Turmoil at the top of the prestigious LSU Lab School has shifted to court after its former elementary principal sued university officials, claiming they falsely accused her and another top administrator of trying to pocket money from an after-school program, then wrongly demoted her.
In the lawsuit, Myra Broussard, who served as elementary principal from 2008 until May of this year, said she also was informed she would be fired at the end of next school year, three months short of when she can claim retirement.
Broussard's suit says the university defamed her and names as defendants LSU and two administrators — Amy Westbrook, superintendent of the lab school, and Roland Mitchell, interim dean for the College of Human Sciences & Education, which oversees the Lab School.
Another longtime LSU Lab School administrator Frank Rusciano, who co-ran the after-school program with Broussard, has been on paid leave since January and his status remains in limbo.
LSU in June referred Rusciano's case, which includes other accusations unrelated to the after-school program, to the Louisiana Board of Ethics for an advisory opinion.
A newly released audit alleges top administrators at LSU Lab School started a private company so they could pick up additional money from an a…
Both Broussard and Rusciano were named in a state audit, released in March and covered in news reports, alleging that they were creating a private company so they could pick up additional money from an after-school program for students at the prominent Baton Rouge school, running afoul of university policy.
“Petitioner contends these statements by defendants are false, defamatory and were made with actual malice,” Broussard said in her suit.
The suit, filed last week, said the arrangement questioned by auditors had been approved by then School Superintendent Wade Smith and key figures at LSU, including Damon Andrew, former dean of the college of education.
Cub Care, as it’s known, allows parents for a fee to leave their kids at the Lab School until 5:30 p.m. each day. The fees were supposed to pay not just for teachers, but also Broussard and Rusciano. They were each to receive $1,500 a month, which worked out to $15,000 a year.
Rusciano and Broussard began organizing the after-school program as a private company, but only got so far as reserving the name, Cub Care. In her suit, Broussard said that the Lab School had long allowed coaches to set up private entities to run summer camps. The intention, she said, was that any profits would go the Lab School’s charitable foundation.
In October 2016, after two months of the after-school program being in operation, Smith, who was then superintendent, asked that LSU start paying Broussard and Rusciano $1,500 a month.
But LSU's human resource office rejected the request, saying the “additional duties” were already an expectation of their jobs. The previous spring, Broussard and Rusciano had absorbed duties after another administrator retired, and their annual pay was increased by $22,173 and $16,269, respectively.
Broussard and Rusciano disagreed with HR, and a long internal battle ensued.
According to the suit, the matter appeared to have been resolved in the summer of 2017 when Dean Andrew reached an agreement with HR that changed Broussard and Rusciano’s job descriptions again to clearly include running the after-care program, clearing the way for them to receive additional $1,500 a month.
LSU, however, refused to pay the $1,500 a month for the 2016-17 school year. In May 2018, Rusciano hired an attorney and presented a formal demand letter to the university seeking the unpaid compensation.
Attorney Jill Craft is representing Broussard, but said Rusciano is not her client. Craft said Broussard just wants the chance to clear her name.
"People like her work decades to build a reputation, and it is appalling that this can be taken from them in an instant for a false narrative," Craft said.
LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said LSU does not comment on pending litigation.
Broussard contends in her suit that things got ugly after Rusciano, who declined comment Wednesday, sent the demand letter last year seeking payment.
She said Jason Droddy, LSU’s vice president of external relations and then Human Resources Director A.G. Monaco threatened both her and Rusciano. She said Monaco “provoked” a subsequent internal audit released last fall, which preceded the state audit released in March.
Broussard’s description of the affair mirrors that of Smith, the former school superintendent who is now a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. He defended Rusciano and Broussard in a five-page letter included in the original internal audit.
Smith lays out a different chain of events than auditors on the after-school program, saying the dispute related to correcting the failure to properly compensate Rusciano and Broussard for extra work.
“The efforts put forth by the principals to secure compensation for a year of work should not be construed as efforts to circumvent LSU policy,” Smith wrote.
While Rusciano was on leave this spring, Broussard continued to run the elementary school.
Broussard said that changed when she was called into a meeting with Superintendent Westbrook and Dean Mitchell on May 22.
At that meeting, Broussard said, she was informed that she was being demoted to the new job of “special assistant to the interim superintendent,” would be demoted again in August to an “instructor” and finally would be terminated in May 2020.
She said she demanded but was denied a "name-clearing" hearing. The suit alleges she deserves such hearing under state law that applies to school administrators and federal civil rights law. In addition, the suit claims, Broussard earned tenure as a teacher back in 1988 and should receive the legal protections of tenure, according to the suit.
Broussard is seeking through the suit to have the job actions taken against her reversed. She's also seeking punitive damages and legal costs, saying LSU’s actions were “arbitrary and capricious, in bad faith” and violated her rights.