Lafayette Parish School Board, Superintendent Pat Cooper continue budget dispute

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LAFAYETTE, Louisiana — The Lafayette Parish School Board says it has a proposed budget ready to present to the public.

Superintendent Pat Cooper says he won't start that process because the board's proposals violate state and federal laws.

The Advertiser reports (http://bit.ly/1t1KC4Q ) they have one month to get it figured out before a state-mandated Sept. 15 deadline.

Board member Rae Trahan started off Thursday's budget meeting by noting that the board approved a preliminary version of the district's 2014-15 budget July 31. Trahan essentially asked why that document hadn't been advertised and why the meeting was taking place.

"As superintendent, I can't approve that budget," Cooper said.

He cited Louisiana Revised Statute 17:81, which outlines the responsibilities of school boards. Reading from the statute, Cooper indicated that much of the budget authority rests with him as the superintendent.

"I will not be able to accept the budget that you have provided for us," Cooper continued.

That budget includes nearly $20 million in cuts. It would eliminate dozens of personnel slots, including teachers, counselors and assistant principals. The proposals would also cut out the district's community relations department, and either reduce or eliminate money for workshops, conferences, travel, phone reimbursements and more. There could also be cuts to instructional materials and resources for teachers.

Cooper said many of those cuts would put the district in violation of multiple state laws, federal laws and board policies. Officials provided a 28-page document that included several citations of local policies, Louisiana statutes, state bulletins and federal laws that they say could be broken if the budget is passed.

On Trahan's recommendation, the board agreed to have its attorney, Bob Hammonds, review their proposals in the next couple of weeks and let them know if he thinks there are any legal violations.

Contrary to Cooper's interpretation of the state statute, as well as the Act One law that outlines district responsibilities, Hammonds said the final budget responsibility lies with the school board, not the superintendent.

"The superintendent doesn't have the authority to accept the budget," Hammonds said. "He can prepare a budget and the board can amend it as much as they want. The board has the final say. ...The board has the final responsibility, and if the board doesn't do it by Sept. 15, then the board has breached a fiduciary obligation that it as a board has."


Information from: The Advertiser, http://www.theadvertiser.com

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