Former Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper isn’t giving up on his legal challenge of his termination even after a district judge found last month that the School Board had grounds to fire him.
But the grounds for firing, the judge decided, were based on only one of the four charges the board brought against Cooper.
The former superintendent now wants 15th Judicial District Court Judge Patrick Michot to reconsider the termination based on that one charge, which involved Cooper deviating from the board-approved salary schedule when he decided to pay five principals differently from others. In the court filings, Cooper’s attorney, Lane Roy, asserts that state law gave Cooper the authority to set the principals’ pay. Among the provisions in the law, enacted in 2012, was transferring hiring and firing decisions from the hands of school boards to superintendents. Following the enactment of the law, Cooper and the School Board were frequently at odds over personnel and management decisions, which ultimately led to Cooper’s termination hearing.
The board upheld four charges brought against Cooper: two related to the employment and payment of Thad Welch, a special assistant to the superintendent, who continued to work for the district after the board removed funding for his position; the principal pay issue; and payment of Roy’s legal services in 2013.
During a two-day hearing last month, Michot found the board erred in its interpretation of state law related to Roy’s legal bill and the Welch issue, but said it acted within its authority related to its decision to fire Cooper on the principal pay issue.
In a memo to support the motion for a new trial, Roy wrote: “If the court believes that the issue of the hiring of the principals involved was a matter that should have not taken place, it can certainly indicate that. The argument we have is that it is not a grounds for termination of anyone, and we believe that the court should so recognize and indicate.”
In a memo filed last week, the board’s attorney, Dennis Blunt, says there’s no basis for Cooper’s request for a new trial and that Cooper’s argument that the law gave him authority to pay principals at a different rate than the salary schedule approved by the board was already rejected in court.
Blunt also wrote that Cooper hasn’t provided any new authority or evidence to support his position, claiming the former superintendent is doing nothing more than seeking the court to do a “review of imaginary ‘evidence’ and thereafter ‘substitute its judgement for that of the school board.’ This Court should not entertain such a scofflaw demand.”
Cooper filed a legal challenge of his termination following the board’s November decision and requested that he either be reinstated or that the board pay him for the remainder of his contract. Cooper’s contract was to expire at the end of 2015. His annual salary was more than $193,000.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.