LAFAYETTE — Cajundome director Greg Davis has put Lafayette Parish’s School Board president on notice that he plans to file a federal lawsuit if the board doesn’t drop its investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper and release at least 50 percent of last year’s budget to fund the current school year.
Through his attorney, Gary McGoffin, Davis notified board President Hunter Beasley, Cooper and the board’s interim general counsel Tuesday of his intentions. McGoffin said he wanted to discuss Davis’ concerns in an executive session at the board’s Wednesday meeting.
Board member Shelton Cobb agreed to add the request to the board’s agenda, Cooper said Tuesday afternoon. Cooper said he preferred Beasley or another board member make the request to place it on the agenda.
Davis regularly attends board meetings and is involved in education advocacy groups such as the Lafayette Parish Public Stakeholders Council. During the board’s budget process, he’s spoken out against the board’s proposed budget cuts, which he says will dismantle the district’s turnaround plan pushed by Cooper and approved by the board in 2012.
Davis said Tuesday that he views his request as a bridge to the divide between some board members and Cooper.
He provided a copy of his unfiled lawsuit to The Acadiana Advocate, and it characterizes the board’s pending investigation against Cooper as “school yard bullying that must be stopped.”
McGoffin presented the board a resolution for it to consider at its Wednesday meeting that calls for the end of the investigation of Cooper and the release of the funds.
The board voted last year to hire an attorney to investigate Cooper, though that investigation didn’t get underway until May, and no updates about the status of the investigation have been disclosed. The reasons for the investigation also have not been disclosed. The investigation is a necessary step in termination proceedings.
Davis said he doesn’t plan to file the suit if the board acts on his requests.
Davis’ unfiled lawsuit lists the School Board and specifically board members Mark Babineaux and Tehmi Chassion as defendants. It requests that the court disqualify the two board members from voting on issues related to termination proceedings against Cooper.
In the document, Davis also claims the two board members are biased against Cooper and provides examples of alleged actions and statements they’ve made against the superintendent, such as Chassion’s police report filed in February in which he accused Copper of grabbing him and yelling at him in an executive session. The city prosecutor chose not to pursue the allegation due to conflicting witness statements and no evidence of criminal intent by Cooper.
Babineaux said Tuesday that he was unaware of Davis’ request or his threat of a lawsuit and declined comment. Chassion could not be reached for comment.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Beasley said he was traveling and had not yet seen copies of McGoffin’s correspondence. Beasley said Cooper, as superintendent, could add items to the meeting agenda without his approval.
The latest tug of war between Cooper and the majority of the board has been over the budget.
This is not the first year the board hasn’t approved a budget by June 30. Last year, the budget wasn’t approved until late August and this year’s budget process is following a similar track, with final adoption scheduled for Aug. 27. The board has until mid-September to submit its budget to the state.
In the past few months, the board spent more than a dozen meetings culling through the budget to identify more than $20 million in cuts rather than accept one of the numerous balanced budget proposals recommended by Cooper. Davis’ request to roll forward with 50 percent of last year’s budget would undo those cuts.
One major financial blow to the budget has been the loss of students who will be attending three charter schools that open in the district next week. The district receives state funding based on the number of students it enrolls.
McGoffin is the attorney for the Lafayette Charter Foundation’s board, which oversees two of the new charter schools.
The board’s ongoing budget deliberations pushed back school preparations and personnel decisions.
Davis said the board’s budgetary actions tied the hands of the school system, and the cuts it approved harm the system’s students, particularly disadvantaged and minority students.
Davis said he wants “a newly elected school board try to revisit and bring about a balanced budget in January.”
School Board elections are in November.
In 2010, Davis made a run for the School Board; however, he said Tuesday that he has no plans to seek a seat on the board this year.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.