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Published in Print: November 10, 2004, as Superintendent of Troubled Texas District Indicted

Superintendent of Troubled Texas District Indicted

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A Dallas-area school district could face a state takeover this month, after its superintendent and maintenance supervisor were indicted on charges of destroying a document important to the state’s investigation of the district.

Charles Matthews, the superintendent of the 2,900-student Wilmer-Hutchins Independent School District, and maintenance supervisor Wallace E. Faggett were indicted by a grand jury on Oct. 25.

Bill Hill, the Dallas County district attorney, has been investigating the district’s affairs since this past summer. The probe was launched after the school system’s police chief raised questions to county investigators about possible wrongdoing, said Rachel Horton, a spokeswoman for the district attorney.

The Texas Education Agency, the Dallas office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Texas Rangers, a division of the state police, also are involved in the investigation, Ms. Horton said.

The indictments charge the men with destroying a document related to payments to a former employee of the district.

The Wilmer-Hutchins school board voted last week to suspend Mr. Matthews and Mr. Faggett with pay until their cases are resolved, according to Dallas-area news reports. Neither man could be reached for comment.

James Damm, described as a veteran Dallas-area school official experienced in school finance, was hired to replace Mr. Matthews. He told local reporters that he expected the state to take control of the district by the end of the month.

State Audit

Questions about the district’s management first arose in August, when Wilmer-Hutchins High School did not begin classes on time. Storm damage at the campus had not been repaired, and officials said they were concerned about mold and poor air quality. ("State Steps Up Role in Ailing Texas District," Sept. 8, 2004.)

The district is facing such financial difficulty that some employees were not paid on time earlier this fall.

Board President Luther Edwards could not be reached last week for comment. In a previous interview, Mr. Edwards said he welcomed state intervention and attributed the financial crisis to the district’s small tax base.

Texas Commissioner of Education Shirley Neeley had not reached a decision on sanctions against Wilmer-Hutchins last week, said Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the state education agency. State law allows the commissioner to take over a school district during a financial crisis.

Possible measures range from a full takeover and removal of the school board’s powers to more limited actions, under which the local board would retain its authority, Ms. Ratcliffe said.

Ms. Neeley was waiting last week for a response from Wilmer-Hutchins officials, who were to comment on a state audit of the district’s finances conducted after law-enforcement officials began their inquiry.

“We’re certainly watching it closely and with great concern,” Ms. Ratcliffe said.

More indictments involving Wilmer-Hutchins school officials are possible, said Ms. Horton of the district attorney’s office.

Vol. 24, Issue 11, Page 3

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