Friday, November 30, 2007

Delay in notification to judge could postpone work on White Plains Middle School

Construction on the new White Plains Middle School may be delayed because a provision of a 1970 desegregation order says a federal judge must approve any new school construction. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

A federal judge wants to hear from Calhoun County Schools officials why a new middle school in White Plains was a quarter of the way finished before he knew construction had begun.

Should the judge decide to delay further work, the school’s $12 million price tag could climb even higher.

The county system is under a federal desegregation order issued in 1970 as part of a lawsuit that encompassed dozens of systems in the state and seeks to end vestiges of dual systems divided along racial lines.

One provision of the order requires approval from a federal judge for any new school construction.

In court filings, Judge C. Lynwood Smith Jr., who handles most matters in North Alabama related to the order, wrote to the county that he had received proper notification for four construction projects since 2004 at White Plains, Ohatchee, Pleasant Valley and Alexandria.

But for the White Plains Middle School project, he didn’t receive a letter about construction until Nov. 2. By then, he had already read newspaper accounts of plans and visited the school’s Web site to see photos of the groundbreaking.

School system documents show construction began June 21. The schools filed their petition for Smith’s approval Sept. 17.

Smith wrote that the delay in notification “made this court all the more suspicious about the motives of the school system.”

He set a hearing for 10:15 a.m. Dec. 6 in Anniston to find out why the delay occurred.

Following that, he has asked to tour the construction as well as schools in Saks, which have the county’s highest concentration of black students, and White Plains, which have the second-lowest.

Superintendent Judy Stiefel did not wish to talk extensively about the judge’s inquiry before next week’s hearing.

“We’re committed to satisfying the court’s concerns,” she said.

See the full story here.

Read the 244 pages filed so far in federal court here.

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