Lafayette superintendent backs special hire

Superintendent Pat Cooper said Wednesday that he has no plans to remove a special assistant or to amend the job description because the Lafayette Parish School Board in the past has hired other employees who did not meet all or parts of a job description.

“He is qualified. He may not have the degree, but he is qualified,” Cooper said of the employee after the School Board meeting.

Earlier Wednesday, the School Board voted 5-4 to reconsider its March approval of its hiring of Thad Welch, who lacks the required high school diploma to qualify for the new position of a special assistant to the superintendent for facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation.

Last year, Cooper created the position for the person to serve as an adviser to his office and oversee changes to custodial and facility grounds operations. The original job description required a high school diploma. Salary for the position is $75,903.

Welch was not named during the meeting by board members or Cooper.

Welch worked with Cooper when he was superintendent in McComb, Miss. He has 17 years of experience as director of transportation, maintenance, custodial and grounds of McComb schools, according to his ré sumé. Welch does not have a high school diploma.

The discrepancy first was discussed during the board’s Jan. 9 meeting.

In response, Cooper proposed an amended job description to the School Board that states a high school diploma or GED is preferred; however, the superintendent pulled the amended job description from the board’s Wednesday agenda.

Due to changes in state law, personnel decisions are no longer in the hands of School Board members, so the vote Wednesday does not enable the board to vote on future decisions related to the position, said board member Greg Awbrey, who requested that the board reconsider its March action.

“Today, we can’t take any action on it. It’s personnel action and we’re no longer allowed to hire and fire; the superintendent is,” Awbrey said during the meeting.

Awbrey said he requested the reconsideration because the board did not follow its policy in its approval of someone who did not fulfill the position’s requirements. He said two board members knew about Welch’s lack of a high school diploma and did not inform the entire board before its vote last year.

On Wednesday, Awbrey and board members Mark Allen Babineaux, Tommy Angelle, Rae Trahan and Tehmi Chassion supported the reconsideration of the March action. Board members Hunter Beasley, Kermit Bouillion, Mark Cockerham and Shelton Cobb voted against the reconsideration.

During the meeting, Cooper said he was not involved in the interview or hiring process for the job and that the district’s former “senior official” in the Human Resources department advised him it was “common practice” to hire someone who may not hold the required educational requirements.

Cooper said he also was informed of at least two other cases in which a Central Office employee who did not meet the educational requirements for a job was hired with the understanding that person would continue his or her education.

He said the employee has done a superb job in overseeing major changes in the district’s operations.

“As CEO, I should be able to request and grant a change,” Cooper said. Otherwise, the board should be held responsible for the day-to-day cleaning of schools, he said.

Welch was one of seven men interviewed for the position, according to Human Resources department records. A total of 19 people applied for the position and 12 were disqualified for lack of experience, according to district records.

The reconsideration of the March decision was on Wednesday’s introduction agenda; however, the board voted 6-3 to move the item to its action agenda.

Bouillion, Cockerham and Cobb voted against moving the introduction item to the action agenda. Awbrey, Babineaux, Beasley, Angelle, Trahan and Chassion voted in support of moving the item to the action agenda.

Following the meeting, Awbrey said he intended to ask the board to rescind its March action, rather than reconsider the action.

He said he will consult with the board staff to determine if he needs to bring the issue back to the board for a vote.