|Photo by Robin May|
On the evening of Nov. 5, Lafayette Superintendent Pat Cooper may well have "former" affixed to his title (it will still be unofficial, of course, as he's likely to challenge his dismissal). But for supporters of the "100% In - 100% Out" Turnaround Plan and, by extension, Cooper, all might not be lost depending on what happens on Nov. 4. I'll get to that in a moment.
There have been so many moving parts to the political intrigue between the Lafayette Parish School Board and Cooper for the last 18 months: a supportive board member vacating the remainder of his term after a lawsuit was filed by his attorney-opponent via proxy; lawsuits seeking to disqualify anti-Cooper board members from voting at his (presumed) termination hearing; a battle over the legitimacy of the budget approved in September by the board that would effectively gut a Turnaround Plan that a majority on the board once supported; the endless bickering that in one instance led to police having to be called to a meeting. Ad nauseum.
Cooper has done himself few favors, often adopting a combative attitude toward dissent and sometimes belittling opponents. And, of course, there was the unfortunate "black mafia" reference. I know Cooper well enough to know he isn't a racist. He has labored in some tough minority-majority school systems - McComb, Miss., and the Recovery School District in New Orleans - and achieved positive results, and the Turnaround Plan he crafted is precise in targeting the health and emotional/educational well-being of Lafayette's most impoverished, at-risk students, most of them black.
The mafia comment was in reference to an unscrupulous political machine on Lafayette's north side presided over by former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams - a machine that will endorse any candidate if the price is right and charges up to $30,000 for its beneficence to small-time local candidates. As board member Shelton Cobb pointed out in an article in the October issue of IND Monthly when he said, "These guys are not interested in this community; it's all about collecting money for them. These are political prostitutes...," the group presents itself as having the interests of the black community at heart yet endorsed white Republican Charles Boustany for Congress in 2012. Why? Because the Boustany campaign paid for the endorsement, and it was probably a lot more than 30 grand. That's the "black mafia" to which Cooper (absolutely should not have) referred, and anyone in Lafayette who is aware of the contours of the political map knows it.
So yeah, Cooper has repeatedly shot himself in the foot before inserting it in his mouth. He's not a great politician. But should school superintendents need to be?
Back to my original point about a ray of hope for Cooper's supporters, one the current board may not be aware of: Cooper is canned by the current board, a pro-Turnaround Plan board is elected on Nov. 4, and Cooper is rehired in January.
Let that sink in for a moment. Cooper is fired then rehired two months later. It's possible, depending on what happens Nov. 4 and of course on whether Cooper is indeed terminated by a board majority that seems to have a mouth-watering appetite to do so.
According to a 1999 opinion by the state's 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal, "The law for superintendents clearly indicates that one school board cannot elect a superintendent for a term that would extend significantly into the term of the next elected school board."
The current school board's term is up at the end of this year. A new board will be sworn in the first week of January. The current board can indeed fire Cooper, but if I'm reading that 2nd Circuit opinion correctly, it cannot hire his replacement; that will be a job for the next board.
We know that two anti-Cooper board members will not return next year because they chose not to seek re-election and are likely to be replaced by board members who support the plan and Cooper. There's a very good chance that of the remaining four anti-Cooper board members, at least two will be defeated on Nov. 4 by pro-Cooper candidates. Let's say two of the three current board members who support the plan/Cooper are re-elected. That's up to six new board members who would be in support of the Turnaround Plan and its architect, Pat Cooper.
And if that comes to pass, and we know by the evening of Nov. 4 that a pro-Cooper board will be seated in January, shouldn't the current board cede to the will of the community and refrain from holding that termination hearing in the first place? Otherwise they're just burning the gangplank as they exit the boat.