Lafayette board will try again to take up Cooper charges

The School Board could meet next week to take up formal charges against Superintendent Pat Cooper, an issue it originally had hoped to address at its meeting Wednesday, the board’s president said.

The board was prepared to receive formal charges based on an attorney’s investigation of Cooper’s management decisions at its meeting Wednesday, but the attorney, Dennis Blunt, was a no-show.

Blunt said Thursday that he had notified board President Hunter Beasley before Wednesday’s board meeting that he might not be able to attend due to an “unexpected pressing client matter” but didn’t definitely say he couldn’t be there.

“I wanted to accomplish what I needed to for both clients, but it wasn’t meant to be,” Blunt said.

Beasley said he had only a brief conversation with Blunt on Thursday and that they didn’t discuss the attorney’s absence because Beasley was short on time.

“We didn’t talk about it because I was in a rush,” Beasley said. “We were talking about other things. I had a question to ask him, got my answer and had to move on.”

Beasley said another date for a meeting to consider accepting the formal charges against Cooper could get pinned down by Friday.

A school board has to have cause to fire a superintendent and has to present those causes — or charges — to the superintendent and provide an opportunity for response.

The board asked Blunt to write up charges for it to consider based on the attorney’s investigative findings.

If the board accepts the charges, it has to present them to Cooper in writing and give him at least 20 days to prepare a response. A hearing — at which Cooper will have an opportunity to defend himself — would then follow.

It takes a two-thirds vote for a school board to terminate a superintendent. For the nine-member Lafayette Parish School Board, that’s six votes.

Five board members — Tommy Angelle, Greg Awbrey, Mark Babineaux, Tehmi Chassion and Rae Trahan — supported launching an investigation of Cooper in July 2013. The decision came after the same board members voted the previous April to reprimand Cooper for insubordination related to the hiring and continued employment of Thad Welch as a special assistant.

Welch was hired in March 2012 as a special assistant to the superintendent for facilities, maintenance, operations and grounds and is still employed by the district.

In his report to the board last week, Blunt flagged Welch’s hiring, the payment of some principals at different pay than others and other budgetary issues.

Cooper has defended his actions citing a state law that took effect in July 2012 that shifted personnel decisions from school boards to superintendents. Blunt has said the new law didn’t strip boards of their authority to make decisions related to assistant superintendents and supervisors.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Sept. 5, 2014, at 9 a.m. to correct the list of board members who voted to launch an investigation of Cooper in July 2013, and to correct the date of that vote.