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The former director of the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired in Baton Rouge said Wednesday she was forced to resign her job Feb. 28 as part of what she called a needless overhaul of the school.

"I want you to know I didn't do anything wrong," Leslie Bello, a nine-year veteran of LSVI, told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The testimony was the latest in a growing controversy involving the three schools that make up the state-run Special School District.

The others are the Louisiana School for the Deaf, also in Baton Rouge, and the Louisiana Special Education Center, which is in Alexandria and has been the target of a State Police investigation.

All three were targeted for changes after experts concluded that the schools suffered from management, morale and other problems.

Bello said Pat Cooper, interim superintendent of the SSD, forced her to leave on Feb. 28.

"He requested to have my personal cell phone to get information regarding another person that worked for SSD," she said after her appearance before BESE.

"I refused," Bello said. "So he told me I could either resign or be fired."

Sydni Dunn, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the agency would have no comment beyond noting that Bello resigned.

Cooper has been interim superintendent for the past eight months.

State Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday that, among a host of changes planned for the SSD, Cooper will leave his interim post on June 8, as required by state law.

White said a search firm will be paid nearly $50,000 to find a permanent superintendent – the second state effort to do so – and that Cooper is free to apply.

Cooper, former superintendent of the Lafayette Parish School District, said Wednesday he plans to do just that.

"Sometimes I think I may be getting too old for all the political nonsense that goes with Louisiana education," Cooper said in an email response to questions.

"However, there are too many good people doing really good work improving SSD and I would like to continue, so yes I plan to apply," he wrote.

Said Bello, "I am very afraid of what he is going to do if he is left there until June."

Bello told BESE that, while all of the roughly 70 students at LSVI are special education children, the school came less than one point short of earning a "C" on its annual state-issued report card.

"We did not need a total overhaul of our school," she said.

"I think I did a great job," Bello said in an interview later. "The numbers speak for themselves."

Bello, who lives in New Roads, was principal of LSVI for eight years and director for the past year.

However, she said she was all but removed from day-to-day operations, while keeping the title, about six months ago.

Karen Harris, whose 18-year-old son Austin is blind and attends LSVI, echoed Bello's complaints in comments to BESE.

Harris, who lives in Zachary, said that, if Cooper is allowed to keep his post until June, he can do lots of "damage and destruction" in the next 87 days. She also described LSVI as a school where her son's accomplishments were "miraculous," with more gains possible under the right school leadership.

The State Police probe of the Louisiana Special Education Center in Alexandria stems from an alleged "child on child" incident.

Four leaders of the school have been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, which has been turned over to the Rapides Parish district attorney's office.

The two years of controversy surrounding the schools has put a near unprecedented spotlight on the SSD, which was set up in 1977.

BESE members Jada Lewis, of Baton Rouge, Kira Orange Jones, of New Orleans, and Kathy Edmonston, of Gonzales, told Bello and others they planned to visit some or all the schools.

"A lot of things you people sought will probably come to pass," Edmonston said.


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.