Confident Cooper addresses Top 50 crowd

by Leslie Turk

Superintendent tells crowd he'd just emerged from a four-hour meeting with the attorney hired to investigate him.

In a brief address at Wednesday's Top 50 luncheon, which featured keynote speaker Lawrence Lessig, Superintendent Pat Cooper told the crowd he'd just left a four-hour meeting with the attorney hired to investigate him and appeared confident that the matter would soon be put to rest.

Photo by Robin May

Superintendent Pat Cooper delivers a brief address to executives and staff of Acadiana's Top 50 private companies and the region's eight public companies.

Cooper, in fact, told the crowd he left the meeting wondering why he'd been there in the first place and also said he got a similar vibe from the attorney, Dennis Blunt. He clarified in a followup interview that while he could not speak for the attorney, he merely felt Blunt shared that sentiment. "We went through every item, and it seemed to me [Blunt] got an explanation that was a little different than what he'd been told by board members," Cooper says in the follow-up interview. "The feeling I got was that they felt like I had given them everything they wanted," he adds. "They didn't have any unanswered questions."

Cooper's attorney, Lane Roy, and one of Blunt's associates were also in attendance.

The investigation has taken more than three months and is expected to cost taxpayers more than $50,000. Read more about it, which The IND has characterized as a "witch hunt," here.

There were seven matters discussed, according to Cooper, including (big surprise here) his decision to hire and subsequent refusal to fire Thad Welch as maintenance and transportation supervisor despite that Welch did not have a high school diploma, which is a qualification for the job, and Cooper's hiring of several principals for low-performing schools at higher pay grades.

Cooper was also accused of using public funds to hire a PR firm to get a tax passed. He says while local agency BBR Creative was hired for its PR expertise, the firm never did any tax work. "We did hire Sandy Kaplan to design some brochures for us, a $5,000 contract ... to get our millage renewed. It was just an information sheet, so there wasn't really wrong with that," Cooper says.

Blunt also looked into Cooper's hiring of a director and assistant director of transportation, both of whom lack a commercial driver's license. Cooper says neither position required a commercial license prior to being hired. "The job description says the director has to get one, but doesn't have to have it to get hired," Cooper says.

The superintendent was also questioned about:

Hiring Roy as his attorney when the board voted last year to reprimand him over the Welch decision (the board has refused to pay Roy). The superintendent maintains that his contract allows for him to hire outside legal counsel for such matters.

The decision to close a local charter school, one Cooper says was rated an F school, and move its functions to N.P. Moss. "The board did approve that in the budget process, so we didn't just close it on our own," Cooper tells The IND.

Signing a memorandum of understanding with the Louisiana Department of Education to vet charter school applicants last year. Cooper says he did not need board approval because the amount of the MOU was less than $10,000.

"I think we did everything right and explained it to them," Cooper tells The IND. "I don't know what the report will say, but it seemed to me we gave them a satisfactory explanation."

The board is expected to vote to accept Blunt's report next week. Read the latest on the long, strange trip to this report here.