Lafayette School Board revisits employee’s qualifications

The employee at the center of an ongoing School Board debate because he was hired without meeting the educational qualifications for his job is now working on earning a GED diploma, Superintendent Pat Cooper said Wednesday.

The board approved the hiring in March 2012 of Thad Welch for the newly created position of special assistant to the superintendent: facilities, maintenance, ground and transportation at a salary of nearly $76,000.

Cooper said Wednesday he hired Welch as a consultant in January 2012 to assess district needs, and between then and his March hiring, he earned $14,500.

Cooper said that since then Welch has saved the district “millions on potential construction projects” and replaced the need for supervisors and administrators who made $102,000 and $85,000 with “far less positive results.”

The job description, approved by the board in February 2012, set a minimum educational requirement of a high school diploma.

Board member Tehmi Chassion first raised the issue of Welch’s failure to meet the educational requirement — Welch does not have a high school diploma — at the board’s Jan. 9 meeting. Since then, the issue has been a topic of discussion and some board members have fought the hiring based on claims policy must be followed and Welch does not qualify for the position.

“We did not break policy,” Cooper said following the meeting.

He explained that board policy allows staff to consider a candidates’ total qualifications when making a hiring decision.

Welch outscored other applicants interviewed for the position and has 17 years of supervisory experience in the areas he supervises, according to human resources department records.

Last month, the board voted to request an attorney general’s opinion about its authority to reconsider its decision last year to approve Welch’s hiring and a pending proposal to eliminate funding for his position.

A vote on Chassion’s proposal to eliminate the funding for the position was set for Wednesday’s meeting, however, Chassion pulled the item and said he’d like the board to take it up again in two weeks.

Board member Mark Cockerham pushed for board members to “move on” and drop the issue. He proposed a motion that the board approve all personnel decisions made in 2012 prior to July when hiring and firing decisions transferred from school boards to the superintendent.

“We’ve spent a lot of time talking about this. I think we have other things on our plate,” Cockerham said.

The motion failed due to lack of support.

Howard Weiss, a parent, told the board he felt the hiring issue was a “manufactured” one because some “feathers” may have been ruffled during Cooper’s transition to the superintendent’s position.

“I urge you to move forward and put aside this bickering … I don’t think this is an issue that needs this much consideration, and it’s gone on too long,” Weiss said.

Two employees supervised by Welch credited him for improving school facilities.

“He has brought a difference here. Cleaner schools, cleaner environments,” said Norma Davis, a custodian.

Also, on Wednesday, the board received its first look at a proposed performance-based teacher salary increase plan required by Act 1, despite a district court judge’s ruling Monday that parts of the law related to how teachers earn and retain tenure was unconstitutional. The ruling also affects a new evaluation system that sets the framework for tenure.

Since the state plans to appeal the judgment, district officials said they’ll move forward with the requirements laid out in the law, which involves a performance-based teacher evaluation model and pay increases based on performance.

“If the Supreme Court upholds the decision … what do we do?” board member Kermit Bouillion asked.

“You can use it as kindling in your fire,” said Bruce Leininger, human resources director.

Leininger said the district plan is based on a $1.5 million budget using data from 2011-12 and the evaluations of 1,600 students rated under the new system this year. The new evaluation system is based on classroom observations and student performance with teachers earning a rating of ineffective, emerging effective, proficient and highly effective.

Leininger said that as of Feb. 20, 1,600 teachers had been evaluated under the new evaluation system and only 35 or 2.2 percent had been rated as ineffective; 202 or 12.6 percent were emerging; 1,050 or 65.6 percent were proficient; and 313 or 19.6 percent were highly effective.

Teachers who receive an ineffective rating will not receive a pay increase. The lowest pay increase a teacher may receive is $465, which is for an emerging effective rating and four years or less of experience. The amount is based on the current lowest annual step increase, which is $464, Leininger said.

The highest increase a teacher may receive is $1,000, which is for a highly effective teacher with 21 or more years of experience in a demand position.

The pay increases are slightly higher for those teachers in “demand” positions, such as in special education, at academically unacceptable schools or at schools that have been reconstituted due to low school performance.