Feb. 27, 2013 05:17

In our ongoing look into the four Lafayette Parish School Board members who have a penchant for missed meetings, The IND has discovered disparities between LPSB attendance records obtained through two separate records requests. In our ongoing look into the four Lafayette Parish School Board members who have a penchant for missed meetings, The IND has discovered disparities between LPSB attendance records obtained through two separate records requests.
James Simon

Last week, The IND submitted a public records request for all e-mail correspondence sent between 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson, school board legal counsel James E. Simon - also an assistant district attorney - and the nine members of the board regarding the absence issue. We received that information Tuesday morning.

Included among the documents we received Tuesday was the board's attendance record for 2012, a document The IND had earlier requested and received from LPSS officials in December. That attendance record and the one we received yesterday morning don't match up, at least as far as excused absences are concerned.

The attendance sheet we received from LPSS in December, which covered all the board's 2012 meetings through Nov. 28, shows far fewer excused absences by board members Tommy Angelle, Tehmi Chassion and Greg Awbrey - the members with more than enough missed meetings to warrant fines - than reflected in the attendance record we received Tuesday from Harson's office. Board member Rae Trahan also stands to be fined, but her absences during the aforementioned time frame remained unexcused.

According to the attendance records we received in December, there were no excuses recorded for the members absent from the Oct. 24, Oct. 27 and Nov. 7 meetings. Yet in the most recent version of those records, all of those absences are now listed as excused because of work.

The IND checked with Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper, who says if an excuse was not logged on the original list supplied by the school system, then an excuse was never received.  

Even more curious is a Feb. 18 letter from Cooper to former state Rep. Rickey Hardy, the man responsible for getting the DA's office to evaluate the situation. Cooper writes:

I have checked with my executive assistant, Melva Perry, who informs me that neither she nor our Board President Shelton Cobb have received written documentation from Board members in regards to their absences.

One written excuse has since been submitted. That excuse was filed Feb. 20 by Chassion, who in an e-mail to the superintendent's executive assistant describes the fuss over board member absences as "petty." The reason, Chassion writes: "[B]ecause all board members have full time jobs."

For his part, LPSB attorney Simon says the policy is flawed.

In this Feb. 20 e-mail to the school board members, he discusses the board policy (which he calls BBBE) dealing with the compensation and expenses of its members:

My legal opinion is that the Board has no authority to impose this sanction due to the vagueness of BBBE. I strongly suggest the board consider amending BBBE to reflect your wishes. It needs to designate a proper time frame during which the absences add up, as well as a better description or procedure for reporting the excuse for the absence. Note that illness' alone is not sufficient, your present policy says hospitalization.' Now is your time to define what, if any, excuse is to be accepted, and the proper procedure for the board to decide' whether the excuse is sufficient.
LPSB Vice President Hunter Beasley, who missed only three of the board's 2012 functions, agrees. In an e-mail response to Simon, Beasley writes that the board's executive committee should draft an improved version of the policy, which was last revised in August 1998. The committee's changes would then be brought before the full board for approval.

Still, it's hard to argue that these board members with excessive absences are not in violation of the existing policy. While the policy does not stipulate a time frame for the absences (is it a year or their term in office?) for turning in an excuse after five absences (it now appears board members turned in excuses only after Hardy filed his complaint with the D.A.), it clearly states that the excuse must be turned in to the board president, in writing, and the board must vote on whether the excuse is acceptable in order to avoid the $100 fine. It should be noted that Chassion already has three absences this year.

Here's how the policy in its current form reads:
The compensation pay of School Board members will be on an expense allowance basis, that is, the allowance for each member of the School Board shall be $800.00 per month and $900.00 per month for the Board President, in accordance with Louisiana Revised Statutes, Title 17, Section 56 as amended by Acts 562 and 619 of the 1980 Regular Session of the Legislature.  

A School Board member will be allowed to miss up to five (5) regular, special or committee meetings of the Board.  Any School Board member exceeding five (5) absences will forfeit $100.00 per meeting.

The only exception to the above rule would be attendance at State Convention, National Convention, work or hospitalization.

Any Board member exceeding five (5) meetings must present a written excuse to the President, and the Board would rule on whether it qualifies as an exception within the guidelines stated above.

Read the flipping paper