Job qualifications revisited

Cooper’s  assistant has no diploma

Superintendent Pat Cooper has asked the School Board to consider amending the qualifications for a job he created last year to ensure the employee holding the position, who doesn’t have a high school diploma, remains qualified for the post.

The board approved in February a job description for the new position: the special assistant to the superintendent for facilities, maintenance and transportation.

At the time, at least three School Board members questioned the lax educational requirement of a high school diploma or GED for the position. Cooper defended it, saying someone who could negotiate and barter for services was needed to help the district save money. He told board members the job didn’t require an advanced degree, only someone with a “doctorate from the university of work.”

The School Board’s executive committee met Wednesday afternoon to take a second look at the description and qualifications for the position at the request of board member Tehmi Chassion.

Chassion told the board at its Jan. 9 meeting that he’s fielded several complaints from employees, who said the special assistant did not have the educational background required for the job.

In a letter to executive committee members dated Wednesday, Cooper said he will bring an amended job description to the board for its approval that says a “high school diploma or GED is preferred” for the position.

At least four school employees and one retired employee attended Wednesday’s executive committee meeting. Some spoke out against lowering the qualifications for the position, which for the past year has been held by Thad Welch, whom Cooper worked with when he was superintendent in McComb, Miss. Welch was not named in Cooper’s letter nor during Wednesday’s meeting by board members.

Other employees are required to have a high school diploma or GED, said Natasha McZeal, Lafayette High cafeteria supervisor. She said her concern is for employees’ safety and whether someone without a high school education would be “capable of reading and understanding” information related to aspects of custodial or maintenance work that may involve chemicals.

Board Vice President Hunter Beasley, who chairs the three-member executive committee, explained to the employees that the board doesn’t have the power to fire the employee, but it can vote on a proposed job description.

Board President Shelton Cobb and past President Mark Allen Babineaux also serve on the committee. Babineaux was absent Wednesday.

Board members Rae Trahan and Tommy Angelle also attended the committee meeting.

Trahan was one of six board members who voted in favor of the new position in February while Angelle joined board members Babineaux and Greg Awbrey in opposing the new position. At the time, they questioned the need for the position and the qualifications. Angelle also questioned whether Cooper already had someone in mind for the job and encouraged him to hire someone from within the school system.

“If you are overseeing people that have to have a high school diploma and you don’t have one … that’s not right,” Angelle said during Wednesday’s meeting.

In his letter, Cooper explained the initial oversight of Welch’s educational background and apologized for not bringing an amended description to the board sooner.

“The gentleman who I had targeted for the job was interviewed along with others,” Cooper wrote. “I assumed he had a high school diploma. That was in error I found out later.”

Welch was the choice of a committee that included Cooper, the deputy superintendent and the assistant director of human resources, Cooper wrote. He added that it wasn’t until Welch arrived in Lafayette and Cooper showed him the job description that Welch told him he did not have a high school diploma.

“The committee went back to the applications and reaffirmed that even with no high school diploma, he was still better qualified for the job I needed done than anyone else who had applied, based on the experience factors,” Cooper wrote.

Cooper said Welch has “proven to be invaluable in our efforts to clean the schools, create a more responsive and effective maintenance department, and in working with the principals and other staff, completing over 150 major special survey projects at the schools. He has proven to be the right choice, although we at the District erred in the process, and I take responsibility for that.”

The committee did not make a recommendation Wednesday on Cooper’s proposed amended job description, but rather recommended that Cooper place it on the next board agenda. The board meets Wednesday.