Aug. 5, 2014 04:26 PM
RMay_130306_7382_Cooper

As a majority of Lafayette Parish School Board members await the results of a board-initiated investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper and refuse to compromise on the budget, sources tell The IND a salvo by Cooper's supporters is coming this week in the form of a federal lawsuit.

 

 
Superintendent Pat Cooper  

As a majority of Lafayette Parish School Board members await the results of a board-initiated investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper and refuse to compromise on the budget, sources tell The IND a salvo by Cooper's supporters is coming this week in the form of a federal lawsuit.

Our sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say the lawsuit is a response to the push by a number of board members to go against the wishes of the community by attempting to terminate the superintendent, a process initiated last year with a board-approved investigation into a number of uncited allegations against Cooper.

The lawsuit is expected to be filed in federal court this week - this could happen as early as today (Tuesday) - and will likely call for an injunction against board members who have a proven record of bias against the superintendent.

The investigation into Cooper was temporarily stalled late last year after the board's former legal counsel, Assistant District Attorney Roger Hamilton, submitted a letter to the state attorney general's office saying the investigation was unwarranted due to the board's refusal to properly follow state law, which requires public bodies to list the reasons for hiring a special investigative legal counsel. The board resolved the issue by firing the DA's office, which for years had provided its services free of charge to the school system. The board then hired the Baton Rouge firm of Hammonds & Sills, which has experience with investigating superintendents, as its new legal counsel.

The board also hired attorney Dennis Blunt - who formerly worked for Hammonds & Sills - to oversee Cooper's investigation. Blunt recently got to work by interviewing certain board members, particularly those who support the investigation, according to Shelton Cobb, one of three board members - this also includes Kermit Bouillion and Mark Cockerham - who stand behind the superintendent.

Our sources say the lawsuit is a response to the kick-off of Blunt's investigation and suspicions that the board plans to use his findings as a way to oust the superintendent in the months leading up to November's elections, when a number of the anti-Cooper board members are expected to vacate their seats.

To terminate Cooper, the board needs six votes, and voting records show the investigation has six proponents on the board. If the court were to rule that at least one of those six members had a proven bias against Cooper, he or she could be prohibited from voting on any matters concerning his future with the school system.

The suit could also address a number of potential civil rights issues arising from this year's budget dilemma and the board's refusal to work with Cooper on a solution that doesn't involve massive layoffs and cutbacks in services, both of which would especially impact the district's at-risk schools with majority populations of minority students. The same contingent of board members pressing for Cooper's investigation - Mark Allen Babineaux, Tehmi Chassion, Greg Awbrey, Tommy Angelle, Rae Trahan and Hunter Beasley - are also the ones rebuffing his request to balance this year's budget by using the school system's $66 million reserve fund. Their refusal to budge on the issue has resulted in 15 budget meetings clocking in at about 50 hours.

For more on the history of bias among certain board members against Cooper, and how similar fights between superintendents and school boards played out in other districts in recent years, check out our article "Super Charged," which appeared in the June edition of IND Monthly.