School board to get report on Cooper on Tuesday, maybe Wednesday

The Lafayette Parish School Board set a special meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday to receive a report on its investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper — but might have to reschedule because Cooper won’t be able to attend the meeting.

The announcement of the meeting was issued shortly after 5 p.m. Monday. Board President Hunter Beasley said he pushed forward with the meeting even though Cooper informed him that he had a prior commitment and wouldn’t be able to attend.

Beasley said he’s awaiting word from the board’s attorney about whether the board should proceed with the meeting without Cooper. If the meeting is rescheduled, it likely will be held Wednesday before the board’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Cooper said the board can’t meet without him.

“In my contract, it’s clear, I have the right to be at all board meetings,” Cooper said. “I have a prior commitment that I’ve made. Also, it has to be declared an emergency to call a meeting within 24 hours and I don’t know that this is an emergency. My expectation is that they will cancel this.”

Cooper sent board members an email late Monday afternoon asking that the board cancel the meeting because he won’t be able to attend.

The agenda for the special meeting also calls for the board to take “any necessary action” related to the investigation.

Beasley said he’s received a copy of a draft of the report, but he declined to comment on the findings, saying it is a personnel issue.

“This is concerning him and as far as I’m concerned, I’m keeping the information confidential,” Beasley said. “It’s up to him if he wants to release the information. I’m going to instruct the board members when they get the report that it’s confidential information.”

Cooper said he doesn’t have any indication about the outcome of the report and attorney Dennis Blunt, hired to conduct the investigation, contacted him for the first time earlier Monday to see if the two of them could meet Tuesday.

“That seemed odd to me since I’m the subject of his investigation,” Cooper said.

Board members have been mum about their reasons for the investigation even when prodded by three board members who continue to support Cooper.

An investigation is a necessary step if a school board wishes to bring termination charges against a superintendent.

A majority of the board voted to hire special counsel last year to investigate Cooper after reprimanding the superintendent in April 2013.

The reprimand was related to Cooper’s refusal to terminate an employee after the board removed funding for the job.

A majority of the board wanted the position — assistant to the superintendent on facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation — eliminated because the employee, Thad Welch, was hired in March 2012 even though he did not have the required education for the job.

The investigation stalled until May after the board hired Blunt.

In addition to the Welch issue, Cooper and a majority of the board have not seen eye-to-eye on other personnel matters.

A federal lawsuit filed about two weeks ago seeks to protect Cooper’s job by asking a judge to disqualify two board members — Tehmi Chassion and Mark Babineaux — from voting in any potential termination proceedings based on their alleged bias against the superintendent.

The lawsuit, filed by Cajundome director and education advocate Greg Davis, also asks the court to intervene in the board’s budget process.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.