Lafayette school board leadership change in works

Advocate staff file photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Lafayette Parish School Board members Rae Trahan discusses school system needs as board member Tehmi Chassion and Vice President of Community Development for the Lafayatte Chamber of Commerce Bruce Conque look on during a board retreat in November. Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Lafayette Parish School Board members Rae Trahan discusses school system needs as board member Tehmi Chassion and Vice President of Community Development for the Lafayatte Chamber of Commerce Bruce Conque look on during a board retreat in November.

Two members interested in president’s post

For the first time in two years, the Lafayette Parish School Board could have a change in leadership that is likely to be contested.

Current board president Shelton Cobb said he isn’t interested in serving another year as the board’s leader and so far, at least two board members have expressed interest in the job — Hunter Beasley and Rae Trahan.

Cobb was elected, without opposition, to the board presidency in 2012 and 2013.

Beasley served as vice president for the past two years and secured the post in a 5-4 vote both years. Last year, Trahan also was nominated for vice president.

Kermit Bouillion and Greg Awbrey said they may consider seeking the post of vice president.

The board will vote on officers at its Jan. 15 meeting.

The past year was one of marathon meetings that averaged four or five hours as the board tackled contentious issues ranging from a formal reprimand of the superintendent to the more recent dismissal of its general counsel, the District Attorney’s Office.

Meetings often didn’t start on time, and frequently, board members had sidebar conversations among each other.

Beasley said he’d like the board to start the year off with a planning retreat and to work on communication among members and the superintendent.

“I would like to see if we can end the bickering and try to develop a relationship among all board members and then the superintendent,” Beasley said.

He said everyone needs to work together “if we’re trying to do what’s best for the kids.”

Trahan said she’s considering the leadership role after a push from some community members.

“They called me with a very strong case for me to run,” Trahan said. “I have not called and asked other board members for their consideration as of yet, so I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

Trahan said she wants to see the board focus in 2014 on the classroom to continue to maintain and increase the district’s performance score.

“Always first in everybody’s mind is making sure that the money gets to the classroom and that the programs that are implemented are those that will benefit the kids,” Trahan said.

The vice president acts as board parliamentarian, a role board member Greg Awbrey said he’d consider only if Trahan secured the president post.

Awbrey said in the past year that the board hasn’t followed its adopted parliamentary procedure with fidelity.

“You have to apply the rules evenly across the board,” Awbrey said.

He said he’s “seen a lot of bias in leadership now” in the way rules are being enforced, a situation he said needs to change.

Bouillion said he’d like the board to explore the need for a new elementary school in south Lafayette in 2014.

“We definitely have the land to build on,” Bouillion said. “Regardless of what the charter schools are going to do, I still believe that we need to discuss it and build where there’s a need.”

The board president leads the meetings and serves on the board’s executive committee. The leadership role comes with an additional $100 to board members’ $800 monthly salary.

Trahan and Beasley have stood on the same side of more controversial issues faced by the board, including voting with the prevailing side in a 6-3 vote to formally reprimand Superintendent Pat Cooper for allegedly breaking policy in a hiring decision.

They also voted with the majority to reject Cooper’s recommendation that the board approve applications filed by two charter school groups.

More recently, Trahan and Beasley joined with the majority in a 6-3 vote that dismissed the District Attorney’s Office as general counsel. The board acted after some members disagreed with how Assistant District Attorney Roger Hamilton handled its pending resolution to hire special counsel to investigate Cooper.

Hamilton wrote the Attorney General’s Office that there was no basis for an investigation.

Board members Tommy Angelle and Tehmi Chassion said they weren’t interested in leadership roles this year.

Efforts to reach board members Mark Allen Babineaux and Mark Cockerham were unsuccessful. Angelle said he would like to see a leadership change annually.

“I would like everyone on the School Board as much as possible to have a stint at a leadership role as either president or vice president,” he said.