A narrowly divided Jefferson Parish School Board agreed late Wednesday to pay James Meza the more than $104,500 he claimed he was owed in salary, as well as unused sick leave and vacation time, after retiring as superintendent earlier this year.
An attorney for Meza had threatened to sue the board if it didn’t pay the money promptly.
In a separate matter, board President Cedric Floyd withdrew a plan to ask voters at the Nov. 21 election to approve a bond issue and a property tax increase that would finance $200 million in new school buildings. Floyd acted after it became clear the board would not support the plan, at least not at this time.
Floyd wrote Meza in February, asserting that the ex-superintendent was owed a payout of at most $104,519 following the termination of his contract. But Floyd said more than $52,000 needed to be deducted from that amount.
Floyd alleged that Meza, in violation of state law, had been wrongly given a cash allowance after opting not to participate in the district’s medical insurance and retirement plan. He also accused Meza of using the district’s credit card to fuel his car despite being given a monthly car allowance. And he said Meza had been reimbursed for expenses for which reimbursements were not allowed.
In response, Meza’s attorney, Leonard Levenson, sent a letter to the entire board on March 6 demanding that Meza be paid $114,852. If the board did not comply, Levenson said, his client would sue the board — as well as Floyd personally — for damages. That could have exposed the district to paying almost $350,000 in damages and attorney’s fees, he said.
Levenson followed up with an offer to settle the dispute for $104,519, or the initial figure Floyd had cited in his Feb. 11 letter.
School Board member Larry Dale moved to accept Levenson’s settlement offer at a board meeting Wednesday. Dale’s motion passed 5-4 after the board discussed the issue in executive session.
Joining Dale in voting for his motion were Melinda Bourgeois, Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge, Mark Morgan and Ray St. Pierre. Opposing it were Floyd, Marion “Coach” Bonura, Melinda Doucet and Ricky Johnson.
Dale said he made his motion because he didn’t want the School Board to possibly have to pay about three times what was owed to Meza.
He also said Floyd did not consult the board as a whole before sending his Feb. 11 letter to Meza.
“He put the board … and himself in a bad position,” Dale said of Floyd. “I was trying to get that liability off of us.”
Morgan said he supported Dale’s motion, in part, because he could not endorse Floyd’s sending the letter to Meza without input from the rest of the board. “I never have and never will support that kind of action,” Morgan said.
Floyd said he didn’t have to seek the board’s input before sending the letter because it would be his signature on any check given to Meza. He said he believed some of his colleagues had authorized improper payments to Meza with Wednesday’s vote.
Meza became Jefferson’s school superintendent in 2011. During his tenure, the district’s state rating improved from a D to a B, though the jump was helped by an overhaul of the state grading system.
The board selected Isaac Joseph to succeed him.
Regarding the bond issue, Floyd had vocal support from St. Pierre, but at least six other board members had gone on record as intending to oppose the proposal if it came to a vote.
Some of those members said the details of the plan hadn’t been presented to them until Tuesday afternoon. Although they said they favor the general concept of building new schools for a system with some campuses that are eight decades old, they said they didn’t have enough time to adequately review the proposal.
Floyd said Nov. 21 would have been a perfect date to ask the public to finance new school buildings because a number of high-profile runoff races will probably be on the ballot.