Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Cooper v. Lafayette Parish School Board

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

May 10, 2017

PAT COOPER
v.
LAFAYETTE PARISH SCHOOL BOARD

         APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF LAFAYETTE, NO. C-20145941 HONORABLE PATRICK L. MICHOT, DISTRICT JUDGE

         ON REHEARING

          L. Lane Roy Brown Sims, P.C. COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Dr. Pat Cooper.

          Shelton Dennis Blunt Paul LeBlanc Jack B. Stanley Phelps Dunbar LLP COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Lafayette Parish School Board

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, John E. Conery, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges.

          VAN H. KYZAR, JUDGE

         This matter is before us on rehearing from our previous decision. Cooper v. Lafayette Parish School Board, 16-169 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/23/16), 207 So.3d 1158. We now affirm the judgment of the lower court in part, reverse in part, render, and remand the matter for proceedings consistent herewith.

         DISCUSSION OF THE RECORD

         Dr. Pat Cooper was hired by the Lafayette Parish School Board (Board) to a three-year term as superintendent of the Lafayette Parish School System (School System), pursuant to a January 1, 2012 written contract. Dr. Cooper, who has a Ph.D. in Education and previous experience as a superintendent in both Louisiana and Mississippi, was hired based on a five-to-four vote of the Board and experienced difficulties with the Board from the outset. In addition to the already strained relations between them, the Louisiana Legislature passed 2012 La. Acts No. 1[1] (hereinafter Act 1), which totally changed the relationship between school boards and superintendents of schools in the state. By the middle of 2014, the Board, who had engaged outside counsel, authorized an investigation into actions taken by Dr. Cooper, which resulted in formal disciplinary charges being levied against him. The charges were as follows:

Charge No. 1: Unworthiness, Inefficiency, Breach of Contract, Failure to Comply with Board Policy and State Law relative to Cooper's "refusal to comply with or enforce the Board's directive to terminate the employment of Special Assistant to the Superintendent Thad Welch[.]"
Charge No. 2: Unworthiness, Inefficiency, Breach of Contract, Failure to Comply with Board Policy and State Law relative to Cooper's "failure to abide by and enforce the Board's amendment of the approved budget to remove the line item authorizing the payment of a salary for the special assistant to the superintendent[]"
Charge No. 3: Unworthiness, Inefficiency, Breach of Contract, Failure to Comply with Board Policy and State Law relative to Cooper "directing that public (School Board) funds be used to pay an attorney that he hired, where the purpose of such representation was to advise Dr. Cooper regarding a dispute with, and a possible action against, the School Board."
Charge No. 4: Unworthiness, Inefficiency, Breach of Contract, Failure to Comply with Board Policy and State Law relative to Cooper's action "in connection with the payment of select principals in an amount in excess of the Salary Schedule established by the School Board."
Charge No. 5: Unworthiness relative to Cooper receiving a negative evaluation for his job performance for the 2013-2014 school year by a majority vote of the Board.

         Following hearings on November 5 and 6, 2014, the Board held that its counsel had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Dr. Cooper was guilty of the facts alleged in the first four charges.[2] It further held that the facts of each proven charge constituted unworthiness, inefficiency, breach of contract, and failure to comply with Board policy and state law by Dr. Cooper. Thus, the Board voted seven to two to terminate Dr. Cooper's employment effective immediately on November 6, 2014.

         Dr. Cooper immediately sought review of the Board's decision from the Fifteenth Judicial District Court in Lafayette Parish, at the conclusion of which, the district court rejected three of the four charges relied upon by the Board to terminate Dr. Cooper's employment, but upheld the Board's decision as to Charge Number Four. Following the denial of motions for new trial, Dr. Cooper appealed the district court's judgment affirming his termination to this court. The Board answered Dr. Cooper's appeal, seeking reversal of the district court's rejection of the three remaining grounds for termination levied against Dr. Cooper. As indicated previously, this court originally affirmed the district court's judgment. We, thereafter, granted this rehearing.[3]

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR

         We set out the assignments of error in our original opinion as follows:

In his one assignment of error, Dr. Cooper asserts that the [district] court "misapplied the law" in sustaining the School Board's decision on the single count. The School Board answered the appeal asserting that the evidence supported a finding that the remaining three charges not relied on by the district court had sufficient merit to support Dr. Cooper's dismissal. Additionally, the Board sought an award of "legal costs" against Dr. Cooper.

