Federal court asked to get involved in Lafayette schools budget fight

Davis filed the request because the board has yet to adopt a budget for the school year that starts Tuesday and the proposed 2014-15 budget includes cuts that Davis alleges will impact minority and disadvantaged students.

Davis requested an immediate hearing for a judge to consider his complaint.

Davis filed a federal lawsuit last week against the School Board and, specifically, members Mark Allen Babineaux and Tehmi Chassion, asking the court to intervene in the board’s budget process and to disqualify Babineaux and Chassion from voting on any potential future termination proceeding related to the ongoing investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper.

The lawsuit and preliminary injunction request both cite Louisiana’s Revised Statute 39:1312, which states that political agencies that do not adopt a budget before the end of the fiscal year roll forward with 50 percent of the prior year’s budget to continue operations. The board’s fiscal year ended on June 30. The School Board began its review of its general fund with a $23.5 million shortfall and repeatedly has rejected balanced budget proposals from Cooper in favor of board member suggestions of how to whittle the deficit.

“(State law) provides for the continuity of School Board operations, expenditures and assumptions pending the adoption of 2014-2015 school year budget. However, the School Board has ignored its provisions while engaging in a piecemeal budget process that began on April 25, 2014,” the request for a preliminary injunction states.

The board balanced its general fund budget on July 31, and the proposed spending plan removed some money supervisors requested for textbooks and other instructional materials. The board set aside $2.5 million from its rainy day account to cover the expenses; however, the board specified that instructional supervisors would need to defend the expenses and request a share of the money. Last week, the board deferred a decision on staff’s request for $3 million for textbooks and other instructional materials needed to start the school year. The board is expected to have another budget meeting on Thursday.

In his latest federal request, Davis alleges that the board’s budget cuts will impact all students, however, “the disproportionate impact will be visited upon the minority and at-risk student populations.”

A preliminary injunction related to Davis’ request that the court disqualify Babineaux and Chassion from any votes related to a Cooper termination hearing wasn’t necessary because the investigation is still pending, said Davis’ attorney, Gary McGoffin.

“It is not necessary to take further action on the disqualification of Board members Babineaux and Chassion at this time since the investigation is still pending and no specific action has been recommended for consideration by the full Board with regard to the Superintendent’s contract,” McGoffin said.

Davis’ lawsuit singles out Babineaux and Chassion for their alleged bias against Cooper.

A six-member majority of the School Board voted last year to hire an attorney to investigate Cooper following the board’s formal reprimand of him for keeping an employee on the payroll after the board removed funding for the position. An investigation is a necessary step if the board plans to identify and bring formal charges for termination against Cooper.