Lafayette SB may address special assistant to superintendent issues

Rather than wait for an attorney general’s opinion about the Lafayette Parish School Board’s authority on a personnel decision made last year, one board member says he wants the board to ratify all personnel decisions made in 2012.

“We could wait six months on a response from the attorney general,” said board member Mark Cockerham, who proposed a “ratification motion” for consideration at the board’s 5:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday.

At issue is some board members’ concerns that policy was violated when it approved the hiring of Thad Welch, who did not meet the minimum education qualification of a high school diploma for the position of special assistant to the superintendent overseeing facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation. The position was created in March 2012.

As of July 1, state law transferred authority for hiring and firing from school boards to district superintendents.

The School Board, at its Feb. 20 meeting, voted unanimously to ask the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office for clarity on its authority in decisions related to the special assistant position, including its 5-4 vote on Feb. 6 to reconsider its March 2012 hiring action and a pending proposal to eliminate the nearly $76,000 budgeted for the job.

Cockerham said he proposed the ratification to prevent future reconsideration of personnel decisions made in 2012 prior to the state law change and to “keep moving forward” on educational issues that face the district.

Board member Tehmi Chassion proposed the funding elimination, which was on the board’s Feb. 20 agenda as an introduction item. Typically, introduction items are moved to action at the board’s following meeting, but Chassion’s proposal is missing from this week’s agenda.

On Monday, Chassion said it was likely an oversight and he’d request the addition.

School Superintendent Pat Cooper said Chassion’s proposal wasn’t included because the Attorney General opinion is pending and because of questions raised in a letter from local attorney Lane Roy on behalf of Welch, the employee.

In his letter, which Cooper said was addressed to board attorney James Simon, Roy claims Robert’s Rules of Order wasn’t followed related to the board’s Feb. 6 reconsideration of its March 2012 decision and Chassion’s motion because only board members who initially voted in favor of an issue can bring it back to the board for reconsideration.

Greg Awbrey and Mark Allen Babineaux, who were not on the prevailing side of the March 2012 decision, offered the motions for reconsideration at the Feb. 6 meeting, Roy said.

Based on Roy’s assertion, Chassion’s motion to eliminate funding likely won’t be considered if the board follows parliamentary procedure because Chassion did not attend the June 26 special meeting when the board approved its current budget, Cooper said.

He referred questions to the board’s parliamentarian, board Vice President Hunter Beasley, who said he needs more time to review the matter. Beasley said he plans to address the board on the issue Wednesday, if necessary.

Chassion said he doesn’t plan to drop his proposal.

“It’s unfair to anyone in the system that wasn’t allotted the same opportunity,” Chassion said. “Maybe we should open the whole thing up again for applications.”

Chassion first questioned Welch’s qualifications at the board’s Jan. 9 meeting. Welch has 17 years of relevant supervisory experience, but did not finish high school, according to records from the district’s human resources department. He’s held the special assistant position for the past year. Cooper has said Welch is qualified and that he won’t remove him from the job.

Cooper has said that while he was aware Welch did not have a high school diploma when he was recommended to the board in March 2012, an interview committee found Welch still outscored the other six men interviewed for the position.

Cooper also has said he was assured at the time that it wasn’t uncommon for the board to hire employees who did not fulfill educational requirements at the time of their hiring.

Since 2000, the board has approved the hiring of three administrators who did not have the required certification for the job at the time of their hiring, although they later obtained the needed certification, according to information provided by the human resources department.

The current human resources director, Bruce Leininger, said in an email that he’s unaware of any school district job that doesn’t require a high school diploma or GED.

In 2009, the board hired a painter who did not have a high school diploma, and in 2011 and 2012, it approved the hiring of two substitute painters who did not have a high school diploma. Last month, the board hired another substitute painter who did not have a diploma.

The district also employs 26 teachers and one resource coordinator who are teaching with an “out-of-field authorization to teach” certificate, which is allowed by the Louisiana Department of Education for districts to address shortages or critical need areas.