Lafayette superintendent’s dismissal stirs mixed reactions _lowres

Advocate Photo by BRAD KEMP Lafayette Parish Superintendent of School Pat Cooper, right, and his Attorney Lane Roy listen to CPA Tim Green, not seen, testify during Cooper's employment hearing at the school board offices Thursday Nov. 6, 2014 in Lafayette, La.

The Lafayette Parish School Board directed its attorney Wednesday to file a legal claim against former Superintendent Pat Cooper to recoup any expenses he authorized that weren’t included in the board’s 2014-15 budget — an amount that could be as high as $1.6 million.

Cooper had refused to implement the budget the board adopted on Sept. 15, claiming the board didn’t follow state law in the budget process and that the cuts in the budget would hurt the school system.

Board attorney Bob Hammond said after Wednesday’s meeting that the board, in a counter legal claim against Cooper, will try to get reimbursed for any expenses since Sept. 15 not included in the budget.

The dollar amount of the demand is still under review, Hammond said.

However, during the board’s Nov. 19 meeting, chief financial officer Billy Guidry estimated that those expenses might total about $1.6 million.

The board voted 7-2 Wednesday to file the counter claim, with board members Kermit Bouillion and Shelton Cobb voting no.

Cooper, who was fired Nov. 6 on a 7-2 vote, has filed an appeal of the board’s termination decision in state district court.

The board, which did not discuss the reasoning for its counter claim before taking the vote, met in executive session Wednesday with Hammond and attorney Dennis Blunt to discuss the matter for about 20 minutes.

The board also met in executive session to discuss litigation filed by The Daily Advertiser newspaper.

The Daily Advertiser, under its parent group, Gannett River States Publishing, filed a lawsuit against the School Board and specifically board president Hunter Beasley and board attorney Blunt, over their refusal to release copies of the investigative report that led to Cooper’s termination. The newspaper had requested a copy of a draft of the report that had been released to Beasley, as well as the final draft of the report that Blunt had not yet released to the School Board. The newspaper argued that the documents were public records. In early November, 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards ruled that the documents became public records effective Oct. 1 and ordered that the defendants pay the newspaper’s court costs and attorney fees. Edwards also dismissed Blunt as a defendant in the matter.

It’s unclear how much the legal fees will cost the board. The board voted unanimously Wednesday to seek an appeal.

In an unrelated matter, the board unanimously approved changes to its counselor staffing policy to remove half-time positions to ensure that all schools have at least one full-time counselor.

The board also unanimously approved a new job description for a career and college coach and recognized its principals of the year: Stacy Danos, Live Oak Elementary; John Mouton, Broussard Middle; and Ken Roebuck, Carencro High.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.