Evaluation, investigation begin for Lafayette superintendent

The launch of the Lafayette Parish School Board’s annual evaluation of Superintendent Pat Cooper comes as an attorney starts an investigation of the board’s complaints against Cooper.

Dennis Blunt, the attorney hired as special counsel for the investigation, plans to meet with board members by the end of the week to discuss concerns they have with the superintendent, board President Hunter Beasley said.

Evaluation forms to rate Cooper’s performance in the past year will go out to board members Thursday and should be returned to an evaluation committee, which will review the forms by June 18, Beasley said. At least three board members will be asked to serve on the committee, he said.

The board will call a special meeting sometime before June 15, Beasley said, to discuss with Cooper goals and objectives for the upcoming school year, as required in his contract.

Cooper said Monday that he had not been advised of any meeting and no such meeting took place.

Last year, Cooper received a cumulative score of 4.067 out of eight points from board members based on their ratings of him in the areas of policy and governance; planning and assessment; instructional leadership; organizational management; communications and community relations; and professionalism. Beasley said the same evaluation form will be used this year.

Last year’s evaluation results came during the same July meeting when the board voted 5-4 to hire an attorney to investigate its complaints against Cooper. Attempts to start the investigation, however, were stalled until recently. Blunt was hired last month after the attorney initially hired quit in late April, citing a lack of time to do the work.

Three board members, Shelton Cobb, Mark Cockerham and Kermit Bouillion, recently asked their fellow board members to disclose their reasons why Cooper should be investigated. Their request was on the board’s May 21 meeting as an introduction item and is on Wednesday’s agenda as an action item. It’s doubtful that additional information about the investigation will be released. Board attorney Jon Guice told board members at a May 21 meeting not to disclose specifics of the investigation or potential charges.

A public records request sent to Cooper’s office in April by the initial attorney conducting the investigation revealed the crux of board members’ interest. The request sought information about board action on some personnel issues, including a position created for an assistant to the superintendent, the salary for that position and workdays. The board reprimanded Cooper in April 2013 because he refused to fire the man hired for the job, Thad Welch, after the board discovered Welch did not hold the required high school education for the position.

The public records request also asked for copies of board action related to: Cooper’s contract; salaries and workdays of principals; authorization of payment for legal service performed by attorney Lane Roy on behalf of Cooper; contracts of those principals appointed by Cooper; the hiring of Hammonds & Sills as general counsel and Grant & Barrow as special counsel; the hiring of public relations firms; and charter schools.

Cooper has stood behind a state law enacted in July 2012 that gives authority over personnel decisions previously held by school boards to superintendents. He’s also defended his stance on the charter schools by saying they’re an answer to overcrowded schools in the district.

As of Monday, Blunt had not filed any public records request for information with his office, Cooper said.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.