ABBEVILLE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana school superintendent whose hefty pay increase led to the videotaped handcuffing of a complaining teacher has been put on paid administrative leave.
South Louisiana news outlets report Jerome Puyau (PEE’-oh) was placed on leave Monday night after the Vermilion Parish School Board voted to investigate a list of complaints by his critics.
Puyau has been Vermilion’s superintendent since 2013. In January, members renewed his contract with a raise of about $30,000. A teacher who questioned the raise at a board meeting was then handcuffed in a rough, video-recorded arrest that sparked outrage around the U.S. The board’s president later resigned.
Puyau’s backers credit him with the Vermilion school system’s high state rankings. Opponents allege he has been confrontational and disrespectful to opponents and has improperly overruled board decisions.
In interviews Monday and Tuesday, Puyau attributed the controversy to “small town, rural politics.” He said sometimes he and some board members disagree about how much authority he has to hire and fire people under state law.
He also said some of the complaints listed Monday night were from previous evaluations, prior to the board’s decision to renew his contract at higher compensation in January.
“It’s ridiculous that we keep coming back to the same items over and over,” Puyau told KATC-TV. “There’s nothing that they can find or anything that they can investigate that has any substance.” He also said he is receiving legal advice on his next steps.
Speakers showed up in support of and in opposition to Puyau at the meeting prior to the 6-2 vote to put him on leave. Board member Stacy Landry expressed support for Puyau but voted to place him on leave.
“Hopefully we get a speedy answer. And I pray Jerome remains the superintendent and he can finish out his contract and we can work together,” he said during the meeting, later adding, “Let’s get a good investigation … let’s find out who’s right and who’s wrong and put it to bed.”
Puyau and the Vermilion board drew unexpected notoriety in January with the arrest of teacher Deyshia Hargrave.
Hargrave spoke out against Puyau receiving a raise while teachers had gone years without one. When the board’s then-president, Anthony Fontana, banged his gavel and told her that her comments weren’t germane, she argued that they were. According to a board member who was present, Fontana then beckoned to a deputy city marshal, who ordered her out. She appeared to be complying, but, in a hallway, video shows her on the floor with her hands behind her back being handcuffed.
Charges against Hargrave were never pursued. The video led to online outrage and national media coverage. Fontana resigned. Puyau said at the time he was not pleased with the way matter played out.
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