LAFAYETTE — When the Lafayette Parish School Board meets Thursday to consider formal charges against Superintendent Pat Cooper, the discussion won’t be behind closed doors.
Cooper confirmed Tuesday he still intends to waive his right for the board to hold the discussion in executive session. He said he wants any discussion about decisions he’s made to be held in public.
“I know that I haven’t done anything wrong,” Cooper said. “Certainly, I haven’t broken any laws. I just think that there’s disagreement between me and some of the board about some of my actions and interpretations of Act 1.”
Cooper was referring to a state law that took effect in July 2012 that transferred hiring and firing decisions from school boards to superintendents.
The board scheduled a special meeting for 2:30 p.m. Thursday — ahead of its 4 p.m. public hearing and a 4:30 p.m. special meeting on the proposed 2014-15 budget.
Another reason Cooper said he wants the discussion out in the open — the public is paying for it. The board hired an attorney, Dennis Blunt, to investigate Cooper. After Blunt presented his findings to the board, the board asked him to write up formal charges for it to consider at a later date.
“It’s their tax money that we’re using for this process,” Cooper said. “It’s an expensive process, and I want to give them their money’s worth. I’m sad that this is going on, but I’m not giving anyone any inkling that by my actions that anything I’ve done is wrong. We’re in disagreement, so we’re going to hash it out in public.”
The board initially planned to consider the charges based on Blunt’s investigative findings of Cooper’s management decisions at its meeting on Sept. 3; however, Blunt has said that he was unable to attend due to an “unexpected pressing client matter.”
A school board has to have cause to fire a superintendent and has to present those causes — or charges — to the superintendent and provide an opportunity for response.
In a 5-4 vote in July 2013, the board voted to hire an attorney to investigate Cooper. The vote followed the board’s April 2013 reprimand of Cooper related to the hiring and continual employment of Thad Welch as a special assistant to the superintendent over facilities, maintenance, operations and grounds. The investigation’s start was delayed for various reasons and didn’t get underway until May.
Blunt presented the board with his investigative findings in late August and labeled Welch’s hiring, the payment of some principals at different pay than others and other budgetary issues as concerns.
Cooper has defended his actions by citing Act 1, the state law that transferred hiring and firing decisions from school boards to superintendents.
Blunt has said that the new law didn’t circumvent existing state laws that give boards the authority to appoint assistant superintendents and supervisors.
If the board accepts the charges, it has to present them to Cooper in writing and give him at least 20 days to prepare a response. A hearing — at which Cooper will have an opportunity to defend himself — would then follow.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.