Board votes to pay members’ legal expenses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 2, 1999

By CHRISTINE HARVEY / L’Observateur / June 2, 1999

LUTCHER – The St. James Parish School Board unanimously approved aresolution Tuesday to pay the costs of defending each of its five members named in a lawsuit brought against them and the school board by Interim Superintendent Walter J. Landry Jr.Landry filed a civil lawsuit, in which he claims racial discrimination, against the board and five of its members individually May 10 in U.S.District Court.

The resolution authorizes the school board to pay for all costs associated with defending the members individually named in the suit, as they were acting in their official board capacity when Landry said the alleged discrimination occurred.

Landry claims the discrimination came about when the board voted 5-2 to replace him as superintendent effective July 1 with P. Edward Cancienne,the Assumption Parish school superintendent.

Board member Lloyd LeBlanc, who is one the defendants named in the lawsuit, offered the resolution to the board.

The defendants individually named in the suit are LeBlanc, School Board President Kenneth Foret, Vice President Charles Nailor, and members Carol Lambert and Kathleen Becnel. They are the members who opposedLandry’s permanent appointment as superintendent last month.

Board member Willis Octave questioned the legality of using public funds to defend board members before he agreed to support the resolution.

As to the legality, LeBlanc said the board’s attorney prepared the resolution.

LeBlanc later commented that should the school board prevail in the lawsuit, he would check into the legality of asking Landry to pay all the costs associated with the board and its members having to defend themselves.

The board will have to pay Landry’s fees in the event he wins his suit, LeBlanc said.

In other business, the board heard from Becnel regarding her concerns about LEAP testing procedures.

She said some high school seniors who failed the test were notified the Monday before graduation that not only would they not graduate, but also they would not be able to march across the stage with their classmates.

The students had already ordered their caps and gowns and mailed their graduation invitations by that late date, Becnel said.

“I just thought it was heartbreaking,” she said.

Some students are just not good test-takers, though some of these seniors had scholarships to college, according to Becnel.

The students must now put their college plans on hold until they can retake the test June 24, she said.

“I’m not a big LEAP fan. I never have been,” Becnel said.Becnel suggested the board address this LEAP issue before the class of 2000 graduates.

In other action, the board: Unanimously approved the approximately $1.3 million budget for Titles I,II, IV and VI for the 1999-00 school year, which included a one time only allocation of more than $137,000 for a class-size reduction program. Theprogram aims to reduce the number of students per teacher to 18 by hiring three additional highly qualified teachers for one year only.

Unanimously approved a parishwide progress report/testing/report card schedule.

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