Former special assistant to Cooper sues Lafayette board over firing _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Thad Welch is shown in this Dec. 1, 2014, Advocate file photo.

The former special assistant to ousted superintendent Pat Cooper filed a wrongful termination lawsuit Friday against the Lafayette Parish School Board and interim Superintendent Burnell LeJeune.

In the lawsuit, filed in 15th Judicial District Court, Thad Welch seeks reinstatement to his position and specified damages.

Welch was fired effective Nov. 26, about three weeks after the board dismissed Cooper over several management decisions made by the then-superintendent, including the continual employment and payment of Welch against the board’s directives.

Welch claims in his suit that he was given a reason for his termination, “except that the Interim Superintendent advised him that there was simply ‘no money in the budget.’ ” Welch’s salary was $76,000 when he was hired in March 2012.

LeJeune said earlier this month that the special assistant position was not in the 2014-15 spending plan adopted by the board. That budget wasn’t implemented until Nov. 19 because Cooper had instructed staff to continue operations using last year’s budget.

Welch claims in his suit to have saved the school system more than $200,000 in his role as special assistant to the superintendent over maintenance, facilities, transportation and grounds.

He questioned the claim that budget constraints were the reason behind his dismissal because the board has a reserve fund and gave LeJeune a $50,000 boost in pay when he was promoted to his position as interim superintendent.

LeJeune’s salary as director of career and technical education and the Schools of Choice program was about $97,000, and the board approved a new salary of $150,000 following his promotion. Last year, Cooper’s salary was about $193,000.

The board targeted Welch’s position after learning in early 2013 that he didn’t have the high school education required for the job. It voted to rescind its March 2012 decision to hire him, but Cooper refused to terminate Welch, saying at the time that he had no cause.

The board then voted to remove line-item funding in the budget for the position. When Cooper still refused to fire Welch, it formally reprimanded Cooper in April 2013 for not following board directives.

By July 2013, the board voted to hire an attorney to investigate Cooper. That investigation didn’t get underway until this past May and led to the board’s vote of 7-2 last month for termination.

Cooper has filed his own wrongful termination claim in state district court. The School Board recently voted that it will file a counterclaim against Cooper to recoup those expenses that weren’t included in the 2014-15 budget.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.