School chief motion fails

A St. Landry Parish School Board member facing federal bribery charges related to a superintendent search this week attempted to add an agenda item so the board could select a new superintendent at January’s meeting.

Although John Miller was one of three board members who voted “yes” on the motion to add the agenda item on Thursday, it failed because such a motion requires a unanimous vote of all 13 board members.

The motion failed to pass after board member Candace Gerace voted “no.”

Board attorney Gerard Caswell said Louisiana law now requires a unanimous vote if items are to be added to meeting agendas.

The motion to add an agenda item followed a statement by board member Anthony Standberry, who criticized school officials for not selecting a superintendent sooner.

“I have talked to people from other parishes and they are calling us a laughingstock as we continue to run this system with no one that we can call our leader,” Standberry said.

Standberry also proposed compensating Joseph Cassimere for his work since being appointed interim superintendent earlier this year.

In November, Quincy Richard Sr., 50, and Miller, 71, both of Opelousas, pleaded not guilty to federal charges that they each asked a superintendent candidate for $5,000 in exchange for their votes naming him to the post.

Richard and Miller face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Both men are still on the School Board.

Cassimere was one of five candidates for the job and has been serving as interim superintendent. The other candidates are Port Barre High School Principal William Duplechain, Child Welfare Supervisor Edward Brown, Lafourche Parish Supervisor of Special Education Charles Michel and Stephensville Principal Daniel Rawls.

The school system has been without a superintendent since former Superintendent Michael Nassif stepped down last year.

The board was scheduled to vote Sept. 26 to name someone to the post, but that vote was put on hold after the investigation of Miller and Richard was made public.

The indictment alleges that the two men accepted $5,000 each from a candidate for the superintendent’s job during a Sept. 24 meeting at The Quarters Casino and Travel Plaza in Opelousas.

The indictment does not give the name of the candidate, but a separate report from the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office states the Sheriff’s Office was put on notice Sept. 24 that an FBI agent was conducting a sting operation at the Quarters in reference to Miller and Richard allegedly asking Cassimere for cash in exchange for their votes.

Miller’s appearance at Thursday’s meeting was his first since federal authorities announced in September that he and Richard were targets of an investigation.

Richard hasn’t missed a meeting since the start of the investigation. In an interview before the board’s November meeting, Richard proclaimed his innocence.

Earlier this week, Richard asked a judge to toss out his federal bribery charge, saying the case should be handled at the state level, among other things. No hearing has been set on the motion to dismiss.

Other items discussed during the meeting included:

MONEY SAVED: The board accepted a Finance Committee report that indicated the district has saved $598,000 this year in employee salaries.

Finance Director Tressa Miller said in an interview after the meeting that the salary savings have come after the board voted in May to lay off 68 workers in addition to other employees who decided to resign or retire.

Miller had predicted the district would experience a general fund deficit of about $4 million at the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year if employee cuts were not made.

CUSTODIAN STATUS: The School Board voted 8-5 against conducting a closed session to discuss the firing of Plaisance Elementary custodian Pamela A. Bell.

Caswell said the board needed nine votes to conduct a closed session discussion of the reasons why Cassimere was approving the recommendation of Principal Larry Watson to dismiss Bell.

Bell was not at Thursday’s meeting. A letter written to the board by Cassimere said Bell allegedly refused to “adhere to directives given by her immediate supervisor,” who was Watson.

Voting to hold the closed session were Standberry, Miller, Richard, Charles Ross and Josie Frank. Voting “no” were Gerace, Raymond Cassimere, Ronald Carriere, Huey Wyble, Randy Wagley, Roger Young, Harry Fruge and Kyle Boss.