Lafayette board members question special assistant funding

Lafayette Parish School Board members Wednesday questioned a budget revision that moved $102,313 previously eliminated as a line item for a special assistant into a contingency fund.

“We revised the budget … eliminating that $102,000 out of there and now it’s coming back? … I’d like not to see it back again,” questioned board member Tommy Angelle.

The budget revision, which included other revisions, failed in a 4-4 vote.

Board members Mark Cockerham, Shelton Cobb, Hunter Beasley and Greg Awbrey voted in support of the revisions. Board members Angelle, Mark Allen Babineaux, Rae Trahan and Tehmi Chassion voted against the revisions. Board member Kermit Bouillion was absent from the board room for the vote.

The board had eliminated the funding for the position in March and last month formally reprimanded Superintendent Pat Cooper for the March 2012 hire and continual employment of the special assistant, Thad Welch, who did not have the required high school diploma for the job.

Welch’s title is special assistant to the superintendent for facilities, transportation, grounds and maintenance.

Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said the line item for the position was transferred to a contingency account and noted as a one-time cost.

“If we remove it, then in essence, we’re going to have an expenditure with no budget,” Guidry said.

Chassion, who fought for the funding elimination, said an expense without a budget is “impossible.”

Chassion questioned how Welch is being paid when the board has not yet approved the budget revision.

Cooper said, “I’m the only one who has the power to eliminate that person in that position,” adding that Welch is doing a good job and working on his GED.

Cooper said the administration is allowed budget transfers.

Chassion accused Cooper of “circumventing the process.”

Other items discussed during the meeting included:

TEACHER SURVEY: The School Board considered Awbrey’s request to distribute a survey to teachers related to discipline, such as whether they feel safe and have support of their administration.

Cooper said the survey is “biased” and it throws “egg” in the face of school administrators.

Awbrey said he created the survey based on complaints he has received from teachers.

“The reports I’m getting are things that are not mild in nature,” he said.

As proposed, the survey would be mailed to Awbrey, not the School Board office.

Awbrey said the dismissal of a student-teacher and the suspension of a teacher following public comments they made at board meetings “leaves teachers to distrust the administration in speaking out.”

Cooper criticized Awbrey for suggesting that a student-teacher and a teacher were punished for speaking out at earlier board meetings.

The actions were related to other issues, not because they “spoke up,” Cooper said.

“This fear mongering needs to stop because it does not bring us together. … I regret that you continue to distort the facts,” Cooper said.

The survey distribution was on the agenda as an introduction item and no action was taken.

Cooper suggested that a third party, such as the Picard Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, create the survey.

As of 9 p.m., School Board discussion on action items, including approval of job descriptions and a technology steering committee, had not occurred.