Inside Report with Videos: Lafayette School Board

Lafayette Parish students should watch the video of the Lafayette Parish School Board’s July 17 meeting if they want to see models of bad behavior — from board members and the people hired to educate them.

During the five-hour meeting, hot-button issues such as the superintendent’s evaluation and the hiring of special counsel to investigate allegations against him weren’t the cause for the ruckus. Rather, a presentation by retired teacher Marcella Baudoin on the results of teachers’ responses to a discipline survey prompted a fist-pounding from one board member and chatter from the an audience filled with school system employees.

Of the 1,980 teachers who received the questions, 360 responded. And many of the comments were negative, such as those indicating that too much instructional time is lost due to disruptive students. Many teachers feared retaliation if they responded to the survey, said Baudoin, one of several retired teachers who volunteered to review the responses.

Baudoin peppered her presentation with her own opinions, causing murmurs in the audience to grow louder. At one point, a school administrator stood up, shook his head and directed an inaudible comment toward Baudoin. Others in the audience chuckled and a steady flow of loud murmurs continued during the remainder of her presentation. More chuckles followed after Baudoin quoted bumbling fictional TV sheriff’s deputy Barney Fife’s advice: “Nip it! Nip it! Nip it in the bud!” as a way to address discipline issues.

Following her report, board member Kermit Bouillion commented, “I’d like to nip this in the bud right here, right now. There’s been some misinformation given tonight.”

The survey results represent a minority, Bouillion shouted, repeatedly pounding a fist on the board table. The audience applauded.

“I don’t believe this malarkey,” he shouted.

More odd behavior ensued after human resources staff distributed requested information related to a different topic, and the meeting stalled for an unknown reason. Several board members walked away from the board table. Board member Tommy Angelle walked over to talk to Superintendent Pat Cooper. Board vice president Hunter Beasely and board president Shelton Cobb held a sidebar conversation with the board’s attorney, Jon Guice. Murmuring from the crowd grew louder. Board member Tehmi Chassion jokingly told the audience that intermission was over. Cobb had left the board room, leaving Beasley to restore order and resume the meeting.

Other odd outbursts during the meeting: Human resources supervisor Bruce Leininger shouted at Chassion, who claimed he had received misinformation from staff. Reacting after the board’s 5-4 vote to hire special counsel to investigate Cooper wasn’t projected on screens for the public or those watching live on Acadiana Open Channel, Bouillion repeatedly demanded the vote count be broadcast.

Before the meeting ended, board member Greg Awbrey criticized board members and school employees in the audience for “shameful” behavior during the meeting.

“I think that someone needs to take control of this room and make it stop,” Awbrey said.

Board member Mark Cockerham responded, “Mr. Awbrey, you have some nerve talking about behavior.” Beasley, who serves as the board parliamentarian, cut Cockerham off: “Mr. Cockerham, if you want to say anything, you need to go through the board president.”

Prior to Cockerham’s outburst, Awbrey said he’s seen better behavior in classrooms.

Video:

Kermit Bouillion

Greg Awbrey

Mark Cockerham

Marsha Sills covers education for The Advocate’s Acadiana bureau. She can be reached at msills@theadvocate.com. Video of some of the School Board meeting outbursts are attached to this column online at theadvocate.com. The video of the full board meeting is posted at http://vimeo.com/70641260.