By Joshua Benton
The Wilmer-Hutchins school board is no longer grounded.
State District Judge Merrill Hartman agreed Thursday to let the board hold a meeting next week. He had issued an unusual temporary restraining order last week banning the trustees from meeting or acting on any subject.
“We’re happy with the result,” interim Superintendent James Damm said.
The board meeting is contingent on the presence of two new state managers. The Texas Education Agency announced Tuesday that it would impose the managers on the troubled school district because of its recent financial collapse. District officials said earlier this week that the district will not be able to pay its teachers on time next week.
TEA officials have said the managers probably will be named today. The district plans a board meeting for Monday.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs who had sought the restraining order – a group of Wilmer-Hutchins citizens who want the school board removed from office permanently – said the decision was not a setback, even though they had argued that allowing the board to meet would put the district in imminent danger.
“We still have lots of evidence to present to the court,” attorney Phillip Layer said.
The judge’s decision does not mean the litigation is over. Attorneys for both sides argued for several hours Thursday about whether the board should be removed from office. Those arguments will continue at another hearing Tuesday, when Judge Hartman will decide whether to issue an injunction again banning the board from meeting.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs presented a lengthy list of what they considered poor decisions by the board and the administration they oversee. The district’s attorneys acknowledged Wilmer-Hutchins’ problems but said that the district needs a school board to function.
Mr. Damm said that without the board taking action on further budget cuts, “the district will fail shortly.”
Kevin O’Hanlon, attorney for the trustees, also argued that the statutes the plaintiffs cite do not allow for an entire board to be removed.
“This isn’t about whether the board is making good decisions or bad decisions,” Mr. O’Hanlon said. “You can remove specific board members, but you cannot remove ‘the board.'”
Among the plaintiffs’ witnesses Tuesday will be Cyrus Holley, a state-appointed manager in the district the last time the state took over, in 1996. Mr. Holley ended up resigning in protest over what he said was the school board’s interference in his work.
Mr. Holley said the plaintiffs’ attorneys want him to be appointed as a court-ordered manager of the district, perhaps in place of the school board. It is unclear how a court-appointed manager would interact with the two state-appointed managers.