Lafayette superintendent says board may try to fire him

Superintendent Pat Cooper said Tuesday that he thinks a “letter of reprimand” that the board is considering giving him Wednesday over his refusal to fire one of his employees is an attempt to lay the groundwork for his own termination.

“This letter of reprimand is just the start of a process to get rid of the superintendent,” Cooper said Tuesday morning.

Board member Greg Awbrey requested the letter of reprimand, but would not confirm Tuesday that the employee getting the reprimand is Cooper.

“We’re not trying to fire the superintendent,” Awbrey said. “The whole thing is not as dark as it seems. We did have a board member speculating that I was trying to fire the superintendent and that is not the case.

“My hope is that this resolves things and we’re done. That’s my hope,” Awbrey said.

In response to Awbrey’s comments, Cooper said, “I hope that that is the truth. … This letter sets the stage for other kinds of actions.”

The board meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The agenda lists as its last piece of business a “potential” executive session in regard to a letter of reprimand for “P.C.”

Cooper confirmed Tuesday that he is P.C. He said the reprimand is related to the hiring of Thad Welch last year as a special assistant to the superintendent over facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation.

The board approved Welch’s hiring in March 2012. However, since January, some board members have said the hiring violated policy since Welch does not have a high school diploma, a requirement in the position’s job description.

Though the board is still awaiting a state attorney general’s opinion on the matter, the board voted 5-4 at its March 20 meeting to eliminate funding for Welch’s position.

However, Cooper has said he has no plans to terminate Welch, whom he said is doing the work of two supervisors for less pay.

Cooper said he will find other funding sources for Welch’s salary.

Welch makes about $76,000 a year.

The board’s discussion comes after the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce on Monday issued public support for Cooper’s six-year turnaround plan for the district.

Also on Monday, a community meeting was organized by Northside High School Principal Melinda Voorhies with community and business leaders voicing support for the plan.

Voorhies said she organized the meeting after hearing from frustrated principals at a principals’ meeting March 22.

She said she thought, “it was probably a good time to see what kind of support we had in the community for the turnaround plan.”

“I don’t know that there’s been enough dialogue on the turnaround plan from all stakeholders involved,” she said. “I think once you have that dialogue it makes everything better. That’s what I saw yesterday. You learn from everybody.”

Through social media Monday, the Chamber of Commerce encouraged the public to attend Wednesday’s board meeting to support the plan, and reaffirmed its support of Cooper’s turnaround plan.

The timing of the chamber’s reaffirmation is due to the board’s focus on Welch, Chamber President Rob Guidry said Tuesday.

“We became aware of some effort to call the superintendent on the carpet about performance, and the thing that’s been getting the most headlines recently is the maintenance supervisor,” Guidry said.

Guidry said he hopes the board keeps its eye on the bigger picture — the outcome the district’s turnaround plan can produce.

“All of the time and attention given to (Welch) is really much less of a consequence than the overall direction of the turnaround plan, and what we hope to accomplish in that turnaround plan,” Guidry said.

The meeting Monday was a “positive step in trying to get our School Board supportive of Dr. Cooper,” said Cajundome director Greg Davis, who attended and publicized the meeting.

The community “wants the board to get on board with the turnaround plan and to allow (Cooper) to be the chief executive officer of the system where he has the authority to operate the system, which includes deciding on personnel matters,” Davis said.

Cooper said he was not involved with the Northside meeting nor the Chamber’s push, but thinks the community is sending a message that “we’ve got to work together.”

“Our kids are the most important thing. … In that respect of working together, that means the School Board’s got to let the superintendent run the system,” Cooper said.

“In the case of Thad Welch, if the superintendent has found somebody who can do the job, then change the job description, rather than firing someone who is doing the job. There’s an easy fix to this and they’ve done it before,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he’ll soon ask the board to amend the job description.

Board member Tehmi Chassion, who proposed eliminating funding for the position, said Tuesday he still supports Cooper, but thinks the superintendent should be reprimanded.

“I can still support Dr. Cooper. I can still support his plan to turn around schools. I want every school to be an A-plus school,” Chassion said.

“I can still support him, yet hold him accountable for the rules and policies and laws that are in place.”