Lafayette board seeks AG’s guidance on employee

The Lafayette Parish School Board unanimously agreed Wednesday to ask the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office to clarify its authority in decisions related to a district employee who lacks the educational requirements of his job description.

The board first began discussions over the employee’s lack of a high school diploma for the special assistant to the superintendent for facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation position at its Jan. 9 meeting. The employee, Thad Welch, has held the position since March, when the board still had authority over personnel decisions.

Since July 1, hiring and firing power in the state’s public schools has shifted to superintendents. Lafayette Superintendent Pat Cooper has said he has no plans to terminate Welch, who he says is qualified for the job. Neither the board nor Cooper has named Welch in its discussions.

Cooper said Welch has consulted with attorney Lane Roy, who has “spelled it out that Welch has been defamed and had his privacy violated” by the School Board’s focus on the job description. He has 17 years experience as a facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation director and worked previously with Cooper in the McComb, Miss., school district.

On Wednesday, the School Board’s had as an introductory item on its agenda a proposal to eliminate the nearly $76,000 salary for the job from its budget. An effort to move the item to action failed in a 4-5 vote with board members Greg Awbrey, Mark Allen Babineaux, Rae Trahan and Tehmi Chassion voting to move the issue to the action agenda. Members Mark Cockerham, Kermit Bouillion, Shelton Cobb, Hunter Beasley and Tommy Angelle voted against moving the item to the action agenda.

The issue will now move to the board’s action agenda for its March 6 meeting, however, the board likely won’t have a response from the Attorney General’s Office for at least two months, said board attorney James Simon.

Angelle told Chassion, who proposed the funding elimination, that he would prefer to have more time to review information on the proposal.

Beasley proposed getting the Attorney General’s opinion.

“With what I’ve heard from our legal representation, I don’t know where we stand. ... I want to err on the side of caution,” Beasley said.

Later in board discussion Chassion said, “We have a right to eliminate any position in the budget.”

Cooper has said he was aware that Welch did not have a high school diploma prior to the board’s approval of Welch’s appointment in a list of personnel changes in March 2012.

At the board’s last meeting on Feb. 6, Cooper told board members that he was told by the district’s former deputy superintendent of human resources and operations that it was “common practice” for the district to hire people who may not qualify for all parts of a job description.

Welch scored the highest of the seven people interviewed for the job and another 12 applied for the position, but were disqualified for lack of experience, according to human resources department records.

Also at the board’s Feb. 6 meeting, the board voted 5-4 to reconsider its March 2012 action that appointed Welch to the job, but the vote was inconsequential and did not impact his employment status.

On Wednesday, Awbrey asked that the board also ask the Attorney General to advise whether its reconsideration of personnel actions prior to July 1 are actionable.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Chassion’s proposal to require all consultants hired by the district have a high school education was moved to the action agenda and approved in a 6-3 vote.

Board members Beasley, Bouillion and Cockerham voted against.