Jan. 21, 2013 06:56

"It is inevitable when one is restructuring a school system a nerve will be hit, business as usual will be disrupted, and the good ol' boys will be annoyed."


Lafayette Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper is challenging what he characterizes as a culture of out-of-control political patronage within custodial/maintenance operations for the parish's public school system - a culture he argues is rearing its head in opposition via the school board to his hire of Thad Welch, who is tasked with overseeing and reforming operations.

Dr. Pat Cooper

Board members questioned Welch's qualifications to hold the post, which according to the school system's job description requires a high school diploma. Welch has no diploma. Cooper told The Daily Advertiser recently that through his past experience working with Welch in McComb, Miss., he believes Welch is qualified for the post. In a letter to the editor submitted to The IND and other media outlets, Cooper takes aim at what he believes is the real root of opposition to Welch's hire: an exploitative maintenance and custodial operation upset that it is finally being held to account.

Cooper writes:

It is inevitable when one is restructuring a school system a nerve will be hit, business as usual will be disrupted, and the good ol' boys will be annoyed. The people in the district and the community who once benefitted from the Lafayette Parish School System through tactics of power, control and taking advantage of the materials, equipment, resources and political patronage are now officially annoyed and mad. We have hit the nerve.

Hiding behind the guise of an omitted word in a job description, for which I, as superintendent, take full responsibility, they are coming out full-force to discredit our efforts. It is important that the citizens of Lafayette know the rest of the story behind the headlines.

The man I brought in to help reform facilities, maintenance, custodial, and transportation operations has no formal degree but he has over 30 years of successful experience. He can supervise those with degrees because of the experience and type of man he is: honest, straightforward, hard working. He can stand toe to toe with those reportedly stealing from the system. He expects everyone to do an honest day's work, regardless of with whom they are friends or to whom they are related. One of our finest state superintendents of education was Louis Michot. Mr. Michot had no college degree, yet he supervised thousands of employees, most of whom had college degrees. School board members are not required to have a high school diploma yet they supervise superintendents with doctorates. Are they not capable?

The man I brought in replaced two individuals who were responsible for the custodians and maintenance operations. One made over $120,000 and the other made over $85,000. My choice, at only $76,000, has saved the taxpayers $130,000 with better job performance.

I arrived a year ago, and I found, in my professional opinion, the most dysfunctional and dishonest custodial and maintenance operation I have ever seen in my 42 year career and in some areas an intellectually dishonest central office system. There was a social club mentality. Employees were not working full shifts, clocking in early, drinking coffee and charging to overtime pay while honest employees were reporting that others were stealing resources and using district property, equipment and vehicles for personal use. We stopped those practices, fired or offered resignation to those engaging in those activities and put in systems to eliminate those practices from continuing.  

The public and the school board either want to go back to the appalling practices that were here before or demand that we - the superintendent, the guy with no degree, and the other thousands of good, decent employees of LPSS - continue the reform path we have taken.
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