Discussions prove long and contended at PAISD meeting

Published 5:58 pm Friday, March 24, 2017

The allegation made in February by PAISD trustee Joseph Guillory II against board president Kenneth Lofton Sr. concerning the latter’s profiting off of an afterschool basketball league was brought up to the board’s attention on their March meeting agenda.

In addition, new questions regarding the contract for professional legal services from attorney Melody Chappell’s work with the district were raised.

During staff reports, Chappell said she performed a review over Lofton’s elementary basketball league in Port Arthur, as well as reviewing their documentations and going over the school board’s policies.

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She said the league did charge in February of this year, but the league was approved by the principal of that school and their usage of the facilities seemed to fulfill board policy.

There were 140 students in the program and there “seemed to be a sufficient amount of parent documentation,” according to Chappell.

Additionally, Chappell said that PAISD was immune from any possible injury that may have occurred on the school premises due to the nature of the organization under policy guidelines and due to waiver forms from the parents.

She said on Feb. 23, Port Arthur attorney Antoine Freeman formed a board for the league.

“The league is run by volunteers,” Chappell said. “Only the referees are paid.”

Guillary had also alleged that money was mishandled.

However, Chappell said there was documentation that the referees were paid after each game and documentation for the fees collected at the door.

“There are at least three occasions that the organization had documentation for procession proceeds,” she said in regards to concessions stand sales.

But Chappell said there were three occasions that had slipped up in document collection.

“There’s nothing then to document who collected proceeds,” she said.

Chappell said board members had donated items at the events and that they had provided the budget and documentation for where the items were.

“I reviewed the document and the budget,” Chappell said. “It seemed that some teams did not provide money for shirts bought.”

She then said that they did provide information for the purchase of the shirts, however.

Chappell said that after Feb. 24, they would open an account with the district.

“Freeman asked me how to become nonprofit status,” Chappell said in regard to the basketball league.

She said no other organization was required to do this.

Chappell said there was another group, the AAU, that used the gym to practice but did not pay.

According to her, they are not affiliated with the school but they do have permission to use the facilities. She said she did talk with the AAU teams for clarification.

Chappell said that in this program, its players were students from the elementary school in question and that they had gotten together to play.

According to her, the league had an ending balance of $250 after paying referees and coaches, or an ending net of $250.

However, Chappell said that the $250 would go toward the 149 children who participated in the program, going towards feeding them and awarding everyone with keepsakes like T-shirts and trophies. The winners would receive medals as well.

“They were not planning on another use for the money as far as I found,” Chappell said.

The report prompted Guillory to ask, “Why now?”

Guillory was referring to the fact that Lofton’s elementary basketball league program had been running for the past 10 years and, according to him, officials were only now examining whether it fit with PAISD policy.

“Why spend so much energy to justify a school program that doesn’t fall under school policy?” he asked.

Guillory said that other organizations have to pay for use of school facilities, including other AAU teams.

“Why is it okay for Lofton to have access to facilities, but not for others?” he asked.

Guillory argued that recent acts like the review process by Chappell and the move to become a nonprofit organization by Freeman were indicative of something else.

“Why now?” he repeated.

Guillory cited an article from the Port Arthur News that quoted PAISD Superintendent Mark Porterie as saying the basketball program was an “extension” of an afterschool tutoring program, as well as a school sponsored event.

Chappell said it was not an extension.

“These students are required to sign for the afterschool program,” Chappell said.

According to her, the principals of the schools the participants have to monitor their grades to ensure they are not failing and are at least maintaining an adequate academic record.

In regard to the basketball program, Chappell said, “I think it is sponsored just like Project Graduation would be.”

Guillory said when he looked ahead he saw a light at the end of the tunnel; but said that looking back, something needed to be fixed with Lofton and the school board’s history.

Frank agreed to an extent, saying the issues Guillory brought up needed to be brought to the board’s attention; but, that from this point forward, they should let the program continue.

Toward the end of the meeting, Guillory asked Chappell to define the role of a board member, presumably as to how it applies to PAISD. Chappell deferred the question to PAISD Superintendent Mark Porterie.

“The role of a board member is to support the district and to pass policy for the district,” Porterie said.

Trustee Dr. Thomas Kinlaw III then asked Chappell to define the role, to which Chappell responded with the legal definition.

Guillory appeared to agree with it, saying, “The only power we have is when we sit here as a group.”

He went on to say that each board member posed no threat and held no power when they visited schools.

“Our responsibility is to work with the superintendent,” Guillory said. “By no means should we ever meet with any administration or faculty. We meet with the superintendent.”

Next, as per the agenda, Guillory asked Chappell to define and/or read from PAISD policies GE (LOCAL), GKD (LOCAL) and GE (LEGAL).

She offered to clarify them.

In short, GE (LOCAL) deals with relations with parent organizations and GKD (LOCAL) deals with community relations and non-school use of school facilities.

Guillory used this as a springboard to jump back into his allegation against Lofton’s use of the basketball league and bring it once more to the board’s attention.

Guillory and Chappell debated as to what qualifies as parent organizations, non-school use and nonprofit status, among others.

“I am looking at policy,” Chappell said. “If this board feels the league should pay, (then) it’s up to the board to decide if the league should pay.”

Guillory said he would like to look at other organizations in the area to look at other methods to implement an afterschool program like the basketball league.

Chappell said that exploration into other methods was not on the agenda.

Ultimately, Porterie interceded and said, “Let me see if we can do this with our school coaches. We can even involve the city.”

Finally, the issue of competitive bids for professional legal services was brought up by both Guillory and Kinlaw in relation to Chappell’s contract with the school district.

“We have had this contract since 2008… I feel we should look into other legal services,” Guillory said. “I make a recommendation to look into competitive bids for professional legal services.”

Lofton responded that he does not handle contracts; whereas Kinlaw countered that it was his job whenever it dealt with their attorney.

“It’s the superintendent’s job,” Lofton said.

Porterie said it would be a proposal and not a bid.

Both Guillory and Kinlaw claimed that Chappell’s contract with the school district was a two-year contract that had to be renewed every period. According to them, she has not had to renew her contract since 2008.

Frank disputed that claim.

“It has no end date,” Chappell said. “It renews.”

Guillory claimed the contract expired in ’08.

Kinlaw requested a copy of the contract to look over and wait until then to make a proposal.

“I have heard Ms. Chappell say at least twice that she is more-or-less an at-will employee of PAISD,” Reid said.

Lofton called for a vote on whether or not the district should go out for competitive proposals for professional legal services.

Guillory and Kinlaw voted for the proposal; Reid, Frank, Bartie and Lofton voted against it.

At the time of this writing, the Port Arthur News’ request for a copy of Chappell’s contract with the district had not been answered yet.