Cooper’s evaluation shows dramatic shifts in opinion by some board members

In their evaluations of Superintendent Pat Cooper, Lafayette Parish School Board members criticized him for the district’s budget woes, supporting charter schools in the parish and for what they consider circumvention of board policy.

Cooper’s overall evaluation dipped from 4.067 last year to 3.54 this year, out of a possible 8. Although the drop was slight, a look at individual board members’ scores and comments show a more dramatic shift in opinion.

Board member Mark Allen Babineaux cited Cooper’s support of charter schools as the reason he gave Cooper a zero on several performance standards. Last summer, the board rejected applications from organizations that wanted to open five charter schools over the next few years. When the organizations appealed to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Cooper testified in support of the charter schools, citing the district’s overcrowded schools and lack of funding for new facilities.

“Using charter schools as a stop-gap for building needs undermines the financial ability of the district to support the educational needs of the district both on a day to day and long term basis,” Babineaux wrote on Cooper’s evaluation.

Babineaux gave Cooper a cumulative score of 0.929 — a drop from the 2 he gave the superintendent last year.

Babineaux and other board members also criticized Cooper for not bringing a balanced budget to the board this year. The board faces a $23.5 million shortfall in the school district’s $272 million operating budget. Cooper’s efforts to get the board to use a portion of its rainy day funds and to spend as much as $10 million to boost teacher salaries using a 2002 sales tax fund dedicated for that purpose have been unsuccessful.

Board member Greg Awbrey joined members Babineaux, Tehmi Chassion and Rae Trahan in giving Cooper a zero in fiscal planning.

“Budget not followed and spending is running away. Resources are poorly assigned to improve education,” Awbrey wrote in his evaluation. On another financial planning standard, he wrote that Cooper’s “long range funding is based on wishing for new revenue.”

Cooper, who received the evaluation results Wednesday, said at that time he thought some board members were using the evaluation as a means to terminate him because a score below 4 is deemed “unsuccessful.” According to Cooper’s contract, the board could terminate him based on a negative evaluation.

On Friday, he said he’s not worried about the board’s 3.54 rating.

“I think, legally, I’m in a good position,” Cooper said. “I’m not going to spend my time thinking about this evaluation. We’ve got to spend our time thinking about this budget and taking care of our children.”

Chassion — who with Babineaux and board Vice President Tommy Angelle scored Cooper’s overall performance nearly 2 points or more lower than last year — said Friday that he does not view his evaluation of the superintendent as an avenue to terminate Cooper.

The greatest shift was from Chassion, who scored Cooper at nearly 2.6 last year and at 0.214 this year.

“I think he needs improvement,” Chassion said. “As I went through and read the performance standards, I could think of specific incidences where he had failed.”

Chassion’s score was counterbalanced by board member Shelton Cobb’s rating Cooper 2.3 points higher this year. Cobb and board member Mark Cockerham gave Cooper an 8 in every performance standard.

Board member Kermit Bouillion gave Cooper an 8 in almost every performance standard, except one related to the superintendent’s ability to create an atmosphere of trust with staff and community. Bouillion gave him a 7 there.

Bouillion described Cooper’s performance in the past year as exceptional and said his leadership has been consistent.

“As far as I’m concerned, Dr. Cooper has been everything I was looking for in a superintendent,” Bouillion said. “I think he’s been a great leader for our community in education. I don’t have the issues with Dr. Cooper that it seems other board members have.”

The evaluation scores were released in the midst of a board-approved investigation of Cooper. The board hired an attorney to investigate complaints against Cooper but has not informed the superintendent what those complaints are.

The evaluation covers 28 standards in areas of policy and governance; planning and assessment; instructional leadership; organizational management; communications and community relations; and professionalism.

After receiving his evaluation results Wednesday night, Cooper questioned the validity of some board members giving him zeros. “You have to be dead to get a zero,” he said.

Chassion also questioned some board members’ scores, but for different reasons.

“I’m shocked that some board members gave him all 8s,” Chassion said. “To get 8s, you had to do everything perfectly for the entire year.”

He defended the zero scores he gave Cooper in some areas: “It’s not a zero that you’re getting. It’s what the zero represents. Either I’m satisfied with the results or I’m not.”

Relations between Chassion and Cooper have been particularly strained over the past year. Chassion filed a complaint against Cooper in February alleging the superintendent grabbed him during a closed-door session with other board members. No arrest was made, and information on the status of the city prosecutor’s review of the case was not immediately available Friday.

Board President Hunter Beasley’s rating of Cooper dropped slightly from a 3.5 last year to a 3.1 this year. Beasley said he thinks Cooper has communicated less effectively with board members this year.

In his evaluation, Beasley said the superintendent “articulates vision and plans more with outside groups than the board” and that he fails to “actively seek input from the board regarding programs or curriculum.”

“I think his relationship with certain groups in the community are good, but for the most part I was more disappointed than in the first year,” Beasley said.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.