Friday, December 14, 2007

White Plains school hearing concludes; decision pending


HUNTSVILLE — Calhoun County Schools officials offered more than two hours of testimony Thursday and now await a federal judge's ruling on construction of a new middle school in White Plains.

U.S. District Judge C. Lynwood Smith Jr. scheduled the hearing to find out why he wasn't informed construction was under way until the school system had spent more than $3.2 million on building the new school.

In brief closing remarks at the end of the hearing, Smith said he would save his ruling for a written order. But he left school officials with one directive:

"Don't let this happen again," he said before adjourning.

The Calhoun County school system remains under a 1970 federal court desegregation order that requires a federal judge's approval of any new school construction.

Court records show that work on the new White Plains Middle School began June 21. The school system petitioned Smith on Sept. 17, but did not inform him until Nov. 2 that construction had begun.

"If I were angry, as a rule, and you were less than completely truthful, I could have issued an order enjoining any construction and had U.S. Marshals enforce that order," Smith said.

The judge said the system had followed the order with all new construction through 2006. No previous projects ever had required a hearing.

But the school board approved a five-year capital plan that included the new school in August 2006 and hired an architect in September of that year.

In a federally mandated biannual report filed with Smith in October 2006, the system did not mention the new middle school.

"If Calhoun County Schools had been forthright and honest, we likely would not be here today," Smith said.

See the full story here. And check The Star's Web site for updates when the judge's order comes down.

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