Nine members of the Louisiana Legislature including Lafayette Reps. Stuart Bishop and Nancy Landry have submitted a so-called amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief on behalf of former Lafayette school Superintendent Pat Cooper, who was recently granted a rehearing before the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in his wrongful termination lawsuit against the Lafayette Parish School Board.
The Third Circuit rehearing is set for Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 9:30 a.m. in Lake Charles.
Signing on in support of Cooper, who was fired by the LPSB in November 2014 after more than a year of enmity, were Sens. Conrad Appel and Mike Walsworth, and Reps. Steve Carter, Thomas Carmody, Alan Seabaugh, Kirk Talbot and Chris Broadwater, along with Bishop and Landry. All were members of the Legislature in 2012 when Act I, former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping package of education reforms, was passed.
One of the measures in Act I was to give broader power for hiring, firing and personnel assignments to superintendents — discretion that had previously resided with school boards. Cooper cited this new authority when the school board balked at his hire of a special assistant to oversee transportation and maintenance, and later when Cooper decided to pay principals at high-risk schools more than their peers.
The brief reads in part:
The amicus parties want the Court to recognize that the actions of Pat Cooper over which his termination was sustained by the original panel of this Court, were actions the amicus parties fully intended to be legally within the sole authority of Pat Cooper as superintendent, and were done in strict accord with Act I of 2012. We thus believe that criticism of Pat Cooper for violation of the law in connection with the matter before this Court is totally without basis in law.
Further, upholding the termination of Pat Cooper here will do major damage to the Legislative grant of educational control to local superintendents who are charged with education of our children and further, will allow politics to again improvidently invade the educational process in Louisiana public education. This matter is crucial for education in Louisiana and we urge this Court to reverse the one basis for termination of Pat Cooper and send a strong message to the political bodies, school boards and politicians in general, that the representatives of the people have spoken and mandated otherwise, and this Court will follow that legal mandate.
Cooper’s case could become a precedent-setter for school board reform in Louisiana if he prevails in the rehearing. He could also be in line for a handsome payday.
The former superintendent, who was hired in December of 2011 and still had a little more than a year on his $190,000-per-year contract when he was canned in 2014, declined comment over the appellate court’s surprising decision when contacted at the end of last year, other than to say, “I put this in God’s hands a long time ago.”