voted in support of restarting the process. Board member Mary Morrison voted against it. Angelle and Chassion abstained.
The board received proposals from three carriers: Detel, Cox Communications and Hunt Communications. LUS has the current contract, but did not submit a proposal. However, the school system evaluated LUS as a submission using its current service contract. Detel had the highest score based on the evaluation of the proposals.
The five-year contract is for about $600,000 annually with the school system paying about $170,000 of that amount while the rest is covered by the federal government’s E-Rate program, which enables school systems to receive discounted telecommunications services.
LaShona Dickerson, instructional technology supervisor, told the board restarting the process could raise a red flag and lead to an audit. Dickerson said the audit goes back 10 years and if the school system is found in noncompliance, the school system could owe money.
Knezek told board members that the existing process could lead to an audit anyway because some competitors could complain the process was confusing.
Finally, the board also deferred a decision on approving a new public information coordinator position because of concerns about available funding. Board members Centanni, Knezek and Hidalgo voted against deferring the matter.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.