Less than a year after taking the job, the court compliance officer in Tangipahoa Parish’s desegregation case is seeking a court-imposed raise after the School Board emphatically refused his request to double his salary.
Donald Massey said he accepted the part-time job’s $48,000 annual salary when he was appointed in late August 2014 “to preserve the status quo” after the resignation of the previous compliance officer. But according to his motion for the raise, Massey told the schools superintendent he intended to revisit the pay rate at the end of the 2014-15 school year when he had a better idea of the time commitment involved in helping the district comply with the court’s desegregation orders.
Massey says the job is taking more time than he anticipated, and the School Board’s refusal on July 21 to pay him $8,000 per month broke a deal he said he had reached with Superintendent Mark Kolwe and board attorney Ashley Sandage in April.
The day after the board refused to double his salary, Massey filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle, who oversees the parish’s 50-year-old desegregation lawsuit, to set an hourly rate for his work.
In a written response, district officials dispute Massey’s claims, saying there was no agreement for a pay raise, and even if there had been, Massey should have known that only the School Board could bind the district to such an arrangement.
System officials allege that Massey threatened them that if the School Board did not agree to double his salary, the court would grant “ ‘whatever (he) wants,’ which he stressed was actually $15,000 monthly/$180,000 annually or, ultimately, $465 an hour.”
They have asked the court to deny Massey’s request and clarify his job description to curtail what they describe as excessive work outside the scope of his appointment.
Massey did not return messages seeking comment for this story.
School Board President Brett Duncan said Thursday the board knew nothing of Massey’s intent to seek a pay increase until the issue was raised in executive session on July 21. After the closed-door discussion, board members unanimously rejected the request, calling it “unconscionable” in light of the financial strain the school system has been under in recent years.
District officials repeatedly have claimed financial duress and an inability to abide by a 2010 court order to build three new elementary schools — a claim disputed by lawyers representing the parish’s black community. In May, Lemelle appointed an independent accountant to determine, at the district’s expense, whether the schools truly are in dire straits. The audit is underway.
Lawyers for both the School Board and the parish’s black community said Massey knew the duties and salary for the court compliance officer position when he took the job and should either stick to that arrangement or step aside.
They said there was at least one other person vetted for the job who, “unlike Mr. Massey, had significant experience in desegregation, which could account for a more efficient performance of the prescribed duties,” according to the response to Massey’s request.
Duncan, the School Board president and a lawyer by trade, also took issue with Massey’s request for the court to set an hourly rate, rather than increasing his annual salary.
“The big problem with switching to an hourly rate is that he has no client and no one to control the number of hours he would choose to spend on the case,” Duncan said. “That’s why this position has always been salaried.”
But Massey’s motion indicates the job has been more intensive than he expected. Massey said he has worked 772.8 hours over the past 11 months — or an average of 16.3 hours per week at just under $57 per hour.
Duncan said many of those hours were spent getting up to speed on the case, as well as performing tasks that fall outside the scope of Massey’s job description.
“I don’t think our prior court compliance officer was spending 16 hours per week on this case,” Duncan said. “His job is to look at what the court ordered and make sure the board — and to some extent, the plaintiff — is complying with those orders. It’s supposed to be a monitoring position. That’s it.”
Duncan said Massey instead has taken an active, hands-on role in determining things the school system should be doing, beyond the existing court orders, such as setting up a blue-ribbon panel to address the needs of at-risk students, scheduling community meetings to discuss bullying and assisting the board in creating a new facilities improvement plan.
“Some of those things are noble goals and, admittedly, things the School Board should be working on,” Duncan said. “But they have nothing to do with ensuring our compliance with existing court orders in the desegregation case.”
Massey also hand-picked a nominee for desegregation implementation officer who does not fit the court-approved job description and is not, as historically has been the case, a school system employee.
In an annual report submitted in July, Massey told the court that his suggestions were prompted largely by feedback and complaints from the community. He said the blue-ribbon panel’s work in addressing the needs of at-risk students could help shape the district’s student assignment plan, which was recently approved on an interim basis and will be rolled out over the next few years.
Massey also wrote that his selection of the Rev. Andrew Jackson to be the next desegregation implementation officer was based on Jackson’s extensive community service in positions dealing with at-risk students.
Massey described Jackson as “a living example of balance and conscientious approach” who “commands respect and … brings an independence from TPSS that is welcome and well-suited to the next phases of this case.”
Lawyers for the School Board and black community asked for a hearing on Massey’s motion so they can present their arguments orally. A date has not yet been set for that hearing.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.