Judge’s order cancels W-H trustee meeting

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 5B

The Wilmer-Hutchins administration building was silent Monday night after district officials unsuccessfully tried to convince a judge that its school board should be allowed to meet.

State District Judge Merrill Hartman refused to rescind the temporary restraining order he issued Friday, preventing trustees from meeting or making any decisions. That canceled Monday night’s board meeting. But he did agree to move up the order’s expiration from Nov. 16 to Thursday, when a hearing will be held to determine whether the board will return to work.

“It’s an issue of whether the district is able to function” without a school board, said James Damm, Wilmer-Hutchins’ interim superintendent. Mr. Damm took charge after Charles Matthews was indicted Oct. 28 on a felony evidence tampering charge.

By Thursday, Wilmer-Hutchins’ leadership may be in altogether different hands. The Texas Education Agency is expected to take over the district shortly, probably before the end of the week.

The district is under scrutiny because its finances are near collapse; it is also the subject of state and federal criminal investigations.

TEA could choose to keep the board in place or sweep it aside and appoint replacements.

The restraining order was sought by a group of Wilmer-Hutchins residents who, in a separate lawsuit, are seeking to have the board removed for what the residents see as a series of unwise decisions.

The residents’ attorney, Phillip Layer, said Friday that he had been in discussions with TEA officials and that the restraining order “cleared the way” for the TEA to take over the district Monday.

But TEA officials say the restraining order isn’t pushing them any faster into action.

Wilmer-Hutchins officials will meet with the commissioner, Shirley Neeley, in Austin today to discuss the district’s future.

State officials have said they would not take any action on Wilmer-Hutchins’ governance until they had received and evaluated the district’s official response to a preliminary audit report issued last month. That response was due Monday.

Mr. Damm said the district has prepared a number of legal arguments against the restraining order, including arguing that the judge violated the government’s separation of powers.