3 W-H figures may see their contracts end; School board set to consider interim chief’s recommendation

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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The Wilmer-Hutchins schools may soon be cutting ties with some of its most troubled figures.

James Damm, the district’s interim superintendent, has recommended terminating the contracts of Superintendent Charles Matthews, maintenance director Wallace Faggett and district lawyer James Belt. The school board will consider the recommendations at its Monday meeting.

“It’s a business decision,” board President Luther Edwards said. “It’s not personal.”

Dr. Matthews and Mr. Faggett were indicted last month on charges of tampering with evidence in an investigation. Dr. Matthews is accused of ordering Mr. Faggett to destroy purchase orders and other documents sought by a Texas Education Agency audit team.

The school board put both men on paid administrative leave shortly thereafter, with Mr. Damm, a financial consultant, sliding into the district’s top job.

But that move has proved controversial among district residents, who have complained at recent board meetings about having to pay their salaries – $175,000 for Dr. Matthews, $63,500 for Mr. Faggett – while the district is in financial collapse.

Twice this fall, the district has not had enough cash on hand to meet teachers’ payroll on time. What the district claimed was a $1.6 million fund balance this summer has turned into a deficit.

“We’re looking at ways to put funds back into the general fund so we will not miss payroll again,” Mr. Edwards said. “We need to ensure that will not happen to our teachers again.”

Dr. Matthews’ pay has long been an issue for some residents. According to state data, last year he had the second-highest salary of the 892 Texas superintendents who work in districts with fewer than 5,000 students.

Mr. Damm had previously said he was not sure whether the district could terminate Dr. Matthews’ contract without triggering a lawsuit. On Monday the board will consider shifting Dr. Matthews and Mr. Faggett from paid to unpaid leave and beginning the termination process.

Mr. Belt has been a controversial figure in the district for several years. Last week, in a court hearing, district Police Chief Cedric Davis testified that Mr. Belt was a target of an ongoing multi-agency criminal investigation in the district. His retainer with the district guarantees him $10,000 a month.

“I was caught by surprise,” Mr. Belt said of Mr. Damm’s recommendation. “I’ve served the district for a number of years and served it well.”

Dr. Matthews could not be reached for comment. Mr. Faggett declined to comment.

Teachers were supposed to receive their November paychecks Wednesday, before the Thanksgiving holiday. That didn’t happen, but Mr. Edwards said employees will be paid Nov. 26.