Cooper digs in

by Walter Pierce

The Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.

[Editor's Note: Superintendent Pat Cooper has expanded on the statement he released Thursday regarding District Judge Durwood Conque's ruling late Wednesday that the Lafayette Parish School Board legally adopted a 2014-15 budget and that three members of the board are allowed to vote during a likely termination hearing sometime before year's end. Cooper maintains that the budget adopted by the board, which includes millions of dollars in cuts that will disproportionately affect Lafayette's at-risk schools, remains illegal. The school system is currently operating on 50 percent of the prior budget as prescribed by state law. A Department of Education attorney has suggested that Cooper was right about the legality of the budget adoption process, but that was before Conque's ruling. Cooper also cites Act I, which the state Supreme Court recently upheld, as a legal guide for his actions. Following is the statement.]

I respect the recent rulings ruling of the court. I will not appeal the ruling with regard to the Board's action to terminate my contract with the Lafayette Parish School System. The court stated that any questions concerning the impermissible bias of certain board members must be determined subsequent to any such decision. After consulting with my legal counsel, we will wait to see if and when that might be necessary.

However, the roll-over budget for this year is another matter. Just this week, after the conclusion of the evidence in the court hearing last week, I received a letter from the Louisiana Superintendent of Education and the attorney for the Legislative Auditor stating that the budget approved by our board does not comply with state law. Based upon that, I shall request the court to reconsider its decision with regard to the budget at least until it can be properly prepared and certified to comply with all state law. Judge Conque's opinion contained a statement that referred to the fact that the legality of the budget as a whole is, an issue that must be determined via ordinary proceedings and a full trial on the merits'. In addition, implementing the board adopted budget, unlike the one with restored cuts I, as superintendent, lawfully prepared and publicized, would be catastrophic to teachers and children, especially for the low-performing schools, poor and disadvantaged students, and in realizing that we are so far into the school year that changes of this magnitude would be fatal to the learning environments.

However, although these two issues upon which the court ruled are important, it is more important for the public to understand the reasons these legal measures I am taking are necessary. These are not just Pat Cooper issues and personality conflicts between a single school board and the superintendent. These are all Act 1 issues which have statewide implications related to abiding by and being true to that new law which is meant to take the politics out of the running of a school system as much as is possible.

I, on my own, did not decide that the budget was illegal. Act 1, the legislative auditor and the State Department of Education guided that decision. I, on my own, did not determine that certain personnel decisions I have made were lawful and appropriate. Act 1 guided those decisions. I, on my own, did not determine that the school board members showed bias. Their actions blocking my ability to run the school system, in connection with their state organization's perceived actions related to keeping their police jury style power' over public education guided those determinations. I, on my own, did not make this Lafayette disagreement a statewide issue. It appears that the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) and the Louisiana Professional Association of Educators (LPAE) have been heavily involved and put up support and money to defend the board members against these suits.

Rest assured, Lafayette Parish is the epicenter of fighting for the rights of teachers, principals, parents, students, and meaningful school reform in the State of Louisiana. I have to continue this fight not only for the children but to assure that Act 1, the most important education law passed in recent history, is defined and implemented in the way it was meant to be by the legislature which passed it.

So, we are in a fight, but In the meantime, we will continue the business of educating all our children to the best of our ability.