Cooper: Some on board may be setting stage to fire him

Superintendent’s evaluation score point of contention

Superintendent Pat Cooper, who remains under investigation by the Lafayette Parish School Board, said Wednesday that he thinks some board members may be laying the groundwork to fire him after he received another low evaluation score from the board.

“I expect them to move to make a termination,” Cooper said after the board meeting.

He received a score of 3.54 out of 8 possible points on this year’s evaluation, down from last year’s 4.067.

But characterizing the scores may be a matter of contention.

Cooper said his contract specifies the board may terminate him for a “negative” score on his evaluation.

The guidelines for the evaluation call a score below 4 “unsuccessful.” However, the evaluation form itself calls a score of 3 “average.”

Cooper defined his score as above average and questioned whether the board could define that score as negative.

“Does unsuccessful equate to negative?” Cooper said. “It’s unclear.”

During the board meeting, there was no discussion of the evaluation. Cooper made only one remark on the issue — “3.54 is above average. That sounds good to me.” — before the board moved on with its business.

Following the meeting, board president Hunter Beasley said: “At this point in time, I’m not considering bringing any termination hearings based on his evaluation scores.”

Cooper remains under investigation by an attorney hired by the board. The board has not made Cooper aware of the alleged complaints that led to the investigation. A board attorney has said the investigation is needed to determine if there are any grounds for the board to bring charges against Cooper to fire him.

Board member Rae Trahan was absent from the meeting, but she turned in her evaluation early.

The evaluation considers the superintendent’s performance based on 28 standards in five key areas. Here’s how the board scored Cooper: policy and governance: 3.416; planning and assessment: 3.361; instructional leadership: 3.682; organizational management: 3.428; communications and community relations: 3.361; and professionalism: 4.

Cooper said he received several scores of zeros from some board members and read a tally of some of the results from the individual members.

“You have to be dead to get a zero,” Cooper said. “Babineaux: 13 zeros. Chassion: 23 zeros out of 28 (standards). Awbrey: seven zeros. Trahan: 11 zeros.”

He was referring to board members Mark Allen Babineaux, Tehmi Chassion and Greg Awbrey.

Cooper’s score got a boost from board members Shelton Cobb, Mark Cockerham and Kermit Bouillion. They gave Cooper scores of 8 in all 28 standards.

Cooper said he’ll release more information from individual board member evaluations of him and a written response later this week.

Last year, the board rated Cooper’s performance a 4.067 out of 8 — which was considered a “good” rating on a scale of 1 being “unsatisfactory” and 8 being “distinguished.” A score of 3 is considered “average” based on the board’s evaluation form.

Last year, board members gave their lowest ratings — a cumulative 2.8 out of 8 points —to Cooper in two separate performance standards related to his relations with the board and to the development and implementation of policies.

Cooper received a “good” rating in last year’s evaluation even though it was timed a few months after the board’s formal reprimand of him for not firing an employee hired in 2012 without the required high school education for the job. Cooper retained the employee even after the board stripped the funding for the position. During the same July 2013 meeting when it evaluated Cooper, the board voted 5-4 to hire an attorney to investigate the superintendent. The investigation stalled and only got underway earlier this month.

Also Wednesday, the school board approved a 25-cent increase for student meal prices and a 50-cent increase for adult meals. The increase passed with six votes, from Awbrey, Babineaux, Mark Cockerham, Kermit Bouillion, Beasley and Tommy Angelle. Board members Shelton Cobb and Chassion abstained, though prior to the vote Cobb told the board he didn’t support the meal increases.

It’s the first increase in meal prices in the past five years and the bump is needed to offset rising food costs and to maintain compliance with federal regulations that require more whole grains and fresh produce on their menus, said Renee Sherville, the school district’s food services director. Sherville said schools also face another expense in the implementation of another regulation to incorporate low-sodium foods.

The student meal increases only impact students who pay full price and don’t qualify for reduced lunch prices based on their family’s income. The increase means full-price meal students will pay $1.75 in elementary schools and $2 in middle and high schools. School system employees will now pay $3.50 and visitors will pay $4.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.