Lafayette board votes to keep complaints against Cooper secret

A majority of the Lafayette Parish School Board voted Wednesday to keep secret their complaints against Superintendent Pat Cooper, now under an attorney investigation.

The board voted last year to investigate Cooper. But the process was stalled until recently, when Baton Rouge attorney Dennis Blunt was hired. The resolution to hire Blunt did not specify the reasons for the investigation.

Board members Kermit Bouillion, Shelton Cobb and Mark Cockerham appealed to their fellow board members to disclose to Cooper and the public those reasons, but a request to disclose the complaints in writing failed in a 3-5 vote Wednesday.

Board members Mark Allen Babineaux, Hunter Beasley, Tommy Angelle, Rae Trahan and Tehmi Chassion voted against the disclosure. Board member Greg Awbrey was absent.

At the board’s May 21 meeting, its attorney warned members not to disclose any allegations because it was a personnel matter.

In an attempt toward discussion, Cooper wrote a letter to board members, dated Wednesday, waiving his right to privacy related to the board’s charges against him.

“I welcome public scrutiny of any and all information that the LPSS School Board members have relative to charges against the Superintendent that can be proven,” Cooper wrote.

Cooper did not comment on the issue during the board meeting, but Bouillion read the letter aloud to enter Cooper’s comments into the public record.

Members did not discuss the issue before taking a vote.

Earlier this week, board president Hunter Beasley said Blunt planned to meet individual board members by Friday to discuss the investigation.

In other matters Wednesday, the board rejected a charter school application from the nonprofit group Kingdom Builders Community Development to open a career and technical high school in 2015.

The rejection is in line with the recommendation of a third-party reviewer, New Millennium Education, that identified flaws in the proposed school’s application. The reviewer noted an undeveloped curriculum and unclear policies for staffing and funding, among other problems.

“The major career/technical programs of study identified in the proposal require a large investment in equipment and supplies,” reviewers wrote. “The proposal is not clear as to how the equipment will be purchased, maintained and updated.”

The board did not discuss the charter school’s application before voting to reject it.

Before the vote, parent Kathleen Espinoza told the board its duty was to review the application publicly. She questioned whether the organizers planned to appeal to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education if the board rejected the application.

Last year, the board rejected two applications from charter school organizers who wanted to open a total of five schools in Lafayette Parish in the next few years. BESE approved the applications filed by the groups and three of the five schools will open in August.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.