Lafayette board eyes new special counsel to investigate Cooper _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Pat Cooper, Lafayette Parish Schools superintendent.

Superintendent Pat Cooper filed a lawsuit in district court Monday asking a judge to stop the Oct. 14 School Board administrative hearing on the pending charges against him and to prohibit three board members from voting during the hearing.

Cooper said he wants board members Mark Allen Babineaux, Tehmi Chassion and board President Hunter Beasley barred from voting on any future proceedings related to the five pending charges against him.

Last month, the board voted 6-3 to accept charges against Cooper related to personnel and budget decisions and his rating on his job evaluation. The board scheduled an Oct. 14 hearing for Cooper to defend himself against the claims.

Two of the claims are related to the hiring and continual employment of Thad Welch, a special assistant to the superintendent over facilities, transportation, grounds and maintenance.

Welch did not meet the educational requirements for the job. Other claims are related to the board’s unapproved payment of about $5,100 in Cooper’s legal bills and the payment of some principals at a different pay scale than others.

The lawsuit also asks that a judge allow the school district to continue to operate on 50 percent of last year’s budget until a new board takes office in January. The board adopted a budget last month; however, Cooper has claimed the spending plan conflicts with existing state laws and strips low-performing schools of needed resources.

In an internal memo released late Monday, the state education department’s general counsel, Joan Hunt, advises state Superintendent of Education John White that the School Board did not legally adopt the current budget because the board substantially changed the budget presented by Cooper to the public.

A copy of Cooper’s lawsuit was not available late Monday; however, he shared information related to the lawsuit.

Cooper said his lawsuit is similar to one filed in federal court in August by Cajundome director and community activist Greg Davis. Davis’ lawsuit asked the court to intervene in the board’s budget and also to prevent Babineaux and Chassion from voting in any future termination proceedings. U.S. District Judge Richard Haik dismissed Davis’ lawsuit because it lacked standing in federal court. In his court filing dismissing the suit, Haik acknowledged that some legal remedy for the issues Davis alleged may be needed, but federal court wasn’t the proper venue and Cooper — not Davis — would be the appropriate one to lodge the complaints.