A federal judge on Thursday doubled the part-time salary of a court-appointed official in Tangipahoa Parish’s school desegregation case, effectively overturning a unanimous School Board vote against paying the raise.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle, who oversees the school system’s 50-year-old lawsuit, said doubling Court Compliance Officer Donald Massey’s monthly payment from $4,000 to $8,000 was “altogether reasonable” because it amounts to less than half the rate a private attorney would receive for the same work.
Massey has averaged 70 hours per month, working at the court’s direction to help the school district comply with orders in the case and move toward unitary status, according to paperwork he submitted along with his motion seeking the raise.
Massey has said Superintendent Mark Kolwe agreed to the increase in a handshake deal earlier this year. But the School Board emphatically rejected the request in July, calling it “unconscionable” in light of the school system’s financial strain.
School Board President Brett Duncan described Thursday’s ruling as “sad and disturbing.”
“It’s this type of thing from the court that has made it very, very difficult for our board or our community to come anywhere close to financially supporting our system the way our neighbors support their school systems,” Duncan said.
Massey declined to comment on the case.
Lemelle said in the ruling that he was mindful of the school system’s financial issues but “does not conclude that TPSB lacks the means to bear a reasonable increase in the special master’s rate of compensation.”
The court will continue to review Massey’s time and performance and could make adjustments as needed, Lemelle said.
In addition to its financial concerns, the School Board claimed Massey was performing tasks wholly outside the duties the court had assigned to him. Lemelle refuted the point Thursday, writing that Massey “has, with permission of the court, intensified efforts to achieve unitary status.”
Massey’s role is likely to increase, rather than decrease, as the school system implements a new student assignment plan next year, the judge said.
Duncan, the board president, also took issue with Lemelle’s ruling last week rejecting the school system’s choice for chief desegregation implementation officer, a position vacated earlier this year.
Massey and lawyers for the parish’s black community had requested the appointment of the Rev. Andrew Jackson, a local pastor with experience caring for and educating at-risk youth and their families. The School Board wanted Lawrence Thompson, a retired educator who had served as the district’s child welfare and attendance supervisor.
Duncan said he expects the school system will appeal Lemelle’s selection of Jackson to fill the role because Jackson does not meet the required qualifications and because he is related to the original plaintiffs in the case.
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