Id. at 1159.

         Based on our finding that rehearing is warranted in this matter, we reconsider these assignments of error.

         OPINION

         As noted in our prior opinion, the facts which gave rise to this litigation are not disputed. Thus, the question before this court is whether Dr. Cooper acted within his authority, as superintendent of the School System, when he performed the actions which gave rise to the Board's charges against him. The resolution of this question involves an examination of the substantial effect the enactment of Act 1 had in transferring the plenary powers held by elected school boards to appointed superintendents. Dr. Cooper took office as superintendent before the July 1, 2012 effective date of the legislative act and was fired over two years after the legislation was implemented.

         Act 1 significantly changed the practical and legal relationship between school boards and their superintendents. Before its effective date on July 1, 2012, La.R.S. 17:81(A) granted broad powers to school boards, including the power to hire teachers and school personnel "by the month or by the year, and to fix their salaries." As amended and reenacted by Act 1, La.R.S. 17:81(A) now provides as follows:

(1) Each local public school board shall serve in a policymaking capacity that is in the best interests of all students enrolled in schools under the board's jurisdiction. When establishing board policies, each board shall prioritize student achievement, financial efficiency, and workforce development on a local, regional, and statewide basis. When choosing a local superintendent of schools, each board shall select a leader who shall prioritize student achievement and act in the best interests of all students enrolled in schools under the board's jurisdiction.
(2) Each local public school board shall determine the number of schools to be opened, the location of school houses, and the number of teachers and other school personnel to be employed. The local school superintendent shall have authority to employ teachers by the month or by the year, and to fix their salaries; provided that there shall be no discrimination as to sex in the fixing thereof and provided further, that it is not the purpose of this Section to require or direct the reduction of any salary, or salary schedule, presently in force. The local school superintendent shall see that the provisions of the state school law are complied with.
(3) Each local public school board shall delegate authority for the hiring and placement of all school personnel, including those for which state certification is required to the local school superintendent. It shall be the responsibility of the superintendent to ensure that all persons have proper certification, as applicable, and are qualified for the position.
(4) Each local public school board shall adopt policies for and establish procedures which require a local school superintendent to:
(a) Delegate to the principal all decisions regarding the hiring or placement of any teacher or other personnel at the school in which the principal is employed, subject to the approval of the local school superintendent.
(b) Consult with teachers prior to making any decisions regarding the hiring or placement of a principal at the school in which such teachers are employed. Any recommendations made by teachers shall not be binding upon the superintendent but shall be considered by the superintendent when making employment decisions.
(5) Any policies and procedures adopted by a local public school board pursuant to the provisions of this Subsection shall be in accordance with all laws, all state rules, regulations, and policies relative to certification of teachers and other personnel, and any court order or restrictions relative to desegregation.
(6) The superintendent and the school principal shall make all employment-related decisions based upon performance, effectiveness, and qualifications as applicable to each specific position. Effectiveness, as determined pursuant to R.S. 17:3881 through 3905, shall be used as the primary criterion for making personnel decisions; however, in no case shall seniority or tenure be used as the primary criterion when making decisions regarding the hiring, assignment, or dismissal of teachers and other school employees.

         Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:81(U) remained unchanged by Act 1, and provides as follows: "Notwithstanding the provisions of this Section, a city, parish, and other local public school board shall retain all authority given by law to such boards to prescribe the duties and fix the salaries of and hold tenure hearings for all employees of such boards, as applicable." Further, La.R.S. 17:418(A)(1), which was enacted as part of Act 1, provides:

The governing authority of each local public elementary and secondary school, the state special schools, and the schools and programs administered through the special school district shall establish salary schedules by which to determine the salaries to be paid to teachers and all other school employees. The salaries as provided therein shall be considered as full compensation for all work ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.