Livingston SB chooses 10 attorneys hear disciplinary cases

The Livingston Parish School Board approved 10 lawyers Thursday to serve in the district’s pool of disciplinary hearing officers.

The pool was established to comply with Act 570 of the 2014 legislative session, which changed the way teacher discipline cases are handled, Superintendent John Watson said.

Previously, the superintendent, principal and employees would choose one representative each to serve on a panel to hear the cases, Watson said. That job now will fall to the hearing officers, whose decisions can be appealed to the 21st Judicial District Court.

Attorneys selected to serve in Livingston’s pool include Christopher Moody, who serves as general counsel to the Tangipahoa Parish School Board and legal adviser for Livingston Parish government; Timothy Pujol, whose wife, Patrice Pujol, is the Ascension Parish schools superintendent; Brett Duncan, a Tangipahoa Parish School Board member; Blayne Honeycutt, an assistant district attorney with the 21st Judicial District; and Michael Fanning, counsel for the Jefferson Parish School Board.

The pool also includes Todd Caruso, Matthew Pryor, Barbara Irwin, Erik Burns and Matthew Nodier.

A hearing officer will be randomly selected from the pool for each case, using a random generator the state provided, Watson said.

Assistant Superintendent Rick Wentzel said he tested the generator and it works.

The hearing officer will review each case to determine if the superintendent’s disciplinary decision was arbitrary or capricious. The officer must render a decision, with written reasons, within 10 days of the hearing. The teacher and School Board then have 60 days to file an appeal with the court.

The state’s teacher unions hailed the new process as more fair for teachers, saying the prior three-member hearing panels were skewed to favor the district.

Under the law, only mediators, arbitrators, attorneys or retired judges may serve as a disciplinary hearing officer.

In other business, the School Board adopted a standstill budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which began July 1.

The general fund budget projects $191 million in revenues and $192 million in expenditures, for a projected deficit of $1 million that will drop the fund’s reserves to $13.5 million.

The district ran a deficit of nearly $2 million in 2013-14, after two years of annual surpluses.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.